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Weekly Post Thirteen

“Each day I awake torn between the desire to enjoy the world and the desire to improve the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”

                                                     — E.B. White

The Future of Photography

“Go West young man, go West,”

                                             — Horace Greeley

In truth we’ve talked a lot about the future of photography already this semester. In section four I presents examples of several significant trends: using your camera’s metadata to do things such as map your images, crowd-sourced photography, and photography used as part of complex interactive projects. In section 12 we looked at some very powerful audio slideshow, examples of photography used in combination with video shot on a dSLR, and the tools used to produce these kind of projects. In section 13 we looked at web page design for photographers, using social media such as Flickr to discuss and promote your photography and the evolving marketplace for photography.

Here I would like to provide a round up of what we’ve already discussed and elaborate on a few key points.  Let’s begin with some interesting new tools. Sure, dSLR technology continues to improve at a dramatic speed. Image quality and high ISOs, flash technology and editing software such as Lightroom are all changing how photographers work. But there are innovative tools out there that may be changing photography more fundamentally.

Take a moment to watch the promotional video for the WVIL (wireless viewfinder Interchangeable lens), a concept camera soon to be released for sale.

Do you get it? I didn’t at first. The video is a really bad promo for the product because its not entirely clear from the video what makes the WVIL so unique. The WVIL uses wireless phone technology. The removable lens, in which the images sensor is housed,  can be placed anywhere. The shutter is triggered from the camera and the image is then transmitted to it from the lens. The camera has image editing software built-in. The next generation of WVIL will support more than one lens per camera.

Here is another example of innovative photo technology. The LYTRO was voted one the 50 best inventions of 2011 by Time magazine. It use light field technology originally developed at Stanford University. The optics and sensor in a light field camera are significantly more complex than in a traditional camera. There is no shutter and the sensor does more than collect information, it is light processor. Every image has infinite depth-of-field to start with, but the photographer can select what is in or out of focus after the image was made.  The camera has an F/2 aperture and 8X of optical zoom.

Photo stitching is another emerging trend in photography. Adobe Photoshop along with several other photo software platforms and apps allow you weave together images into a quilt  to create elaborate panoramas. One of the most far reaching examples of this was done at the 44th Inauguration when President Obama was sworn into office (NOTE: you may have to update/download a Silverlight plugin to view this. It’s good software to have if you don’t already). CNN and Microsoft. joined forces to produce this 360-degree panorama made up of more than 10,000 crowd-sourced images that allows you to zoom in and zoom out as well as pivot up and down.

Here’s the best part: The projected uses Photosynth technology that is now available as a free smart phone app!  Check it out.  Your panoramas can then be embedded in a blog, emailed or views on the Photosynth site. Photosynth will also allow you upload images from a camera to the Photosynth site to be stitched together in post-production. But, because Photosynth is a Microsoft product, this will only work with PCs.

Photosynths are only a part of the explosion of smart phone technology and photography in recent years. There are now courses in mobile phone photography , competitions and exhibits. Even the war in Afghanistan is being covered by professional photographers using mobile phones. Not only has the built-in camera technology improved but apps such as Photoshop Express and Hipstamatic allow photographers to edit and stylize mobile images. Manufacturers are even making interchangeable lenses for mobile phones.

With all these new and easy-to-use tools more people than ever before are making — and sharing — images. In addition to established social media photo sites like Flickr and Facebook, Tumblr and Storify are two social sites on which photography is emerging a centerpiece of how people tell their stories about topics ranging from rodeo competitions to the Occupy movement.  Social sites are not only a forum for the discussion and presentation of work they are an important tool for professional promotion, as we discussed in section 13.

Professional distribution is changing beyond merely embracing social promotion. Emphas.is, which we talked about briefly last week, has emerged as a powerful platform for crowd-funding of photo projects.  Individuals and media organizations can pitch in to fund significant projects that the media industry alone can no longer afford to support. Organizations like Demotix and Transterra Media are two sites that take articles and editorial photography from amateurs and professionals alike and distribute them to large news organizations on commission. They are challenging the traditional barriers to publication.  Just last week a CUNY student of mine published a photo essay on CNN GO on the Malaysian fruit durian through one of these sites.

So what the heck does all this mean for photography, and, is that different than what it might mean for the individual, working photographer? The tools continue to change dramatically in ways that appear to challenge or fundamental ideas of what makes photography. The means of distribution continue to change in ways that make it ever-more challenging to make a living.

First, our ideas of what photography is — and is not — have changed constantly throughout its history. When smaller cameras replaced view cameras purists claimed the craft of photography was dead. When packaged developed replaced hand-mixed chemicals, purists claimed the craft of photography was dead. And, of course, when digital 35mm replaced film, purist claimed the craft of photography was dead.

To be sure the changes are happening faster and are arguably more fundamental than ever before. Week one I told a story about my first job as a photo assistant at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I became concerned about a career in photography when the department got it’s first digital camera. I asked my boss what he though. He was very clear: “The technology doesn’t matter,” he said. “Anyone can push a button on any kind of camera. People will pay for your vision and your professionalism.”

Here is another Detroit Institute of Arts story. Shortly after we got our first digital camera the DIA’s director asked that we shoot digitally all of the DIA’s major works for its new website. The director was ahead of his time. Websites were new and few museums had one. The trustees got wind of his plan and were angry. They believed that if people could see the images for free online they would stop coming to the museum. The trustees were wrong. Very wrong. To see a 6-inch image of a Van Gogh self-portrait  on a computer screen increases interest the audience to see the real thing — and your audience was exponentially larger than the one reached by print media.

What’s my point: Because of the new tools and because of the new mean to share and distribute photography there is a larger and more sophisticated market for photo than every before. Sure, that market is more fractured and individual outlets don’t spend as much on photo as they used to, but the new tools for distributing photographs make it possible to reach markets large and small as never before to find support for your photography. What we give up in the resources of a single client we make up in volume with many clients.

Brian Storm,  the founder of MediaStorm, one of the first successful outlets for multimedia storytelling online, talks about ‘assets’ when talking to a client or media buyer. In other words, he doesn’t say, “I have a 15-minute video with some images.” He says “I have 30 minutes of B-roll. I have 10 minutes of additional audio and more than 100 images.”  He and the client can then design a project and broker a deal based on the individual buyer’s needs.It could be a three-minute slideshow. It could be a 15-image print piece. He can then use the same (unless the rights are exclusive) assets for other projects, some larger and for web, some smaller and for print, with other buyers, some of whom are commercial and others non-profit or new outlets.

I include my interest and ability with multimedia technology among my assets as a photographer. I include my interest and ability to teach among my assets as a photographer. I include my knowledge of traditional medium and large format film photography among my assets as a photographer (interestingly, I find that young people who came of age on digital equipment appreciate the history and craft of film cameras). These are all skills that make my work marketable.

No matter your career interests in photography, you should assess your assets — what they are, what you would like them to be and what do they have to be to get what you want from your photography. knowing your assets will help you better navigate the very challenging frontier of professional editorial photography. I suspect most you will find that if approached strategically your interests and your passions can become your assets.