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Electrification and the Future of Digital Photography

This morning, I was listening to a lecture by Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, via MIT’s Open Courseware. In it, Mr. Friedman mentions that the productivity boost to industry provided by the discovery of electricity was not immediate. Instead, the real gains came after the factories had been redesigned for electric motors instead of steam turbines and the processes redeveloped for the new technologies. 

This lag between the appearance of a technology and the ability to reap the benefits is exactly where we are today with digital photography. While we have capable digital cameras, software for processing images and stunning inkjet printers, the fundamental truth is that digital photography is more similar to analog photography than it is different. This is going to change. 

The next generation of photography is just peeking over the horizon and we are only beginning to see the first few indicators of change. Photography 2.0 if you will, is not going to be an improved emulation of analog tools, but an entirely new, and completely digital, method of capturing, processing and sharing digital images. 

What are these initial indicators of change? 

– High Dynamic Range (HDR Images): The ability to capture the brightness range seen by the human eye (14+ stops) instead of begin limited to the brightness range the camera captures (6-8 stops) will reshape how photographers shoot, by limiting some creative options (silhouettes, etc.) while opening others (indoor scene and outdoor sky). 
HDRI Handbook

Flickr HDR Group Pool

– Photosynth/Seadragon: Instead of perpetually striving for a single photo that eloquently captures your emotions and thoughts, imagine creating an immersive photo-environment viewers can wander through at their leisure? This is both liberating and debilitating. Liberating in the sense that you can go beyond the boundaries of that singular image to create a tactile world for someone to move through and experience. Debilitating in the sense that the artist also relinquishes absolute control over the viewer.
Photosynth: TED Demo 

Photosynth @ Microsoft Live Labs

– Metadata + Intelligent Software: Sure, we’ve had metadata for years and most photographers have done little more with it than embed their copyright information (or at least try to). But metadata, combined with intelligent software, can automate image processing, photo delivery to clients, reduce copyright violations and simplify image licensing.
TinEye Image Search Engine 

InDesign Scripting with XMP

– Large displays with Touch Control: Digital photography should not be experienced through a Wacom pen stylus, or a mouse. It should be a full-body activity controlled by your hands, fingers and body movements. Already, the iPhone has reduced the barriers between man and computer. Soon, you will be able to control Photoshop by touch, providing a more intuitive, more effective experience. High-quality, high-resolution displays will also likely become the future of output. Prints, with their limited dynamic range, will not be able to effectively convey the artistry of high-dynamic range images. Current displays have contrast ratios of 1000:1, roughly spanning 10 stops of light from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights. Prints, on the other had, have contrast ratios between 100:1 to 250:1 and are incapable of displaying all that the new technology has to offer. 

These are initial beacons of a radical change underfoot. While they may not seem altogether like a photographic revolution, could Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla have imagined a digital camera, the internet or a computer? 



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