Looking At The World Through A Digital Lens
In the late 19th Century, cameras were extremely expensive and required great technical know-how to operate – photography was mostly the bread-and-butter of serious professionals or the plaything of the rich and famous. Then, in 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company released the Brownie – a small, inexpensive cardboard box that could take pictures. The Brownie revolutionized photography by making it accessible to everyone, and photography was never the same. This was the first major change in photography brought about due to technology since its invention; but it was certainly not the last.
Photography is the child of technology and art, mixing the creative eye of an artist with the mechanical means of being able to capture a moment through the visual medium of light and color. Photography is, therefore, an art that is most susceptible to changes in technology. With every major change and improvement in technology – from faster film processing times to the shift from black and white to color – photography undergoes a paradigm shift that affects its accessibility and its impact.
In the recent past, the transition to digital cameras and the simultaneous rise in the capacity and complexity of mobile phone cameras have made photography more accessible to the average user. Applications and networks on social media have given users a platform to share their snaps with a global audience, increasing the engagement and interest in photography across the board. This is just the beginning – emerging technologies in this industry are beginning to show indications that photography is once again facing a paradigm shift in the coming years. Here’s a look at some of the trends that show the most potential for disrupting photography.
Stereo cameras were created in the 1950s as a method to better replicate the binocular vision of human beings, and to create pictures with the potential of showing greater depth and dimension. Essentially, the camera consisted of two lenses with separate image sensors for each lens; merging the two images after the photograph is taken was expected to lead to sharper images. However, the technology at that time was unable to process the dual images very well and dual cameras went out of vogue. However, in recent times, the use of software to process digital imaging has made dual cameras stage a comeback on mobile phones, with several of the best models being released today having them. These cameras provide a greater depth of field in pictures, faster focus, an ability to refocus across the fields of the photograph, and also enhanced picture clarity.
Superior Optical Image Stabilization
Digital SLR cameras and mobile phones have had image stabilization mechanics in them for some time, using gyroscopes and sensors to account for the device’s movement and to compensate for it. While initially the lens was stabilized, stabilizing the image sensor allowing for motion compensation across three axes was seen to lead to considerably faster and more accurate optical image stabilization. Mobile phones have also started adopting micro-electro-mechanical systems instead of the conventional voice coil motor technologies. While this is essentially using complex electro-static forces to stabilize the image sensor, it deals with one of the more basic problems in photography – how to keep the camera apparatus stable in the quick instant that the picture is taken. Improvements in this technology will mean that fewer of your pictures would be blurred and unusable, leading to sharper and more detailed images taken without the use of tripods.
While drones are not yet ubiquitous, they are definitely becoming more popular. One of their most accessible uses is for photography, allowing photographers to access angles and shots they would otherwise not be able to take. Drones have been used to capture sporting events and even weddings, providing the flexibility that only a small flight-capable device would be able to manage. Drone platforms have become advanced enough to require little manual control, and some commercial drone manufacturers are offering autonomous drones that fly around a particular subject, taking a variety of photos from different angles.
While professional or committed photographers might find this a little distasteful, the use of filters and add-ons on image sharing applications have become popular. Filters that make a person’s face look somewhat like a deer or a dog might seem amusing, but they are the harbingers of far more advanced technologies. By using complex algorithms to map a user’s face and place virtual filters upon them is part of augmented reality, a technological paradigm that would allow people to place themselves in fantasy settings without ever leaving the real world. Augmented reality programs are also being used to simulate the impact of age, different facial features, different hairstyles, and even composite pictures of your face interspersed with the features of another. This mind-bending new technology has limitless potential, but comes with its own set of dangers. It might not be too long before the fear isn’t that a picture is altered using Photoshop, but that the picture isn’t real to begin with – and almost entirely indistinguishable from the real thing.
360 Degrees Image Capture
While some technologies are looking to supplant reality, others are looking to simulate it. We experience the world in 360 degrees, and today 360-degree images allow viewers to pan around the image to view it from all angles. Virtual reality headsets can be used to make this experience even more realistic, where the movements of the head are used to show different sides of the picture to the viewer. Until recently, the only way to shoot 360-degree pictures was to use a rig to position multiple cameras at different angles and stitch the pictures together. Special cameras that could take such pictures were earlier prohibitively expensive. However, improvements in processor chips that are more energy-efficient and the reduction in image sensor size, driven by the smartphone boom, have made these cameras accessible. The applications? There’s a whole new world to be seen in 360 degrees. Applications for environmental observation, surgical training, and virtual reality are just the tip of the iceberg. Research suggests that watching 10 hours of 360 degree content makes humans instinctively want to interact with all videos and images.
Even within our lifetimes, photography has changed from cameras using film to the digital age and the use of mobile phones to capture image. The changes in technology have made us share more of what we see daily, and sometimes have given us the ability to see our world differently. The nature of photography has changed from a niche activity to a millennial constant, with selfies and short videos being shared on social media platforms across the globe. The only thing that has remained constant is the human desire to capture important moments visually. How that engages with the photography of tomorrow is something that remains to be seen – but when it happens, it will still be artists capturing the world they want to see – through different lenses.
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