5) Out With The Old And In With The… Old!
I find it amusing to observe that long after a technology has been declared dead, it will magically reappear after nostalgic longing causes some to reintroduce it in some form. When I first got back into photography in 2007, I came across a fellow Pittsburgher who had concocted an interesting homemade device consisting of a heavy duty cardboard tube attached to an old, beat up Kodak Duaflex TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, which was quite popular in the 50s and 60s. He attached it to one of Canon’s top DSLR and lens combos. The resulting images were grainy, heavily vignetted, filled with a variety of textures produced by the old scratched lenses, and sported a rough black border. Of course, my first thought was, “So… you bought a high end Canon DSLR and some of the best lenses in order to take pictures while focusing through a 50 year old camera bought at a yard sale for $12?” Just when we thought all those yard sale Kodak TLRs were headed for the scrap heap, thousands of photographers brought them back to life by putting them in front of some of the best DSLRs and lenses of the world. All this to take retro looking photos, which they describe as “edgy.”
When it comes to styling, what goes around comes around again. Fuji’s X100 has been a huge hit, in part because of the classic rangefinder camera look, with sleek styling and a retro image. Olympus attempted to appeal to those same consumer urges with its new OM-D. While it is a modern DSLR under the covers, the OM-D has much sharper lines and an appearance similar to a traditional SLR, rather than the current crop of somewhat bulbous DSLR bodies that, apart from the manufacturers’ labels, are virtually indistinguishable.
As I mentioned in Part I, Instagram has been a hit, in part because it enables people to quickly transform modern day photos into retro lookalikes and share them with others. I suspect we will continue to see designs from the past reappear in photography gear styling and software from time-to-time, as companies seek to differentiate their products from the competition and occasionally appeal to people’s sense of nostalgia.
6) Inspiration On Steroids
Before widespread access to the internet and the availability of sites such as Flickr, SmugMug, Pbase, Red Bubble, 500px, 1x, and the plethora of personal websites, how could you find and view the photos of others? Magazine publications were a major source. Of course, not everyone was fortunate enough to have their work published in popular magazines. Art galleries were another method. But again, many artists did not have their own galleries or opportunities to have their work featured in them. That left you with some books dedicated to photography, which you might purchase or perhaps borrow from the library. You had virtually no access to the work of the thousands of talented photographers around the globe. Today, you have it all at your fingertips.
We take it for granted that we can log onto the internet and immediately access the work of those that can inspire, guide, and teach us how to improve our photography in ways that would have previously been impossible. And we can often interact via email with many people we would never have had the opportunity to meet as well. I have been pleasantly surprised at how accessible some leading photographers are if you will simply send them a thoughtful, concise email. Thus the internet has greatly expanded our horizons and enabled us to explore the work of literally millions of artists from virtually every nation. And although impossible to measure, the enhanced opportunity to view the work of so many others has undoubtedly improved our collective creativity.
7) Build Your Own Photography Website? Nope…
In 2007, some photographers I knew were attempting to build their own websites or paying others do it for them – not the best way for a photographer to spend his/her time or money. Within a few years, however, we would see SmugMug and Pbase would expand their capabilities and customer base. Zenfolio, Red Bubble, and other template-based services would eventually come along and make it even easier to create customized websites and allowing photographers to focus on what they do best and get paid for – take photos. All that was necessary for you to be in business on the web was to pay a relatively low annual fee and select some easy-to-use templates. And Google Analytics can now provide you with a wealth of information regarding your site’s access and demographic information associated with your website visitors.
More recently, 500px.com and 1x.com have attracted more of the talented photographers seeking to escape the clutter that populates Flickr’s site. Flickr is seeking to revamp its site, however. It is offering more capabilities and changing its look and feel. Flickr has some amazing photos from very talented photographers, but unfortunately, it has also become a veritable “dumping ground” for just about anyone with any form of camera. The move by many from Flickr to 500px.com and 1x.com represents what I call, “the flight to quality.” Both sites seem to be growing quite rapidly.
WordPress, Blogger, and other blogging tools also have facilitated the development of custom photography sites, combining both photography and journalist commentary, and providing options for readers to leave feedback. We use WordPress for the Mansurov site. It is quite easy to use once you get the hang of some of the nuances associated with formatting posts. Improvements in blogging software now enable virtually anyone to create their own photography forum and compete with some of the more established photography sites.
With Adobe’s new Creative Cloud offering, we are seeing an expansion of the move to put more collaboration and file management capabilities onto industrial strength sites that have been customized specifically for such purposes. The reason is simple – Adobe wants to make it easier to focus on your profession, and less on the associated technology. Adobe recognizes that technology issues will continue to be an impediment to its growth and a threat to its revenue base. For now, it appears that Photoshop and other applications need to be downloaded to your PC or Mac, but I suspect with time, these applications will be fully accessible in the cloud as well. Adobe already provides some basic capabilities via www.photoshop.com. One might imagine someday having access to the full suite of Adobe products running in the cloud from a low cost tablet, and virtually no associated Adobe software footprint. I am just beginning to explore Adobe’s cloud offering and will cover it in more detail in future articles.
8) I Snark, Therefore I Am – It’s Not All Sunshine And Light Out There
I have had email since 1981 (shortly after I stopped using stone tablets and a crude iron chisel to communicate with others) and internet access since 1993. On the positive side, email and chat capabilities have provided so many opportunities to communicate in real time with others in ways previous generations could never have imagined. Many of these communications capabilities have improved the world (and photography) for good. Unfortunately, I have witnessed a seemingly endless number of ways for messages to be misinterpreted, communication problems to be exacerbated, and people to exhibit passive-aggressive behavior that they would never consider if they were sitting within 3 feet of the person they were communicating with. I refer to the way in which some use the internet to act out such behavioral problems as “Snarkism.”
Photography forums are certainly not immune from such behavior. On some forums (which shall remain nameless), many conversations often start out innocently enough, but quickly escalate into a series of biting commentary, name calling, and just plain rude, ignorant behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good debate and a bit of controversy as much as anyone. But I am not simply talking about some strong opinions, mild sarcasm or good-natured ribbing, but rather downright nasty personal attacks that make me wonder if some people may have skipped their daily medicine.
With the luxury (and safety) of relative anonymity and distance, some people naturally feel emboldened to stick out their chest and assert their superiority (at least what they perceive to be) on a variety of “life and death” topics such as: high ISO comparisons between Camera X and Camera Y, the value and usefulness of some the super zoom lenses, or whether Tripod ABC is really worth the 3X premium over its lower priced competitor. And woe unto him who posts a photo of anything shy of magazine cover quality – he/she might would likely fair better if cover themselves in blood and go swimming in shark infested waters! Rarely is a topic too insignificant to avoid a rapid descent into a series of insults covering other’s photography skills, lampooning the person for their “lack of posts,” boring photos, or perhaps suggesting that the person ate too many lead paint chips as a child. As entertaining as it can be to read some of these posts on occasion, it doesn’t take long to get your fill and wonder why you bothered logging onto the site. Sadly, this type of behavior certainly isn’t unique to photography forums, but rather endemic of the times we live in.
Despite the Snarkism that runs rampant on some sites, I have been very impressed by many people across numerous forums that have been very generous with their keen insights and helpful advice. I have learned quite a bit from them and have kept in touch with many people throughout the years. But to the extent Snarkism becomes characteristic of a given photography forum, it detracts from the otherwise useful aspects of it and likely dissuades people from participating and making it as valuable as it otherwise might be.
Not to worry though, as I have an answer for Snarkism. I am currently floating a reality TV program idea by some major networks. “Camera Wars” will feature 2 photography combatants who claim that their DSLR/lens combo is superior to that of the other. They will have a “shoot out” in the streets followed by a detailed comparison of their photos. If that doesn’t settle the argument, they will have the option to enter a sealed cage, and armed with nothing but 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, settle their disagreement once and for all – so the rest of us never again have to wade through 8 pages of personal insults on a photography forum, when all we were searching for were a few well-reasoned opinions regarding the various lens models! Think of the concept as, “Two photographers enter, one photographer leaves.”
9) Product Issues – Faster To Find, Quicker to Go Viral, And Harder To Hide
In 1995, if I had an issue with my Nikon SLR, chances are that my concern stayed relatively quiet. I might have written to a photography magazine if it had some type of “Ask The Pro” section. It might take some time for my question or comment to be published – if it was ever published. Since photography magazines were hardly incented to publish product defect information that reflected poorly on the very companies supplying their advertising revenues, there was little in the way of widespread, timely, or independent information related to potential product issues. And although I might have mentioned the issue to some of my fellow photographers in a casual setting or a photography club setting, the circle of people that I was able to share information with and influence was extremely limited. The implication for the camera manufacturers? They had quite a bit of leeway relative to sharing any details associated with a given defect, more time to consider their response, more flexibility regarding their response, and the opportunity to handle each defect on an individual basis.
Today? It’s a brave new world. Anyone with rudimentary typing skills can communicate with people around the globe on any of the internet forums or blogs within minutes to began better understanding the symptoms and nature of the alleged defect. This is huge change from the past.
What are the implications of the new reality?
Problem Identification - Customers can ascertain the level and extent of a product defect – perhaps better than the manufacturer can do on its own. Consider that hundreds, if not thousands, of people can collaborate regarding the process of identifying and isolating the details of a product defect, and gather voluminous amounts of information that can be used by the camera manufacturer to help resolve the issue. They can plot DSLR serial numbers, refine testing strategies, share detailed photos highlighting the effect of the defect, create polls, etc. That is a tremendous benefit to the camera manufacturers, as they could never afford to have thousands of field agents detailing the results of individual DSLR owners.
Speed – Such communications between those on photography forums can spread like wildfire. This can cut both ways. Legitimate issues can be identified and tested within minutes, hours, or weeks. Faster resolution of a product defect is clearly beneficial for both customers and the camera manufacturers. Of course, misinformation and false rumors can spread just as quickly.
Improved Products – Increased amount of information associated with a product defect coming from so many sources can help camera manufacturers make better and timelier decisions regarding the manufacturing process and quality assurance testing.
Transparency – Across the various photography forums, blogs and social media sites, it is literally impossible for an issue to be kept secret for any appreciable time. If one person knows – everyone knows. And of course, when the proverbial cat is out of the bag, a camera manufacturer’s silence may be deafening.
Are the camera manufacturers embracing the new reality?
I am not so sure – at least not to the extent they might. Historically, camera manufacturers have been a bit less than upfront in sharing information regarding product defects. When the world moved at a slower pace before the mid-late 90s, this strategy might have made sense. Why make waves, cause customers to have concerns, and give your competitors a sword on which to impale you? I am not justifying the mentality, but I understand that unless the situation involved a clear safety risk, a given product defect would be unlikely to warrant a recall or some form of press release by the camera manufacturer.
In 2012 however, in light of the new realities camera manufacturers face, perhaps this philosophy needs to change. Suppose by way of purely hypothetical example (any similarity between my example and any past, current, or future specific camera manufacturing defect situation is purely coincidental…), in a month or two after the initial wave of shipments of a new ground-breaking, high resolution DSLR arrive in the field, hundreds if not thousands of these units experience a serious issue associated with autofocus accuracy that negatively impact image sharpness. Innovators and Early Adopters of the new DSLR begin communicating, sharing notes, showcasing images, producing videos, etc. – all in an attempt to help one another and isolate the issue. Their collective efforts clearly identify that this issue is affecting quite a few DSLRs.
In light of the preponderance of evidence accumulated by it customers, how can the camera manufacturer justify remaining silent, particularly when the company is actively engaging in social media sites and attempting to solicit information, commentary, and ideas? When you call the manufacturer’s customer support line and ask if there is a way you can determine if your new DSLR is affected by this issue, and you essentially hear a rather robotic reply along the lines of, “Issue? We don’t know of any specific issue?” – well… that is pretty hard to rationalize.
I think it is safe to say that some of the camera manufacturers’ policies of the past simply haven’t kept pace with the realities of today’s online world. No one expects camera manufacturers to respond to every nonsensical rumor or treat an issue affecting a handful of DSLRs as a reason to issue a recall or hold a press conference. But when there is a serious defect affecting a significant volume of units, and it has been very well-documented by knowledgeable customers around the globe, it is inconceivable that the camera manufacturer can fail to acknowledge it. “See No Defect, Hear No Defect, Speak No Defect” isn’t exactly a winning strategy in such a case. Unfortunately, it may take a serious public relations debacle and a customer backlash to change this approach to dealing with issues.
I have highlighted but a few of the ways the internet has and continues to change the field of photography. While the basics of photography remain the same, the technology, business, and ability to interact with others have forever changed the profession. And the rate of change will only increase over time.
What do you think?