I started shooting 55 years ago, and built my first darkroom at age 10. The point is just that I’ve been around for most of the changes, and of course the change to digital is the largest one of all. There was a time when saying that I was a photographer put me in a pretty small group of people; now it’s the world’s most popular hobby, and millions of images are uploaded and shared every day.
That’s fine with me, of course, because none of that impinges on my own skills or artistic vision. But I will admit to some consternation when I see over-saturated, color-altered, HDR’d garish over-manipulated images touted as “the world’s most beautiful photos.” (Google it – you’ll find dozens of such sites.)
The question is why?
And the answer, I have come to suspect, is television, and television quality images, which are low resolution, over-contrasted, sRGB color-space, blurry and pixelated. And that is what most people have grown up with. That is their frame of reference.
Digital cameras are wildly popular, and I’m delighted that more people are exposed to photography… but look at what is happening just now (late 2011) – the rise of the cell-phone camera, and the introduction of video into digital still cameras.
Cell-phone camera are improving rapidly, but they will take years (if ever?) to rival the quality of a pro’s DSLR. And while that is going on, the other front encroaches: video.
And what is happening there is that people are taking stills from the video stream. That’s lower resolution, lower quality… but perfectly satisfactory for 99.5% of all those millions of uploaded snapshots every day. Perfectly fine to email to your sister.
Even Google is aware of this trend, as they are currently pushing the webP image format – which is based on video.
So, here’s my prediction – the use of dedicated digital cameras will wane in the general public, as both better technology for embedded cameras (cell phones, iPads etc) comes along, and the use of video as a source for stills grows.
Images will fall into two camps: those taken with embedded cameras, and those taken by dedicated cameras, with the former gaining popularity. Web-quality images (low resolution; sRGB color; high contrast; over-saturated) will predominate.
And, because of the quality of those images, fine art photography will once again separate itself from the pack.