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  • Kim Clay

Impact of the Digital Photo Revolution -1. HOW

Updated: May 7, 2020

The How, Why & What of the Digital Photo Revolution

A Three Part Series:

Part 1 The How - How has the digital revolution — in particular the smartphones—

impacted HOW we take, store & share our photos?

Part 2 The Why - Has the digital revolution really changed WHY we take photos?

Part 3 The What - Has the digital revolution changed WHAT photos we take?

Part 1: This article gives a brief history of film photography, highlights the impact of the digital era in particular, smartphones on our family photo collections, and the mostly positives but some drawbacks of such a groundbreaking and fast paced technological revolution.

1. Brief History of Film Photography

English Family portrait in early 1900s
Early 1900s English Portrait. Downton Abbey??!!


Starting with our 'image likeness' preservation history.... even before photography, people were sitting for their portrait actually only aristocrats could afford it!!!

Film Photography

Photography can be traced back to the 1500's , with the invention of the Camera Obscura (pinhole camera) but entered family collections in the mid-19th Century when the relatively low cost of daguerreotypes (lithographic sketches) — and reduced sitting times — led to a rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture among the newly affluent of the Industrial revolution. The introduction of Kodak’s Brownie Box so called for its compact, rectangular shape to the mass-market at the turn of the 20th century, revolutionized family photography by introducing the spontaneity of snapshots .

19th Century - painted portrait; daguerreotype camera; print Early 20th Century camera

Early 20th Century film First Kodak Brownie camera; me 60 years later using one??!!)

It took the whole of 20th Century for film camera technology to steadily improve and separate into cheaper & easier to use cameras for casual use and more sophisticated & expensive cameras for serious practitioners. First only in black & white because although color photography emerged early it took a long time to move into the mainstream of family collections. This changed from about 1935 when Kodak introduced affordable Kodachrome film. Instant photography can be traced back to the introduction of Polaroid cameras in the late 1940’s. From then on there was a expansion into a range of other types: disposable, point-and-shoot, rangefinders, SLRs etc.. .

2. The Digital Photography Revolution

Digital Cameras

THEN as the world hurtled towards the 21st century and Y2K, Kodak introduced the first digital camera fueling the DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY REVOLUTION.

First Kodak Digital Camera Popular Canon Sure Shot Single Lens Reflex cameras go digital too

What was not to like?…

  • No more buying (usually 36 max) film rolls that ran out just when the BEST SHOT came into view!!...

  • No more paying to get film developed and THEN waiting to get your photos back. Even if ‘towards the end’ the processing time was cut to 1 HOUR this still meant two trips back & forth to CVS or wherever …

  • No missed sprockets when reloading film, or accidental film exposure, when taking it out...

  • Instant viewing & deleting of unwanted images...

  • AND... image blow-up & photo-editing on our desk-top computers... not to mention some videoing as SD cards replaced memory sticks.

The change from developing and storing images in film to breaking down bits of pictures into 0’s and 1‘s, radically changed everything about our relationship with our photos: how we store, view, and organize them, and 'enhance' the images post-development! This HAD to be the fastest new technology uptake ever At this point we might have expected to be saying: "and the rest is history"!!

BUT the revolution has now seen the fastest uptake and quickest eradication of a revolutionary new technology — THE DIGITAL CAMERA — BECAUSE something even better came along!!

The Smartphone

Android & Apple

In 2007 Apple launched the first i-phone....

MAYBE a little slow on the uptake at the time... No midnight stampede outside Apple stores did they even have stores, then?

AFTER ALL we had our new gadgets, all small enough to fit in our handbags (Pocketbooks) digital cameras, mp3 players, a blackberry for work & cell phone with a micro-keyboard that we could use to send texts more cheaply than making calls.

THERE WAS A NEW LANGUAGE TO LEARN the precursor to social media trends?... Invented by teenagers that parents didn’t understand!!.... or want to use

AND Androids had to play catch up!!!

BUT THEN with the upgrade deals why not pay a few dollars more to ditch the keyboard for a cool new LCD touch-screen with ICONS that you tapped to open up APPs, and a HOME button??... even if it took a bit of time to get the hang of swiping!!!

FAST FORWARD a short 10 years or so and Apple’s annual i-phone roll out is up to 11 (with the odd letter thrown in)! With each new version, smartphone manufacturers have focused on improving the camera function in some way: better storage, image resolution and/or cool new image-enhancing features…. AND an add-on industry has been spawned offering more versatility — Editing Apps, selfie-sticks, mini-tripods, filters, clip-on lenses and more.

3. The Impact

How many image files are out there?… I’ll let you do the math!

Since the turn of the 21st century and emergence of the digital era, our collective photograph taking has skyrocketed into the stratosphere. By all accounts, there are now over three billion smartphone users around the world today, and 100’s of billion photos & video clips are posted to Facebook, Instagram, and other Social Media platforms, every day.... BUT these are only a fraction of the actual numbers taken!

The Press often report that the proliferation of Social Media platforms is turning us into a society addicted to 'checking our phones', driven by feeds and alerts; and being encouraged to post pictures of whatever takes our fancy. The ascension of Social Media, and the constantly improving phone features associated with it, has undoubtedly had a profound impact on our photography habits....

  • BUT Is this the only driver of our current prolific photo-taking ?

  • HAVE our underlying needs to capture our memories really changed?

With our phones with us at all times, the ease of taking professional quality photos and virtually unlimited storage removing any constraints on how many we can take.... Is it really surprising that our collective photo-taking and videoing has skyrocketed into the stratosphere?.. Could it just be that the shackles have come off?

What has the Digital Era done to our Photos?

Taken them Out of Photo Albums

Many of us still have sizable (at least 20 years old) film photo collections in photo albums... or maybe still in their original development sleeves? When we switched to digital photography, we largely stopped using these, choosing to looking at our pictures on our computer screens instead.

Lost Some of them

Our digital photos were saved as image files on a variety of limited capacity and corruptible storage media, such as CDs and memory sticks. We might have copied them to our clunky computers — with hardly more storage capacity... and prone to crash, wiping out our data. We should have backed-up on an external hard drive, but often missed the opportunity. They may also have got lost when we migrated from expensive, slow desktop computers to cheaper, faster and smaller laptops, always with increasing storage capacity.

Put them on New Devices

First there was the Apple i-phone, followed about a couple of years later by the 1st generation i-pad... AND Android devices, at last, caught up.

Greatly Improved their Quality

Now the Digital Era provides us with amazing capabilities to capture and record everyday moments and events, with no restrictions on storage and retrieval. We can take thousands of pictures & videos, across a multitude devices, with little thought about capacity. Technology is continually improving with better resolution photos and video, larger file transfer and the tools to save and view all of our information, and there are so many useful apps to make media editing and other everyday tasks so much easier.

Stored them in an App on Our Smart Phones

Smartphone/tablet operating systems were designed to function quite differently from computers. Instead of folders, we have an Apple or Google Photo App which uses photos' meta-tags to organize them by the date, time, and where taken (with location services turned on).

Dreaded Cannot Take Photo Warning Apple Photo Icon Google Photo Icon

There were some teething problems: no easy way to get photos off the phone & onto the computer; stories of people losing all of their photos because their phone crashed or got lost & the photos weren't backed-up;... and what i-phone user hasn't seen the dreaded Cannot Take Photo message!!! But now with better stability, greatly increased storage capacity and cloud back-up, our photos are safe & indestructible.

Stored them in The Cloud

Universal access to THE CLOUD now allows us to view and share data with others, on any device, at anytime, from anywhere. Not to mention the promise of LIMITLESS storage and access to our data FOREVER...

Started Recognizing Them

Artificial Intelligence now enables us to search our photos by more categories than just time and place people, animals, things, activities etc.. to help pinpoint the photos that we are looking for. Facial recognition software is beginning to accurately identify people and group photos that they are in, from any time in their life... so on the face of it yes, pun-intended!! people becoming identified provides another level of finding favorite photos.

Provided Easy to Use Apps to Enhance Them

Of course, smartphones have not just revolutionized our photography habits, but everything else that we do, and so they are also chock-full of 'Easy to Use' Apps downloaded from the App Store to help with any & every conceivable task we can think of. Our photos haven't gone unnoticed. It's not only that we can take professional quality photos with three clicks, we can now 'photoshop' them, with out going through the steep learning curve needed to use the actual Photoshop software.

So What's the Problem?... Well It's Complicated!!

Where are all our photos?

The rapid advancements in digital technologies has had a major impact on the complexity of our home media collections.

  • If we even digitized some of our (at least 20 years old) film photos — together with our digital camera collection — they could still be on obsolete storage media such as CDs, memory sticks and older computers.

  • We may have backed them up onto more secure solid state storage media — external hard drives , USB drives and Scan Disks — BUT there has been a steady roll out of higher capacity versions to entice us to keep buying the newer ones.

  • Our more modern collections are scattered across a myriad of smartphones, tablets, Social Media platforms and other photo-sharing sites and cloud storage services — Dropbox, Google, Apple, Amazon,  OneDrive Flickr....  

Aren't they all on our phone now?

It is true that with our high capacity ( at least 64 GB) phones with us all the time, our current collections now largely come from our smartphones, and they should also be auto-backed up to the i-Cloud, Google Drive or other photo storage service... But we may still have a plethora of other image-capturing devices like drones, tablets, GoPros, and webcams... and for the serious enthusiasts among us, a digital SLR camera.

So how many photos are we taking now?

With the ease of taking unlimited numbers of  quality photographs & videos on our smartphones and peripheral devices it is not surprising to learn that:

  • we are taking thousands of photos every year

  • our  digital collections are becoming vast!!and spread across different devices and storage media , remotely in the cloud,  and on photo storage and social media sites. 

  • As technology improves, and taking quality photos only get easier the numbers continue to increase rapidly, with each successive year.

 What are we doing with them?

With photography on such a meteoric rise, the next logical question is, what are we doing with our ever-growing mountain of digital images? How many of us are taking the time to do some 'housekeeping' on our collections to keep them manageable?

Our phones are rapidly filling up with digital litter that are unnecessarily eating up valuable storage space:

  • umpteen pictures & videos of redundant and unwanted scenes:

  • Almost identical photos, shot on burst mode to ensure that we captured just the right shot — isn't that what the Pros do?

  • Unused video footage, when we clipped out the best to upload to YouTube or post to Instagram.

  • Out-takes from our attempts to produce creative visual content & infographics — Memes, collages, animated gifs etc...

  • There are also hundreds of out-dated purely functional shots photos that we never deleted — think rental car license plates etc. etc. etc. ...

Even with the ever improving search features, that can still leave a lot of tedious scrolling to find a specific photo. So it's not surprising to hear about people become overwhelmed by their digital home media collections.

..... This is where Digital Kreation can help!! to get your home media collection organized and provide strategies to keep it manageable today and for years to come!!!

DigitalKreation is dedicated to preserving, protecting, planning and presenting  family's stories This Blog provides tips from start (finding & preserving memories) to the finish (creating stunning Photo books and Video slideshows).

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