In the Digital Era what can replace Our Photo Albums?
Since the turn of the 21st century and emergence of the digital era, our collective photograph taking has skyrocketed into the stratosphere. This revolution has already seen the fastest uptake and quickest eradication of a revolutionary new technology — the digital camera.... BECAUSE something even better came along— the smartphone. The better picture quality, virtually unlimited storage and the associated ascension of Social Media has undoubtedly had a profound impact on our photography habits. In this article, I point out some of the negatives (organizing thousands of photos & videos) and positives (presentation options) of the digital era for preserving our cherished family mementos.
Photography traces back to the Camera Obscura (pinhole camera) in the 1500s, but really came of age in the mid-19th Century when the relatively low cost of daguerreotypes (lithographic sketches) led to a rise in the popularity of portrait photography, over painted portraiture. Photography was then opened up to the mass-market when Kodak’s Brownie (so called for its compact, rectangular shape) became commercially available, at the turn of the 20th century.
(19th Century painted portrait, daguerreotype camera & print, early 20th Century camera)
(Early 20th Century film, first Kodak Brownie camera, and me 60 years later still using one??!!)
First only in black & white, a new era of color photography was introduced from about 1935 when Kodak introduced Kodachrome film. It took a century for film camera technology to improve and expand into a range of types: instant (Polaroid), disposable, point-and-shoot, rangefinders, SLRs etc.. .
The Digital Photography Revolution
...THEN as the world hurtled towards the 21st century and Y2K, Kodak introduced the first digital camera. This HAD to be the fastest new technology uptake ever... AND also the quickest to become obsolete.
What was not to like: — no more buying (usually 36 shot 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—instant viewing, deleting of unwanted images and image blow-up and photo-editing on our desk-top computers, not to mention some video, as SD cards replaced memory sticks.
(First Kodak Digital Camera, popular Canon Sure Shot, Single Lens Reflex cameras go digital too)
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 can 'enhance' the images post-development. This has now brought us into a whole new world of innovative technologies, with artificial intelligence at the forefront changing how digital information can be identified (but I'm getting ahead of myself)!!
...THEN along came the smartphone. Slowly at first — after all, we had our new gadgets, all small enough to fit in our handbags (Pocketbooks, sorry S) : digital cameras, i-pods/mp3 players, a blackberry for work AND cell phone ( mobile, sorry G), with a micro-keyboard to send texts, which was cheaper than calling.
Don't get me started on texting — sloppily written e-mails were already a pet peeve (what happened to full sentences with proper capitalization & punctuation) — BUT lowering my standards paled in significance to dealing with a secret teenager lingo purposely designed to flummox clueless parents!! — A taste of things to come?.. current teenage social media trends?
Sorry I'm getting off topic... As I was saying, in 2007 Apple launched the first i-phone, which, at the time, didn't cause a midnight stamped outside their stores (did they even have stores, then?) — AND Androids had to play catch up!!— BUT for the next upgrade why not ditch the keyboard for a cool new LCD touch-screen with ICONS that you tapped to open up APPs, and a HOME button!!!
Fast forward a short (in the history of mankind) decade or so, with manufacturers focused on improving the camera function in some way, with each new version — better storage, image resolution and/or cool new image-enhancing features. Apple’s annual i-phone roll out, up to 11 (with the odd C, S or X thrown in), boasts their 'best camera yet'. Smartphones are now striving to compete with professional cameras to get similar results, but with the ease of just a few taps! This, in turn, has generated an add-on industry offering more versatility, with things like selfie-sticks, mini-tripods, filters, clip-on lenses and more.
How Professionals are faring?
Market trends show a continuing growth of the photography industry, with both commercial photographers and portrait photographers benefiting from increased demand for their services. Local photographers, offering studio, and location portrait photography for wedding and other special occasions, are still making a living.
With commerce, advertising, marketing etc. continuing to march online, the commercial/ industrial photography fields such as fashion, travel, food etc. are flourishing. Consumer goods catalogs have also migrated mostly online . Then there are the photojournalists capturing news-worthy images (both good & bad) and many more — sports, science, nature, medicine... are the paparazzi a photo-journalistic sub-genre?...,
The uptick in Social Media marketing has also generated a new Stock photo market sector.
Photography has long been a very popular hobby. It used to be that people of all walks of life headed to local community colleges to take courses, poured over the latest Photography magazine and joining camera clubs to share notes (& photos) about the latest camera equipment and perfect their photographic techniques.
Thanks to consumer affordable pricing, of easier to use, but more sophisticated camera equipment, amateurs were able to get into fields such as under-water, wilderness and wildlife which were formerly almost exclusively the province of professional photographers. I guess better and relatively cheaper travel options also helped!!
These days, drone technology is bringing aerial photography into the hobby field.
From the spectacular— exotic animal & plant-life, landscapes, sunsets, people & places in far off lands,— to a focus (...pun intended!!) on spotting the beautiful or unexpected in ordinary everyday scenes —requires a different set of photographic techniques (lighting, lenses, filters, focus, aperture, shutter-speed, exposure settings, and the like). So proficiency in the mechanics has been a necessary requirement for professional quality photography but there is also an element of "somethings can't be taught". Known in photography circles as "having an eye", things like perspective, design, and imagination are considered even more important than technique. Even for the best, that can mean making their OWN LUCK, by 'setting the stage' and taking hundreds of frames, in search of the DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH.
Both Professionals and Enthusiasts have benefited from continuing technological advancements of Digital SLR cameras. NOW smartphones are enabling consumers to capture professional-like photographs further lowering the technique learning curve. Social Media 'marketing' trends, are encouraging a much bigger proportion and generally younger sector of the general population to jump into the photography 'enthusiasts' pool, blurring the lines between professional and amateur photography.
According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, there are over three billion smartphone users around the world today and 100’s of billion photos & video clips are posted to Facebook, Instagram and the like, every day. Of course, many more stay put on our phones or make it into the cloud. So how many image files are there flouting about?… I’ll let you do the math!
Are we taking photos that we didn't before?
It took a bit of time to get into the habit, but now my phone is like my handbag, "I never leave home without it". While I still have way too much junk snuggled in the bottom of my bag, a redundant notebook is not one of them. When I'm out shopping I take pictures of any & every type of merchandise, product details, prices etc... for comparison, to get a second opinion —OR to make sure I'm getting the right thing that my husband asked me to pick up from Home Depot.
Even at home, AND with 'Alexa' now silent, it is so much easier to snap a high resolution 100% accurate reproduction of words & numbers that can be zoomed in on, than writing down the details... and even I can't read my own hurriedly scribbled notes . My phone is littered with photos of every type of document, label, sign, and even TV screens, conveying some form of information. I can easily share the info with others or have it handy for future reference . It is particularly indispensable to get model & serial numbers, printed in tiny fonts on labels, stuck in very awkward places on malfunctioning appliances. Also to get on-line at family or friends homes, when long case-sensitive wi-fi passwords are stuck to modems located under a desk. Before getting into a rental car I take pictures of the bodywork & licence plate.
...I could go on and that is just me!
The 2003 Sony Ericsson Z1010 was the first cell phone with a front facing camera, included as an afterthought for video-conferencing. By 2013, the term 'selfie' was declared "word of the year" by the Oxford English Dictionary.... I wonder how, whoever had the afterthought, feels now?
I'm still trying to perfect my selfie techniques but I certainly understand it's appeal. It provides that different angle I mentioned earlier; everyone, including the taker, can be in the picture. Then there are the selfies with celebs; easier to get than their autograph, after all who has paper & a pen to hand, these days?
Another 'new' habit that sometimes gets some bad press.... Not the beautifully presented spreads at special occasions but more like regular menu meals at chain restaurants. By extension, DRINKS have to be involved.
Whatever pictures Teenagers are taking...
The new demographic of smartphone touting teenagers was bound to take photo-taking into a whole new direction. When you hear about Apps specifically designed to keep the prying eyes of concerned parents from seeing what their teenagers are up to, surely it's something they shouldn't be doing!! — cyber-bullying takes 'Mean Girls' to a whole new level. Lets hope the developers are also working on Apps that can permanently erase the compromising digital evidence, body-parts, reckless behavior and the like, well before the teenagers of today become tomorrows responsible parents.
Are we taking the same photos as we did before?
YES, absolutely ....
People, travel and the big occasions remain the most popular subjects and it is more a matter of how many more pictures we take (no restrictions), the manner in which we can take them (selfies & video), how quickly we share them (instantly, with captions), how many more people see them (through Social Media) and the ease with which we can 're-touch' and add lay-overs to them. The best part is their much better quality.
We're still taking (lots more) photos of our travels, but now we don't need to make sure to pack our cameras (unless, of course, it's for a well-planned trip to an exotic location, such as a safari!!).
We still want to preserve life's “special occasions”: birthdays, graduations, weddings etc., but now it's just that we (and everyone else who is invited) take more photos at these events. Of course for the BIGGEST, we still don't leave anything to chance and hire a Pro.
There are also the everyday moments with our families (and pets) when there is no Pro in sight, that we want to document. Now we have a camera near us at all times, also with video, to unobtrusively capture their natural expressiveness.
Our young children have always been the most popular photographic subjects.... the nearer to setting off on their life's journey the better... blissfully unaware of the profound emotional affect they are having on the people around them; spreading pride & joy with each (literal & metaphoric) 'baby' step — with innocent playfulness, hilarious antics, genuine smiles, contagious giggles— Oh So photogenic!! NOW, they are becoming 'viral' sensations and getting invited to the likes of the Ellen DeGeneres show, with increasing regularity.
What has the Digital Era done to our Photo Collections?
The rapid advancements in digital technologies have had a major impact on the complexity of our home media collections. Most of us still have sizable (at least 20 years old) film photo collections in photo albums and boxes in the attic. Even if digitized, they may be scattered over multiple devices, a variety of storage media and on-line sites. When we switched to digital photography, we largely stopped using photo albums, looking at our pictures on our screens instead. So now there are our 10 -20 year old digital camera collections that might still be on obsolete storage media such as CDs and memory sticks. We should have copied them to folders on our computers and organized them in sub-folder hierarchies but they may just have been dumped into the 'Pictures' folder. We should have backed them-up on an external hard drive but they may have got lost on crashed hard drives or when we migrated from desktop to laptop computers.
Trillions of digital equivalents will are now floating around in the cloud. Digital files don't need preservation, since they are indestructible. Even if they get deleted accidentally, they're surely backed-up somewhere else!! Each comes with a meta-tag that pinpoints the exact date, time, and where it was taken (with location services turned on). Facial recognition software is beginning to identify the people in them (if someone has taken the time to put names to faces). So on the face (...yes, pun) of it, they will be easier to identify BUT from NOW ON there will be a prohibitive number, and many more types, of redundant images, even for the most ardent sorter to want to sift through.
Stopped us using Photo Albums?
Our current collections now largely stay put on our smartphones, which are also littered with umpteen pictures of the almost identical scene, taken to ensure that we captured the best shot (isn't that what the Pros do?). There are also the junk photos that we never deleted — rental car license plates etc. etc. etc. ... We can create Photo Albums in 'Photos' and select photos to add to them, but do we?.... ALL of our phone's photos may also be on our synched tablets and auto backed up to Google Photos, Dropbox. or the like. Even if we had gone to the trouble of creating Albums on our phones they don't transfer. Of course, some photos will have been messaged to other phones and made it onto Social Media & other photo-sharing sites (in different Albums?).
Can we keep up with technology advancements?
Technology is advancing so fast who knows what is around the corner. We have already seen "new" technologies rapidly becoming obsolete. Digital cameras have been replaced by smartphones, DVDs by streaming services, and CDs are "vintage". Even digital formats are changing. Your phone pictures could now have an .heic file extension instead of the "universal" .jpeg. Soon we may not even have to remember our phones because we will be wearing them! New platforms will undoubtedly be catering to 'younger users' driven away from Snapchat, still being used by Gen Z subscribers — much like today's Millennials ditching Facebook as the resistance of 'older' folk crumbles and they sign up (...Is Instagram next?).
Will Facebook even exist? ...think Toys R US!!!!
The Bad of New Technology
What's wrong with what we've got?
Smartphone/tablet operating systems were designed to function quite differently from their 'more mature' computer uncles & aunts. As is normal for different generations there can be misunderstandings. Oh the impetuosity of youth!... Uncle: "what if I want to...." Nephew: "don't worry there is an APP (or few) for that!!" There is a saying that 'with age comes wisdom'. The 'tried and true' computer sub-folder hierarchy system has been around from even before 'the turn of the century'...
..where are the sub-folders on our phones & tablets?
The Good of New Technology
The Digital Era now 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.
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.
Universal access to THE CLOUD 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, un-corrupted FOREVER...
in sub- folders!!!
Preserving Our Family Life Stories
Our deep and enduring connections, and the life we have, with our families are what mean the most to us. These are our Family Life Stories, that we are looking to preserve with our photographs and videos. It used to be that family stories were passed down from grandparents by word of mouth, and got lost within a generation, with the few photos that survive mostly unlabeled. Our parents started the custom of selecting the best of the photos of cherished family moments and putting them in photo albums and/or making scrapbooks. Passing on stories and images from the past is also an important step toward preserving our family histories.
Since the digital era, we have largely abandoned using photo albums, and the associated selection process. With no constraints on our photo-taking habits, our collections have not only burgeoned but are getting duplicated and scattered across a myriad of devices & internet sites. If we don't get a handle on this situation our ability to preserve our special family moments won't get lost for lack of information but because there is too much to 'see the wood for the trees'. Facial recognition may be able to identify people, but we have to name them. It cannot determine what that person means to us or select the photos of them that we think are worth keeping.
That may come.... with a match to a humankind DNA database that, among other things, also has facial recognition and photographers 'eye' ... that's a scary thought!!
Social Media encourages us to add captions to the photos that we post BUT will anyone else have access to our accounts... even if Facebook survives!!!
There are many tools (I mean Apps) available to help sort, organize and collate media collections BUT we have to commit to a process of regular 'housekeeping' to get a handle on, and keep on top of, things. .... 'A stitch in time saves nine'... (now I'm really on a role with the cliches)....
Once we have got our collections in order, the Digital Era has a much better alternative to our Analog Photo Albums....
...Digital Photo Books
Photo books give us the means to tell our Family Stories in stunning presentations, with special images that capture special moments, and beautiful words that express the truly memorable and unique aspects of our lives. We can create family heirlooms that we can enjoy and share with our family today and pass down to future generations tomorrow. One book can represent any part of our lives, from a whole family story spanning generations, to a specific time in the life of one member of the family. It can include information as diverse as a whole family history to a small amusing incident, the thought of which still makes the reader laugh.... I'm compiling a comprehensive list of the virtues of Photo Books. For now here are two:
1. Life Story Photo books can be a especially meaningful to older family members to help reminisce about their lives.
2. As I noted above, parents are the keepers of their children's' childhoods. Despite all our new gadgets & distractions, reading books with our young children seems to have withstood the test of time. What better storybook can we give our adult children than one about their own childhoods to share with our grandchildren?
The NEW film photo wait?
I'm not about to wax lyrical about the 'good old days', but writing this piece has been bringing back so many memories.....I used to force myself to wait until I got home from the chemist to open my packs of freshly developed film & prints. I wanted to prolong the excitement of opening the package, in anticipation of seeing what gems were hidden among the duds. It took real will power, and I admit that on several occasions, I succumbed to a quick peek!!
In today's world of instant gratification, is there a substitute for prolonging those feelings? WELL... there is a reason why Shutterfly is the leading Photography industry company, OTHER than their revolving everyday discounts & free shipping on orders $##+ with code: SHIP## (and there are many other companies offering similar services). COULD IT BE, that the anticipation of getting an Orange box, delivered by UPS, can match the excitement of trips to Boots (sorry, I mean CVS pharmacy or ...) to pick up photos???
Is the Orange Box delivery time the NEW photo film develop wait?
Helping people get their home media collections in order, and select the best family photos to create stunning keepsake Digital Photo Books is what Digital Kreation is all about.
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