[Re-visit] Cartier Bresson’s Maxim, and The Dying Art of the Dark Room

Before I began studying my PhD, I had incubated my love for photography through appreciation, and occasional writing on the topic.

This post, originally written in 2011, contains some interesting insights  – as well as a snapshot of the pre-academic author.



‘Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst’ – Henri Cartier-Bresson.



Cartier-Bresson’s oft repeated mantra resonates among photographers seeking a measured progression. For those hoping to reach a level of seemingly effortless professional output, his famous quote can be considered a generally accurate rule of thumb. Surpassing ten-thousand images more or less guarantees a greater personal understanding of a photographer’s own work and technique.

Despite this, the maxim is perhaps misconstrued contextually today; when you consider the time it would take to create ten-thousand satisfactory images in the dark room. The extent which digital photography speeds up the process of producing images suggests that the number should be perhaps multiplied by a factor of ten. That is, in order to achieve the same level of competence.





The price of film required to produce ten-thousand satisfactory images would likely boggle the mind of the contemporary hobbyist. Simply dividing the total by the thirty-six exposures held on an individual reel of film would probably not be enough to represent the total (three-hundred and thirteen individual rolls of film at the very least). This of course does not include the price of printing and dark room materials.

This is a significant level of investment on the part of the photographer compared to today’s standards. Furthermore, with a cost per shot ratio factored in to the capturing process, what emerges is arguably a more considered approach to individual exposures.

This alone would perhaps go so far as ruling out any but the most committed amateur in reaching Cartier-Bresson’s figurative starting line before bankrupting themselves.

To reach ten thousand without producing work for money, the photographer would require a great level of determination and commitment to turn a blind eye to the small fortune that it would cost them to reach it.

This would go so far in explaining the historical lack of purely conceptual photographers until the arrival of digital technology.





Economic commitment however is a given for any of today’s professionals, with an array of technologies attempting to capture the imagination of the photographer by offering new optical opportunities. However commitment to producing images goes further than simply affording the cost of equipment.

By understanding the amount of time required in isolation to produce ten-thousand images physically, we begin to really understand the profile of the kind of photographer Cartier-Bresson had in mind.

As a master of photography, Cartier-Bresson produced a body of work that remains to this day at the apex of street photography. With images containing abundant energy in the seemingly effortless capture of subjects at what he coined ‘the decisive moment’, as well as an underlying poetry in his spatial compositions.

Such a level of fluency in his work could only be achieved through conscientious development which is a implicit factor in the repetition of the lengthy analogue process.

Whilst it would be farcical to suggest that Cartier-Bresson would have not reached such a fluency using contemporary digital process, it does seem that his images are idiosyncratically empowered by the underlying analogue method.

The way in which the contemporary masters invest themselves as wholly as Cartier-Bresson into their work remains to be seen at this time. Or at the very least, the universality of the process has become far more ambiguous.





Those who are familiar of the practice of dark room photography will support the statement that it is (despite its more aggravating time requirements) gravely missed as an mandatory phase of image creation.

To develop three hundred and thirteen rolls of film this would require approximately one hundred sessions in the dark room by my reckoning.The result of this being an abundance of hours of solitary confinement for the photographer with their work.

This time would likely result in constant focused appraisal of work by identifying strengths and negating weaknesses. Key factors that have changed include: the the banal rigidity of the method and the familiar isolation of the scenario that were crucially punctuated by the chemical science of development. In tandem, these promoted an extremely healthy environment for the theoretical appraisal of work.

My belief is the absence of this key environment this is the greatest loss for the digital photographer. This is exemplified when you consider the stark juxtaposition between being static in the dark room and being out in the world capturing images. Such long periods of seclusion can surely only result in a renewed thirst to find good light and people.

There are also leagues of photographers who have not seen their work physically printed, let alone experienced printing them themselves. This is problematic as a true appreciation of colour, contrast and grain in particular, can only be obtained through looking at printed work.


Henri Cartier-Bresson 11896.jpg



Despite this loss, the digital revolution has brought many great positives into the medium. The infinite and cheap capacity for widespread image production that is available now has promoted a cartography of the minutiae of visual experience, which is no longer too superficial to warrant the cost of an exposure.

We now enjoy the liberty of finding photography to be less rigidly dominated by an economic subtext, though this does mean that images are made without an underlying element of risk. This lack of jeopardy requires self discipline on the part of the photographer to develop their body of work effectively.

The critical gap has been fulfilled somewhat by social critique of work on image-sharing websites. Unfortunately, the understanding of a collection of work here or otherwise digitally is a poor substitute for a physical portfolio developed physically over an extended period of time.

Furthermore, it is somewhat of an issue that the search for refinement of the personal photographic process is now more likely to be decided by peer consensus rather than the self-appreciation of work. This promotes a conformity and perhaps draws focus away from possibilities of individual nuance and perspective.

Thankfully however, this is a gap that is likely to be bridged by the continued development of intuitive software and platforms that draw closer to the precedent whilst capitalizing on the possibilities of new technologies. Furthermore, artistic avenues of exhibition and critique tend to avoid this irrational mode of photography altogether.





To conclude, ten-thousand images is a milestone that can still be rightly regarded as important by many photographers. However, considering the changes in photography since the statement was made, it is a fair warning that this amount should perhaps be adjusted by a degree of inflation.

As photographers, understanding the lengths to which master photographers such as Cartier-Bresson physically produced ten thousand images as a precursor to their more widely renowned work opens the door to a more pragmatic appreciation of photographic work.

It invests such examples of photographic work with an underlying expertise that qualifies the depth of appraisal that is afforded to such works of photographic mastery, especially in lieu of a poorly based public scepticism of the medium.

In Cartier-Bresson’s case this not only affords his maxim much more poignancy today but also allows the amateur photographer a glimpse into the life-long colossal undertaking behind his ground-breaking body of work.


All images by Henri-Cartier Bresson



Originally written in 2011 on my old blog.

5 Things Susan Sontag’s “In Plato’s Cave” Can Tell Us About Social Photography


Susan Sontag‘s 1977 book “On Photography” is home to some of the most widely cited thinking in the field. It remains a solid overview of the field nearly 40 years after it was first published.

The 1st chapter is an essay called “In Plato’s Cave”. It contains some of the best insight in the book. So, lets take a look at 5 things Susan said, and what it can tell us about smartphone photography.


Susan Sontag


[1] “Photographs alter and enlarge our notion of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.”

Through making and sharing photographs, we collectively decide the kinds of things that should be recorded.

Photography also captures *how* look at things.Through sharing we also establish boundaries to how we should see the world around us.

This is like a “free-market” of photographic ideas. Images with the best content and perspectives become more popular (either in art, adverts or otherwise) and influence others more. 

Social media has super-charged this, with new trends popping up and sticking faster and faster.

So when all of a sudden people are obsessed with ‘selfies’; is everyone actually agreeing to see the world in a different way?

[2] “To collect photographs is to collect the world… Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”

Taking photos is like collecting important bits of your life (e.g. special objects, people, places and events). 

But, instead of the thing itself, you get a photograph. It’s a lot easier to collect, carry and share things this way…

Smartphones are now the most popular cameras on the planet.

Instead of collecting experiences mostly for ourselves as in the past. The lion’s share of images we create today are now made for sharing online…

So, how much does the knowledge of an outside audience influence the things we ‘collect’, and how we collect them? 

[3] A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.”

Even though a photo can be manipulated (a lot)- it can’t be entirely made up!

This makes photos, even highly edited (or really weird ones), believable on sight to most people. Because they say *something* about reality that was in front of a camera.

How we present ourselves online relies on *some part* of the image saying something true about us and our experience.

But do we push this to the limit using: high-angle shots, filters and tools; to craft the best version of ourselves to share?

[4] “By furnishing this already crowded world with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more available to us than it really is.”

Photographs present us with the appearance of things.

For everything in the world (objects, people, places, events); there seems to be an photo we can look at.

It seems to bring close to us; things from the past, or which are far away. The “closeness” these images is an illusion; and actually hides the fact that these things are actually far away.

Social media seems to collapse the boundaries between friends far away. In reality, we tend to be  alone when we’re online; either at computers or staring distractedly into our smartphones.

Is the “closeness” we get from sharing photos actually distracting us from the fact we’re becoming more isolated in reality?

[5] “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.”

When we take and share photographs; we’re certifying that things which are important to us exist.

But at the same time we’re ignoring a whole bunch of things in our lives that don’t make “the cut”.

We can’t take pictures of *everything*. Photography is a judgemental practice because only “photogenic” things are recorded.

This is a bit like [1]. The way we see things becomes limited to things worthy of photographing, and the rest is ignored.

When it comes to smartphone photography, we’re even *more* discerning – because images must be interesting to others too.

How much of our life actually makes “the cut”? And how much of us is hidden from others because it didn’t make a good shot?


Here is a picture of Susan Sontag by Juan Bastos


When I first read this chapter, I found around 25 quotes I wanted to use. But if you’re anything like me, 5 was more than enough!

The overall theme from the insights is:

Smartphone photography brings a larger audience to our images. In the past we used photography to record our story for reflection, and then share.

Today our story is often written, (and reflection happens) in front of friends, family and public – as we go along. This adds a lot more pressure to what we record.

Is this a good thing? Or do we now filter what we shoot and share for others so much, that our photos don’t tell us as much as they used to?

I could go on and on (don’t worry I won’t!) But what do you think?

If you haven’t read On Photography, pick it up from Amazon here. If you have – are there any insights I’ve missed that need mentioning?

Let me know.

Feel free to spark up a conversation on Twitter: @martinsaidthis

ARE 2 CAMERAS BETTER THAN 1? Why Apple might double down on photography

Billie Grace Ward on Flickr

Apple *loves* its iPhone cameras. [Image via Billie Grace Ward on Flickr]


Over the last couple of generations, Apple’s ad campaigns for new iPhones have focused on the camera. This is really smart because, unlike others, Apple don’t dwell on the technology. They talk about what users can do with with the technology. (Only nerds like me are *really* interested on what’s going on inside!)

Turns out, the camera is really useful in telling the enticing story of an “Apple person”. The images shown on billboards, or at the keynote reflect an ethical, exciting and vibrant lifestyle. It’s the kind of lifestyle *you* could capture and share…

if you buy the new iPhone.

This is meaning-centred design and marketing 101. It’s also smart business; because whilst other parts of the iPhone have been hard to improve (e.g. battery life, goddamit!) – the camera has improved considerably over successive generations.

If you’re interested in these differences – there’s a fantastic comparison on www.snapsnapsnap.photos  which goes into more depth than here (image below).

iPhone-Comparison-Download (1)

iPhone camera improvement over 9 generations [via snapsnapsnap.photos]

This might be part of the reason why iPhones have become the most popular camera on the planet. Seriously.

You can see this on Flickr’s camera finder, not to mention across social media, where the majority of photos we create today are shared. (Android’s larger market share is, itself, shared across thousands of handsets). Whether you like it or not, we take a lot of photos using smartphones – and particularly iPhones.

But with iPhone 7 and iPhone 7+ around the corner – and apathy towards ‘live photos’ offered in the last generation – can Apple revolutionize photography again?


Some clues have come to light in recent weeks.

A number have sources have reported leaks purportedly showing what the forthcoming iPhone 7 and iPhone 7+ (or ‘Pro’) look like. Both sport new rear cameras; and in the case of the iPhone 7+ is looks like it actually has two cameras on the back!


Super-legit, image of iPhone 7+/Pro [via petapixel.com]

But why might the iPhone 7 have two cameras, and is this an entirely new idea?

Spoiler: no.

Two smartphones have been released this year with 2nd cameras; albeit for different reasons…


The Huawei P9, shows how Chinese companies are looking to push past Apple

The first was the Huawei P9, whose camera module was developed with Leica – a legendary lens and camera  manufacturer (please feel free to send me the new M9 for this endorsement). The Huawai combined a 12 MP camera with a 2nd, 12 MP monochrome sensor.

But what does this extra camera do exactly? Three things apparently.

First and foremost, the 2nd camera adds more detail to your pictures, by stitching the best parts of the two images together:

Capture more light with two sensors… Get incredible shots with the Huawei P9’s merging algorithm, which intelligently combines the colours take by the RGB sensor with the detail of the monochrome sensor”.

Secondly, monochrome sensors can take in more light than colour sensors. This can improve low-light performance, which is an annoyance for many smartphone users (especially those in ‘the club’).

Finally, the improved performance helps you achieve “professional photographic effects” like: wider aperture (more bokeh!!!) and a dedicated monochrome mode.

So, in the case of the P9; the 2nd camera essentially ‘superpowers’ the main camera, bringing it a step closer to a level “professional” quality and control. Neat.

But that’s not all a 2nd camera might do…


The LG G5 is something else. Aside from the camera (we’ll get to that in a sec) it’s the first smartphone to go modular. The idea behind this is that instead of buying a new phone every two years – you update individual parts – like you would software.

The G5 is ambitious across the board in the innovations it brings to the table, including – you guessed it – the 2nd camera.

The LG G5 is … WEIRD.

Unlike the Huawei however, the 2nd camera isn’t there to boost the overall quality of your shots – it’s about offering something different…

The second camera has a wide-angle lens – allowing users to quickly select between two different shot styles.

For the uninitiated, wide-angle lenses capture a wider view . It means you can fit more people in your group shots; or a broader, more dramatic landscape.

Wide angle lenses also allow more light in – meaning you can *usually* capture good images with less light than standard lenses.

So the LG  G5 ultimately offers more creative options for smartphone photographers (and videographers!) who can switch up the look of their shots with a single button press. Also neat.


But which is more likely for the iPhone 7+? Both offer clear improvements over the current generation. Or, could Apple’s take offer something different entirely?

Apple will be aware that a wayward feature might impact to their claim as kings of smartphone design. So it’s important that even though they might not have got their first – that they get it right.

Their acquisition of LinX for $20million may offer an insight. LinX develop sets of sensors that aim to rival consumer SLRs. So, like the Huawei, the function may be to improving the main camera’s images. But… we’ll just have to wait and see.

Whether the iPhone 7+ offers different lenses, or simply superpowers the one it already has – duel cameras are coming, and they’re here to stay.

Now, how long until duel selfie cams?

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet me @martinsaidthis

WHY!!? Instagram’s New Design


New icons for Instagram, Layout, Boomerang and Timelapse


As of today, if you update your phone and go to open up Instagram – you’ll notice something has changed!

The iconic icon (I’m hilarious) has been replaced with a much simpler and bolder design. The cartoony depiction of a camera – based upon the legendary Polaroid Land Camera 1000 – has been replaced with a clean minimalist, and colourful design.

Polaroid Land Camera 1000

Goodbye Polaroid Land Camera 1000?

This change is also seen inside the app, with many of the blocks of colour (e.g. the dark blue banner at the top) chucked out and replaced with a black and white layout. As well as that, icons replaced with simpler monochrome counterparts.


Instagram is one of the most instantly recognisable apps that appears on our home-screen – often taking one of the most coveted spots on the landing page. Why would Instagram (and Facebook) risk alienating users by changing it’s whole look?

The first clues can be spotted in the updates notes on the app store:

Our updated icon stays true to the camera and rainbow. The simpler app design puts the focus on your posts and keeps your features in the same place

The icon *is* familiar, because it keeps the recognisable bits of the previous logo – the “camera” shape and “rainbow” colour scheme.

Personally, I think the ‘rainbow’ has been lost in translation from the previous icon (again originally based on the rainbow marks on the Kodak Instamatic).

Instead what we have is an iOS 7-style tropical-flavoured gradient; which has used the same colours, but loses some of it’s character.

This seems a bit 2013 to me. However, the warm colours signify a warm sunset – a common topic of images posted using the app. (We all secretly enjoy sharing amazing sunsets captured on holiday – to share with friends stuck at home!)

The key factor in this redesign, as stated in the app notes, is simplicity.


The icon and app can be simplified because we don’t need complex design to tell us what Instagram is any more.

When something is new, design is used to communicate to users how it works. Specifically, if the new thing is similar to an old thing (like a camera) design cues from the old thing are used to help users get familiar.

A little look at what they've done. :(

Simply put, having the icon for your photography app realistically display a camera communicates quickly and effectively what the app does. The same goes for the user interface inside the app. This approach to designing things is called skeuomorphism.

When you use your smartphone camera you’ll likely hear a shutter sound (try it!). That’s not the camera. It’s an artificial sound programmed into the software so users recognise they’ve taken a picture! It’s details like these that make apps more satisfying; and initially familiar when we first use them.

Skeuomorphism can make all the difference in new and crowded markets, where people are pushing each other aside for space on the app store shelf. You might have an amazing photography app – but if people spot it on the app store and don’t instantly know what it is – you lose customers.

This is something worth thinking about for when the next big bang in technology happens!


But now that Instagram has been established as a cultural phenomena in it’s own right – its design doesn’t need to explain what it does. We know already! So the ‘volume’ of skeuomorphism in it’s design can be ‘turned down’ from 11, to closer to a 3.

This allows for a simpler design. Inside the app, this means less distraction through now unnecessary colours and icons (design clutter). Instagram’s head of design says as much in their Medium post about the change:

“While the icon is a colorful doorway into the Instagram app, once inside the app, we believe the color should come directly from the community’s photos and videos.”

Ultimately, this works because we have become intimately familiar with Instagram’s layout and functions. It might not have worked as well when it was first released!

The most important things we see in Instagram are the images we share, and those shared with us. In a photography app – how images are displayed on screen is possible the most important concern for designers.

As Instagram suggest; now it is established, a simpler design helps the app can now ‘get out of the way’ so that our main focus is on our photos.

Just don’t expect the shutter sound to disappear any time soon (people still find that way too weird!)

For more information, check out Instagram’s blog post on the change!

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet me @martinsaidthis

[NOTE: Apologies for the two year hiatus! More content soon come.]

014. [Infrastructure, Culture, Processes] iCloud, Cloud Storage, Privacy and Consumer Imaging

Disclaimer: this article discusses the usage of cloud storage in consumer imaging in relation to the recent leak of a batch private images of public figures. The article focuses on this from a technological perspective – examining the shift from data stored personally to the cloud. I have not reviewed the images myself and refer to their character as described in media reports.

What is it?

Over the course of this week (beginning 1st September 2014) a large-scale leak of images were released into the public domain. The images that were distributed were the personal photos of over one-hundred figures of public interest; featuring the individuals in compromising positions of nudity. Many of the images distributed appear to be self-taken and would presumably have been created to be distributed to intimate and trusted individuals. As such, the leak represents a gross violation of the privacy of these individuals – which is further complicated by their position as figures of public interest.

It is alleged that the images were originally sourced through an individual on the internet community 4Chan – where then the images then became widely distributed over subsequent networks. It has been reported that the leak occurred as a consequence of an exploit in Apple’s iCloud storage and “Find my iPhone” services.

Here a password generator was reportedly used to generate correct passwords for the individual’s accounts. Where other services “lock” person out of their accounts if a password is guessed incorrectly a number of times – it is reported that iCloud allowed an infinite amount of “guesses” to be entered by the generator. In conjunction with social engineering techniques this purportedly allowed full access to the individual’s stored information.

It is reported that only users of Apple’s iCloud service was affected by this breach – and that all of the compromising images were obtained from this source. On the 2nd of September Apple acknowledged the breach but denied that it was a consequence of a vulnerability in their software.

As of writing – no individual has accepted responsibility or been identified as the source of the leak. It is reported that the FBI are currently involved in an investigation to identify and prosecute the individual who was the source of the leaks. A similar case involving compromising images of another singular public figure resulted in the perpetrator being handed a sentence of 10 years in custody.

Why is it important?

From the perspective of this research blog this example draws attention to the increased use of cloud storage as a principle means of storing smartphone data.

To understand how this has occurred – and its potentially problematic nature – there is a requirement to understand how the widespread adoption of cloud computing represents a paradigmatic shift in our relationship to our own information (and indeed images).

Cloud computing operates on the principle that computing becomes a service provided by a company remotely (over a network), rather than a product. This can be seen in many different aspects of computing such as software with functions being remotely accessed such as Google Docs. However its earliest successes and can be observed in data storage.

Early cloud data storage models such as Dropbox allowed users to forgo filling up space on their own hard-drives. This has many benefits – firstly allowing for users to store increasingly large amounts of data without having to buy additional physical drives, and secondly allowing people to access their files on any machine. A further benefit of allowing people to send files to each other without need to transfer data peer-to-peer, or physically via USB pens or HDDs.

This has resulted in a proliferation of cloud services including major technology companies (Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive and Apple iCloud). These solutions became increasingly interconnected and holistic – with many cloud storage solutions now automatically backing up users’ files over a range of devices (e.g. smartphone, tablet, personal computers). This may be seen to be of particular use in smartphones which tend to have limited storage space – allowing users to retain all of their files whilst keeping their devices operating efficiently

For the most part cloud storage has now become an intrinsic part of siloed ecosystems such as Google Android and Apples iOS – for many of the reasons stated above. Despite the clear benefits of increased efficiency and ubiquity of access to files – use of cloud storage represents a significant transformation in the relationship between users and their data that may be worth reviewing critically.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

A material difference in access and security

In the aforementioned case where a large amount of sensitive information was obtained and distributed through unauthorised access to iCloud services – such a crime could not be accomplished in the same manner prior to the use of ubiquitous data services.

Before cloud computing was the de facto method of backing up information, such a breach would have had to be completed by obtaining or compromising storage hardware on an individual to individual basis. The systematic nature of this breach and the repeated use of a singular exploit may have unfortunately allowed for a far more significant leak to occur than was possible before cloud storage.

Of particular note is the manner in which some of these services automatically back up files to cloud storage by default. For example, my personal Android device backs up any image that is stored on my device to Google Drive – where it instantly can be used on my desktop over a range of Google services. Whether this may have been the case for those affected by the above breach remains to be seen. I am unsure however that the individuals in question would explicitly back up these kind of sensitive images for later review – despite the fact that this should not be a worry to users when using secure cloud storage at all.

Whilst previously there has not been any cause for concern in relation to storing our information remotely in this way – these events may result in a distrust of such services in privately managing our more sensitive files and images.

This post refers to nudity and compromising images – despite this there is of course a degree to which all the images we create should subject to secure measures, whether they detail the loved ones in our lives or are our professional outputs.

The immaterial cloud and us leasing access to our stuff (an afterthought)

Whilst many cloud services allow us a generous amount of free storage – most operate upon a subscription model for premium services. Here the user pays a yearly fee for access to a larger amount of storage.

This is quite shrewd as a business model as it can allow users to “fill up” a cloud drive and then find themselves in the position where they become reliant upon the service and have to pay in order to be able to continue to access their data.

When compared to the notion of simply having an external hard-drive which will last for the most part indefinitely – this seems a strange purchasing decision to make.

Crucially – all of the above may result in a distinction being made by users between personal and cloud drives moving forwards which may be interesting to explore with users.

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry

013. [Technology, Infrastructure, Processes] Imagga Automatic Image Tagging API

Bulgarian start-up Imagga has developed what it describes as “Powerful image recognition APIs for automated categorizations & annotation of visual content.”  Using the APIs a user can upload an image and then be instantly presented with a series of relevant “tags” that can then be attached to the image metadata through clicking on a series of icons.

From testing out the API here (try it yourself!) it is clearly very powerful.

As can be seen above – upon processing the image, an array of image tags are presented to the user as a series of circles, with those arranged closest to the image proposed as the most relevant. The tags are split in to two typologies – “colors” and “concept”. What is arguably the most impressive aspect of the technology is the accuracy in the APIs to detect relevant and useful concepts as a consequence of image content for any image.

When trying out the image below through the API, it was able to recognise that the people within the image were men, “attractive” (I will leave that to readers to decide), as well as noticing “hand”, “adult” “people”. “studio”. Quite hilariously it does mistake a drink for an “oboe” – however with tags being verified by the user these suggestions would not cause a problem. Theoretically the API could also be taught to “learn” through use which tags are more accurate through selection and become more powerful as it becomes more widely used.

0 0082

Not too far from an oboe

The Next Web reports that in addition: “Imagga’s technology covers not only proprietary image auto-tagging, but also auto-categorizationcolor extraction/search and smart cropping.”

Imagga has proposed that the technology would be most useful “If your business model relies on monetizing crowd-sourced images” – i.e. in professional workflows where meta-data and tagging are critical tools.

However much could be said of implementing such technologies in consumer-level social sharing.

Why is it important?

Innovation rarely occurs unless an opportunity to solve a perceived problem has been identified. In this case Imagga have developed the above APIs to cater for a significant deadlock within the professional imaging work flows due to the sheer amount of time required to categorize large groups of images.

Historically, photography companies (or those that work with large quantities of images) would not have had to deal with the sheer volume of images that are created today.  The increasing amount of images has also led to an increasing amount of a particular kind of photowork – making sure that the image is correctly organized and retrievable from descriptors.

In current work flows this would equate to a massive amount of work by either: entering tags for each image individually; or, entering tags for groups of images at a time and losing the specific descriptors of each image.

The use of API proposed tags (if adopted widely) also intrinsically standardizes the terms used to describe similar images – which could ultimately make tag-based searches more effective. In addition Imagga has developed a streamlined UI which allows this categorization to take place far easier than ever before (without having to open individual menus etc), significantly cutting down the time required to complete this work.

The technology displayed by Imagga represents an important step in acknowledging the significance effectively using meta-data as a part of digital imaging practices.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

Consumer imaging and the emergence of sharing as photowork

As a consequence of innovation, practices have emerged in consumer imaging that were not present in film-based photography. These centre around how we share and engage with images (both publicly and privately) within digital spaces.

The economy of consumer imaging is now based on the exchange of increasing amounts of digital images. These – as with film in the past – can serve as mementoes of our past for later recollection, tools for developing social relationships as well as a means of constructing a personal expression of identity.

A critical issue with ongoing innovation however is that it appears that consumers are lacking the tools to be able to: effectively engage with the increasing volume of images they are creating, share them successfully in public streams, or efficiently navigate those being created by others.

Metadata attached to a digital image can be helpful tool to categorize images for easier navigation and discovery. Some useful information is automatically encoded into the image file when we create it (camera used, imaging settings, time taken and even location taken in some cases). In addition an unlimited amount of additional tags can also be attributed into an images’ metadata, allowing the prospect of users being able to search their images on the basis of selected criteria.

At the consumer level (where image production is expanding the most) leverage of metadata in this way, to help users is not common practice – and where found is time-consuming and expertise driven when compared to other streamlined and automated processes.

The example of Instagram

Instagram’s sharing economy is vastly improved by the use of user assigned hashtags (#). Here images with hashtags can be easily found through user-inputted searches. This form of tagging works broadly on the same premise as metadata mentioned above – but here the tags are primarily employed as a means of distributing images. (The hashtag can also be seen to have a communicative function).

The issue with this as a practice is that compared to  image capture the interaction required upon the part of the user to share is fairly laborious – and requires knowledge of appropriate categories to tag images with in order to reach desired audiences. In this way the automated technology offered by Imagga (or similar auto-tagging APIs) could find profound use on Instagram where images are tagged and entered into curated streams automatically based on the content of images. (The API and UI could also be used to present the user with a series of relevant suggested tags, which they could then tap to include with far less friction than the current method.)



Imagga and Instagram - a match made in heaven?

With many users “off the grid” of discovery by sharing without hashtags (sharing only to their followers) the impact of an automatic content based API could greatly benefit the image creator who presumably would – with little effort – find themselves enjoying increased volume of engagement around their images as they are being distributed publically.

In addition it could potentially structure Instagram’s image discover functions so that increased diversity of users are included, as well as structuring the content contained on the platform by a set of API standardized categories. This would mean that accurate navigation of other people’s images would not be reliant on understanding the user-determined “culture of hashtags” being used to describe images. The main issue with this however would be the loss of an idiosyncratic dimension to Instagram where social interactions take place over unique community driven tags. Many of these can be seen to benefit Instagram as it characterises the growth of unique trends on the platform.

However there could be some argument to include automatic image categorization alongside user-inputted tags to retain this on the platform to offer the benefits of both.

Imagga highlights the emerging important of effective sharing as a practice in its own right within consumer imaging – where there is a critical opportunity for innovation to intervene and create value in practices of sharing that have so far been ignored

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry

012. [Technology, Infrastructure, Process] Lytro Light-Field Photography Web Player Goes Open Source

What is it?

The Lytro Illum (alongside their eponymous first generation camera) are best understood as the first iterations of presenting plenscopic imaging to consumer photographers. In plain English, Lytro have created two “light-field” cameras – these (unlike traditional cameras) capture light information for the whole focal plane within an image, rather than a single focus point.

In plain-er English this means that users are able to interact with the images captured photographically they have captured in a number of ways previously not possible – including “refocusing” an image after it has been captured, as well as shifting the perspective. As such, Lytro living images, are also unique at a technical level and require their own web player to view.

These cameras were covered in my very first entry to this blog which can be read here.

In this post however I mentioned that one of the most problematic aspects of Lytro technology, was not the clearly compelling features they offered, but rather how they fit into current image-sharing practices (today characterised by online social media sharing)  both as a technology and a practice.

As of June 2014, Lytro switched from a proprietary web plugin to one that runs on OpenGL. This largely has the effect of allowing Lytro images to become more ubiquitous online (as well as making it easier for web developers to integrate Lytro living images on websites).

In addition to this change, Canadian image-sharing website 500px has taken a progressive stance by integrating the plugin on their website.

Why is it important?

Light-field photography challenges many aspects of photography as it exists today. There is largely no precedent within contemporary imaging if viewed as a system of 6 basic attributes (culture, processes, people, goals, technology and infrastructure) for the technology. Neither does Lytro appear to coalesce with the natural progression of typical trends in consumer photography as we experience it today.

The latter two of these six aspects has been addressed by the Lytro camera itself [technology], as well as opening the web player to an open-source standard allowing Lytro images to start to become more ubiquitous online [infrastructure].

However there is some way to go for it to gain traction as a socio-technical system in its own right.

People don’t know what constitutes good light field photography, because there has been no culture of use and appraisal yet [culture]. If adjudged by the existing standards and values of photography – the output of the camera appears strange. Typically emphasis in photography is placed on image-quality and the keen eye of the photographer top spot the shot. In comparison to the lay-person Lytro appears to permit indiscriminate use (take now focus later), even though this is not the case as depth of field must be taken into account to produce the most pleasing use of the technology [process].

Similarly they are unsure of how the role of a light-field photographer should differ or be treated similar to that of a normal photographer [people]. People also do not yet know what constitutes a good or bad Lytro image at a technical level – they can only hazard a guess at those they encounter online or make through use (goals). Photography is an activity that is strongly based around mastery/expertise which causes this to be problematic.

Thus, at the consumer level at least the technology currently comes across as a curiosity/ “look at the future” rather than a solution to a defined or existing problem.

This is especially so as most people do not understand these variables in relation to traditional photography – and may not even have a point of reference to work from. The Illum however represents a step in the right direction in this respect by putting the technology in the hands of enthusiasts who will decipher and present to others the best uses for the technology. In addition through partnering with 500px, Lytro have found a suitable place for these images to reach a discerning audience.

This is a series of issues for Lytro to overcome in their journey – but ones which I am sure they will do as the technology surely represents an undeniable potential for many (including the consumer space) in the coming years.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

Technological innovation alone is no longer enough, technological paradigms

The original Lytro camera and the Illum are both unmatched as technological innovations within the area of contemporary digital imaging.

Other companies within imaging are spending a lot of money innovating upon current technologies such as curved sensors, and mirrorless cameras – yet only these represent only improvements upon existing technology.

These innovations offer users clear and understandable advantages over existing technologies – and thus a clear refinement pathway for digital imaging technology moving forwards. (This is also important for manufacturers who do not have to completely change the products that their factories produce). Indeed, if the qualities of curved sensors and mirrorless cameras become popular with users – the other manufacturers find themselves having to provide analogous technology. He who innovated first has the head-start on the rest – and becomes the market leader. This becomes even more difficult when intellectual property is factored into the equation).

Importantly the demand for these refinements are a consequence of progressing the existing paradigm of photography.

What plenscopic imaging is, is not a continuation or pivot upon existing technological hierarchies, but rather the proposition of a completely tangential and ultimately new technological paradigm – and herein lies the problem/ task at hand.

Whilst the technology is clearly compelling – it cannot exist within a vacuum and has to be enacted within the present cultural circumstances (and potentially in spite of a systematically entrenched precedent.) That is if the device describes itself as a camera – or as a device that should be used as such.

However there will surely be a turning point where the clear benefits offered by the technology become viable for wider adoption by the public. Personally I believe that the technology will find its best uses outside of the consumer space before this occurs. More soon…

Apologies for the sloppy writing on this one – wanted to get the ideas down in their rawest form. I will look to refine this entry soon! Needless to say light-field photography represents a future for photography – and as such it’s progress is something that I will be keeping a keen eye upon.

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry

011. [Culture, Goals, Infrastructure] The Lomo’Instant Camera

What is it?

The Lomo’Instant camera is a new model of camera devised by Russian film revivalists Lomography. Previously Lomography’s camera models (especially the “Diana”) have been found themselves at the fore of renewed interest in film photography – and particularly the use of toy cameras that produce unique images.

The images produced by these cameras are notable for the fact that the images they produce appear “old” and far less faithful to life than more “serious” film cameras. As a consequence the images that they produce are often typified by over saturation, heavy vignetteing, lens distortions, light leaks and other artefacts. Today, these images however appear very quirky – and it seems that this is one of the key selling points of the Lomography movement.

Where before the Lomo movement focused typically on generic film cameras, the Lomo’Instant is the first of their offerings to approach the idea of instant photography – as made iconic by Polaroid during the late 1970s and 1980s.

The camera itself uses FujiFilm’s Instax Mini Film (one of the only available stocks of instant film left) and for all intents and purposes is a modified version of Fuji’s offerings. It is these modifications however that are interesting with Lomography allowing users to take instant pictures with the Lomo’Instant in ways previously not available with historic instant cameras.

These include: interchangeable lenses, multiple exposure mode, bulb mode long exposures (infinite shutter speed), and a range of coloured gel “filters”. The project was successfully funded on Kickstarter on June 27th 2014 receiving $1,118,333 upon asking for an eleventh of that ($100,000).

Why is it important?

By gauging interesting on Kickstarter for their product prior to its release, Lomography have successfully secured inflated funding for their Instant camera, as well as identifying interest and a customer base before the product was actually put to market. The fact that the project also secured eleven times its minimum funding target is also interesting as it goes someway to proving that not only is there still a demand for Lomography products (and by extension their unique brand of photography) but also specifically for this to be achieved in instant photography.

In this way, Lomography appears to have successfully carved out a niche away from film photography as a serious pursuit, allowing uses to enjoy some of the benefits of “stylised” film photography without the need to operate a film camera.

For the company to then move towards instant photography removes the latency between the user having their images developed – both allowing the user instant gratification (rather than being forced to wait). In addition this makes Lomography’s provision a holistic one. In layman’s terms this means that you don’t have to interact with anything else apart from Lomography’s product to capture and receive the image. This can be seen as quite important with a product that relies so much upon the meanings that are generated through its use – as it is certainly not the “best” film camera in real terms. What this means exactly we’ll discuss in the next section.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

The Influence of Photographic Culture on What We “Want”

For this section of the blog post I will be taking the position of the devil’s advocate. I do not own a Lomography camera, I have not created any images using film photography (except a few made using disposable cameras now and then.) If there is anything within this post or argument which you disagree with or would be interested to contribute to – please do not hesitate to let me know.

That being said – from my perspective I believe that a lot of what makes Lomography rewarding to people is that Lomography cameras represent a lot of cultural values that we associate as being important to photography – but which may not be present (or as present) in our typical relationship with photography today. This I would argue is primarily a consequence of the way in which digital photography has changed the ways we create and “use” photographs today. It is also a very solid and valid basis for a product – no wonder it’s doing so well~!

Lomography in this way turns the volume up to 11 on some of the aspects missing from digital photography today. The most fundamental of these being the creation of a physical artefact (digital images we create now are rarely printed in my experience, as a result of interactions around the image taking place online).

In addition Lomography cameras – and their images – exhibit an amplified “personality” compared to your standard charity shop purchase (mine being an Olympus OM-1) with stark defects in the image exaggerating the filmic qualities of the medium. In this way, (and many more that could be unpacked) Lomography products represent a design articulation of many of the things are still held in high esteem within photography – but packaged as a product for those who are not ready (for one reason or another) to utilize traditional film photography equipment.

The Lomo’Instant on top of this presents these aspects to users with instant gratification of these needs, also adding the cultural cache of Polaroid cameras (seeing the image develop before your eyes etc.) As mentioned in previous posts – our collective understanding of photography is constantly being shaped not only by this kind of historical precedent, but also by the new relationships being innovated between people and images…

The Introduction of Contemporary Tropes and Hobbyism

The Lomo’Instant is interesting in this respect as it not only presents users with a holistic experience of film – and particularly instant – photography, but it also modernises the product somewhat by adding extra functions more typical of the versatility of contemporary photography. Historically instant cameras were automated to the extent where the user simply had to press the button (typically featuring high ISO film and a slave flash for low light situations).

In this case Lomography have introduced a couple of features which appease users who may have been disappointed with the rigidity of the Instant experience (or indeed its similarity to existing products). In this case they have added the ability to produce both long and multiple exposures – allowing experimental photography. This to my mind is without precedent in instant photography. In addition to this Lomography include gels with the camera which produce different “filter” effects reminiscent of Instagram (which itself has played an important role in the emergence of this particular revival).

Whilst it would be a bit tenuous to suggest that these additions are a direct consequence of an archaic camera not meeting the needs of the contemporary user – the fact that these innovations have been added suggest that there is an important relationship being observed between cultural ideas surrounding photography and the benefits of innovation today. That being said – it would appear that we’re past the point of being fooled by skeaumorphism in apps (e.g. having a photograph “develop” on screen within an app) people are producing products that is searching for what is (and isn’t) in photography. A lot of this at the consumer level seems to be to do with a traceable and consistent process and relationship between the image create and the photograph.

More soon…

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry


010. [Culture, Goals, People, Process, Infrastructure] “20 Day Stranger” app by MIT Media Lab & “Rando”

What is it?

20 Day Stranger is an app for iPhone that has been developed by MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems working group. The app is a peer-to-peer sharing app which partners you with a stranger for 20 days, allowing you to share information with each other about your life. Over this time period the app tells your phone to collect a range of additional details such as when you wake up (using the accelerometer), as well as if you’re in transit through the use of GPS (this also lets your “partner” know how fast you’re travelling too.) At the end of the 20 day period you are able to send the person you have been matched with a single message. Images that adorn this information are scraped from Google Streetview, obscuring the activity enough for the user to remain anonymous. The app as it stands does not allow for first hand sharing as director Kevin Slavins suggests such an approach would have “a tendency to bring out some experiences that are negative.”

Rando however is an image-sharing app which is designed specifically to allow strangers to share images with each other – and offers an interesting counterpoint. Rando users take a picture and then receive one shortly afterwards in return from a randomly generated sender. (You image is also sent to someone else entirely separate). More often than not this results in international exchanges. When experimenting with Rando, I have received images from Asia, South America, Europe and America. From my experience the negative aspects Kevin Slavins infers are rarely seen in Rando exchanges at this time (although there is an issue that will be discussed in the next section).

Both of these are examples of applications that allow you to share with strangers on a 1:1 basis.

Why is it important?

Image-sharing has become a diverse and significant activity within cultures of technology. We are able to (1) send images to specific targets with as much as ease as (2) broadcasting them to large groups of people. Typically when we send an image to a designated target this will be someone that we know directly, and this will be completed using a messaging app (as there is a need to have their specific contact info). Both of these activities typify today’s dominant image-sharing activities.

Where we share with more people (i.e. a Facebook post, or on Twitter) there may be an understanding that some of the people who are exposed to the image in their feeds may not be known to us. This is something we can describe as a semi-public sharing – and it may affect the way that we share the image (if at all). In addition to this we may share an image in public streams (i.e. sharing an image on Instagram using a hashtag) – this is undertaken on the understanding that people that we do not know at all will receive the image. Again, this understanding may have an impact on the kind of image shared, as well as the desired response from recipients.

In all of these cases, as we broadcast wider (i.e. as we want more people to see the image) we may understand that this is where people that we do not know as well (if at all) may come in to contact with the image. If we wish to get to know people this could be seen to pose a problem as this is comparable to getting to know someone you have not met at a party, but having to break the ice with that person with everybody else listening in to your conversation.

Significantly, until the likes of Rando and 20 Day Stranger (and perhaps dating apps which use image sharing) – dedicated image sharing with the people we do not already know have operated on the basis of “broadcasting” rather than peer-to-peer. It is likely as such, that more intimate (or candid) sharing is less likely. Why this is significant to social sharing we will cover in the next section.

20 Day Stranger from Playful Systems on Vimeo.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

Public Sharing and Ideal Online Identities

Sharing on-line is different from sharing with people in “real life”. In a physical conversation with someone we can make mistakes, say the wrong thing and be exposed time and again by our body language. Online – in most case we are allowed some freedoms that allow us to construct our identities. To clarify – we can select which images of ourselves we allow to be tagged to our profile, we can share content which correlates to our beliefs (or at least the beliefs that we wish to share with our peers and the public) and we can even design every single word we say to others, whether in a private message, or a blog post. An easy way to understand this is when you think about the tightly composed email that you send your boss, as opposed to communicating the same material to them caught unawares in the corridor.

Today, on-line there are a number of tools on-line that have made sharing more human (such as notifications when people are typing, or when an image has been seen by its recipient). However, for the most part, online spaces have become places where we find ourselves having to maintain personas (if indeed we feed into them at all.) This is one of the main benefits of Snapchat (that people have discussed with me) compared to other image sharing apps – namely that people feel that they can “be themselves” more when the images do not linger afterwards. We are all human after all.

This means however, that the way that we share with people we don’t know is likely more reserved, toned-down – and ultimately less human. As when we communicate to the crowd, we find ourselves having to adhere to convention. Rando and 20 Days Stranger are significant in the sense that they are largely unprecedented ways of genuinely connecting to (without the caveat of hooking up) people that we do not already know. In a word that is becoming increasingly connected – we should be sure that the connections (and services) we design between people bring people together, rather than stave them apart.

There are a couple more critical aspects to this that I may revisit later – but for now I will leave this post as it is.

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry

009. [Culture/Technology,Process] (Paper) Transient Attributes for High-Level Understanding and Editing of Outdoor Scenes

Apologies for the long-winded title on this one – it’s a really good one ~!

What is it?

A research paper has been released by researchers at Brown University detailing an algorithm they have created which allows users to navigate collections of outdoor images on the basis of a set of “transient attributes”. These attributes include the time of day (morning, night, dawn dusk and so on), the season (spring, summer, autumn, winter) and even the prevailing weather conditions (more sunny, rainy, snowy and so on).

In addition to these variables which affect scenery in reality – users are also able to interact on the basis of subjective attributes (e.g. “stressful, boring”). These conditions have been developed through an experimental activity where respondents were asked to rate a series of images for these variables.

By comparing responses from participants to the varying attributes with the image, the algorithm has become able to not only provide users of the program with alternative images when commanded (i.e. to present a different image that is “more cold”) but remarkably, the algorithm is also able to able to automatically enact image processing upon an image – presenting the user instantly with a modified  image.

For more detailed information on the work, please refer to the video below, as well as the research paper which can be read here.

Why is it important?

The reaction to this innovation in photographic circles (or at least the comment section of PetaPixel, where I first heard about it) is relatively lukewarm. The main criticism seems to be that (as demonstrated) the changes enacted by the algorithm are poor in comparison to what can be achieve through alterations on Photoshop.

In all due respect however, this position does not really grasp what is significant about this research, and at the very least comes from a privileged position (namely the position of photographic enthusiasts and professionals who have both the time and the expertise to make significant amendments to images). [From this point forward I will be discussing the possible use of this technology within consumer imaging.]

As a consumer product (e.g if applied to Instagram) the potential offered by this technology are compelling for a number of reasons. To begin consumers enjoy the ability to edit their images today using filters. This algorithm (and others like it) would allow them a new set of tools to push the capabilities of image-editing/correction even further. Importantly this would further remove the requirement for both user expertise and time in users achieving more ambitious imaging goals. Theoretically this would result in more pleasing images for the user with the same amount of “friction” in their process of creation and sharing. I will explain what I mean by these two things a bit more in the following section.

How might it affect the Social Camera?

Editing and Authenticity

As previously mentioned, the ability to edit images has been seen to be quite important to smartphone imaging. Filters as a form of easy editing can be seen as one of the primary reasons behind the success of Instagram. This is possibly a result of the Instagram filter’s ability to negate some of the weaknesses of early smartphone photography by emulating film photography. We could argue that this offers some very real benefits (getting rid of digital artefacts/ normalizing an image) as well as symbolic and value-driven ones (more “real” or “substantial” as it looks feels/like a Polaroid etc. etc.)

We might also  argue that this possible skeaumorphic value to the Instagram filter doesn’t exist any more as it has become a cultural institution in its own right (so people no longer associate them with film and its processes but rather its own culture).

In addition to this, filters are no longer one-size-fits-all, with users able to edit images with granular control –  and now users have more powerful cameras and got over an initial learning curve – the culture is more inclined to use more sophisticated tools on the platform. This has something to do with the life-cycle of a unique product which we won’t get into too much right now… 

Despite this – people’s tolerance to image editing at the consumer level is fairly high. This might mean that an image editor that could seamlessly change your images to be “more moody” or “rainy” might be of interest to users. However what this technology proposes which might be challenging to users is single touch image editing which profoundly changes the “truth” of the image. This is somewhat unprecedented (at least in a way that is as sophisticated as demonstated here).

Here’s the tricky bit. Where previously an Instagram filter had the effect of changing the digital image into one that resembled a film image or process (perhaps changing how we view the image), if applied to Instagram this algorithm does not change the material nature/ format of image, but the image content. This is important, as whilst possible, it has never been this easy to change night to day, or summer to winter.

Whilst the magnitude of the physical change to the image is more or less identical to an Instagram filter (changing an equivalent amount of the colours) the affective change is more pronounced as it changes the truth of the content of the image (as opposed to looking like a more iconic format.).

Changing an image shot during the day to one that appears to have been taken at night (or warmer / colder than it was) is something that we would imagine goes against the principles of photography. It remains to be seen how and if this technology or some like it would be applied to (and received in) the consumer space. However it does push forward the notion that photography and reality are not mutually exclusive for reasons that will be explained next…WeatherChangingBrownUni-640x358

The Importance of the Process (or Lack Thereof)

Process is very important to photography. The historic chemical process of creating an image (the transference of light information to a surface which lasts indefinitely). We might argue that because it was very time consuming and difficult to change a film image dramatically; this is why photographic images have been seen as truer representations of something that happened than any type of representation we had available to us previously. (Although chemical photography – as with all types – was not without its dupes and fakes, Stalin’s historical revisionism is a prime example of this)

We could again argue this is why when digital photography (and PhotoShop) allowed much more ground for people to bend the intrinsic truth with an image – that there was some furore in academic circles with some even mourning the death of photography. The innovation discussed in this blog post is another such advancement that could allow people to edit the “truth” of an image with even less requirement for expertise or time.

What is critical here is not the death of photographic truth (as we said before Stalin was perfectly able to “delete” people who existed in a moment from images). But rather the requirement to understand the photograph not as a truth on its own. Instead the photography is the culmination of a process completed by the photographer which can be completed for accuracy, but is also becoming increasingly malleable to more and more people.

What is most interesting to me is how we “factor in” the process of creating and sharing a photograph today into our comprehension of what photographic images are, and the values they represent. Simply because, a photograph no longer represents the values instilled by 100 years of the same photochemical process (and practices and expertise). In fact photographic processes are becoming increasingly diverse, and are continually evolving.  The next generation will realise this before we do, and we might predict that they will not be as influenced by “old photography” as we are. Instead more “native” to the meanings and values ascribed to the new practices and processes they are involved in today.

In essence this is what my research aims to scratch the surface of –  at least the influence of social sharing on our understanding of smartphone photography …

Regardless, the impact upon photography is profound and its happening now.

What do you think though? Leave a comment or start a conversation with me on Twitter at @mdhendry