Yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune included two articles that I found interesting.
The articles illustrate concerns I've had for awhile about both our culture and more specifically, photography. We seem to be in the midst of continuous improvements in both product and process but sadly lacking in true innovation. The 42 inch television has made way for the 72 inch TV. After the first "Wow!" we seem to shrug our shoulders. Just a moment before it seemed fantastic and now it seems...normal.
When Apple released it's first iPhone version, there's no doubt it was transformative. Subsequent versions leveraged the features and capabilities of the device compelling millions (including me!) to continuously trade up. But, recent versions (what are we on, the 6?) have provided small incremental improvements. Lately, there hasn't been a compelling reason to trade up to the newest iPhone.
Similarly, Buffalo Wild Wings swept the market for years with an innovative approach to the casual dining/bar restaurant experience. They continue to deliver a good product at a fair price. But, sales have now turned the corner because everyone knows what they are going to get when they go to Buffalo Wild Wings. It's a known quantity...and, therefore, sort of boring.
In the past few months, I've upgraded my camera equipment from a camera delivering 22.3 megapixels (Canon 5D MarkIII) to two new camera platforms, the Sony A72R and the Canon 5DS. The Sony is a 47 mp camera and the Canon 5DS comes in at 50 mp, more than double the the resolution of its predecessor. File sizes have nearly doubled and the native size of the Canon images is now near 16 inches by 24 inches (about 110 mp).
When I view the images, the increase in resolution is startling. The Canon produced photos, in particular, are so sharp they have an almost three dimensional quality where object edges seem to almost wrap around to the other side. My clients have been impressed. A common response has often included the phrase, "These images are amazing!" But, the effect has quickly worn off and now is considered to be the new normal. Moreover, with some minor changes, the way photos are created with both cameras differs in only minor ways from the way they were created with the Canon 5D MarkIII. Better, yes...but not completely different.
Do I feel my work is innovative? Well...yes I do.
My work in architecture incorporates numerous techniques used by a range of many to just a few photographers.
High dynamic range
We are now about 10 years into the broad application of High Dynamic Range or HDR photography. When first introduced, the iconic architectural photographer Norman McGrath called it, "The single most important development since the advent of digital photography. HDR provides a potentially clear path to revealing highlight and shadow detail thus expanding dynamic range to the near equivalent of the human eye. The result: a more realistic image going beyond what could have ever been created by using external lighting or darkroom manipulation. Innovative at the time of its introduction, still cutting edge in a lot of ways, but also widely used and part of the "new normal" in architecture.
I use panoramas extensively to extend the point of view beyond the borders of the traditional 35mm frame size. Using a panoramic tripod head and a shift lens enable me to create horizontal as well as vertical panoramas. Most photographers who shoot architecture stick to the 35mm frame although it is not unusual to see panoramas in architecture.
Focus stacking is a commonly used technique in macro photography but little used in architecture. Essentially, it is a way to extend the Depth of Field for a view by combining images with focus points in the foreground and images with focus points in the background.
The above example illustrates this effect. In the left photo, the lens is sharply focused on the background as is evident in the wall sconce. As a result, the foreground Hydrangeas are slightly out of focus. In the second image on the right, the lens is focused on the foreground leaving the background sconce slightly out of focus. After the image is processed and the images carefully combined (this is NOT a one click procedure), the final image below looks brilliantly sharp from front to back.
Although innovative in a lot of ways, few photographers use this technique. Most images are used on the web or printed in fairly small sizes in documents. The advantages of this effect really only shows up if the image is printed in a high quality magazine or produced as a large size print.
Wireless iPad View and Review
One of the most significant innovations I've used for shooting both architecture and portraits is readily available but used by very few photographers. Using a device called a Cam Ranger and its related iPad app, I am able to review photos as they are shot as well as review, adjust, and fine tune scenes using live view before they are shot. Put in the hands of a marketing director, architect, or designer, this tool empowers them enabling them to improve and approve of every shot. This goes to the very core of collaboration and significantly improves every photo I create.
This device and app also enables me to shoot remotely. The only way the photo of this very small bathroom below could be created was to place the camera inside of a cabinet at the end of the room. There was no way I could get behind the camera to fine tune the view, see the camera settings, or press the shutter. Using the Cam Ranger, I was able to stand outside the room, refine the view, focus, and settings, and take the picture.
Largely, my work illicits a lot of "wows" because I think they are innovative. However, I've got an itch waiting to be scratched. I think we are on edge of a new wave of innovation which will make all of this stuff yesterday's news. I'm looking for it and I admit I haven't found it. But...I'm looking. Unlike many others (Buffalo Wild Wings and Apple?) I'm not content to just keep doing the same thing and doing it incrementally better.
Moreover, I think there is an over-emphasis on innovative tools such as higher resolution cameras and other gadgets. Instead, I think we need to place more value on innovative process, or the WAY we do things. Focus stacking and other techniques are new ways to take pictures. But, I'm talking about more than that. I'm talking about "approach." We need to develop new ways to approach the process of creating images...what happens before the camera is even picked up.
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