June 01, 2011 — The past five years have brought many revolutionary changes to the photographic industry. What started in the early 1990s, slowly making progress and improvements, has suddenly taken a big leap forward in the last half decade. While our cameras are now equipped with better sensors, more affordable and accessible to the general consumer, concurrently the software we use to edit is becoming more capable than before, running on the most robust hardware we’ve seen in years. This is the first time we can truly say our computer software, and hardware, are on the same level as image-capture devices, in terms of capability. With changes happening so fast, it is our responsibility to learn the most efficient ways to harness these powers and leverage these new technologies. Many of the changes up until now have been astonishing—but what’s to come in the next five years will be even better!
Image Capturing Devices & Sensor Technology
On the image-capture side we have seen the end of the megapixel (MP) race, where camera manufacturers double the pixel count with every new camera released. Thankfully, they’ve redirected their attention to core image quality. The last five years have seen the development of cameras that can photograph in extreme low-light situations, using sensors with better high ISO capability, in addition to an overall improvement in image quality. Images captured with these new sensors look more natural and less digitized, compared to earlier digital models. Leading this trend, back in 2007, was the Nikon D3, and its successor, the D3S, released in late 2009. The original D3 surprised us, and set a new industry standard for low-light imagery that was unmatched, and unseen, by any other camera for sometime. In many respects, it’s still known as one of the best high ISO cameras. In 2008, we also saw Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras (DSLR) that could capture High Definition (HD) video, the first of its kind being the Nikon D90, followed closely by the Canon 5D Mark II.
These are major advancements in a short time period—just imagine what the next half-decade will bring. We will see better sensor designs that can capture higher quality images, with better resolving resolution, and at even higher ISOs. We will see a majority of the DSLR manufacturers increase their baseline megapixel (MP) count to 16MP, up from the current range of 10–12MP seen today. In addition, expect to see better video quality, frame rate improvements with minimized shutter roll issues and video resolution that surpasses 1080p HD resolution. Think 4K, extreme HD here.
Other changes we can expect are progressive improvements in the area of sensor dynamic range (the amount of varying tones from highlight to shadow that the sensor can capture in a single shot). Digital sensors currently behave similarly to transparency (slide) film, where if the highlight is blown out by more than about 1.5 stops, it’s gone. It would be great to see digital sensors behave more like negative films, or at least a move in that direction.
Postproduction—A Paradigm Shift with A New Workflow Philosophy
The postproduction side of digital photography has also seen drastic advancements. We are at a time when postproduction is split into two methodologies, one is the newer Parametric image editing and the other is our beloved means of Pixel Manipulation. These two methods of image editing are governed by a new digital workflow system that outlines and suggests the sequential relationship between methods, where parametric adjustment precedes pixel manipulation. Parametric image editing methods are parts of programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Phase One Capture One, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) Plug-in and a few other titles. They use sets of instructions to perform various adjustments to the preview file generated from the original image. This is a non-destructive (no pixel manipulation) process that leaves the original image untouched. Pixel manipulation is the basis for bitmap programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter and PaintShop, to name a few. These programs come with bitmap tools that will alter and transform an individual or group of pixels within an image, thereby permanently changing the based file in the process.
The past five years introduced us to a modern digital workflow philosophy, which relies on programs with parametric image-editing capability integrated with a database back end. The first of these programs, introduced in late 2006, was called Apple Aperture and later, in early 2007, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. These two programs significantly influenced and set the tone for the current postproduction era. Through the years these programs have seen many improvements, and with every new release, they help to further shape the new landscape of digital workflow.
Old Versus New Workflow
The old workflow was a fusion of two very different editing realities, analog and digital. It combined the old analog approach to digital file storage and handling (think proof prints, negatives and slide film storage), in addition to image manipulation techniques that relied heavily on pixel manipulation or destructive image editing. It failed to address the issues of storage effectiveness and time efficiency.
The modern workflow addresses the storage and organization issues with features such as virtual copy; versions and master, collection; and album. Furthermore, it is specifically crafted for digital leveraging parametric technology and database capability built into Lightroom and Aperture to maximize storage efficiency and overall processing time.
Moving forward, we’ll see a higher adoption rate for programs such as Aperture and Lightroom, as photographers are becoming more familiar with the new parametric concepts. Additionally, photographers will break away from the old workflow and embrace the modern workflow capability of these new programs.
Digital imaging programs, particularly bitmap-based ones, will see more non-destructive editing principals integrated in as core features. For instance, the non-destructive features currently used in Photoshop are known as Smart Layers and Smart filters. We should expect to see further improvements, and more of these non-destructive elements, built into these bitmap-based programs.
“Touch” The Next Big Thing!
The next frontier in digital imaging, “touch” interfaces, are becoming an integral part of our everyday lives. From the smaller cell phone and digital music players to larger tablet devices, we are now able to touch our digital images. Within the next few years we’ll see more software, or apps, that leverage this touch interface for content creation. This will open up new creative opportunities and enable us to interact with our images on a more personal level. As we speak, Adobe Photoshop Touch represents the leading edge of this technology, and is paving the way for a new level of creative interactivity. This brings us around full circle from the days of the darkroom where we could physically touch and interact with the image we were creating. Finally, after more than a decade of hibernation, technology has caught up and we are now able to touch our images yet again—this time digitally.
There are currently three tablet-touch capacitive apps that are part of Adobe Photoshop Touch: Adobe Eazel, which enables us to paint directly on a digital canvas using our fingers and offers the capability of sending the canvas wirelessly to Photoshop for additional works; Adobe Nav, which is used in conjunction with Photoshop to customize the interface toolbar in addition to browsing, organizing and switch active document options with the touch of the fingers; and Adobe Color Lava, which offers a digital version of the traditional color mixer palette, so that you can combine colors with your fingers and send the color swatch directly to Photoshop.
The last five years have brought many changes and technological advancements to the photographic industry. New methods for image editing have pushed creativity, shifted the paradigm of digital workflow and given us a new level of interactivity with our images. It is only a matter of time before we see an explosion of new creative potential that comes from our personal, tactile interaction with new technology. The years to come will bring rapid changes to the way we interact and view our work—so strap on, get ready to learn and reach out and touch your pixels.
Art Suwansang is an award-winning international wedding photographer, educator and lecturer based in Southern California. He lectures for multiple photographic organizations, consults for multiple photographers and companies internationally, and offers digital photography tutorials through his new Web site Rule of 3Rds www.Ro3Rds.com. Additionally, he is also an adjunct professor at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica College. Visit his Web Site at www.wedding64.com.