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Friday, 28 August 2015


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maybe it's time to redefine the meaning of the word "photograph".
when I take a "photo" of my new floor tiles the builders just laid down in our new home and send it to my wife to see, I consider it as a bunch of words translated into a single botton push.
I belive most of the "photographs" mentioned in these kind of analysis, are not photographs at all, but just a new form of summerizing.

I was under the impression that this particular statistic had already been exceeded - I'm sure I read it before, somewhere (though I can't remember where, exactly).

I wonder when photography will reach the stage when the number of photos taken in a particular year will exceed the number of all photos taken previously (in all of photographic history). Do you think such a thing is possible?

On Monday, Mark Zuckerberg wrote ...
We just passed an important milestone. For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.

On Monday, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family.

When you give a lot of people access to useful tools, they will use them. Sometimes to great effect.

"One day there might be more photographs than grains of sand."

Especially true because sand is "becoming" photographs as a significant component of commercial silicon production...

hmm - I suspect the number of photos taken will be unfortunately close to the number shared. Those of us who consider ourselves photographers are, as you suggest, selective in what we share.

However, the vast majority of smartphone users are not and seem determined to share every aspect of their lives on social media no matter how uninteresting.

And the amount of "good" photographs will equal the number of bricks in one house.

I think that the number of images recorded is, while astonising, not really a very interesting statistic. The interesting statistic is what proportion of those images were 'good' for some value of good.

I've found that this number varies hugely for me: I use both 35mm (film) and large format (5x4). For 35mm I might get one or two frames I want to print per roll, with occasional extraordinary rolls with perhaps 10 printable frames. For 5x4 I might get one printable frame per film holder: about 10x the success rate. I recently tried to buy an even less practical camera in the hope of getting an even better hit rate.

I've never used a digital camera seriously (not from some spurious notion of film being better, just because I don't enjoy the process) but I have a theory that the hit rate is ~1 printable photograph per physical holder of images, so per card or, for phones, per phone.

(If this is true, the WP camera would not have increased my hit rate: I'd need something with plates instead of film.)

I wonder how many photographs are being printed compared to before digital became mainstream?

With such a tremendous expansion of participation in photography it's highly likely that the definitions of "good picture" will expand commensurately. In fact I can report with confidence that it already has.

Dear Folks,

I'm pretty sure this is not a new result; I seem to recall an article from several years back that reported the same thing. But it's nice to have it reaffirmed.

I can define “good photograph” usefully and simply, and, in truth, in the only way that matters. A “good photograph” is one that serves the needs of the person making it. That's it. Nothing else matters, really, NOTHING.

It's misguided elitism to say any different. (Don't get me wrong–– I'm a bigger elitist than most of you can imagine… But that doesn't always mean that elitism is always correctly directed.) For over a century, ever since George Eastman changed the face of photography, it has been the dominant and most democratic medium of communication and art form we have. It's the premiere form of the 20th century. Overwhelmingly, its purpose is not to make fancy-schmancy art like I do. Its purpose is for record-keeping, notetaking, reportage, and, more than anything else, to quote Kodak, “preserve memories.” Art? That's the very thin icing on a very large cake. You don't own photography (for any value of “you”). It's owned by the video populi.

That's of substantial benefit to you (for any value of “elitist you”). Unless you're one of the 0.01% of photographers who are handcrafting their materials and their equipment (or buying them from handcrafted sources) you've been entirely dependent upon and benefiting from the fact that photography is a huge mass media. All those film advances? All those film and digital camera and lens advances? They are only cost-effective because they been backed by a huge mass-market that economically supports the companies that make those technologies. They've made your equipment and materials better, and they've made them cheaper. In so many cases, those instrumentalities wouldn't be available if they hadn't rested on the back of the economic might of the video populi.

That monstrous rising tide that's floating your boat? It ain't us elitists.

As to whether we are seeing a higher percentage of “good” photographs today than previously, the answer is pretty clearly yes––at least for the last 70 years (the pre-World War II world was so very different). Most photographs that failed to be good failed for technical reasons–– failed focus, failed exposure, failed color rendition. Ever-advancing camera technology, both film and digital, has largely eliminated those. It's possible to make a technically inadequate photograph today; it's a lot less common.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

"I wonder when photography will reach the stage when the number of photos taken in a particular year will exceed the number of all photos taken previously (in all of photographic history)"

Well that has happened several times in the past, certainly in 1827 and probably about every year until Eastman invented film and a few years after that.

The definition of a photograph can change this by a few orders of magnitude. Are photocopies, movie frames, and X-Rays "photographs"

A logarithmic increase in "stuff made by humans" is the norm , and will continue to be until there is an abrupt decrease in "stuff necessary for humans to live and make stuff".

Actually the concept of an individual stand alone photograph* is just about dead in both the high and low worlds of photography.

*meaning a photograph whose meaning or emotional impact is not enhanced by the context of earlier photography. I welcome a contra-example , please prove me wrong!

Most of what's shot today and not shared online will become digital dust in short order, and depending on how well our descendants do on web-wide archiving and renewal. My guess is something like 99 percent of today's photography will no longer exist in 2115.

Let's continue a bit of number crunching...
First let's assume that only 1% of pictures shot are shared. Yes, this assumption, as well as many others, can be debated. But first let's see where this takes us, ok?
Now, let's assume that digital pics are stored in a format that eases sharing and display on smaller screens. Let's assume here the pictures are 2MP, or 1920x1080.
Each pixel is a combination of 3 RGB Values, each ranging from 0-255.
So, we have a total of 1920x1080x256x256x256 potentially different Photos in this range, or 3.5e13.
The above estimates of pix shot in this Year is now around 300 Trillion, or 3E14, leading to the conclusion that every technically possible pic will be shot 10 times this Year ...

As previously mentioned, the smartphone is, for most of us, a note-taking device mostly used to record mundane events in our mundane lives and then posted to social media websites. Nothing wrong with that but I would suppose that a very small percentage of these images meet the most essential criteria for a "good" photograph: an image that will hold an unrelated viewer's attention for more than ten seconds. Pornography excluded.

Our information overload lifestyle, and it's memory loss effect, is the reason more photographs are taken today. The images serve as memory triggers to the past, to give people perspective, to help them remember what their lives are/were about, and an attempt to slow their world down.
Images have also become more of a communication device as the spoken word becomes less used, and less understood.

Speaking of image making, Mike, have you found time to do any in your new environment? If not, make time. You'll be sorry if you don't.

Some follow-up thoughts regarding comments thus far.

Printing: YOU know, and I certainly know, that printing is the only best hope for a photograph's longevity. There are going to be many millions of future parents and grandparents who will have few family photographs to share because they lost them all when they upgraded their phones. Yup. Although this may only be partly true. Meanwhile there are now many print-on-demand book services, and the list is growing each day. They're not cheap but they do a very good business and are always adapting to the new world. I received a message this week from one printer announcing their new ability to print books directly from your Instagram galleries.

The smartphone is only good for note-taking . Sorry, but that notion is badly dated. That opinion is almost analogous to saying that the 35mm format is only a memo-format (which many "real photographers" believed 70 years ago).

Like it or not, today's smartphone is a very powerful tool capable of producing powerful results. Wanna see what a 68 year-old Pulitzer winner can do with an iPhone on a photo-a-day campaign around the world? Try a copy of David Hume Kennerly's recent book.

"Photography" has given way to "photographs". By that I mean that explosive growth in communications technologies coupled with cameras has made any photograph more important than THE photograph. Pictures are the lingua franca for the world's generations now entering adulthood. Ctein remarked that a "good" photograph "is one that serves the needs of the person making it." He is right. But he would have been right 100 years ago, too. I would amend that statement by saying that a "good" photograph today is "awesome", at least in today's hyperbolically dulled-down terms. That is, it's a picture that captures a moment and invokes a reaction from its viewers. That would have been true 100 years ago, too. But today the element of immediacy makes it worth amending.

So what's become of "real" photography? The age of photography as its own art form is over. Oh yes you'll still see new straight photographs sold at art fairs and in some galleries. And you'll see them in books. But collectors today look primarily backwards for value, not so much forwards. And with good reason. Photography has done everything it possibly could do and has nowhere else to go except into areas that it cannot do by itself. Namely: contemporary art. Photography's top-end is being merged and subsumed into the contemporary art world at a breathtaking pace. All kinds of photography and, more generally, all types of photographic media and processes are being employed by artists who are not themselves really what most of us would call "photographers" (even if they have Yale MFAs in the medium).

Anyway, I'm again rambling on a Saturday morning...That's a subject for an essay by itself.

In reply to ctein: my intended definition of 'good' was pretty much yours: a photograph that its creator likes (and in particular not one that meets some definition of being 'art': I am profoundly uninterested in that).

The interesting thing I've observed in my own picture-taking is that, using this definition I still see the n-good-images-per-storage-unit thing.

Dear Terence,

I looked into that about four years ago:


I don't know what's happened since then (I think I'll try to find out) but up through 2011, well into the “digital revolution” the photofinishing industry was experiencing a steady increase in business (the number of individuals and labs was collapsing, that's a different issue). Not what I expected!

Another number that might be of interest (more research) is how any people own photo-quality printers vs. how many people had darkrooms in the heyday of the photography-as-a-craft period (which was the 1970s to 1980s–– by the 1990s, the craft hobby was on a decline). I can probably dig up something about printers. Anybody here with the knowledge of photo history have a rough estimate of how many people had darkrooms (or used someone else's darkroom) at the peak?


Dear JA,

In the immortal words of The Who…

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Except we probably will get fooled again. The practice for the entire history of photography has been that storage is almost never properly done and the photographs are almost never properly cared for. And, if you're talking about history in the broad meaningful sense, and not merely a handful of important and famous photographs, there are whole decades that have already been effectively lost.

We remember the exceptions from the turn of the last century, and sample bias makes them seem representative in our minds. In reality, probably something like 0.01% of the photographs from a century ago have survived. Sure, it's possible… The same way it's possible for a human being to live to be 110 years old. It's not exactly close to the norm.

In theory, the prospects for digital photographs are brighter, because it takes less (and less expensive) effort to preserve digital photographs. It's a lovely theory. The problem is that it involves that word “effort.” Hardly any photographers make the effort to see that their photographs will endure. That hasn't changed one bit from the film age. So, a century from now? I wouldn't be hugely surprised if the statistics weren't as bad as they are for film photographs.

On the other hand… information loss is not a problem unique to digital photography. It's becoming a bigger and bigger problem for the society as a whole as we become more information-dependent. We've already had a few semi-major disasters (look into what happened to real estate title documentation and tracking in the previous decade). At some point we're likely to become a sufficiently information-savvy society that there will be myriad semi-robust paths to ensuring that no data gets lost unless it's intentional. But when that will happen? I don't know. Could be 10 years, could be 50.


Dear Jake,

Aside from the fact that we greatly disagree on what “good” means, the uses you're describing for photography have been its primary use since the Brownie. Nothing has really changed that way, us minuscule group of elitists notwithstanding.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Ctein asked: "Anybody here with the knowledge of photo history have a rough estimate of how many people had darkrooms (or used someone else's darkroom) at the peak?"

All I can contribute is that "Model Railroader" magazine, in 2000, believed it had one subscriber for every five participants in that hobby, and Paul Sheptoe had 105,000 subscribers to "Darkroom Photography" magazine, the category leader, in 1979, which was the peak of the darkroom magazine business for both major U.S. titles. That would extrapolate out to an estimate of 525,000 darkroom hobbyists at the peak.

Remember though that lots of people had prints made by labs and drugstores. The crucial difference with digital when it comes to prints is that with negative materials, you had to have a print in order to see the picture. With digital, you don't.

Quite possibly true. I'm doing my part; 1500 shots Wednesday night at the second recent Cats Laughing concert. Still only half-way through sorting them.

I probably share a LOT more than 1%, though. When I shoot 850-1400 at a roller derby bout (well, one long bout to 4 short ones, depending), I usually show 250-350 in the slide show and then post them online. I post hundreds of photos from Minicon. ETc. But then event photography is different from art photography; if I post fewer, people who have seen the ones I cut complain.

Dear Mike,

Coincidently, I did a phone interview with an author in France two days ago about the state of photographic printing yesterday and today. I pointed out to him that the overwhelming majority of photographers in the past did not do their own printing, both the amateurs and professionals. They had that done by everyone from drugstores to custom labs, and that was despite the fact, as you pointed out, that if you didn't use slide film (which most photographers didn't), prints were the only way to see your photographs.

Half a million darkroom hobbyists sounds like a plausible number. When Petersons Photographic started out in the mid-70s, it was entirely a craft-oriented photography magazine and pretty much required reading for anyone who was seriously into that stuff. I think their circulation was in the quarter million range. Let's run with it unless someone has something better.

For a start on trying to compare the apples and the oranges, I'd like to know how many “photo-quality” printers are sold each year. Darkrooms were a semi-lifetime investment; printers turn over every several years. But I think if you multiply the annual number by three or four, you've probably got a guess on how many people own a photo quality printer. Well, as good a guess as the darkroom number.

It's only a starting point. It doesn't say anything about usage patterns. But in broad strokes it tells us what the landscape looks like. If, for example, only 50,000 photo-quality printers are sold every year, it's a pretty safe bet that people doing personal digital printing is not at the numbers that darkroom printing peaked at. On the other hand, if it's 1,000,000 photo-quality printers the year…

I don't know the number. I'll drop Dano at Epson a note and see if he's got a guess he can pull out of his hat. He seems to be on top of this stuff.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

At one time, Benedict Evans was part of a podcast with three Bens. The other two were Ben Bajarin and Ben Thompson. I recommend following any and all of the Bens to those interested in technology and the future of tech.

Evans was born and spent most of his working life in England, and is still very interested in trends in Europe.

Bajarin is the ultimate insider, a second generation tech writer and consultant who was born in the Silicon Valley.

Ben Thompson worked at both Apple and Microsoft, and was born and raised in the American Midwest. He has a Taiwanese wife and has lived in Taiwan for quite a few years now. He’s acutely aware of tech goings on in China and all of Asia.

As it often happens, Ctein stole the show with his insightful comments. I retain this thought:
"Art? That's the very thin icing on a very large cake." Very VERY large indeed.
Yet it's amazing how we amateurs still think the world of photography revolves around us.

I had subscriptions to Popular and Modern Photography at various long-ago times, but never to any of the other magazines. I think the others appeared later, and I viewed them as suspicious newcomers. Which was probably my loss, but so it goes.

[I was speaking of darkroom magazines, which Pop and Modern weren't. The two big U.S. titles in darkroom were Darkroom Photography (later called Camera & Darkroom) and Darkroom Techniques (later changed to Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques and then Photo Techniques). --Mike]

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