Friday, June 21, 2013

Photography in the age of digital media

The current world is characterized by constant technological advancements. New and more advanced technologies are invented from time to time. Introduction of the internet and the digital technology has led to many changes. Digital imaging technology is one of the most widely used inventions. Photojournalism and photography have been significantly transformed since the introduction of the digital technology. The old technologies such as film photography have been replaced by digital photography. Digital photography is a technology that uses an array of electronic photo-detectors in capturing the image that is focused by lens instead of photographic film (Bleyen, 2012).

The image that is captured through this technology is then digitized and stored in the form of a computer file which can be used for digital viewing, processing, printing or publishing. Digital technologies have become an essential part to many photographers across the world. Since its introduction, digital photography has also undergone several transformations. This essay seeks to analyze how photography and photojournalism have been transformed in the age of digital media. Over the years, photography has not only emerged as a productive mechanism but also a reproductive one that helps people to understand their world.

The history of photography can be traced back to the nineteenth century where it was emerged with modernism. Before introduction of the digital technology, analogue photographs were produced through films (Long, 2009). The analogue technology has been gradually faced out with the advent of digital technology. Two stages were involved in the development of digital technology. The first step was digitization of the analogue photographs using the scanners and registering of the images by a digital camera. In this case, an image made by optical lens is converted into an electronic file instead of an analogue artifact. This technology was later transformed through production of photo-realistic images as well as simulation of photographs using the 3-D computer graphics systems.

The history of digital photography dates back to the 1970s. Steve Sasson who was an engineer at the Eastman Kodak is recorded as being the first person to attempt building a digital camera in 1975 (Carolyn, 1990). This camera used the solid-state CCD image sensor chips and it weighed 3.6 kg. The images were captured on a cassette tape in black and white colors with a resolution of 0.01 megapixels. This was a prototype camera and it was not meant for production. However, the first camera to record images in the form of computerized files was the Fuji DS-1P developed in 1988.
This camera recorded its images on a 16 MB internal memory card and used a battery to keep data in the memory. This camera has not however been marketed in the US or shipped in Japan. The first digital camera to be commercially available was the Dycam Model 1 which was produced in the year 1990. This camera used the CCD image sensor and it was able to store pictures digitally. It also connected directly to the computer for download.

Digital imaging has developed over the years to an extent that it has almost completely replaced the analogue technology. The optical lens have been replaced by virtual and digital cameras, films are replaced by discs while the optical enlargers and physical dark rooms are replaced by computers and software (Long, 2009). The digital cameras, writable CDs, memory cards, scanners and associated software have replaced mechanical cameras and films in retail shops. Even the snapshots that used to be filed in family photo-albums are currently stored electronically and they are displayed through PC screens and TV. In the film production industry, synthetic computer-generated images are integrated with the traditional cinematographic footage.
The image sensors were greatly used in the first digital cameras. Image sensors detect the intensity of light and the information is stored by the digital memory devices as a raw data or RGB color space (Bleyen, 2012). There are two main types of image sensors. The first type of sensors consists of the charge-coupled devices whereby the photocharge is moved to the central charge-to-voltage converter. The second type is the active pixel sensors of CMOS. Most of the digital cameras use in-built and removable flash memory. The digital tapeless camcorders, which also double up as digital still cameras, normally use the flash memory, internal hard drives and discs. Some digital cameras of the 20th century such as Sony Mavica used mini-CDs and floppy disks.
Most of the digital memory devices such as memory cards, CD-RWs and floppy disks are used to store images that can be transferred to computers later (Wright, 2004). This is with the exception of linear array type of cameras and the web cams. Images stored on digital memory devices can be easily transferred to computers for viewing, editing, printing or even publishing.
Before the introduction of digital technology, photographs were produced through a process of exposing the light sensitive photographic film and using chemical photographic processing in developing and stabilizing images (Warner, 2006). However, the chemical processing of photographs have been dealt away with in the digital technology. Digital photographs can be stored, displayed, manipulated, printed, archived and transmitted using the computer and digital techniques.
The digital cameras have the ability to take photos, record sound as well as video. Some of them can be used as PictBridge standard whereby they can be connected to the printer without necessarily using a computer (Manovich, 2001). Some can also be used as webcams while others can directly display pictures on the television set. There are also many camcorders which can take still images and store them on the videotape or flash memory cards as in the case of digital cameras.
The quality of digital images is measured by different factors. The pixel count is one of the major factors that are used to determine the quality of an image. However, resolution in pixels is not the only factor used in measuring of image quality. In most cases, a large sensor which has the same number of pixels normally produce better quality images as compared to smaller ones. One of the greatest differences is improved image noise. The digital SLR cameras with larger sensors are therefore better than simpler cameras that have the same resolution.
The digital photography has helped in reducing burn-outs and black-outs in photographs. Both digital and film imaging systems have dynamic ranges which can reproduced accurately. Parts of the image that are too bright are normally rendered white without detail while dark shadows are rendered black. This loss of detail is not abrupt as some detail is normally retained as brightness diminishes. The highlight burn-out in digital sensors can however be abrupt. There can be a gross hue or saturation in the burn-out highlights as the sensor elements of different colors get saturated in turns. Some of the digital cameras have the ability of showing the blown highlights during the image review. This allows the photographer to repeat shooting with a modified exposure.

Other cameras also compensate for total contrast in the scene by selectively exposing the darker pixels for longer. Another technique is used by Fujifilm in the FinePix S3 Pro whereby the sensor has additional photodiodes with a lower sensitivity as compared to the main ones. These photodiodes retain the details in parts of the image that are too bright for the main sensor. The high dynamic range imaging resolves the problem through increasing the dynamic range of images which reduces black-outs and burn-outs (Manovich, 2001).

Most of the digital cameras use the memory cards with flash memories to store image data. Most of the cards are SD format while others are CompactFlash. The XQD card format is the latest innovation in the storage medium. The modern digital cameras have internal memories where a limited capacity of data can be stored and transferred to the card or through other connections without inserting the card into the camera. The memory card enables taking of a large number of photos. Hundreds of photos can be stored on a single memory card. It is also possible to transfer images stored on a memory card for archiving or for personal use in a different medium as required by the photographer.

Due to the many advantages associated with digital photography, most of the journalists capture images using digital cameras. The digital photography technology has been adopted by most of the amateur snapshot photographers. These photographers take advantage of the convenience in sending of images via the email, posting them on the website and displaying them in the digital picture frames. Digital cameras have also been integrated into the cell phones although their lens and sensors are usually very small and of poor quality. This makes them unsuitable for producing even the medium sized prints. Digital photography is more flexible and the long-term costs are much lower thus outweighing the initial price disadvantages.

The capital costs of digital photography are normally high but it is cheaper to operate. Equipment needed to capture, store, copy and print digital images required virtually no other expenses after they are purchased. This is contrary to the film photography which requires continuous expenditure for developing and supplies even though the equipment does not get outdated quickly. The digital photography allows for significant editing through computers. The photographer can color-balance and manipulate the image in various ways that the traditional analogue technology cannot. The fully color-balanced systems are available on computers, cameras and printers. The photographer can distribute an image either as a computer display or as a print.

Increased use of digital cameras has rendered the film photography industry irrelevant. This is mainly due to the fact that film photography requires the use of expensive film rolls and chemicals to develop photos. These changes in technology have had severe impacts on companies such as Kodak, Agfa and Fuji (Smith, 2004). Several businesses that sold films or offered photo finishing services have been forced to close down. Kodak was forced to file for bankruptcy in the year 2012 as it was struggling to adapt to changes within the industry.

Before inventing the digital camera, the amateur photographers were required to buy the print film or slide film for their cameras. Incase they purchased a slide film; the slides were developed and viewed on the slide projector. Introduction of digital photography revolutionized the whole industry through elimination of cost and delay. It has become much easier for people to view, transfer and edit photos. People can comfortably manage their digital images on ordinary computers instead of specialized equipment as it was the case for film photography (Manovich, 2001). Integration of digital cameras on the cell phones has also had a significant impact on photography. Images on the smart phones can be immediately uploaded to the internet thus preserving them in case they are deleted or the camera is destroyed.

The internet is commonly used to store and share digital photos across the world. There is an increase in the use of internet in most parts of the world. This has had a significant impact on various industries including photography. The first photograph to be published on the website was done by Tim Berners-Lee in the year 1992 (Wells, 1996). As a result of increased use of the internet, several people have adopted the technology. Various sites such as Picasa, PhotoBucket and Flickr are used to edit and share pictures by millions of people.

Different technologies are currently used in digital photography. The 3-D models can be developed from a collection of normal images. The resultant images can be viewed through novel viewpoints although creating this model is very intensive. Photosynth by Microsoft is an example of software that provides models of famous places. The high dynamic range cameras have been developed. There are sensors with a dynamic range of more than 1,000,000:1 and there is software that can combine multiple non-high dynamic range images into a high dynamic range image.

The motion blur can also be significantly reduced by the flutter shutter. This is a flickering shutter which adds signature to the blur that can be recognized by post-processing. However, this technology is not yet commercially available. The specular reflection of an object can be captured by the use of computer controlled sensors and lights. This technology is very important in creating attractive images of the oil paintings but it is not yet commercially available although it used by museums. The dust reduction systems designed to keep the dust off image sensors which were originally developed by few cameras such as Olympus DSLRs are now commonly used by several models. The sensors have been improved, more powerful software has been introduced, the gamut displays have been enlarged and there are computer controlled lighting systems.

Despite the many advantages associated with digital photography, there are many disadvantages. The digital cameras use batteries which need to be replaced and recharged frequently (Wells, 1996). The photographer should therefore be able to access electrical outlets in order to ensure continuity of operation. The digital cameras are also more sensitive to extreme cold and moisture. Photographers working in remote areas may prefer using film cameras since they are more resistant. Some publishers also prefer using medium and large-format film cameras since they have very high resolution and detail. Some of the commercial photographers argue that film cameras produce quality images than digital cameras.

The constant changes in computer technology are also cited as one of the disadvantages of digital photography. While the print and film photos are tangible and can be access immediately, the digital images are ever-changing. Some of the digital photographs may be rendered inaccessible in future due to changes in computer technology (Lombardi, 2006). The media decoding software keep on changing whereby the old ones are rendered obsolete by new technologies. Most of the historians claim that information about previous eras is likely to be lost through in failed or inaccessible digital media. It is therefore important that past information is moved from old technologies into new ones.

The crapbooker that have used film in creating personal and artistic memoirs are required to change to digital photo books. The ability to modify digital photos compromises authenticity. There is an increase in the cases of photo-shopping whereby original photos are modified to become totally different. This makes difficult for one to know what the original setting was like. Such photos cannot be used in court proceedings as evidence.

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