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Photo Sapiens


That's what a trillion looks like. And it has been estimated by statisticians to be the number of photographs that were taken on planet earth in 2015. The infographic article I read online that reported the one trillion images figure, stated that if those one trillion images were all printed as 6"x4"s and laid end to end, they would stretch for over two hundred million miles. That's all the way from Earth to the sun, back to Earth and on out, almost to Mars.

The article went on to say that some estimates suggest that the figure might be as high as ten trillion - so you could add another nought to the number at the top - but with such a mindbogglingly titanic number already, whether your brain will register any increase in the way it visualises the potential pile of pictures is another matter entirely.

Whatever way you look at it though, the stats for global image production are crazy-big. So perhaps it's just as well that 99.9% will never be printed - and that most will only ever be fleetingly viewed on the device that produced them...

A 21st century phenomenon; hundreds of identical images being produced of the same scene in the same way, at the same moment

Most of those trillion photos were enabled by the democratisation of camera ownership, the miniaturisation of sophisticated camera technology and the relentless rise of the now ubiquitous smartphone.

The general simplification of the photographic process has meant that millions of people now have a pretty decent camera with them all the time. In particular, the automation of two major, primary functions - focus and exposure - has done the most to enable otherwise uninterested, casual togs, without any knowledge of how either of those two principles influences a successful image, to produce very reasonable and, in some cases, sensational results at the push of a button on a device no bigger than a fag packet. These two essential elements of photography (that until not much more than a couple of decades ago required significant theoretical study of the genre, manual tinkering in-camera and creative decision making on location) are now taken for granted as being accurate in most pictures by most people, most of the time. I wrote a little about this in a previous blog at the start of 2016:- Information, technology and art in the year ahead.

Add some clever programme pre-sets into the modern device mix and, once you know when to use them, your compact, bridge camera or smartphone will automatically provide you with exposure and time values to suit a given scene; for example, prioritising shutter over aperture for action - and vice versa for a landscape. With all of the extraordinary technology now at almost everyone's fingertips, expectations of a pro tog's abilities and talents are so much higher and, if they fail to exceed people's constantly-rising expectations, a professional's images are not going to stand out as professional images.

1916 - Edwardian Plate Camera. Try and get everything right in camera and bring the negative to successful print with one of these beasts. Togs were revered as romantic, pioneering adventurers, grappling with obscure, embryonic technology back then... And rightly so...

2016 - What a difference a century makes! The state-of-the-art, beautifully conceived Fuji X100T APS-C digital rangefinder. A beast of a camera in an entirely different way. If, after a little familiarity, you can't produce decent results from one of these, you probably don't deserve to own one...

So, whether you're a pro commercial/advertising/editorial tog, aspiring fine art tog or simply looking to raise your game as a hobby tog, how exactly are you going to give your images the sparkle that will make them shine in the barbarian hordes of one trillion?

If you are at all serious about it, you are going to have to start by treating everything in the process of visualisation, production and interpretation as important. Getting exposure values and focus right in camera is a bare minimum now, because every Tom, Dick and Nokia gets them right in camera... You need to get all the other elements right too, in-camera, to infinity and beyond.

I didn't particularly want to make a list because the more you think about lists, the more things tend to keep finding their way onto them, but, you need to:-

- Master methodological techniques

- Understand the rules of composition

- Know your gear inside out and back to front

- Compose in the best light at the best times

- Capture the decisive moment

- Convey mood, message and movement

- Dedicate yourself to constant improvement

- Push the boundaries of your knowledge and methods

- Refine your visual style

- Develop your vision

Oh dear. I've made a list.


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