The Coming Earthquake in Photography



(reposted with permission)

The Coming Earthquake in Photography
April 2007

by Dirck Halstead

If the change from film to digital was the equivalent of a magnitude 5 earthquake, the changes to photography in the next 10 years will be equivalent of a magnitude 10.

The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, has been predicting many of these changes for the past 10 years. In 1997 we stated that the days of the use of film were coming to an end. We also said that in the future photojournalists would no longer be shooting still pictures, but instead would be using video as their prime medium of acquisition.

All those things have already happened. Still cameras that shoot film have already been abandoned by most manufacturers. Increasingly, newspaper photographers are being asked to shoot video for Web sites.

These seismic shifts, as we are already witnessing, will literally change the way photographers take pictures and how they are displayed.

Of course, in the next 10 years there could be a third world war, in which case all bets are off, but certain evolutions are already too far along to make it unlikely they will be stopped.

First, most of the major camera manufacturers that are now associated with still photography will probably be out of business by 2016. Of the majors now selling cameras, I would put my money on only Canon to survive. That is because they have a farsighted video division, which will provide the research and development that will be a key to their survival. Already, Sony is moving to become the number one still-camera company. Their newest top-of-the line digital still cameras are based on designs from Konica, a company they absorbed.

However, it is video that will undoubtedly become the main means of acquisition in photography. Today, almost all the manufacturers of prosumer video cameras have moved to High Definition. These cameras, off the shelf, are capable of delivering a 2-megapixel still image. The Dallas Morning News is now equipping their still photographers with Sony Z1U video cameras, and they have created an algorithm that allows those frame grabs to be boosted to 16 megapixels, which only two years ago was the maximum you could get out of a professional 35mm camera. The Dallas Morning News is regularly running 4- and 5-column front-page pictures from these video grabs. Then, they put the streaming video on their Web site.

The financial imperative to newspapers is clear. Their salvation, in a time of plummeting ad revenues on their broadsheets, lies with their online versions. Online demands video. For this reason, we can comfortably say that in 10 years photojournalists will only be carrying video cameras.

Because video cameras now all feature a 16:9 "wide-screen" aspect ratio, the old 4:3 box that we used to associate with movies will be gone. This has enormous implications for how still photographs will be displayed in print. The standard 8x10 aspect ratio now commonly used will be dropped. Why waste all of that horizontal information in the pictures? Eventually, you can expect to see wide-screen pictures not only on your TV screen, but in print as well. We predict that magazines (those that still exist) in 10 years will be bound on the top or bottom, not on the sides as they now are. That will allow the magazine to be opened to display a horizontal rather than vertical layout. This will accommodate all those "wide-screen" photographs. However, it is more likely that paper printing will be long since gone, and instead newspapers, magazines and books will be delivered on "electronic" paper, in which case the visual presentation would most likely be video in the first place. Today, if you go to The New York Times online, you will notice that right on the front page is a box displaying video, not a still photograph.

Don Winslow, the editor of News Photographer magazine, has noted that vertical photographs have almost ceased to exist in the photography lexicon. It used to be a maxim of photojournalism that it was important to get as much information as possible into a small space. Verticals were the best way of doing that. However, for a generation of photographers who grew up watching television, and editors who wanted to display a photograph across a double-truck spread, the rules changed.

With video becoming the prime tool of acquisition, audio of course now enters into the picture. In fact, it becomes as important as the video. This means that a whole new set of skills must be developed by the photographer. Every photographer has already become a computer technician, spending more time on the "post" process, such as Photoshop, than on taking the picture. In the future, editing will be done in such programs as Final Cut Pro. All of this means that photographers will have to be smarter.

However, ultimately, the classic need for talent – the "eye of the photographer" – will never change.

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist
Email Dirck Halstead


I know....I know. Its a hard concept to swallow. I have always looked at video as indiscriminate image making. Right! let's all start shooting hours of streaming video and then select a freeze frame for an image. Not me brother. I'd rather frame and trip the shutter in one precise, exquisite moment than freeze a frame from 10 minutes of video. But then, I am a dinosaur I suppose....
Jan 24, 2007
Kelowna B.C. Canada
I do believe the comparison of the Film Transition to Digital Stills, And the Digital stills transition to Video is a shaky comparison.

Sure the Convenience of being able to take a single frame out of a video would be great, In the daytime that will be quite easy actually, But now try extracting that same picture in a night club, How do you emulate a long sutter speed? The power of a flash in a continuous strobe?. Sure the advance of technology will give us clean high gain video, But because Digital photographs are based on pretty much the same technology they will be improving aswell, Always many steps ahead of the still extraction.

Preferences might shift more towards video, But to start eliminating the need for Digital Still camera's sounds like a stretch.
Apr 30, 2005
Gilroy, California
I think they are wrong. Really.

Taking a photograph just isn't the same thing. It is its own medium.

And technology? Still cameras are still very different. Nobody makes a 12 megapixel video camera.

Seems to me this line of thinking is akin to saying that radio would kill live theater, video radio, computers kill books, etc. You get the idea.

Even if you put a book on an electronic device and laid in bed and read that, it would still be a book. And that is still different from hearing a story or watching it played out live on a stage or a movie or a comic book or whathaveyou. These different perspectives don't replace each other. They never have and never will.

So yeah maybe we'll be carrying around cameras capable of 60 FPS of 10 MP images, but that won't replace photography with videography.

Maybe some new media will happen along the way. I hope I can guess what it is before anyone else does. :biggrin:

Imagine a camera that could capture more range than the human brain can assemble from our eyes (we don't see the wonderful image in your head, your brain assembles it in real time). Now that would be a quake.

I think it is always best to make the best of the time we are in. Why not?

What if I had paid attention to the very large number of people saying Apple was dead, Apple will never survive, gee, we would never hire an engineer that was stupid enough to work for Apple (a Netscape engineer said this - I wonder if he still has a job)? We can't predict the future. But we can make it happen.
Mar 22, 2007
Backofbeyond, B.C.
Technical change is bound to happen and when it does there are those
who grasp all or bits of it. New tools in the hands of creative people have
always produced new frontiers. But that, to me, is all that they are, tools.
There might the digital Karsh out there or Ansel with Photoshop or maybe
Leonardo with acrylics. Could be it is a photo journalist's dream come
true. But there will always be the photographers who restlessly search
for the shot that matches the one they carry in their minds eye and he/she
may only need a Brownie.
We are seeing more and more technology that is in search of a purpose.
On a personal note, when I shot film I had to work very hard to get
one keeper on a roll and learning and experiments cost time and money.
Digital helped on both the time and money but I still have to work hard
to get a keeper. Could be the trickle down will help that even more. All
this from an evolving Luddite.
Mar 31, 2005
Toronto Canada
I disagree for reasons very similar to Beezle's. This is one of those things that I just print off, stash away and then dig out years later to see how are off or correct they were.
Digital photography is an entity unto itself. There are videographers, there are photographers - I think the two shall live side by side, happily ever after.

Digital was a very large shift indeed, however, it was only a means of capturing and presenting the picture. The basics are still there. I doubt true photographers will ever give that up.

His predictions regarding journalism may be correct, but they don't apply for true photography. Whole different beastie.
Mar 7, 2006
I think they are on to something, in so far as industrial photography goes for news. The newspaper is becoming the buggy-whip of the information age. I like newspapers, but then I'm old and grew up with them.

The snagging of a still for us geezers and getting video for the web site at the same moment makes a lot of sense to me. But Canon as the last man standing? I hope not, or competition will really be hurt.
Feb 7, 2005
Annandale, VA
I agree with Beezle and ToLady. In 1997 I purchased both a digital camera (Ricoh RD2) and a Sharp VCR Recorder (with the LCD screen in back). After a year or two the VCR languished from disuse. We copied the occasional family event, marriage, birth, birthday but it just didn't seem the same as the digital photo.

A conversation on this same topic came up in a casual discussion with a friend at work and, as frequently happens, you get flashes of insight from other people who are not as tied to something which you are passionate about. He poined out videos are not anywhere near as enjoyable as photography; they do not allow for imagination. Of course most are horribly composed and contain distracting bumps and background noises, but even with the most professional shooting after it's all said and done it's simply a chronicle of an event in time.

He also put away his video recorder and takes his camera when he travels because an image creates a distilled moment in time and viewing it brought back a whole plethora of memories. Even folks who never were part of the taking of the image mentally put themselves into that image and imagine all sorts of things about that place and moment in time. When you view a video it remains the personal experience of the one who took it.

Why do people still prefer reading over watching some recorded dramatization of a story? Because it stimulates the imagination. Additionally it is so portable; no dependence on batteries, chargers, screens which all can fail. It requires only your eyes to enjoy. It's the same with a phototgraph.

I understand the authors of the prediction were referring to taking a stream of images a single frame of which could serve as a digital image. But it's not the same. A person with a point and shoot, the same as someone with an expensive DSLR usually seeks and captures that single moment in's so inherent in humans to recognize when to press the trigger. Running a super resolution mega zippo high speed video recording device is simply not practical to use and requires searching through mind-nubing hundreds of frames for the best single shot; an overwhelming, and ultimately fruitless search.

The digital camera is the modern book and the cam corder, no matter how high the resolution, is the home movie of old. How I hated sitting through Aunt Lou's home movies! People want to remember a scene as it is recalled in memory, not sit through a high definition home movie. Who, in this day and age, even if it was a photo/video journalist, has time to manipulate, absorb and screen a voluminous library of microscopically different versions of the same shot?

Technology itself will not drive human behavior. Why else are children standing in line to get the latest version of Harry Potter books? Why do parents read to their young in preference to dumping them in front of a TV? It's because of imagination. The same applies to images. Long after the latest super high resolution graphics supplemented DVDs are played through people return to the book. It is the same with digital photgraphy and videos. One simply records the passage of time, the other captures a moment and fills the viewers mind with endless imagined vistas behind the camera.



May 1, 2005
I am probably in a mix of the two camps because of my film experience and editing and final cut pro use. I don't think still capture will go away, but for a lot of us, it might change. a scenario:

you hike for miles and miles, with a high end HD video recorder that can record a still of 10 MB of data from it's stream it is recording on your 6-8 terabyte portable flash unit.

You arrive at the waterfall, the light is just starting to get good, you have no need for a tripod because of VR or IS, (by the way, Nikon won't be out of business, they have other areas besides just DSLR cameras, a lot of medical imaging equipment for example)

You start recording and slowly sweep right to left, then up and down covering all quadrants very very slowly, over and over again, you try different perspectives, low, high, etc. etc. it is getting darker, but you can shoot with video far into the darkening skies.

Once home, you are scanning your video, looking for the print that would look best on your LCD Display that changes photos every minute or two in your library of images. This is located in your main living area and represents your photo library. Heck you even have some images you made with that archaic D200 you have in the closet that is 12 years old showing up occasionally on the display since you haven't been back to the Florida Keys yet.

As you are scanning for the image, you get to a great spot in the miutes you shot with great light, you slow to 1/2 speed with your finger over the freeze frame button, Bam, there it is you hit the button and freeze a good shot, you move forward and backwards a few seconds and scan over a 100 different stills from those few seconds to find the best shot. You select it and move it into PS PhotoVideo Suite 4 to do your processing and work.

This is what I am looking forward too.
May 4, 2005
State College, PA
I think the way I thought growing each generation grows with new technology that has always been there for them, how they think will be progressively different then how I think!

So, as long as I'm alive my mind will assimilate how it was trained to. Hence a market will exist for still frame photography. Now if I outlive my peers then all bet are off!

Dec 29, 2005
Bournemouth, UK
some ppl are still shooting with film (shees!) so it stands to reason that when the wave moves from stills to video (which I agree it will) there will be a miniority that still shoot stills :smile:


Rick Waldroup

For working PJ's, this is the wave of the future. The Dallas Morning News started the shift a while back. Some of their PJ's still shoot digital still cameras, but they will eventually make the move and the whole staff will go to video. The quality is great and it will only get better. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Jan 13, 2006
My personal forecast, which was wrong, was that 3D photography would be the next big thing. It seems to me that the technology is so very close to making that a reality. 3D glasses have been around for a long, long time but have never made the jump to newspapers or magazines. We've also seen stuff like this: which I thought would mature into a more mainstream technology. Still could happen.

I agree with previous posters, though, who differentiate between journalism and art photography. I don't think art photography is going anywhere.



i dont know really if i would believe this... as previously stated still photography is it own medium and i wouoldnt feel i accomplished the same thing just video taping something then taking out certain frames and calling them photographs. As for film, it is still being used widely and i dont see it becoming "extinct" any time soon. Of course i am just 16 years old and dont know diddly squat about all of this but i still find it hard to believe Nikon will be out of business in less than 10 years. for PJ the video camera may be the next thing, but for the "artist" if you will nothing will ever replace a still camera, its just not the same, your opinion may vary.
I really don't think that videography will replace still photography any more than other media have replaced books. While it's nice to play a CD or DVD recorded book while driving in the car on a long trip or to skim the headlines and articles of interest on a national newspaper's website, neither of these is as satisfying as sitting in a comfortable chair on a rainy afternoon with a good book or spending a leisurely Sunday with the pages of the NYT or Washington POST spread out for one's reading pleasure....

People are still coming to public libraries and checking out tons of children's and adult books -- while, yes, our circulation statistics show an ever-increasing flow of DVDs coming-and-going, too, those are still a fraction of our overall items used by library patrons. It gives me great pleasure to see a family coming up to the circ desk with armloads of books for everybody, from the toddler to Mom and Dad, and to see that maybe there are a couple of DVD movies in there, too, but that the books are still the primary attraction....

Me, I am not interested in videography. I much prefer working with a still camera and shooting to capture an instant in time.... I suspect that this guy's predictions will fail to come true. I hope so, anyway!
Jan 1, 2007
Abingdon, Maryland
I think the way I thought growing each generation grows with new technology that has always been there for them, how they think will be progressively different then how I think!

So, as long as I'm alive my mind will assimilate how it was trained to. Hence a market will exist for still frame photography. Now if I outlive my peers then all bet are off!

If Mike is right, (not picking on you Mike) the still camera and video camera will soon be replaced by the cell phone and cell phone video. That is what the kids today are used to. We can all look forward to 1" square video presentations, and YouTube links to our art.

I agree kids today are more and more into technology, but I think they will just have better tools then we do for making both still pictures and videos.

For me, I can't stand to watch someones video of a wedding or other personal event, but I could sit for hours going over a professionally produced wedding album. I have been asked to shoot video at weddings and always turn down the offer. If I can't stand to watch it, I am not going to shoot it.

As for Connie, your job is safe. My daughter who is 14, will check out a dozen or more books every week, and is usually done all of them in just a couple days. I thought she was not the norm, till I went to my first Harry Potter movie with my kids. It was so weird to her these kids critique the movie based on the books. I am used to hearing adults do that, but to hear a bunch of 12 year olds complain about how the movie just does not follow the plot or the actors don't represent the book well.

For me, still pictures, at least until we can get that fancy holographic image like Princess Laya looking for Obe One Canobe in Star Wars. Then I may go to something like still 3D holograms.:smile:
May 1, 2005
East Lansing, MI
There are so many things you cannot do with videography that will keep photography alive. The most poignant of them aside from techniques is that you cannot hang a video on the wall. Digital cameras have incorporated video capability since the dawn of introduction but people still want to click that shutter instead of record a video. I think in order to ELIMINATE an entire media of art, you have to have some kind of catastrophic paradigm shift. To me what this is asking is like saying - music will be eliminated because movie soundtracks are the future.
Feb 28, 2006
Seattle WA
I don't have an opinion and/or guess as to whether this will happen or not, but I do believe that there could be some truth to it in terms of the next generation. Having recently gotten back in photography in a big way since my old Canon A1 days, I have really tried to get my 14yr old into it.

"Do you want to get into photography like dad?"

"Not really, cuz you know dad, in the end... it's just a picture"

This dialogue seems more relevant after reading this thread....
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