Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photography: Thoughts on Digital Technology

I have been traveling for most of the summer and fall, hiking and painting in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and visiting family in Atlanta, so have not written much for the Almanack. I have literally taken thousands of digital photographs. Dealing with all those photos has prompted me to think about how our use of images and technology is evolving.

First, all of us with digital cameras have learned that we can now take unlimited numbers of photos. Up close, far away, every possible angle, multiple views – only then we end up with huge numbers of images, like I did, and it becomes an immense task to do something with them.

With over 3000 images from my trips to Glacier and Yellowstone, it took me 2 months to complete sorting through them, eliminating the blurry and poorly exposed images, deleting many of the multiple images that really weren’t necessary, and then cropping and editing those worthy of preservation. Note to self: be more conservative; wait for the “best” picture; delete extras right away, don’t wait until they are downloaded to the computer.

Second, what do we do with our photos these days? Thanks to modern entrepreneurs and technological innovation, there are no limits to the options available. You can store and edit all your images on your own computer and print selected photos yourself; take images via a disk or flash drive to a commercial location like a local drug store, where they can be printed; upload images to a photo web site and then select images to be printed and mailed to you; transfer images to a digital photo frame and enjoy a continuous slide show of your favorites when ever you wish; put them on your own web site; add them to a blog you write and share them with your readers; post images to a social networking site and share with friends and family; take selected images and via certain web sites, arrange them into pre-formatted books which can then be printed and mailed to you; take a photo of yourself with your phone at a great location and then instantly share it with the world via Facebook; have a favorite photo printed on a mug, or made into a jig-saw puzzle; make and share calendars illustrated with your own photos; and probably many others that I don’t yet know about.

Is anyone still sticking them in photo albums with those little black corner things? Five years ago, when my first grand child was born, I had one of those cute little “Grandma’s Darling” photo books to carry around with me and show off to friends. By the time the 2nd grand child was born 3 years later, I had the photo book, but never got around to getting any images printed and into the book (don’t tell my daughter!). But I very much enjoyed the 100’s of photos taken of the new baby directly on my computer screen. What about showing them off to friends, you may ask? Well, I was outsmarted by a phone and could whip it out quicker than a dollar bill from my wallet and show off my little darlings! I seem to have moved beyond printing and framing photos – I use my computer daily and can easily access family photos at any time; I check my Facebook page and those of my friends and family and see new pictures there nearly every day. I send and receive photos via text messages and emails and tweets. I think I basically see family and friend pictures more frequently now than in the past. I’ve got drawers full of old family photo albums that never get looked at – but the last 5-10 years of my life are easily accessible any time of day.

However, dealing with all my traveling photos from 2012 really drew my attention to the revolution we are all participating in. In 2005 I was among the first people to sign up for the Kodak Gallery web site, where it was possible to upload digital images into albums that were saved in my account. Friends and family also joined and created albums and we were able to share them with each other. There are many online photo sites and many different options available. Unfortunately the Kodak site was discontinued and taken over by another online photo site, Shutterfly. I was assured all my albums of images would be transferred to it. I wasn’t too worried, because I also had all my images on my computer. (Currently 38,000).

Back to the 3000 images from Glacier and Yellowstone – I weeded them down to the best 100-150, then created “share sites” for each of my national park trips. I entered the email addresses of the other people who had been on these trips with me as members of the share site, and they were all notified and invited to add their own photos. So now we can see all of them and choose from the vast number of options what we want to do with them: print, post online, put into a book, etc. I then discovered Shutterfly had a free “app” for the smart phone. It enables me to post phone camera images directly to my Shutterfly account, plus I could access those shared sites that I’d created. Ask me about my Glacier and Yellowstone trips and you’ll see! But I soon was amazed to find out I could also access all those years of photo albums I’d once put on the Kodak Gallery web site. Fantastic! I could be anywhere in the world, with cell service, and I can pull up images on my phone from any of those albums!

There are other ways of accessing images or items from your own computer files from anywhere via the internet. Sites like DropBox, allow you to create a folder, upload all the high resolution images or document files you want, then share the folder with whomever you choose. That works great when you have too many images to send to someone via email. They can download the files they need. Once again – this is really revolutionizing how we deal with information and images. As much as I feel like I’ve taken advantage of the new technologies, I know I probably don’t know half of what’s available and am continually surprised at how smart my phone is.

This all makes me wonder if there has ever been another time in human history that so many of us have been so actively taking part in the rapid development of new technologies. I wonder if it was like this when Gutenberg printed the first Bible using moveable type! The internet and social networking sites seem to evolve daily in response to how we are using them. Are we as individuals, and are our communities and organizations here in the Adirondacks keeping up with this – or are we being left behind?

Photo: Painting done in Glacier National Park – shared via Facebook that day.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks. Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

6 Responses

  1. Great article that reflects my evolution with digital cameras as well. I remember when the first came out, waiting to see what the quality was like. I figured the technology would take hold, but decided to wait since the pixelated results were poor at first (straight lines looked like jagged lines even at the camera’s highest resolution). I finally delved into the market in 2001 with a Nikon and was thrilled with the results. It had a magnesium body at the time which really made it bomb-proof; now most are plastic with the higher end cameras sporting the magn. body. Now, with about 6 Terabytes of pictures that grows daily, I’m firmly rooted in the technology. Sites like picasa are now vital to my ADK blogs and provide an ability to share images, yet not give them away (since I also sell photos) by keeping the dimensions small. You’ve got to love technology nowadays…or at least some of it!

  2. Cris Winters says:

    Me too! You are way beyond me with your management of your photos, but so many amazing options to be explored. The organization of all those images on my computer is my big challenge.

  3. Jim Leach says:

    A painter friend I travel with teases me constantly about the volume of images I shoot while he’s painting one canvas. “Click, click, click,” is one constant refrain. After a week on Maine’s Monhegan Island he once asked, “How many pictures did you take?” The answer: “Maybe 10, I just have to find them.”

  4. Sandra Hildreth says:

    I neglected to mention how we can now see things like natural disasters and political events “live” due to those involved posting digital images directly to social media sites. Instantaneous imagery without having been filtered by the media!

  5. Greg Oshier says:

    Great article Mrs. Hildreth. This is a topic almost everyone can relate to, thanks to the “free” photo sharing services we have to pick from. Of course we still have to pay our monthly internet and/or phone bills to access these services.

    I can attest to your experiences and lessons learned with photographing only “the best” pictures at Glacier National Park, having been there twice. The second time being this summer when I coincidentally ran into you painting near the outlet of Avalanche Lake. It is such an awesome small world story to tell people. It’s not ever day that you see your high school art teacher from 13 years ago in the middle of the woods over 2000 miles from home! Again, it was very nice to see you there and I look forward to seeing some of your work in the Saranac Lake gallery.

    – Greg

  6. Tom says:

    I was in the same boat for a long time. I purchased a copy of Adobe Lightroom, and after a slight learning curve (mainly watching some how-to’s on youtube), organizing my digital files is pretty quick and easy. They have a 30 day trial to try it out for free.

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