What Will Surprise the Next Generation About Photography Today

What Will Surprise the Next Generation About Photography Today

Technology moves quickly, and it only takes a few generations for there to feel like a profound divide between age groups. What do you think the next generation will not know about the photography of today or will be surprised by?

Many of the people in the Fstoppers community have straddled the transition between film and digital. This is undoubtedly the biggest change photography had ever encountered and it was revolutionary. Though I am in my thirties, I clearly remember film and family members — particularly older generations — changing rolls of film on their cameras. I even distinctly recall as a child, on a day out with my family, asking to borrow a relative's camera to take a picture and then accidentally pressing the rewind button, spooling the film back, ready to be taken out and sent for development. He was furious with me for wasting a roll of film and I was rather upset. That might have been my last organic encounter with film, though.

Really, I was the first through the door of the digital era, as my family had very early digital cameras. Our first was a huge, silver oblong with a black strap, a fixed lens, and a tiny screen on the back. I cannot remember the make, but it was the millennium, and it felt high-tech. I hadn't even reached my teens before I had completely forgotten the perils and difficulties of film. All generations after me, save for those with an interest in film photography or a close relative who has, will have no experience with the medium. This means that there will be some nuances of shooting with film cameras utterly lost on several generations.

Even though I was around for the transition from film to digital, many of the details of shooting with film were unknown to me. In fact, it wasn't until I became a photographer and decided to try out my Grandad's Pentax SLR that I learned parts of the process I hadn't even considered. The one that comes immediately to mind is the existence of a light meter. They, of course, still have their place today, but when I bought my first camera, I'd had no call for one. It wasn't until I was in the Lake District, halfway up a mountain road gazing at a vista with the Pentax in my hand, that I wondered: "how am I meant to know the correct settings?"

The first film shot I ever took. I wonder if I'd have enjoyed it as much knowing how dreadful the result was. At least you can see why I was struggling with the settings!

Variations of lost knowledge have occurred since, albeit less impactful ones. For example, my girlfriend's father handed me the family's Polaroid from the 1970s after cleaning it up and checking it worked. Excited to give it a whirl, I ordered some original film for it and was waiting for the opportunity to use it somewhere special. I was informed that if it was going to be a while before I used the film, I needed to keep it in the fridge — an unexpected revelation.

So, my question to you is, what do you think the next generation will have to be told about the photography of today to understand it? That is, in 20 years' time, what might budding, fresh-faced photographers be surprised to learn about photography in 2022?

The Lack of Automation and AI

In ten years we have seen a staggering level of improvement in what can be automated and performed by AI. When I started photography, there were laborious and difficult jobs, particularly in post-processing, that I'd dread and can now be more or less done with the click of a button. There is no reason to believe this will slow down, and I imagine that in 20 years, many of the tasks we would perform manually will be a click or even automatic. Luminar's AI, for instance, continually blows me away with how well it can execute reasonably difficult tasks. The sky replacement function borders on perfect at times.

Back in my day, I had to make complex selections in Adobe Photoshop by hand.

How Stupid the Cameras Were

This is an area of photography I've criticized a lot, but it still baffles me. The cameras of today are superb in many ways, but the technology in them has barely moved, save for Eye AF and a few other features. The only brand that has innovated in this area is Olympus, whose real-time long exposures, digital filters, and astrophotography tools are excellent. Why we aren't integrating more computational functionality and intelligent modes into our cameras is beyond me. Smartphones have shown just how powerful the software side of photography can be now. Just this week, I used portrait mode on my iPhone, did some editing to it, and a photographer friend of mine presumed it was taken with my medium format camera. (That sounds ridiculous, but this image happened to look rather like a medium format image, in fairness to him.)

There are so many areas that could be improved with software, from automated focus stacking in-camera by default (again, Olympus is one of the few who offer this), to proper post-processing and connectivity. 

Low-Light Capabilities

Taken handheld at ISO 1,600

I am, again, using tech of 10 to 20 years ago, contrasted with today, as an indication of trends. One pretty sizable improvement has been low-light capabilities of cameras with ISO and image stabilization. 20 years ago, taking a handheld picture at dusk would be unlikely to yield a usable result. Now, I have taken handheld images at blue hour and ISO above 1,000, and you can't tell it wasn't taken with a tripod. I can only imagine we will get to the point where unless it's pitch black, low light isn't really a barrier.

What Do You Think Will Be Hard to Believe in 20 Years?

There are far more areas I think we age poorly, but let's put the question to the room. What do you think the newest generation will be confused about in adulthood if they pick up our beloved craft? What did you not realize about film photography? Have you been through multiple evolutions of photography? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Rob Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Really enjoyed this article, thank you for taking the time to write this up. I think personally, in 20 years time I feel like people would be bewildered by many brands menu/menu navigations are so tedious. You would think in today’s time there should be a ‘search’ bar in cameras to find things instead of going through the various pages to find exactly what you need. Idk, it just seems so behind.

Can't there be a startup for that?
It would be the same as AI culling except it has to find more emotion then just technical quality.
There's even a business model : select the few personal and interesting ones for the client in exchange of the rights to sell the mundanes to stock :D

I think that photography will be dead by then. You'll be able to video everything in super high def on something like a headband with a lens and then just isolate the moment you want. Or maybe in thirty years?

There will always be a need for image and video capture in the future. But we have to wonder out loud simply because we are becoming kind of bored with what the big competitors in the market are offering. Simply put, the same as in the DSLR era, but now in mirrorless with a few tech improvements. Yes, more big telephotos, more iterations of cameras with the same form factor, more megapixels, etc. What too many pundits refuse to address adequately is that the real excitement in digital image capture today comes from the smartphone and drone community. There's where the real revolution is happening and will continue to happen. The incredible capabilities of these smartphones and what's to come will be impossible to match by the big camera companies out there. See all those young people out there in events with their smartphones? They are the consumers of tomorrow, and you can rest assured that what they are looking forward to does not involve a big camera rig with an 800mm lens. Sure, a few will go that way in the end, but the rest 99+% of humanity will just be looking forward to that new smartphone that's coming around the corner with all its computational technology and form factor. The market forces and consumer spending trends are on the side of the smartphone companies.

That we perceived images as reality and trustworthy for documenting. In 20 year you will not be able to tell what is real or not, at all.