You press the button, we do the rest.
The recent news about Lytro and the concept of a microlens array giving the user the ability to select focus after the photo is taken is very cool. It only took a day for the standard and expected knee-jerk reactions to hit the web. Lytro appears to be either the next big thing or the final nail in the coffin of creative photography.
I tend to disagree with both assessments and in thinking about why, I’ve been forced to rethink my previous comments about the digital revolution. I touched on it a little with my post on Photoshop but I’m now convinced that there is indeed another, legitimately new trend being caused by the transition to digital.
For the mass-market consumer, photography has always been sold using Kodak’s mission statement. Whether it involves pre-exposure settings or post-exposure processing, consumer photography is about pressing one button and not worrying about anything else.
Digital photography however is changing the message. It’s no longer “You press the button, we do the rest” but is instead “You press the button and do the rest.”
As I discussed in my Photoshop post, more and more people are getting into the post-processing side of photography. Because of this, consumer cameras are trending toward allowing for as much post-exposure editing as possible. Need more exposure latitude? Use the HDR mode. Need a wider angle? Use the panorama mode. Need to zoom in? There’s plenty of resolution available to crop. Need to adjust the white balance? That’s easy to do in RAW. Does your timing suck? Shoot in burst mode.* Not sure what to focus on? Shoot Lytro and decide later.
*We will eventually have consumer cameras which record continuous video and then allow us to pause and save any moment as a photograph.
At the same time, based on the data dumps that I see all over flickr and Facebook, there are still a lot of people out there who can’t be bothered to post-process anything. All the apps which aim to help people instantly share their photos are also, by definition, not about post-processing.
I’m interested to see how things develop. Lytro is the most extreme example of a technology which will allow for more control in photographic post processing. It also has the potential to completely change how we will interact with photo editing programs. Yet its point will be completely lost on a large number of consumer photographers since they don’t post process anything.