Photo editor Michael Davis on why clichés win photo contests:
I think one of the dynamics at play is that work that was recognized in the past triggers interest in similar work in the present. In other words, we have this library of images in our minds and when we see images that are similar to the images that we think are great, there’s an association, a connection that is positive. These are derivative images. But instead of being a negative aspect, these images get elevated, often to the highest awards and often without realizing we’re just awarding what worked in the past.
That’s the nature of the cliché: I’m photographing a subject that was deemed good in the past, therefore the photo I make today will also be good. As a judge, the perspective is: This type of photo has been recognized in the past, therefore we should recognize it today.
His advice for photographers looking to break free of subjects that have been beaten shot to death? Do the hard work of researching prior work, and think about breaking new ground in either the subject, story, or storytelling method.
If clichés are so bad, why do they win contests? [Michael Davis]
Image credit: Cliche by Tom Newby Photography
Have an idea for a photo product and an entrepreneurial itch? PDN published an article this past week with three stories of people who successfully turned their ideas into products (and businesses). One of them is the story of Gary Fong and his Lightsphere:
Gary Fong, the former wedding photographer-turned-entrepreneur whose name has become synonymous with lighting accessories, says he got the idea to make his first photographic product, the Lightsphere, while flipping through an in-flight magazine. “There was an ad that said something like, ‘We make plastic parts for your ideas.’” It started him thinking about what he would like to make. What he wanted, he thought, was a large light diffuser, modeled on a lampshade. “Until then, diffusers were tiny. They sat on top of your flash and they didn’t do anything to the shape of the light. All they did was block the light coming through your flash.” He noticed that when he photographed indoors, light filtered through lampshades—which create a hot spot on the ceiling while diffusing the light on faces—produced pretty skin tones. “I thought, okay, I’ll make a big lampshade for electronic flash.”
Fong’s advice to fellow inventors? “All you need is the customers. It’s got to be a product that customers will buy. If they buy some, you know grandma will be packing boxes for you. If they buy waves of them, you’ll have grandma supervising some temps who pack the boxes until you find a distribution company.”
How Inventors Turn Their Ideas Into Photo Products [PDN]
Image credit: April Seattle Flickr meetup by Paul David Gibson
If you think about it, there are many parallels between Apple and Polaroid: both companies introduced innovative products that redefined markets in their time, both were founded by college dropouts, and both emphasized design and usability in their products. What you might not know is that it’s not a coincidence. Christopher Bonanos wrote a fascinating article for the New York Times on how Steve Jobs idolized Polaroid founder Edwin Land and modeled his career after Land’s:
The two men met at least twice. John Sculley, the Apple C.E.O. who eventually clashed with Jobs, was there for one meeting, when Jobs made a pilgrimage to Land’s labs in Cambridge, Mass., and wrote in his autobiography that both men described a singular experience: “Dr. Land was saying: ‘I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me, before I had ever built one.’ And Steve said: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the way I saw the Macintosh.’ He said, If I asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like, they couldn’t have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I had to go and create it and then show it to people and say, ‘Now what do you think?’”
The worldview he was describing perfectly echoed Land’s: “Market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.”
Both men were also kicked out of the companies they built, but that’s where the stories differ. Jobs returned to Apple a decade later and his company went on to become the world’s largest tech firm, while Land died a decade later and his company has filed for bankruptcy twice since 2001.
The Man Who Inspired Jobs [New York Times]
Back in 1937, art director M.F. Agha wrote a piece in U.S. Camera magazine titled The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer, which warns photographs not to pursue common photographic clichés that were saturating the industry. It’s an interesting glimpse into what popular photo subjects were back in the day.
CNN recently published a pop-quiz with 10 photos and a simple question: was the photo taken with a phone or DSLR? The test is meant to open the public’s eyes to the fact that phone cameras are getting to be just as good as expensive DSLRs. It’s misleading though, and Neal Krawetz over at Hacker Factor has a great explanation as to why:
The implied rational is that, with the correct technique, you can take pictures on your cellphone that are just as good as an expensive SLR. However, they do it by showing you thumbnail images that were created using Photoshop. At thumbnail size, even crappy pictures will look good.
Next time, CNN should do a speed comparison between a bike and a car… while they’re both at a standstill.
Phone or Fancy Camera [The Hacker Factor Blog]
Photographer Rodney Smith writes that the greatest gift possessed by still photographers is under attack like never before:
So dear photographers, others before you fought hard and long to give you a gift. And although everyone from corporations, to magazines, to art buyers try desperately to take it away from you, I implore you not to give it away.
Most of you are young and feel the need to work, and feel powerless against larger forces. You do not realize that when you get older, having the rights to your own work will be the best gift you have as a still photographer. It will help you when you need it most.
[...] The pressure is on. The economy is awful and people will grab what they can get away with. I implore you to stay strong and fight hard for what many other photographers, over the last 50 years, have fought hard to give you; the right to own and control your own work.
What Is A Picture Worth? (via APhotoEditor)
Image credit: Nimoy Present Toss 2009 by Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Wolves
It seems like everyone has access to some kind of camera these days, but will the digital images captured survive long enough to become part of the historical record of our time for future generations? John Naughton at The Guardian writes,
[...] while digital technology has generally been very good for photography as a mass medium, it has also made the resulting imagery much more fragile and impermanent. Of the billions of photographs taken every year, the vast majority exist only as digital files on camera memory cards or on the hard drives of PCs and servers in the internet “cloud”. In theory – given the right back-up regimes and long-term organisational arrangements – this means that they could, theoretically, endure for a long time. In practice, given the vulnerability of storage technology (all hard disks fail, eventually), the pace at which computing kit becomes obsolete and storage formats change, and the fact that most people’s Facebook accounts die with them, the likelihood is that most of those billions of photographs will not long survive those who took them.
That’s a startling thought — while it’s true that digital photos can last for quite some time if you’re tech-savvy enough to preserve them well, how many people in the general population actually do so? For the ordinary photo-taker, making a print will likely last much longer than their haphazard — or non-existant — backups.
Stick your pics in a proper family album [The Guardian]
Image credit: Broken hard drive? – Day 148 of Project 365 by purplemattfish
In the middle of last year, Google finally gave users the option of customizing its homepage with a photograph. Microsoft’s Bing search engine, however, has featured photography ever since it launched in 2009. Fast Company has an interesting article about how the photographs are an integral part of the strategy for stealing users from Google:
You might not imagine a bunch of editors running around looking for sexy, captivating photographs all day at Microsoft, but that’s exactly the case at Bing [...] Every few weeks, the team gathers for a few hours to vote photographs up or down gathered from 14 different image providers, including the Bill Gates-owned Corbis.
Over the years, the team has started to learn what images entice users most. Event-specific photographs, for instance, tend to drive tons of traffic: images from India’s Holi festival, for “national squirrel appreciation day,” or of a solar eclipse.
Bing also sees big traffic “anytime we put animals up,” says Horstmanshof. “People just love animals.”
This also explains why large format newspaper photoblogs have exploded in popularity over the past few years.
How Bing’s Editors Choose Sexy Images To Seduce You Away From Google [Fast Company]
In March 2011 we reported that an iPhone photo sharing app called Color had raised a whopping $41 million in funding before it had even launched. Sequoia Capital, one of the most prominent VC firms in Silicon Valley, invested more money in Color than they had originally invested in Google. Now, just three short months later, Color is still struggling to find users while its less-funded competitors are leaving it in the dust.
Harry McCracken over at Technologizer wrote a fascinating piece about Polaroid founder Edwin Land and the history of the SX-70 camera.
“Don’t undertake a project,” an oft-quoted Land maxim goes, “unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.” The SX-70 was both.
Did you know that “SX-70″ was actually the codeword used by Land a quarter century before the SX-70 camera for his first instant film camera project? It was his 70th Special eXperiment (Land was a Harvard dropout and prolific inventor, inventing the first synthetic material capable of polarizing light when he was just 19-years-old!)
It’s a pretty lengthy piece, but a must-read for any Polaroid lover.
Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible (via Daring Fireball)
Image credit: SX-70 Family by Brian Warren