A great photo takes both the skill and creative talent of a photographer, but technology has also played a vital role in making that job easier (and in some cases, possible in the first place). Since the advent of the dry plate process to today’s astonishingly high sensitivity sensors, the craft of photography has advanced with improvements in technology.
Here are eight photos that couldn’t have been made even five years ago without the steady drum beat of technology.
1. Michael Rubin (computational photography)
One of the Light L16 camera’s breakthroughs is the ability to change depth of field after the shot.
The L16 captures up to ten images at a time for each press of the shutter. Using the data and depth maps created from each optimized lens and sensor, the area and range of focus can be selected to allow shallow depth-of-field with strong Bokeh for portraits or greater depth of field for detailed landscapes and nature shots.
For the first time, shutter speed and aperture have been decoupled from the shot.
Michael is the Marketing Director for Light.co
2. Vincent Laforet (high ISO)
With older sensor technology and/or film, you couldn’t photograph more than 15-20m post sunset in a helicopter. The combination of vibration and lack of light in the world beneath you – with any of the sensors until about 2 years ago – made it difficult, if not impossible, to capture a sharp image. AIR happened because it was a perfect storm of technology and opportunity. I’ve been waiting since my teenage years to be able to do this.
Visual sensors are getting close to [the human eye], and in some instances, they can see more than the human eye can see. That was the breakthrough for me when I took the 1Dx – in effect overexpose the image and I would be able to get more detail in the street. These sensors combined with software like Lightroom, has the ability to bring back the highlight and shadows, brings out range and nuance. Pretty amazing.
Typically: 1/160s +stop; wide open f/1.2 – 2.0. 1600 – 6400 ISO.
3. Mark Terrill (high ISO & autofocus)
I have witnessed the evolution of digital photography starting with the Nikon/Kodak NC2000, back when we were still manually focusing lenses and when the best useable ISO was 800 and now we are talking about shooting in “available darkness” with cameras that have a useful ISO in the range of 100,000 like the Nikon D5.
We used to be happy with focus that was “close enough for print” and now the D5 can get spot focus on a face with “3D tracking with face detection” where, even though your focus point isn’t your subject’s face, the camera will find it and lock on. The technology that they are putting into these cameras is mind boggling.
Five years ago, the state-of-the-art camera was the Nikon D3S which had a native ISO range up to 12,000. The native range of the D5 tops out at more than eight times that. The D3S was already pretty great, but the high ISO range of the D5 means that I can shoot sports at a faster shutter speed which translates to much sharper images.
4. Michael Clark (High Speed Sync)
This image could not have existed only a few years ago. While it may not seem like anything out of the norm, consider that it was created in the middle of the day on a sunny afternoon. Only two small 400 Ws battery-powered strobes were used to light the image, one with the standard reflector and the other with a medium-sized softbox.
What is revolutionary about this image is that the new Hi-Sync technology from Elinchrom allows us to sync the flash at up 1/8000th second shutter speeds, which previously for any camera was impossible.
For this image a shutter speed of 1/2500th second was used both to stop the motion and also to overpower daylight. As a result, there is no motion blur on the subject at all—and I had the creative option to make the image look as if it was shot at night instead of during the middle of the day. The only telling part of this image is the blue sky in the upper right corner that lets the viewer know this image was created during the day. This burgeoning flash technology, for those who are willing to explore it, opens up an entirely new world of creativity.
Equipment info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, Two (2) Elinchrom ELB400 strobes with HS flash heads – one with the standard reflector and the other with a 100cm Deep Octa Softbox (diffusion removed), Elinchrom Skyport Plus HS transmitter
Exposure info: 1/2500th second at f/2.8, ISO 200
5. Victoria Will (cinemagraphs)
After spending some time at the Sundance Film Festival making wet plates, I felt like the series was drawing to a close. Not because of any love lost for wet plate (and I continue to make them) but because in this specific environment, a studio at a film festival, it was time to try something new, again.
Honestly though, I had no idea what it was going to be. I basically asked myself what the opposite of a tintype would be and the answer was always something to do with technology.
After collectively racking our brains together, Esquire editor Elizabeth Griffin and I decided it needed to be something in motion—but again, what does that mean? So I really tried to find something that felt inspired and then one day on Instagram I stumbled upon a beer advertisement where the beer was pouring endlessly into a glass.
It was almost a mind trick. My brain told me I was looking at a still image, but then it continuously moved. I was immediately mesmerized and needed to learn the technology behind it and then try applying it in a portrait setting.
My moving portraits are essentially GIFs. That technology, of course, has been around since the 80s, but to make it smooth and have the appearance of a still image, that technology is just beginning to be embraced. One hindrance it has had along the way is just the file size required for the smoothness. Five years ago it was crashing websites, but with the allowances we have now, and hosting sites like Vimeo, the moving portraits are finally able to be used online and on social media.
6. Deci & Brideen Gallen (pixelstick)
The progression of technology in photography raises the bar of what is achievable and has pushed us to get more and more creative with the limited time that we have at weddings. The pixelstick is just one of the latest innovations that has helped us get more creative.
Previously we had done a lot of more ‘traditional’ light-painting, using LEDs and torches, but the pixelstick allowed us to create something more spectacular a lot more easily. It’s brought a welcomed bit of colour and cheer to dark, cold winter weddings.
We like to embrace whatever technology that we can find. Modern tech can make doing the easy stuff much easier, but that isn’t the best thing about it. What we love is that it opens up new possibilities to push yourself to your creative limits.
7. Eric Cheng (drone)
For the last 15 years, I’ve been focused on storytelling that takes advantage of new perspectives unlocked by technology. Underwater imaging, light field photography, and most recently, aerial photography using consumer drones, are all areas in which I’ve spent a lot of time exploring.
With the rapid improvement in drone technology, I realized that I could suddenly project a camera out arbitrarily more than a mile away, and started thinking about how to capture something like a volcano from a totally new perspective. Drones excel because they can fly low and shoot wide; the images captured from drone look totally different than those captured by helicopters, and as a bonus, there is no danger to humans when getting close to dangerous things like lava.
In this shot, fellow drone pilot Ferdinand Wolf and I piloted two DJI drones over a volcano from about a mile away. We used two drones so one drone would always be in the shot. We hugged the lip of the caldera as closely as we could to maintain line of sight with the drone (for radio reasons only—we were way out of sight, operating by first-person view from the drones’ cameras), but that still meant that we were close enough to the lava for portions of the drones to melt.
We captured not only totally new perspectives of an erupting volcano, but were also able to broadcast one of the flights live, via satellite, to the 6 million people watching an episode of ABC’s Good Morning America.
Eric’s personal website can be found at http://echeng.com. His first book, Aerial Photography and Videography Using Drones, is a tutorial book for beginners looking to get into taking pictures using drones.
8. Peter Eastway (100MP back)
In some ways, the new 100MP back from Phase One is just an incremental improvement, in other ways it is a game change. It’s incremental because we’ve gone from 80MP to 100MP which is incredibly useful for me when producing large prints, but may not be of such interest to web designers!
However, when you consider the new 100MP back in conjunction with the new Phase One XF camera body, it has taken medium format to a new level. Add in true 16-bit files, a greater dynamic range and huge improvements in ISO performance, and suddenly there are many more subject genres that you can tackle. For the 100MP, it means I have more scope for aerials, long exposures, night photography and low light—and the image quality has to be seen to be believed.
The 100MP doesn’t replace other cameras, however. It doesn’t have the operational speed or lens range of my Canon EOS 5DSR, or the small size and viewfinder options of the Fujifilm X-Pro2. Like in the days of film, it’s still a matter of choosing the right camera for the job – it’s just we now have a wider range of cameras for a wider range of jobs. It’s a great time to be a photographer.
About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.