Past Predictions of the Future Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

One of the blogs that I regularly read is Copyblogger, which provides a lot of great information and insights into content marketing.  This past week, Brian Clark wrote a post entitled,  The Future of Content Marketing.   He writes:

“A bunch of really smart people got together in 1880 to predict the future, according to Jeff Stibel in his intriguing book Breakpoint. These experts were called on to predict how the rapidly growing Gotham would manage into the next century and beyond.

The prognosis was not positive.

NYC was a major source of American innovation in 1880. Skyscrapers, subways, stock exchanges — and it was doubling in size every 10 years. abb36e44-0c30-4a09-9279-0cd3c3fefa9b-A01867The experts were concerned by this growth, because they projected by 1980, you’d need six million horses to transport all the people who would live there.”

Folks were predicting the future of New York City, looking at it through the eyes of what was technologically possible then.  They were more concerned about all the horses and the “crap” that would be produced, than they were about greenhouse gases, because nobody knew what that was.

When I re-ran a blog post How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography, I used a similar analogy, that Ray Kurzweil had given when I heard him speak at NAB.  Ray said that, at the turn of the century (the beginning of the 1900’s), if you thought of yourself as being in the “horse and buggy business”, you were doomed to fail because of advent of the automobile.  But if you saw yourself in the “transportation business”, you thrived, no doubt because you broadened your view to include the automobile.  In my blog, I compared that analogy to what is happening in the still photography business, as the mediums of still imagery and video converge.  I received a lot of responses from that post, mostly from people who argued that still photographs would always be around. I don’t disagree with them.  I do think there will still be still images in the future – however, I think the still photography business will drastically change from how it is now.

Interestingly enough, every year I’m asked to bid on a still photography assignment for a tourism client.  Yesterday, I received the bid packet and there was a profound change.  They were not asking for a quote for still photography.  They were asking for a quote for video – and not just video – but video shot on a RED camera so that they could pull frame grabs from the footage and use those “still images” in their ads.  Now, that’s a game changer.

There’s always a danger in predicting the future and that’s because we tend to use and be influenced by the information and the knowledge that we have now – in the present.  What I’ve learned in my many years on this Earth is that the future will be nothing like how we imagine it will be.   I know that because what I imagined the future to be, some 35 years ago when I set out to make a career as a still photographer, was very limited in terms of how technology has changed things.

The human need to create will continue to mold a future that is way beyond what most of us could ever imagine.


7 Replies to “Past Predictions of the Future Have Been Greatly Exaggerated”

  1. A very interesting post. As you say – if you’re interested in the image rather than the means, there’ll always be something to enjoy… at the same time I’d greatly miss the act of composing and considering a still shot.

  2. I read the same Copyblogger article and was curious to learn more about this group of future predictors from 1880. That’s how I got here. In any event, I agree with your assertion that you can’t assume we’ll be using the same technology even just 5 years from now. I work in IT, which is an industry that changes drastically and constantly, and part of what I do is try to figure out what the early adopters in our network are using and how that new tech compares to our current tech.

    By the way, if you figure out the source of the New York 1880 predictions, I’d love to know what it is.

  3. One of the bottlenecks of capturing stills from video is that stills & video generally require different shutter speeds for optimum quality. In an article published on the newsstands last winter in Resource Magazine, I reflected:

    Stills and Video Require Different Approaches, Shutter Speeds, Etc.

    A salient fact that one must honor while capturing simultaneous stills and video is that the two mediums generally require different shutter speeds for optimum quality. This is especially important when motion is present—either at the camera’s end, such as with a handheld rig, or when the subject is moving. When I was shooting Kelly Slater’s journey to victory at the Hurley Pro, exposure times for the Nikon D4 stills were generally between 1/2000s to 1/5000s, thereby freezing his action in mid-air, while the exposure for the video was around 1/60s to 1/120s—well over a magnitude of order difference!

    A touch of motion blur in video frames is more pleasing to the eye, while sharpness is generally sought in photographic stills. For this reason, the Red cameras are limited, even with their 4K and 5K image sizes. If you optimizes the shutter speed for sharpness with speeds of 1/2000s or just 1/1000s, the video will appear “stuttery,” like those old black and white WWII film clips. Should you optimize the shutter speed for video at around 1/60s to 1/120s, motion blur will creep into the stills, showing up in handheld shots or when the subject is moving. When photographer Kevin Arnold used a $65,000 Red EPIC rig (now around $40,000) to shoot skiers at Whistler Mountain, he concluded, “The EPIC’s sensor, while amazing for video, just isn’t on par with top-end DSLRs and certainly not even close to medium format digital cameras when it comes to still images. The bigger challenge—especially when shooting fast moving lifestyle or sports action—is achieving fast shutter speeds. The great majority of the frames we shot were soft due to either camera movement or subject motion blur. This is the single biggest issue with pulling stills from video.”
    read it all:

  4. Originally I saw RED ads claiming that one could shoot the movie and the movie poster at the same time. But this is generally not true, for, as we have seen, optimum stills and video generally require different exposure times, which I report on above and in my article How Will You Shoot Quality Stills & Video @ The Same Time?

    Thus, if one person is to shoot optimum stills and video at the same time, they will generally wish to use two or more cameras. Personally, I use around five cameras ever shoot, with three video cameras set up on tripods in the sand, and one video camera (a Sony NEX-6 these days) mounted on my DSLR. Thus one gets three different angles from three stationary cameras, and a moving camera too which has the advantage that it always follows the model and also optimizes the field of capture according to the photographer’s judgment. The five cameras can all have different depths of ield/fields of view/angles, thusly making for an interesting final cut. And the great thing? All five high-quality cameras/dslrs together cost far less than a RED! 🙂 You can see the three stationary cameras setup halfway down here: as well as the Sony NEX-6 mounted under the Nikon D800E DSLR. I mount it below for numerous reasons, including the fact that I oft need a fill flash out there. 🙂

  5. I have seen some frame grabs for web PR this year from motion cameras jobs that I was the set still photographer for. They suck, even for small photos on web PR. After watching how quickly it took motion jobs to change from film to digital, it wont be long for images to be good enough to work as half single page People Magazine type pixs. Double page spread much longer. The pipeline and DIT work in the field will prevent most scenes from being shot with files big enough for stills for a while as well. As far as the shutter speed being changed for sharp frame grabs no one is talking about the attitudes of the Director of Photography who will have to agree to tolerate those changes. They wont. It changes the look of the motion shot to much. I camera assisted for 20 + years (before changing to set stills) and believe me there are no higher end DP’s that will allow their motion camera shutter speeds changed to accommodate PR. Most shoot at a wide aperture, light for $ (Minimal lighting and as few a crew as possible, producers love that) so the ISO would have to be jacked up on all interiors and night shoots. They will fear that the ‘look’ of what they shoot for PR will be detrimental when being considered for the next gig. The next option (Most who don’t work on set might suggest) is to do a pass (after the director/actors/producers are satisfied with the motion portion) with the last take at a higher shutter speed. That is a pipe dream on most productions because we are usually behind on the production schedule. Just the conversation after a scene is finished weather to do or not to do those kinds of takes is generally a huge time suck for the 1st AD.

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