The Digital Journalist
The Coming Earthquake in Photography
April 2007

by Dirck Halstead

If the change from film to digital was the equivalent of a magnitude 5 earthquake, the changes to photography in the next 10 years will be equivalent of a magnitude 10.

The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, has been predicting many of these changes for the past 10 years. In 1997 we stated that the days of the use of film were coming to an end. We also said that in the future photojournalists would no longer be shooting still pictures, but instead would be using video as their prime medium of acquisition.

All those things have already happened. Still cameras that shoot film have already been abandoned by most manufacturers. Increasingly, newspaper photographers are being asked to shoot video for Web sites.

These seismic shifts, as we are already witnessing, will literally change the way photographers take pictures and how they are displayed.

Of course, in the next 10 years there could be a third world war, in which case all bets are off, but certain evolutions are already too far along to make it unlikely they will be stopped.

First, most of the major camera manufacturers that are now associated with still photography will probably be out of business by 2016. Of the majors now selling cameras, I would put my money on only Canon to survive. That is because they have a farsighted video division, which will provide the research and development that will be a key to their survival. Already, Sony is moving to become the number one still-camera company. Their newest top-of-the line digital still cameras are based on designs from Konica, a company they absorbed.

However, it is video that will undoubtedly become the main means of acquisition in photography. Today, almost all the manufacturers of prosumer video cameras have moved to High Definition. These cameras, off the shelf, are capable of delivering a 2-megapixel still image. The Dallas Morning News is now equipping their still photographers with Sony Z1U video cameras, and they have created an algorithm that allows those frame grabs to be boosted to 16 megapixels, which only two years ago was the maximum you could get out of a professional 35mm camera. The Dallas Morning News is regularly running 4- and 5-column front-page pictures from these video grabs. Then, they put the streaming video on their Web site.

The financial imperative to newspapers is clear. Their salvation, in a time of plummeting ad revenues on their broadsheets, lies with their online versions. Online demands video. For this reason, we can comfortably say that in 10 years photojournalists will only be carrying video cameras.

Because video cameras now all feature a 16:9 "wide-screen" aspect ratio, the old 4:3 box that we used to associate with movies will be gone. This has enormous implications for how still photographs will be displayed in print. The standard 8x10 aspect ratio now commonly used will be dropped. Why waste all of that horizontal information in the pictures? Eventually, you can expect to see wide-screen pictures not only on your TV screen, but in print as well. We predict that magazines (those that still exist) in 10 years will be bound on the top or bottom, not on the sides as they now are. That will allow the magazine to be opened to display a horizontal rather than vertical layout. This will accommodate all those "wide-screen" photographs. However, it is more likely that paper printing will be long since gone, and instead newspapers, magazines and books will be delivered on "electronic" paper, in which case the visual presentation would most likely be video in the first place. Today, if you go to The New York Times online, you will notice that right on the front page is a box displaying video, not a still photograph.

Don Winslow, the editor of News Photographer magazine, has noted that vertical photographs have almost ceased to exist in the photography lexicon. It used to be a maxim of photojournalism that it was important to get as much information as possible into a small space. Verticals were the best way of doing that. However, for a generation of photographers who grew up watching television, and editors who wanted to display a photograph across a double-truck spread, the rules changed.

With video becoming the prime tool of acquisition, audio of course now enters into the picture. In fact, it becomes as important as the video. This means that a whole new set of skills must be developed by the photographer. Every photographer has already become a computer technician, spending more time on the "post" process, such as Photoshop, than on taking the picture. In the future, editing will be done in such programs as Final Cut Pro. All of this means that photographers will have to be smarter.

However, ultimately, the classic need for talent – the "eye of the photographer" – will never change.

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist

Dirck Halstead was Time magazine's Senior White House Photographer for 29 years. He now is the Publisher and Editor of The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, and a Senior Fellow at the Center For American History at the University of Texas in Austin. His new book, MOMENTS IN TIME, published by Harry N. Abrams, is in bookstores, and available from