Defaulting to Take.
While rummaging through my stored away childhood items at my parents’ house I can across a CD-R labeled “Pictures.” I put the disc into my Macbook and opened the folder. There I came across things I’d long assumed lost: an archive of my old digital camera.
Not just a few of the pictures and videos I took, but all captured by my Sony Mavica from The summer of 2000 to the end of my junior year of high school in 2003. Every school project, every snowstorm, every family vacation. I immediately copied the disc to my hard drive to begin the process of syncing with Carbonite so I could be assured that they would never be lost again.
Looking through what I had taken the obvious observation came to mind: man, the image quality is abysmal. 640x480, 1.3 Megapixal, 125k in memory if you were pushing it. This trove of personal history takes up just 230MB. Doing a quick check on the iPhone in my pocket I find that in the past 3 months I have taken 7GBs worth of photos and videos. Every photo I take today with my cell phone is equivalent to talking 365 pictures with my dedicated digital camera 10 years ago.
Such is the normal nostalgic lush we put over technology from our youth. We come to realize how incredibly limited we were and naïve in expectation. We can take a previously unimagined quality of image and store it in near unlimited space in a cloud. Times change, one day a gigabyte will seem all to lowly.
But, to my true shock isn’t the quality of the image but the quantity. This time frame included once in a lifetime family vacations like going out west to hit the major National Parks. Looking through that folder I have a clearly paltry number of photos from that experience: 359 pictures. On a 16 day trip that averages out to be 22 per day. I took 16 at my company’s picnic last week. I take 5-7 each time I walk in the park. The West, some of the most scenic places on the nation, The National Parks, 22 pictures a day?
The practical truth is that I had a Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD88. You may also remember it as that camera that used floppy disks. Analogous to film each 1.5MB plastic rectangle had a cap of at most 15 high quality images, 25 low quality ones, or one “high quality” movie. It was state of the art and a selling point: why would you be constrained to use internal storage that limited you to taking 30 pictures, just buy more floppies!
The camera itself had to be transported in a bag with all of its supplies and hung around your neck when used. Practically speaking you had to be judicious about snapping a photo. Sure you could delete it, but 15 slots added up as did your full disks. There was no real way to review in full your day’s shots and throw out ones you didn’t want. Just like waiting for film to be developed after the trip, one only got the full picture when you got home and copied all the disks (one at a time).
All of this added up into two overriding constraints. By default you wouldn’t take the photo unless you could justify the use of space and disk. You also would defer to not taking the camera with you when you got off the bus because there was the logistical issues of carrying it around for the minutes to hours you’d be walking around. It defaults to not, leaving me just 22 pictures to explain to my future self and loved ones what my day was like.
The best camera you have is the one that is with you. Pixel for pixel that camera will always get better. However, the most important barrier which has been broken in the past 10 years is the change in default from not taking to taking. Consumer photography has been revolutionized because we can truly be free of limits.
Limits are important in photography and constrains force you to be selective (you can’t upload every photo to Instagram after all). Yet this doesn’t stop you from taking, what you choose to do with it only matters if you have it. The state of the art is now in the sharing, not the capture.
I shall post more interesting and meaningful photos I find in future posts.