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photo research: Andie Diemer
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In a crunching economic time with an emphasis on instantaneous online consumption, it is a struggle for print media to compete and survive. One basic tactic newspapers and magazines have often used to propel their media is the physical appeal of their product, and that is often driven by photographic visuals and design. But in a society with a new demand on how information in presented, received and digested, photography has begun to adopt a different role in how it is captured, laid out and used in today’s print media. Culture is impacting the digital transition; the transition is not impacting the culture.
Digitalization has not only changed the types of cameras that are being used, but the types of photographs that are being taken and the types of photographers that are taking them. Page design has evolved to be consumed more easily and quickly to serve a public that is inundated with constant news to help them select the information they want. Because of this, a new type of journalist is being bred out of the technological changes and the shift in cultural expectations of instant media. Nonetheless, photography and design are still some of the overriding values that carry print today, since the value of these areas are what initially get readers interested and involved.
This paper will examine how photography is reacting to and shaping the change in the media consumption culture overall, including technology and design. It will also focus on how photography has become cheaper, quicker and easier, how a new photographer is emerging, how design and consumers are being impacted as well as struggles and potential drawbacks being fostered by digitization. This research can also be used as a practical application of photography in the print media from years past, the digital transition and an evaluation of how the field may morph in the future.
Digitization of media is clearly a topic that has been discussed before. But the unique role and struggles photography and design are coping with during the transition period is not as notable. The following are a few examples of research that have been compiled on similar topics of transitioning to digital technology:
Shahira Fahmy and C. Zoe Smith show how technology impacts news photography in the article “Photographers Note Digital’s Advantages, Disadvantages,” since technology directly and indirectly influences photographic results. This research specifically deals with digital replacing film and how it has become less time consuming, easier to share and cheaper to produce, but it also analyzes some of the drawbacks to the evolution.
The article “Access, Convergence and Print on Demand” by John Feather for the International Journal of the Book describes how the convergence of information was not only driven by the use of common digital technologies, but also how these technologies provide a simple, universal skill base for users to design, implement and use digital photography to break down the traditional barriers between different branches of the information professions and between public service providers and private sector suppliers.
The Economist printed an article called “Develop or die” that discusses Kodak’s financial situation “in the middle of the most important transition in its history.” The piece also covers other companies, such as Fuji Photo Film and Agfa. It delves into how Kodak struggled to cut its dependence on film and instead opted to embrace digital technology. Statistics from the company provide raw numbers that help to judge their success and failures and provides a frame of context when talking about the evolution digital technology has made. Both Kodak and Fuji’s digital strategies are outlined in this source to help understand the importance of tracking the move from analog to digital.
Financial and overall quality of current camera technology is compared in Dave Evensen’s Quill piece, “From Darkrooms to Digital.” This article is beyond a simple cost comparison and talks more about how photo use in newspapers has increased as well as how photo technology has shaped the final product of a newspaper. It also touches on financial aspects of the transition and takes a deep look at newspapers to analyze how digitization improves the news product, which was the main goal behind the transition.
Corey Dzenko’s article “Analog to digital: The indexical function of photographic images” covers the impact of new media by centering around the idea that “the medium is the message.” This means the medium is an extension of the human senses and changes culture because the message of any medium is the change, scale, pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs. It also discusses how the physical connection to reality allows photography to be an essential visual recorder.
The section “Digital Photography” in editor Lynne Warren’s Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photos surveys photographic history and practice for the past 100 years and was compiled by an international group of experts, scholars and historians. In addition to a glossary of photographic terms, the encyclopedia breaks downs processes and technical information about equipment and other photographic aspects.
A Background of Photography and Design in Print Media
The New York Daily Graphic was the first newspaper to publish a photograph on March 4, 1880. In 1927, the Associated Press started a news picture service. But it wasn’t until around 100 years later, in the early 1990s, that news photos became common in the industry. Until then, other visuals, such as maps, were the only option for print media yet were rarely utilized. The use of photographs greatly impacts design today, but photography was not always one of the governing elements to a page; even the notion of strong page design did not blossom until the mid 1900s.
Publick Occurrences, the first American newspaper, had deep, wide columns of text, no headlines and little art. There were absolutely no photographs. After the Revolutionary War, dailies began to emerge and introduced design elements such as thinner columns and headlines, but photography was still not prominent (Harrower, 4). Newspapers all looked relatively the same in the 19th century and around 1900 headlines were getting bigger and page design was departmentalized to various sections.
The 1920s permitted photography to boom in print media, since many tabloids were born and photography, aside from headlines, was a main way to draw consumers in.
By the 1960s, most of the curret design trends were in place, which includes more and bigger photos, refined headline type, a move to 6-column pages and white gutters between columns instead of rules (Harrower, 5). Full color printing presses were fairly common in the 1980s, so a new era of photography in print media began to unfold.
Tim Harrower, a professional page designer and creator of The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook, is the go-to informant on some of today’s basic design and layout principals. He said readers are no longer looking for gray columns of type and instead are seeking something “snappy” that is “easy to grasp and [is] instantly informative” (Harrower, 2). Layouts must be inviting, informative and easy to read, and can be created with the building blocks of design (headlines, text, photos and cutlines) with the addition of smaller pieces to make more complicated pages (logos, teasers and graphs).
Because American culture has become overwhelming visual, images are now viewed as strong and text as weak. “If you want to hook passing readers, photos are even more valuable than text. Photographs are essential for good design, and good design is essential for photos” (Harrower, 93). The transition of integrating more photography into the medium in the early 1990s played a large role in the design of newspapers. Basic design elements include full-color photographs for the front page, informational graphics to illustrate the news, packaging so that all themed content is easy to find and is already broken down for the reader and a modular layout so that all stories are presented in rectangular shapes (Harrower, 6).
But before the convenience of digital photography was common, newspapers used a lengthy darkroom process to produce their work. When a photographer would be out on the scene, they may have had several cameras with different lenses to shoot up to 36 shots of film with. Each roll of film cost several dollars and the photographers were greatly inhibited by their deadlines since it took several hours to process the photographs. Lee Warnick, a communications professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, has worked in the media industry for decades, including a job as a newspaper photographer that used a darkroom, which placed great limits on his deadlines. “If a brawl breaks out or anything newsworthy, it’s not going in the paper except in print” (Warnick). He said it took between four and five hours to create a color image in the darkroom, which is why color was used on special occasions. Yam Tolan, an associate professor of photography at Austin Community College who has been the photo editor for Fox News Online, said photo assistants were common on larger assignments to help the photographer switch film and cameras between shots since there were excessive amounts of equipment.
The photographer would then have to come back to the darkroom to process their work, without even knowing if their shots came out as intended. After film is exposed there is still no visible image, but instead a “latent image” that needs to be chemically brought out (“Digital Photography”). The photographer has to process the film through a series of chemical bathes to do this, and then print the images on an enlarger before developing them in a similar fashion. Color photographs must have their colors separated during this state (Warnick). Bradley Wilson, editor of “Communication: Journalism Education Today” and a previous photographer for the National Press Association, said during this era most photos remained in black and white or were spot colored because color photography was not successful unless there was a decent press available.
Peggy O’Neal Elliott, a communications instructor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and previous bureau chief at the Florida Times-Union, said even past this stage in the process everything continued to be manual. This includes all of the cropping and enlarging, which is done in the dark room, and cutting the image with X-Acto knives so that is can be scanned to create a halftone, which is a printable version of a photograph that converts various tints or shades that make up the original image into very small dots. However, this greatly reduces the resolution of the image (Ayers). This would be placed on the press in the designated area that a designer has already left blank (O’Neal Elliott).
But digital cameras have no analogous relationship to what they represent. Instead, it codes each image with a series of ones and zeroes that must be converted back into an analogous form to be viewed as a recognizable “photograph.” This happens as the image is displayed on a computer or is being printed (“Digital Photography”). Digital cameras have been tweaked and built upon to get to today’s standard. In December 1975, Stephen J. Sasson invented the digital camera for the Eastman Kodak Company.
It weighed around eight pounds and was the size of a toaster with a resolution of .01 megapixels (Calcott). By 1982 the first commercial electronic camera, called the Sony Mavica, was developed by Sony and was not a digital camera but instead was a video camera that took freeze frames (Calcott). On Feb. 17, 1994, Apple released the QuickTake 100, the first consumer-priced digital camera that was also compatible with a personal computer, and by February 2006 it was estimated that 92 percent of all cameras sold were digital (Norman).
In the early 1990s the AP started a process using a satellite circuit to send a single high-quality color image in 15 seconds, allowing more transmissions of photographs (“History of the AP Photos”).
This is the same general time that pictures were starting to be viewed on computer screens and there were no more prints for newspapers’ operations departments. “Digitized pictures could be enhanced by newspaper editors to meet the exacting requirements of their individual publishing systems, and passed digitally into the prepress and press room” (“History of AP Photos”). On Jan. 28, 1996, AP photographers shot Super Bowl XXX entirely digital with the new NC 2000. The camera, which had been created by the AP and the Eastman Kodak Company, made digital pictures on electronic chips that were built directly into the camera. “The black magic of the classic film and chemical photo process has been replaced by the equally magical process of digital picture handling” (“History of AP Photos”).
The Digital Transition
Part I: Cheaper, Quicker, Easier Photography
Despite the promises of digital cameras, the industry was initially reluctant to switch their gear because the original digital cameras were not high enough quality to print images from, especially when converting from color to black and white images (O’Neal Elliott). But as the technology was developed, the trend to transition was backed by digital’s opportunity for economic savings over the long run and the ability to transfer content faster and more efficiently. In an industry driven by costs, this was very lucrative.
Today, the technical aspects of digital cameras eliminate the mechanical process and allow for photography to be completely automatic. Color has become the norm, especially because of better print press quality. Papers, like Brigham Young University-Idaho’s students newspaper, the Scroll, are being printed 250 miles away and human hands are only touching buttons until the pages actually come out with separate plates and negatives are made (Warnick). “Now, we’re 100 percent digital; it’s a pretty seamless process that takes minutes instead of hours. It allows for a lot more creativity in the design process, and takes a whole lot less time” (Warnick).
Tolan said in the past three years 35mm digital cameras have equaled their film counterparts in both quality and price. Digital can be more expensive than analog cameras, but there is no additional cost for film, chemicals and excessive labor (Tolan). Photographs can be processed and published in the field, which makes it cheaper to manage a photo department, especially in terms of chemicals, and saving money in the photo department means publications can allot more finances for writing (Koretzky).
Since digitization allows for instantaneous publishing, it impacts how the industry uses the medium and how consumers gather information. “Clients want it faster. They expect it at the end of the day rather than the end of the week” (Tolan). Convenience is also ushered in with digital cameras because shooters can see what they are doing. “At this point, anybody that isn’t embracing this technology is crazy. You have to embrace the instantaneous and have a system in place to deal with the hazards of it” (Wilson). Film tends to only be used for art making now, since the process is essential to the art and the focus is not just on the end result. The only aspect film doesn’t outperform digital in is with medium or large format cameras, which use big negatives to store more information to create a large print (Tolan). The technology has just not evolved yet.
Michael Koretzky, a freelancer, adviser of the student newspaper at the Florida Atlantic University and magazine creator, said there is a trend for trained photographers to shoot big assignments and reporters to shoot smaller assignments. He also thinks digital technology has turned photography into something he refers to as a third-world nation. Analog film permitted a class of average photographers and a class of high-end photographers. With digital technology, there is now a set of high-end photographers that can create images, but may just be shooting on auto focus. But top-level publications still want photographers who know the technical aspects to a camera and because technology hasn’t been able to replace high-level photography, the middle ground has been replaced. But top-of-the-line work is still there, so while the front page may look the same, the inside pages are housing work of lesser quality.
But this doesn’t mean the traditional method reigns supreme. “I think it’s been five years since you could remotely make the argument that analog photography is better than digital photography. I think you can make the argument now actually the other way. If you are an excellent photographer, you can express yourself better through the latest digital technology than you could than with the best darkroom. The only way is the way forward” (Koretzky).
The Digital Transition
Part II: Defining the Photographer
Traditionally, photojournalism was a professional degree with education and skills since it was a time-consuming process associated with pricey equipment. Digital cameras eliminated that skill set. Now everyone that has access to a camera can be a photographer, which has forced traditional photographers to become specialists. This also creates an odd juxtaposition since the public knows they are capable of taking photos and no longer place as much value in high-quality images and are unwilling to pay for them (Wilson). This is why the industry is struggling to strike a delicate balance between saving money yet maintaining quality with the photographers they send on assignments.
Wilson said training a photographer for today’s era is backward from years past, since one can successfully use a camera first before learning technical aspects. Current employers also don’t place as large of an emphasis on education or training, since many of the photographs they are seeking do not require a specialist. This has sprung many forms of citizen journalism, with one example stemming from the hundreds of users that submitted content, including videos and photographs, to CNN’s iReport after the Fort Hood shooting on Nov. 5, 2009 (“Fort Hood shooting iReport”).
In addition, cross-training journalists to be reporters, photographers and broadcasters in the field is a common practice. This was illustrated during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, where journalists lived, traveled and reported alongside the military and many were required by their employers to produce multiplatform journalism (Vaina). Jobs, such as one Koretzky just took with JetBlue, require reporters to have their own SLR camera and other tools, an increasing trend. Even if the journalist was not formally trained to have these skills, they are expected to have the tools and know how to use them or are asked not to apply. “I don’t think anyone would want to go back to the way we were. It gives the reporter more tools to work with” (O’Neal Elliott).
But neglecting the quality of photographers can hinder the basic principals of journalism, which can impact niche publications especially. Shooting with bad quality cameras from far away is one way photojournalism is being negatively impacted by untrained photographers. “You just torpedoed the easiest way to separate readers from your publication. You have to put faces in the paper. You suck them in” (Koretzky). But Koretzky said even though there may be a lowered benchmark of photographic quality, the people using the technology correctly will prosper in ways that would have never been possible if the technology didn’t exist.
The Digital Transition
Part IIIA: Evolutions in Design
The following are examples of how to attractively design a page, according to Harrower.
Take a gray page and make it attention-grabbing by adding art and cutting or jumping stories to make it less text heavy (Harrower, 76). Even though the first page is well-ordered and packaged in a clean manner, it is not inviting and is lifeless. The designer needs something to grab the viewer’s interest to suck them into the page, and a main way to do that is through the use of art, maps, engravings, infographics or other components. “Remember, most readers browse around until something compels them to stop. By adding photos, maps or charts, you catch their interest–then deliver the information” (Harrower, 76).
Balance and scatter art in a non-confusing way. With small photo placement there is no confusion and the page is more balanced when art is spread (Harrower, 77). Be cautious with butting headlines since it can make a layout confusing. By separating stories it’s a much cleaner layout. The raw wrap on the second layout allows for readers to have an easier time reading stories that may be run side by side (Harrower, 77).
The first page really doesn’t have a dominate image since there are many competing interests. As a result, the page is very text heavy and is not that compelling to readers. The second page has a more prominent visual image that draws the reader in and gives them a main point to just off of. This allows the desisnger to dictate what information and where the viewers need to spend their attention and move to on the page (Harrower, 76). Every page needs to have a dominant image if it wants to be successful and gain readership or attention.
The image on the left is a 1966 sports page from The Oregon Journal and is a typical example of 1960s design. It was years before editors finally realized that taking page design seriously is an important aspect (Harrower, 5). The image on the right is the Dec. 1 front page of The Daily Courier, which embodies many of today’s typical design techniques. Instead of being jumbled like The Oregon Journal, The Daily Courier has a dominate image and very small chunks of stories, as well as a large array of stories. The reader can easily find what they are interested in and skip around the page in an organized fashion.
The Digital Transition
Part IIIB: Evolutions in Design
This is a 1865 edition accounting the assassination of President Lincoln. It has 15 headline decks and has a vertical text format, so when a story hits the bottom on a column it jumps to the top of the next one (Harrower, 4). This was typical of newspapers throughout the 19th century, since they all basically looked the same and involved little or no visuals. “During the Civil War, papers began devoting more space to headline display, stacking vertical layers of deckers or decks in a dizzying variety of typefaces” (Harrower, 4). Harrower gave the example of how The Chicago Tribune used 15 decks on the front page to report on teh great fire of 1871. The element of art remained space until the early 1900s, even though the first newspaper photo was published in 1880 (Harrower, 4).
The 1898 edition of the New York Journal tries to stir up emotions by using loud type and a horizontal approach (Harrower, 5). By around 1900 newspapers began to look more like publications we think of today. Headlines grew, in size and text, and the long decks with all different typefaces were scaled down to save space. As news became departmentalized throughout the paper into sections like crime, foreign and sports, page design began to gain greater variety. Photos really began to take off in the 1920s when tabloids were on the rise. They jammed photos with sensational headlines on the pages to attract readership (Harrower, 5). “As the years went by, papers kept increasing the traffic on each page, using ever more photos, stories and ads” (Harrower, 5).
The Nov. 29 issue of The Daily Courier showcases more current trends, which incorporates various points of entry on a page (The Daily Courier Staff). Today’s newspapers are more lively and sophisticated, which is in part due to the technology that has developed over the years. But people still tend to go toward the product that is aesthetically pleasing, so design and photography are still huge components of the media. “They simply won’t respect a product–or a newspaper–that looks old-fashioned” (Harrower, 6). To look modern, newspapers now use color, informational graphics, packaging and modular layout. Today’s readers are busy, picky and impatient, so editors have to attempt to make every page as user-friendly and easy to get into as possible. This can simply be done by creating more points of entry, like briefs, roundups, scoreboards, promos and specially themed packages (Harrower, 6).
The Digital Transition
Part IIIC: Evolutions in Design
Culture is impacting design, as layouts are now created for readers with very short attention spans. Writing is shorter and evolving more toward sound bites with extra elements, such as bio boxes, timelines and infographics, to break the mold of traditional design and convey more information in a visual way (Wilson). More and shorter stories are appearing on the front page and the traditional model of the inverted pyramid is no longer a necessity, since people are information hungry and will move on if they can’t find the information they are interested in fast enough (Wilson). Wilson said the Chicago Tribune has been following a lot of these patterns, which can be illustrated by the Nov. 22 edition that has six stories on the front page, a massive photograph, two smaller photographs, two infographics, three teasers and a large ad at the bottom, things that were not the norm 20 years ago.
This cultural change is driving designers to no longer be able to slap body copy on a page; they have to analyze the most important facts in the most important stories and convey them to the reader in a visual form, such as infographics (Wilson). This is also challenging because photography is not the same quality it used to be, which creates a cascading reaction in design, and photographers are communicating less with the designers since they can upload their content from outside of the office (Wilson).
Technological advances have allowed for a much quicker process to designing pages, but it also permits non-designers to create pages without training in that area. “The bad side of bad design is you are actually screwing up the easiest way to generate readership in your local publication” (Koretzky).
The Digital Transition
Part IV: Impact on Consumers
Presenting reliable and quick information in an attractive, simple package is now an expectation of consumers. They have also become selective of the information they receive, since they are inundated with news. “If you don’t want to know what’s going on in the world, you can just ignore it. We thought everyone was just going to be consuming, but now [they’re consuming] just the stuff that interests them” (Wilson).
The public wants to spend more time with pictures than text, and the immediacy and availability of photography makes that possible. O’Neal Elliott said consumers want a photo with every story they read, but that it can cause strong emotions or prejudices since a photograph cannot tell an entire story and may make complex situations look very simple. “I think what it’s doing to us as a society is it’s keeping us from thinking more deeply, which is what you do when you read. Reading every day, readying a variety of things and reading deeply into what a reporter has to give us to inform us is the basis of a democratic society, and if we’re just going to take a picture for the 1,000 words, then I think were going to be different because of it” (O’Neal Elliott).
Koretzky said people seek images of what they want to see and do not necessarily care about the quality so long as the basic photo principals, such as being in focus and seeing faces, are apparent. “I think they want Brangelina; they want it in focus, they want to know what’s going on, they want it tight enough and the photo to be big enough and know what’s going on — the expressions. That’s what they want” (Koretzky).
While there’s more information to be sifted through in order to find the most valuable pieces, technology has provided this option, which wasn’t around decades ago. Koretzky said he believes this digitization will continue to improve culture, since it provides more options to select a “culture” from.
The Digital Transition
Part V: Potential Hazards
Because of shrinking photo departments and the constant push for publishing content faster, the photographic editing process has been skewed and is changing the nature of the industry. Competing to publish information as quickly as possible, photographers have become lazier in the sense that there is no vetting, fact checking or editing of their work before it is submitted (Wilson).
Photographs are also being taken now to just illustrate a story, sometimes without conveying the most important aspects. This is in part due to publications requiring reporters to also be photographers, but the more positions a publisher asks for (reporter, photographer, editor, videographer), the less quality all of those roles will be. “There’s been a bunch of publications that have tired to cut corners by telling the writers to go out and shoot their own photos, but the result is bad on so many levels. It’s so funny that for that reason, in that whole sequence, the one thing they seem to care less about it the quality of the photography” (Koretzky).
The Digital Transition
Part VI: Visualizing the Future
The shelf life of stories that are put in front of people will continue to get shorter. Expectations of instant information will not subside. Page design will need to be consistent and information must continue to be easy to find and highlighted through typography (Warnick). But photography will not disappear. The basic fundamentals behind photography cannot be replaced. “You want to stop time, you want to capture it for posterity” (Tolan).
The industry will not die, it will change. An emphasis on local content, such as college publications, will increase since that information cannot be found elsewhere, but survival of the fittest will determine who endures. “So were winding up where everyone’s going to be a reporter, everyone’s going to have access and everyone’s going to be reporting on everybody. I think we’re going to lose a good bit of what we’ve always depended on journalists for to get us the complete story. I think we’re going to give away some of that in all of this new digital stuff” (O’Neal Elliott). But when technology reaches the point where just pushing button will take care of all the multimedia, then journalism will circle around to its beginning, which requires good writers, good reporters and good eyes (Koretzky).
Professionals will still need their specialized equipment, but typical content will be produced by reporters, who are also photographers and videographers, or consumers. As the telephone is likely to absorb all of the roles — video camera, still camera, computer, bank, GPS and more — it may be the newsroom, not the camera, that fades into the ethersphere (O’Neal Elliot).
Koretzky envisions all of a journalist’s tools being condensed into a higher-end phone model that can be used as a hand-held device to collect an entire story, including video and audio. By plugging it into a computer, one can transfer all of the recordings into text and upload all of the audio and video, so that the reporter can focus on writing, which will always be one of the most valuable aspects of reporting.
Though the print industry is struggling to find a balance between economics, shrinking staffs and is competing with online entities and fast-paced culture, traditional cameras will survive. It’s the configuration of how newspapers and photo departments were structured for decades past that will have to shift. Most likely, photo staffs will break into two groups: the reporters shooting the smaller assignments (as well as writing the story and creating other multimedia) and the specialist photographers tackling the larger assignments, since there will always be a place for the highest-end people. Koretzky’s third world theory will be clearly marked with this.
There will be causalities in the industry along the way, but those high-end photographers may be happier in the long run. Though fewer photographers, those that survive will get to shoot the really choice assignments, such as covers and photo stories, and expend their expertise and emphasis there instead of having to exert it on an assignment that does not merit their specialization. Consumers will still be able to find and generate all of the content they want to, as long as they continue to be satisfied with not having top-of-the-line content for every single picture. Up to this point, technology has shaped a great path for which photography can greatly enhance consumer’s lives and cultures. Now, the industry just needs to sort out how it plans to travel down it.
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Tolan, Yam. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2009.
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Warnick, Lee. Personal interview. 9 Nov. 2009.
Wilson, Bradley. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2009.