Wednesday, May 4, 2011

There's Too Many Pictures on the Internet, but It's a Good Thing

In the age of digital cameras, and accelerated by the nearly universal ownership of mobile phone cameras, pictures are everywhere. Literally trillions of them.

We’re documenting not just our lives, but our world, in brute force style. Hundreds of millions of people snap pictures of anything and everything every single day.

Most of these photos are never seen by more than a few people, but nonetheless, if they’re posted to the Internet, they’re waiting their chance. Somewhere along the line, possibly years from the date of the photo, someone is going to happen across that image, and it’s going to be exactly what they’re looking for.

The vast majority of these photos are terrible. Despite reasonably good auto-focus, auto-gain, and automatic shutter/aperture control, the typical photo-taker’s actual photography skills are lacking. Poor framing, ugly flash shadows, and ill-conceived subject matter are the likely offenders. As a result, the Internet is clogged with crisp, true color, horrible photos.

However, at the same time, a large collection of higher quality photos have appeared on the Internet, even if they’re hidden by the bad ones. Digital photography helps people grow as shutterbugs at a much faster rate than film cameras (which would require extensive technical knowledge, shooting with faith that the picture would be correct, painstakingly noting camera settings, and then waiting for the film to develop before learning what went wrong.) With digital cameras, everyone—even the pros—look at their shots to see if they need to tweak settings to get a better picture.

The good news is that you can now find a picture of just about anything, thanks to search engines. Need a picture of a man long-jumping over babies? Google Image Search to the rescue!

Photo by Israel L. Murillo

Want a picture of a random bridge—let’s say one over a river on I-65 in Alabama—but it needs to be at sunrise? Take your pick!

Photo by Aimee Deeds

Social networking websites ensure that you see everything your friends do, which usually translates into Everything There Is to Do in This Town. Wanna see what’s happening at that art show going on downtown that everyone’s been talking about? Check with your Facebook friends.

Mobile photo-sharing apps are all the rage right now, with each trying to pull some crazy new spin on the concept. From Color to Snapbucket to Path (the one I independently predicted the name of), people are betting lots of money on this.

Google Street View allows us to pick a street and see a panoramic view of what that slice of the Earth looks like. There’s no more worry about what your friend’s house looks like when they give you directions to it, or what a sign says at an exit ramp from the interstate.

Do there need to be pictures of everything? Probably not. But it allows us a preview before we get there, and it means that nothing is missed. Even if the quality is low, the picture you’re looking for is out there somewhere.

There’s too many photos, and most of them suck—but they’re enriching our lives.

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