Is fast food photography the beginning of cultural heart disease?

An example of Stage Light Mono from Apple’s 2017 keynote

What does Apple’s ‘Portrait Lighting’ beta release tell us about their plans for the future and what does it mean in general for the future of mobile based photography?

This week Apple announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone X marking 10 years since the release of their 1st iPhone back in 2007. Along with the anniversary releases and their ’Superhero’ processors will come a slew of updates, including ‘Portrait Lighting’ which aims to mimic professional photographic studio lighting through machine learning.

Judging by the subtle addition of a studio image (pulled from the archives of Spring Studios which they added to their slide deck, they clearly have their sights set on disrupting the role of the professional studio photographer by bringing a digitally engineered, consumer friendly version of professional lighting to their new releases for amateurs and enthusiasts to play with.

Studio light, contour light, and stage light are just some of the ‘effects’ as Phil put it, now possible in portrait mode.

Apple wants to ’set the path for technology for the next decade’ and the world is watching their every step. So where are we going exactly?

What is the landscape of commercial photography going to look like in 2027 exactly, if companies like Apple continue on their chosen path?
Where will the professional photographer be situated in this environment and what role will the professional retoucher play?

Generally speaking, Apple has never been the most ‘pro friendly’ company, just look at how many Mac Pro updates there’s been in the last 10 years. And this latest feature release of ‘Portrait lighting’ albeit a minor feature which could easily be overlooked as a gimmick, is not exactly pro friendly either.
After all professional photographers don’t need it right? They know how to do it already.

Obviously, it makes perfect business sense for Apple to go after its largest market and for most consumers this is probably going to be another welcome addition to their already pre-existing arsenal of photo filters and photo apps at their disposal to enhance their photos, but in some way this does seem like another little dig at the professional. Now that might not be Apple’s intention but I’d be interested to poll the photo industry to see their reaction to this.

Image courtesy of Spring Studios

If the last 10–15 years is anything to go by, there are some certain truths which have washed to the surface for professionals.

1. There’s been a 10X reduction in the cost of professional retouching largely due to the explosion in the workforce and much higher competition. So professional retouchers are making less than they did 10 yrs ago pro rata. Basically, retouchers are having to do more for less to make up the deficit.

2. Budget restrictions and tighter deadlines have ultimately had a massive effect on the final results being submitted by professionals for publication, So the benchmark for quality expected by the consumer (not the client) has subsequently dropped significantly. This is Largely due to an explosion in online content, whereby the importance of consuming content has superseded the importance of its quality.

3. Due to its popularity, generic appeal, accessibility and total absence of any entry level requirements, there’s been an explosion in interest in commercial photography and with social content now perfectly placed for brand awareness and online marketing, clients have now fully adopted the concept of commissioning ‘social players’ as part of their marketing strategy. So the role of the professional has already been blown wide open and most likely companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Snap, who now see themselves as much camera companies as they do software companies, are aware of that and are perfectly positioned to fully exploit the changes to come.

Since the 60’s there’s been at least a 100X increase in competition for commercial jobs. If there were 50 or so major players back then, then there’s at least 5000 now at the disposal of millennial focused clients.

So for any of the professionals out there, slow to understand why they are gradually seeing more and more gaps show up in their schedule, well, that happened whilst you were sleeping.

So what are the repercussions for the professional if this trend continues to play out over the course of the next 10 years?

As always with technology, there are usually ethical questions lurking In the shadows of its wonder. Just because we can do it, should we do it? And if we do do it, what are the consequences?

One thing is for sure, the professionals who have been there from day one need to do everything they can to collectively protect the industry which they helped to build and in a somewhat insular industry, void of unions, that will be a bit of a challenge. The creative industry until now has always thrived on its elitist nature and seemingly impenetrable walls but the tech industry’s disruptive nature, like a jack hammer, has made huge dents into even its foundations.

At the forefront of that change is this new brand of fast food photography. With technologies aimed at convenience and clients clambering for attention, like the effect the postwar era of convenience foods in America had on Americans, this will certainly have its fair share of social consequences for professionals

In recent times, no-one has identified the cultural zeitgeist more simply and poignantly than how Kendrick Lamar spins it in Humble.

‘Im so fucking sick and tired of the Photoshop’.

Kendrick Lamar — Humble

Yes, we are too. That is Photoshop taken too far. The best retouchers know that the best results are usually derived from doing the least amount of work possible. There is a responsibility that comes with being in control of such an advanced tool like Photoshop and its endless potential is usually what trips people up. Same goes for technology in general.

Technology is great. We know that. We live in incredible times and it’s an amazing time to be alive and we love Apple but we have to be mindful of the advances we’re making, because they’re happening so fast and not just blindly get carried away with all the sugary, salty, fatty tech until we wake up one day, needing a cultural by-pass.

For answers on where we’re headed, ask Elon Musk, he’s from the future. Maybe he knows.

For further reading on a related topic about the future of tech, check this out