Photo by Flo Meissner / EyeEm

5 Predictions for the Future of Photography

Photography as we know it is over, and that’s an exciting thing

by Severin Matusek, VP Community at EyeEm

JUST FIVE YEARS after we’ve seen smartphones revolutionizing the way we take, consume and communicate with pictures, we’re only starting to grasp the consequences — and opportunities — that new technology brings to photography. Virtual reality, computational imagery, deep data, multiple sensor devices, image recognition, new file formats and aesthetics are set to enter the stage louder than ever and redefine what photography can do in 2016.

To help shed light into how exactly these technologies will change photography this year I’ve asked for the advice of some knowledgeable friends: Stephen Mayes, Executive Director at Tim Hetherington Trust; Anna Dickson, Content and Community Photo Lead at Google; and Taylor Davidson, Entrepreneur and writer specializing in digital media, technology and photography; and Paul Melcher; entrepreneur and founder of Kaptur.

We first met in this constellation at a panel at the annual DMLA conference in October 2015 and continued the conversation from there. So how will photography change in 2016? Here are five visions for the future.

Photo by Markus Spiering @spieri / EyeEm

1. Virtual Reality will be King

VR was big in 2015, but it will be even bigger this year. When asked about his predictions for this year, Stephen Mayes states that we should also expect the unexpected when it comes to VR.

We’ve been hearing about VR for a while and we’ve already sampled the first consumer experiences with some quick and easy solutions delivered by and Google’s Cardboard headset amongst many others. Be prepared for what’s coming next: not only the much hyped release of Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens at the high-end, but also GoPro 360º camera arrays and the new surge of 3D Smartphone cameras that are hitting the market for everyday casual creators who will start building their own VR experiences.

Mayes takes his prediction one step further to explain how these new technologies will begin to blend with each other and become even better together.

You thought you already knew all about GPS, or more to the point, you thought GPS already knew all about you, but the crude targeting that consumers have experienced to date will evolve into much more sophisticated location-driven advertising and other information services, delivered in virtual or augmented reality formats that will immerse us in case we’re not already sufficiently immersed in the actual reality of our lives.

2. Photography won’t Sit Still

Last year we saw the release of moving photo technologies like Apple Live Photos, Instagram’s Boomerang, and VSCO’s gif app, DSCO. Paul Melcher was absolutely right when he said “photography wants to break free of its constraints.” It has already begun to and will even more this year. Melcher goes on:

“No longer satisfied with the flat, 2D, static nature of photography, users are looking to experiment and adopt new photo formats. The resurgence of animated GIF, now common everywhere, has signaled to camera manufacturers, social media platforms and cell phone companies that people want their images to be more. From filters to stickers, from motion, depth and sound and many more to come, 2016 will be the year when the traditional photo format will explode.
Prepare to see your photos not only move, have sound, be entirely immersive, have depth mobility, stitch with others, but, as well, be interactive, provide feedback, classify themselves, and automatically link to others of the same type. Powered by manufacturers in search of the next photo thing and fueled by users’ insatiable thirst for photography ( 1.2 trillion photos captured in 2015), the new year will bring a flurry of new experiments, mostly on our mobiles. ”
Photo by Michele Palazzo @streetfauna / EyeEm

3. Discovering Powerful Stories will be More Important than Ever

More photos are taken today than ever before, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to sort through the noise to find the truly good stuff. Anna Dickson says she suspects most photography professionals will focus on new technologies and apps, but she’s interested in how to find the best photos once they’re out there.

“People are communicating with each other visually. I see it as our jobs as photo professionals to be experts in that language. That may mean creating compelling visual content, but it also may mean surfacing incredible stories or images from an important event, or simply finding trends in our society.
We need to figure out how we surface the images people want to see and find the stories that people want to tell. How do we find the most beautiful photos out of 2 Trillion? And how do we determine what those are? How do we make sure we’re surfacing exactly what someone is looking for? The future of photography isn’t just about the tools we use to create it, it’s also about access to those photos and then using them to communicate with the world.”
Photo by @indrawidi / EyeEm

4. Stock gets Real

The idea of ‘real photography,’ meaning authentic moments rather than staged ‘stocky’ photography in the advertisements and communication we see on a daily basis has become more widely spread in the last few years. Taylor Davidson makes an interesting point when applying this idea to all image-based social platforms.

“Awash in images of our daily lives, we’re acutely aware of images as tools for communication, and we’re heavily attuned to the messages behind the images we see. As cultural norms change, stock photography changes, and we’re due to see more commercial imagery reflect the diversity in our cultures. The establishment of greater rights for LGBTQ, the popular awakening to transgender issues, the broader recognition of women’s rights and equality, the changing demographics caused by mass migrations, we’re seeing cultures change in front of us in ways never possible before.
Instagram can break down cultural barriers if you follow people outside your bubble, and it’s made us highly aware of fake diversity often prevalent in stock photography. The need for the images we use in media and marketing to portray our lives creates commercial opportunities for creators and platforms to provide images that highlight our real lives, and the diversity we live should show up more in the images we use.”
Automatic tagging through EyeEm Vision, EyeEm’s own image recognition software

5. Image Recognition will make Photos Smart

And finally, I wanted to make one prediction of my own: the amount of photos we take will possibly hit the multiple trillions this year. With that, finding a solution to sort through these photos, understand their data and find what you’re looking for will become more relevant. With EyeEm Vision, we introduced an automatic keywording technology that detects what’s in your photo, and measure the aesthetic value of it. By the end of 2016, each image on your camera roll could be sorted or searched based on the objects, people, color and concepts it depicts.

That’s only the beginning of what image recognition can do for us. The end goal is that once algorithms can not only detect what an image shows, they can also tell what it means and measure the aesthetics (i.e. which images are beautiful and appealing, what emotions it triggers, which context it is taken in, what concepts it represents). Machines are learning to really ‘see’ an image for not only the objects in it, but the meaning and beauty within it. The hot mess of images swirling around in our digital space could potentially get structured, classified and searchable, bringing solutions to current problems of copyright, keywording and image licensing.

This year will bring us new visual trends beyond those we predicted in this article. What photography is, what it can do and what it may become continues to be one of the key questions today’s photographers, editors, technologists and storytellers will have to answer.

As Stephen Mayes states:

“I don’t know if it’s a prediction or just wishful thinking, but between now and December 31st we’ll see journalists, advertisers, dating sites and users evolve richer forms of storytelling supported by new aesthetic and ethical standards that will make the innovations of 2015 seem like a quaint footnote in the history of visual communication. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy year.”

Thank you Stephen, Paul, Anna and Taylor for your contributions. Thanks to Jenna Black for editing. We’ll see what the future holds.

What do you think?