At past, we have black and white photos only, then we have color film to take a photo. Stepping into 21 century, digital photos are becoming popular and the number of pixels are increasing alone. 30 years later, how will a typical photo look like? Does it have much more pixels than recent photos? Or it would have other improvements from current photography technology?
30 years is not much to drastically change photography, it is basically the same since its inception. Color is a simple step, digital is because now everything is digital. Holograms are out there but not practical, not just because we lack in technology, but it is not very convenient.
Only improvement I could see in 30 years is that stereography would be more common, that trend has already started. I would say, more cameras will be equipped with multiple lenses to construct stereo images. Probably 3D screens without glasses would become commonly available. This may allow almost 100 year old technology to finally soar.
If you're looking for another advance to use in your story, consider light-field cameras, single-lens 3D images, or sensors based on solid diffraction gratings or holograms that don’t require lenses at all, but are flat like bug’s eyes.
improvements to conventional cameras
Sensors are getting close to the quantum limit in terms of sensitivity. High-end sensors add very little noise on top of that. I see the great expensive side of things moving into cheaper devices.
However, a conventional lens needs to be large, scaling with the sensor size. So very compact or flat devices will start using “breakthrough” lenses on somewhat larger sensors, as sensor size is the ultimate quality limiter.
display and presentation
We’ve already seen the concept of a few seconds of animation take up a niche of its own. It may become the style for a portrait to use this idea to give an active act of smiling at the viewer, or whatever.
How are pictures presented? An animated picture requires a screen rather than dumb paper. But how many pictures do we print and hang up? The few perminant wall frames might very well be full screens! But even today, most pictures are shared on devices and not made into prints.
Perhaps, when I buy a large framed picture of the Golden Gate Bridge to hang up on a wall, it will not be a static image, but will change with the time of day, the weather, and the seasons.
Perhaps the dedicated frame that shows “Hello, Grandma!” will automatically update every few days when the kid is reminded/prompted to “say hello to Grandma” before dinner.
So, besides improved technology in capturing images, I forsee a maturation of the technology and products for managing and displaying this huge quantity of data being generated.
Light-field photography captures information about the light field emanating from a scene; that is, the intensity of light in a scene, and also the direction that the light rays are traveling in space.
Light-field photography allows you, depending on the specifics of the device that captured the image, to display images with a variable depth of field, as well as holograms. This technology is also the basis (according to nVidia 1, 2) for next gen virtual reality displays, as it would allow you to focus on the details that you want to focus on, getting a more realistic experience.
The technology has a very limited implementation right now because it is very expensive both in terms of money and information storage. A single still picture can weight well over 50 Gb.
If things go right, expect this technology to be commonplace in 30 years.
While there are going to be more pixels, better focusing and whatnot, I think that the big change is going to be the end of the still photograph.
"Why aren't they moving?", youngsters will ask when watching old photos.
I expect to see more color depth. Currently we have to do HDR post-processing in order to get a decent result from a scene with great contrast (sky/ground, indoor/outdoor etc.) More bits of intensity data will allow such processing from a single picture.
Ubiquitous sensors. When a photo is snapped it's a collection of all the environmental data and sensor feeds in frame. The photo data itself will likely just be a definition of what's 'in frame'.
The data could be as simple as when, where, and viewport descriptions.
Regular consumer-grade cameras will be able to capture and store a much wider range of colours than just the visible spectrum, and software will be available to easily redshift or blueshift your pictures, going from a picture of the local wifi at the red end, through a heat map, through visible light, on up through ultraviolet, to an x-ray picture at the blue end.
Obviously the upper ranges would be much dimmer, due to higher wavelengths being absorbed by the atmosphere, and the lower ranges would have lower resolution, but software interpolation will be able to provide a reasonably clear view at all wavelengths.
There will also be much more use of software image processing. Simple picture manipulations like removing background people or creating action shots will be simple and automated.
Maybe in 30 years from now we'll be able to record not only from one perspective, but record everything in a given radius. Later we might be able to play that recording back in such a way that it would be possible to watch it from any angle. A portrait could become fully 3D, allowing the observer to move around the subject and watch it interactively, even from behind.
After all photography just means "painting with light", holography is just the next step.
A 3D animated tactile scented sound "GIF" would be the Holy Grail of photografy. Though I doubt it could still be called simply "photography".
Embedded micro QR codes (or other data printing tech) on a scale / spectrum invisible to the naked eye. Those photos from Harry Potter are now real.
So still photos would have a wide range of data printed on top of the visible pigments, that would allow smart tech to read it and render additional features on the photograph. The photo can also have its own IP V.xx address, and its own cloud storage online.
So smart glasses would animate the photograph, or add special features, like comments downloaded from the web, stickers, or other stuff. A photo of your children at the festival fireworks show could animate the fireworks at the back.
Smart photos are now like collaborative scrapbooks or social media posts. A visitor can post data to the cloud storage linked to the photo, and it could be visible to selected visitors. So the photos over the fireplace now have their own like counter.
Voice and video data could be added at the time of the shoot or later. Portable laser printers (almost all devices have them now) could burn invisible codes on sensitive areas of the photo, or upload the data to the associated cloud storage to that photo.
Since there already are attempts to make blind people see via sending signals to the brain, I find it quite possible that in 30 years there will be no photos anymore; there will be visions. Viewing a photo will mean seeing the captured scene exactly in a way the person who captured it saw it. It will require "just" recording signals from the optical nerve and then playing them in the brain of another person.
More and more mega pixel, maybe even giga pixel cameras.
3d for sure, and models of individual objects.
The spectrum will advance way beyond HDR to possible cover all forms of light.
The cameras will have many improvements like facial recognition,super low light without the need for a shutter speed of 5 minutes. All the features we have today will be perfected.
Tons of new data will be embedded into EXIF,XMP, or whatever the new thing will be called. Think of all the sensors in our cellphones, even more will be built-in to our cameras.
Obviously battery life, and storage capacities will limit the rate of growth.
You'll likely have a AR screen or projected extrapolated 3D image. Granted the original will likely be something close to what it is today. A flat 2D image, maybe with more resolution, but after that we'll be able to take all associated pictures and known environmental informations and extrapolate High poly model with high rez textures projected into AR space. And that's not all, you'll likely be able to move the subject around, walk around them, etc. because the image you'll be seeing is being extrapolated from all known images of the subject, their relatives, the environment, that you have access to as well as their behaviors and all the physics engines involved in 3D art... And here's the thing, this also applies to all past images that you have access to too. Extrapolation and Interpolation will all you to take a drawn image of George Washington, mix it with the images of his descandants and all known facts about his clothing and such and produce a pretty faithful "picture" of him in AR space.
Echographs of Baby.
Although the technology doesn't involve light, per se, but instead sonography, the popular occasion of having "photographs" taken of the en utero child will no longer require a visit to the sonographer. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg
Sonographs will be available on demand via handy echo-tech and the flavor-of-the-day app built right into your smartphones.
As is often the norm with emerging tech, the first attempts will be low "resolution" versions of the pictures you get at the doctor visits, but once popularity and high demand become evident, this tech gets quickly advanced and echophotos will far outpace any current sonogram photographs.