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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?

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    $\begingroup$ Film resolution and light sensitivity has also increased over time. Glass plate photographers of a century ago would have been overjoyed having access to what we would in recent years consider "slow" (low ISO) film. Same for film with the light sensitivity of high-ISO film. Digital photography doesn't really change any of that; all it really changes is the recording medium. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 17 '17 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ "It's a HDTV, it's got higher resolution than the real world!" - Futurama $\endgroup$ – Goufalite Feb 17 '17 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ This question is on topic. IMHO $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Feb 17 '17 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ Photographs tend to lose color as they age. Often, corners will get bent or torn due to mishandling. Especially egregious mishandling can lead to smudges from finger prints and even the total dissolving to the chemical material that makes up the color from the paper holding it. Occasionally, photographs suffer water, heat, or animal pest damage due to poor storage conditions. Rare circumstances sometimes cause photographs to adhere to the glass of the frame containing them, leading to severe damage if you attempt removal. Oh, you meant picture technology specs. Sorry. [/troll] $\endgroup$ – fredsbend Feb 18 '17 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ "Becoming" popular? $\endgroup$ – chepner Feb 18 '17 at 14:33

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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.

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    $\begingroup$ 3D Screens without glasses are already available for mobile devices - the Nintendo 3DS is already equipped with this technology! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Feb 17 '17 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ I never heard it, could give the ones that allow you to do that? $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 17 '17 at 11:23
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    $\begingroup$ The capabilities for the 3DS are limited because Nintendo choose to do so, not because we don't have the tech to make it better. Nintendo being able to slap it on a console means that anyone can slap it on anything - it's just a matter of interest. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Feb 17 '17 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ The "new" 3DS also has the capability to track your face, making the 3D effect point towards your eyes so you don't have to hold it in a certain position. $\endgroup$ – Pyritie Feb 17 '17 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JMac It's had a stereoscopic pair of front-facing cameras since its inception. "3D" images taken with it are actually just stored as two separate files, but unless you want to change the viewing angle there's little difference between that and 3D models. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Feb 17 '17 at 17:21
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novel breakthroughs

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.

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  • $\begingroup$ Gotta love light-field cameras. I still don't understand how selective depth of field works. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 17 '17 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @joe it just records through a lens array at a much higher resolution than the final photo, then computes which sensors are struck by any given point in space while compositing, and averages those to produce the pixel values. This also allows you to simulate a smaller aperture post-hoc. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Feb 17 '17 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak just having a much higher resolution doesn’t do anything. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 17 '17 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ The lens array does, though $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Feb 17 '17 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the lens array is not what is described in the second comment on this post. Crutial to the point is recording light from different directions, not "much higher res". I think it needs a diagram to explain; maybe in in-depth answer on Photography if the wikipedia articles aren’t clear. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 17 '17 at 18:49
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Light-field/plenoptic photography

Lightfield photography demonstration

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 camera at Wikipedia

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.

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Video

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.

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    $\begingroup$ Depends of the type of photography, stills can be very useful (especially from a UX point of view) even in the future. Imagine a web full of blogs, news websites and advertisements which are filled with moving images, I would turn crazy in 5 minutes. $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Feb 17 '17 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ As times change, the older generations have always thought the younger to be crazy as the older currently feels, but that is not usually the case, just a difference in perspective and upbringing. So I feel this could still be possible, just not completely as I understand this could still be an objective problem, such as too much information on a screen, but then MMORPG HUDs with addons can tend to have a plethora of information. One can automatically control attention when needed, instead of wanting to hide or change the content, probably depending on the person. $\endgroup$ – Pysis Feb 17 '17 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Rolfツ Just look at how website design changed from the 90s to now. Bye-bye geocities pages with gifs everywhere and marquees and flashing text and so on... $\endgroup$ – JAB Feb 17 '17 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ But what exactly does motion add to most photos, say your vacation shots of the Grand Canyon? And of course most digital cameras (and phones) do video now, yet I use it so seldom that I have to RTFM when I want to. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 18 '17 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ As photography didn't kill the painting, video will not kill the photography. $\endgroup$ – n0rd Feb 18 '17 at 0:43
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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ I assume you would say cheaper high color depth devices, because we have machine capable of covering the number of a human can see 32 times over: 9 bits / channel could easily cover all the colors a human can see. 8 bits is quite enough for most purposes. However, higher bit rate means it is possible to adjust white balance after taking the photo without human noticable loss. There are cameras that can handle even 16 bits, though they are not cheap enough to be common. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 21 '17 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @CemKalyoncu You miss the point. 9 bits/channel easily covers what the human eye can perceive at one time. When our eyes move from inside to outside they quickly shift. The photograph can't. If you want to have an image that lets you see both inside and outside you need a lot more than 9 bits if you're going to do it in one snap. We currently use multiple snaps and a HDR merge routine but you can only do that on a static scene. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Feb 22 '17 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ I already said that: "However, higher bit rate means it is possible to adjust white balance after taking the photo without human noticable loss." But there are already cameras that can snap pictures at 16 bits without need for merge, but they are quite expensive but 12 bits/pixel is quite common among dslr machines as far as I see (I don't own one to confirm), you just need to tell camera to save images in RAW format. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 22 '17 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @CemKalyoncu It certainly helps--you can do a limited HDR off the RAW image from a good DSLR. That only gets you a couple of stops, though--and I've used 12 stops to prep for an HDR (and then found I had messed up while adjusting for all those shots and I couldn't do it anyway!) Note that adjusting the white balance is totally different than what I am talking about. Some extra bits helps there but you don't need many. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Feb 23 '17 at 4:07
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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes! Just wanted to add this answer myself: the biggest change will be the absence of camera. Especially indoors. Artistic photos would add post-processing filters. And the frame itself doesn't have to be rigid - viewers would zoom/in/out or pan, as they choose. $\endgroup$ – Will Ness Feb 18 '17 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ They will probably be able to adjust depth of field too $\endgroup$ – Innovine Feb 19 '17 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @WillNess It'd be neat to use an artistic filter to play Mario Kart in someone's photo. $\endgroup$ – ponies Apr 12 '17 at 15:32
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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.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually consumer-grade cameras are built with a filter to prevent IR from getting to the sensors. Conversion is fairly simple (for the technically adept :-)), e.g. extremetech.com/electronics/… For UV, I think you'd have to go to quartz lenses, since glass blocks most UV. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 18 '17 at 18:33
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Holography

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.

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A 3D animated tactile scented sound "GIF" would be the Holy Grail of photografy. Though I doubt it could still be called simply "photography".

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  • $\begingroup$ How is that pronounced? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Feb 17 '17 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ grabs popcorn $\endgroup$ – NeoTheThird Feb 18 '17 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ You note an ultimate goal of photography to evolve toward full sensory simulations. But you didn’t then go on to speculate on what that might lead to in the 30 year time frame. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Feb 21 '17 at 10:10
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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.

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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ Though does that not, in a sense, qualify as photography? (The technical definition of which is the recording of light in order to record an image, which can then be displayed again later. Film photography records the light on photosensitive film, digital photography records the light by measuring light levels on a digital sensor, your proposal records the light by measuring impulses on the optic nerve. Same basic principle; only the implementation really differs.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 19 '17 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Well whatever technical definition is, I think what I describe enhances ways to achieve one of the central aims of photography - letting others see what they have not witnessed. In this sense this is what photography might develop into. $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Feb 19 '17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ And let me add that principal difference here is not in the recording method (which might be technically not much more difficult than the existing ones in photography) but in the viewing method. It is qualitatively different and most probably will require from viewers some initial mutual training between the brain and the translating device, as with similar existing (very primitive) current interfaces. $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Feb 19 '17 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ We do not see with our eyes, we see with the brain. Recording and replaying the optical stimulus will not let you see what the recorder saw. $\endgroup$ – ths Feb 19 '17 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @ths Seems I did not make myself clear enough. I had in mind recording not the optical stimulus but rather the signal that goes from the optical nerve to the brain. $\endgroup$ – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Feb 19 '17 at 21:38
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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.

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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.

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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.

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