ep.6 | How tech is changing photography

Unencrypted ep.6: How technology is changing photography (ft. Ian McNaught Davis)

Ian is one of the most accomplished photographers I know and not only because of his masters in photography that he achieved abroad, but rather the fact that he has been a photographer in an active war zone. Scratch that, you can’t officially call Ukraine a war zone yet.

We’re talking on the morning of the Made By Google event where the big G took the wraps off of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. The headline photography feature is this thing called Face Unblur where the AI engine inside the new Tensor 2 processor and Google’s own machine learning smarts will try its best to make any blurry picture in your Google Photos library sharper.

The camera system – including the Image Signal Processing pipeline – will also go in at the pixel level and upscale individual bits of image file to make zoomed photos clearer.

Apple does something similar with the iPhone semantic rendering and Deep Fusion, which used to only kick in during medium to low lighting conditions. As of the iPhone 14 Deep Fusion enters the fray far earlier in the pipeline to enhance textures and details.

They call this new pipeline the Photonic Engine

While we may seem a long way away from pinhole camera obscura type setups where there’s an artist tracing over the scene projected in a dark room, we kind of aren’t.

The artist is just Artificial Intelligence and these systems are being recomposed in near real time on the pixel level. What you see and what your smartphone captures are wildly different ideas of reality and our memories are now truly at the mercy of what the technology manufacturers decide is their particular style.

To truly understand photography you need to look at the word “photograph” or, literally, light – photo. drawing – graph.

It gets even trippier when you consider photographic terms like exposure also refers to the amount of time you expose the sensor or image to light.

Aperture is the literal lens opening.

Of course Leonardo Da Vinci was involved with some sketches of camera obscura with glass lenses integrated into the pinhole design, but astronomer Johannes Kepler claims the credit for inventing the word photograph in 1604.

Fast forward to 1827 and a chemical experiment results in View from a Window at Le Gras. That process took eight hours to create, which is still shorter than the time it took my parents to have some of my baby pictures developed at a chemist.

Crazy, right? Our species used to hand creative control over our memories to complete strangers.

Cameras have gotten really good and it seems like we’re on the cusp of a major technology leap. But for now the magic is happening in the processing and companies like Vivo and Oppo are building extra bits of silicon to do the photographic heavy lifting. But that’s a story for another day.

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Additional music by DSTechnician

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