A Word on the Lytro: Technology Vs Creativity

Last week saw the release of yet another technical marvel in the world of photography, possibly one of the most important photographic inventions since the digital sensor. Behold the Lytro, the worlds first commercial camera capable of recording depth in a photo, allowing you to change the plane of focus after the shot. I’m not going to go into details on how this little gadget works, there’s a ton online already for those that are interested. It doesn’t really matter, let’s call it Wizards and forget about that for now.

At the moment the technology is too knew to be even considered for professional work. It hasn’t been confirmed yet as the Lytro company has been pretty dodgey about releasing actual technical specs for the camera, saying only that it has an “11 Mega-Ray” sensor, which is exactly what it sounds like… techno-babble to confuse the masses into buying into a big number in front of an “M”, because no self-respecting consumer would buy a digital camera with less than 10 M’s… M’s are good right? That’s where the Jiga-Pixels come from right? One of the pro-photogs that was given a pre-release sample said the actual resolution is somewhere between 1-2MP, so good enough for the web or a 4X6 print.  I knew something smelled fishy when actual resolution numbers where nowhere to be found in any of the press material.

As I said, the technology is still in its infancy, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way we take pictures, and as always it’s got photographers up in arms and frothing at the mouth. It’s the same progression art has always taken, as technologies improve, an artist needs less technical ability but more creativity to set them apart from the masses. Things like hipsta-matic or the Lytro seem annoying because people can “create” images that the masses find appealing without either technical skill or creativity. They just look creative because they apply techniques automatically that used to require the technical skill of an experienced photographer. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some really great stuff being created with all this new technology, but most of it is getting lost in a sea of boring snapshots made semi-interesting by some digital filters. It’s a fad like any other, people will soon get bored with the billions of software cross-processed, pseudo-HDR cartoony and vignetted shots, realize they’re not really creative because everyone’s producing the same things. Sooner or later the truly creative will re-assert themselves.

When photography became available to everyone, painters said it was the death of art. When Photoshop was first introduced, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by photographers as people clicked a few buttons, threw a few filters on an image and called it creative. The fad died out, people grew tired of cheesy filters and lens-flares, and those same photographers now embrace Photoshop as a necessity.

If you’re truly a creative artist, these fads shouldn’t bother you. The only people that should be worried are the “artists” with great technical skill and little creativity. Those are the people that will get put out of business as technology makes the skills they rely on to set themselves apart become obsolete or easy to perform by anyone. Until we invent a computer with true AI, that can be creative for you, no piece of technology will replace the mind of an artist as the true power behind the creative process.