Magazine Article


Sharing Photos, Tweaking Images & Creating Digital Albums with the New Apps on the Block(part 2)

Sharing Photos, Tweaking Images & Creating Digital Albums with the New Apps on the Block

(Part 2)

By Don Sutherland

Alot of the current thinking in the photo biz focuses on new business that bypasses any software owned by the photographer. When a memory card is turned over to a digital lab for printing, for example, or when a picture file is uploaded straight from the camera to a website, many corrections that could be made in software are ignored. Last issue we outlined some of the trends that create this situation, and went on to say that all this notwithstanding, software has hardly disappeared. On the contrary.

Photo Share & Share Alike
The term "photo sharing" got a workout in the last years of the 20th-century, as dotcom fever spread through the industry in the form of "photo sharing" websites. Most of these were founded by people who knew more about raising capital than running a photo biz, so most of them have vanished from view. But the premise of "sharing" hasn't.

"We think of the metaphor of sitting in the kitchen, looking at photos held by gummed corners in a real album," said Debra Sharker, vice president of Business Development for smARTlens, whose SmARTfolio software reduces "album making" to a drag-and-drop process in software. The result looks like a photo-album on-screen, with tabs on each page permitting them to be "turned" until the back cover is reached. Got a new batch of photos you want to add? Click the "add pages" button, and you can fatten the album by almost any number of pages.

Olympus also announced "album" capabilities in their new Camedia Master software, along with the ability for the album-mounted photos to be presented on-screen as a "slide show." Question: in the high-tech digital age, where customers presumably pursue the "electronic lifestyle," do old time metaphors like "slide shows" and "albums" fit in? Will the masses prefer them to interfaces that are more progressive, daring, futuristic? The answer is, nobody knows. Ask again in a few years, when we have the benefit of hindsight to tell us.

It was tempting to pursue a market survey before producing this article, but what do such surveys tell us? What people are thinking, dreaming, longing for today. That's all interesting, and useful information to have. But it doesn't say much about what people will be drawn to tomorrow, and that's what we're trying to figure out. The fact is that tomorrow, people will be dealing with considerations that don't presently exist. Those considerations will modify the things they yearn to do, and influence purchasing decisions in ways that can't be predicted. Nobody's crazy about such a wild market, but realistically, that's where it's at.

If you asked the American public 10 years ago whether they were interested in typing messages to be sent by telephone lines, they'd probably have answered "no." Why type, when voice communications are so much easier and more natural to phone lines? It took the development of the Internet, email, and Instant Messaging to show where the market was really headed. On-line processing and photo-sharing, on-line forums with picture libraries, hyperlinks from one collection of pix to another-all could not have been imagined by most customers a decade ago. Even describing these services would have been difficult. Yet they're among the national pastimes today.

Move Over Photoshop
As unscientific as it sounds, the markets of tomorrow will be won by people who depend on gut reaction. Is the metaphor of "sitting in the kitchen, passing the album" germane to the 21st century?

Original photo: The Great Kat, photo by Karen Thomas.

The only guiding principle we can look at is this: if somebody thinks it's cool enough to develop, somebody must think it's cool enough to buy. Marketing these days has less to do with magical numbers and soothsaying, than it does with sharing a vision and an enthusiasm. Basically, if you believe in what you're selling, maybe your customer will believe, too.

Looking to the past for guidance on such subjects, we find another group of software whose longevity might have seemed dubious 10 years ago. Can you imagine asking, in 1992, "would you be interested in a TV-like appliance that lets you adjust your photos the way film processing labs do?" Most people wouldn't have understood the question and, if they did, would probably have answered "no" anyway. Of course, the question describes nothing more than a PC and an image editor—hardly something radical today.

Yet a lot of people today consider it desirable. Adobe Photoshop is the biggie, but there have always been programs whose focus is upon the rudiments of photo-retouch. ArcSoft, Corel, and Ulead are among those who've offered lower-price alternatives to the massive Photoshop, and they're stronger than ever. As we went to press, Konica announced bundling Corel with their new line of entry-level digicams. We presume Konica offers a software bundle because they believe entry-level photographers will be attracted to it.

All these photo-editing programs make it simple to brighten colors, improve contrast, correct

Caricature of The Great Kat created by artists at DigitalCustom from the original photo above.

sharpness, remove red-eye, and straighten photos taken by tilted cameras. Many of these adjustments take only a click or two of the mouse. Can these programs abide more complex undertakings as well? Can they restore faded colors or bring vast discrepancies in contrast into line? Sure, if they accept Photoshop-style plug-ins. Applied Science Fiction has begun shipping plug-in versions of its SHO and ROC programs, which make massive corrections with only a few mouse clicks.

... And They Do the Rest
After a certain point, however, mouse-clicking may not be enough. What if you have an old family photo that's faded, spotted, crumbling at the edges? An unskilled hand at efforts like these may produce solutions that are worse than the original problem. Some people simply don't have the talent or skill to undertake such projects. Others simply may not have the time.

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