What Will You Do When Everything Changes?

What will you do when people stop using text to input and receive information from the Internet? How will you deliver information to people who can’t read beyond a fourth grade level? How will you collaborate at the office together?

You may think it’s far-fetched to ask these things; however, we can be certain that media technologies will evolve. In fact, media evolves quicker with each passing decade. When those changes occur, the way people interact evolves, too.

Just think about the way smartphones have changed our lives, both at work and at home. Phones have brought our jobs home, creating new concerns about being on the clock 24/7 and work/life balance.

Instead of calling a woman or man of romantic interest to ask them out, we text them. Worse, we also break up with them via text (By the way, I still don’t get this. As an older man, ending a relationship via text seems like a cowardly thing to do).

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Generally speaking, the smartphone has already begun to erode traditional literacy. With texts, emoticons, and a new reliance on visual media, we are seeing a rapid transformation in the way people are consuming information.

The Medium Always Transforms

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You know how I feel about social network specific-strategies. In a literal sense the “message is the medium” approach to marketing is a failure waiting to happen. Marshall Mcluhan was right, though, at least in the sense that media is transformative. It changes the very fabric of our lives.

Said Mcluhan, “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”

As the Internet progresses it affects every kind of related media, from email to video. It changes the very way we interact, learn, and progress. It is inevitable that this transformative change will continue, and it will do so with more and more speed.

In turn the need to evolve our skill sets at work and at home will increase. At a minimum, media evolution will bring periodic disruptive changes that demand quick evolution. To deny this impact is to deny everything that’s happened to our world since the Internet took the consumer world by storm in the nineties.

The question isn’t what will change. Instead the question is what will you do when it happens? Will you be flexible and open to change? Will you evolve? Or will you suffer the pain and consequences of entrenched thinking and denial?

Smartphones Will Not Replace Cameras Altogether

My friend Richard Binhammer forwarded me an article that theorizes that the new iPhone 6 is the harbinger of the end of the camera. I couldn’t help but think that this is true for point and click cameras, but not for higher end photographic equipment.

The theory has merit. MP3 players were replaced by smartphones. Before that pagers were replaced by phones. So it makes sense that phones would also replace cameras. After all, point and click just a basic function. You can see the result of basic point and click throughout Instagram.

The article theorizes that the new iPhone 6+ is the closest to replacing the standalone camera. It says “NETWORK+SOCIAL+APPS=CAMERA.” Meaning digital photography on phones embellished with apps is good enough to post now on social, effectively rendering the camera useless.

Yes, the smartphone marks the end of the point and click camera. Why bother spending $200-$500 on a camera that is marginally better than the small brick that’s already in your pocket?

A real photographer will want more. The fickle nature of serious photography demands more functionality than what basic point and click cameras offer. A real camera offers more.

Just start with RAW files that allow you to examine rich data assets about your photo. The way a camera interprets the light is often wrong. That’s why images don’t look exactly like you remembered them. A pro photographer or an amateur enthusiast uses more advanced equipment to capture how light refracts, and uses editing software to improve or interpret a photo.

The Photographer’s Mindset

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The camera itself is but a tool. And all tools are not created equal. A Swiss Army knife is not a Shun blade. Nor is a Smartphone a full-frame camera, a high-end Micro 4/3 camera, or even a high end crop camera like a Nikon D7200.

High end cameras and their sensors are not things that you can bolt onto a phone. I am not sure why you would you want to do that. The same goes for the prime and telephoto lenses that you can use with a DSLR or micro 4/3 camera.

Frankly, a smartphone’s form factor makes it difficult to grip and shoot like a camera body. What is good for is a compact computational device to communicate with and play with various media. Much like a Swiss Army knife is handy to do

I agree that the iPhone OS is superior to the Nikon OS. But that’s about where the theory ends for me.

See, I have an iPhone 6+, and I can tell you there is no way any bolt-on sensor or lens modification will compare to my Nikon Df. The iPhone is incapable of giving me the clarity, light sensitivity, depth of field, or scenery data I need to edit a photo and make it beautiful.

Strapping on Lenses and Sensors on to an iPhone

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The article cites, “for $200 you can add a telephoto and a wide angle lens from Moment.” Then it encourages you to look at the Moment Instagram feed. These are very, very good iPhone pics. In fact, they are as good as most point and click camera shots I see, and it’s clear they are taken by a real photographer.

But I know I can do better on my camera.

Once you mess around with a really good lens like a Zeiss Distagon or the Nikon 14 mm lens, you understand that all glass is not created equally. Great glass paired with a decent sensor interprets light in ways no iPhone in the next five to ten years will ever come close, too. Even the Nikon 1.8 50 mm lens is superior to anything the iPhone/Moment combo can offer (at least based on their Instagram feed).

The idea that you would want to post a photo right after taking it is also the mindset of a true novice. Once you learn Lightroom you never go back. I can’t imagine not futzing with a Raw file to see how I might interpret the scene. The above dawn scene is a direct result of opening the RAW file and processing the image. The camera’s interpretation of the shot (e.g. point and click) sucked, in my opinion.

This is why photography enthusiasts are going to demand more than what a smartphone offers. You simply cannot paint a portrait or a scene the same way with a jack-of-all-trades smartphone that offers basic point-and-click functionality.

Use Your Smartphone to Train Your Eye

If you want to think more visually, you may want to consider photography. Perhaps you aren’t sure where to start and don’t want to invest quite yet. Good news! You can begin with your smartphone. The exercise is simple: Take a picture every day with your phone for 90 days.

You will automatically train your mind to think about the world from a visual perspective. After 90 days, you will understand what makes a good subject as informed by your interests and tastes.

Here are some suggestions to help get you started:

Rule of Thirds

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Frame your photos by using the rule of thirds (check out Digital Photography School’s primer, also the source for the above image). The rule of thirds creates a basic frame. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines create a tic tac toe box.

Ideally, you want your subject to fit in the middle square. If it is a landscape, you’ll want the sky in the top third, the foreground in the bottom third.

Remember, rules are meant to be broken. You have to interpret scenes as you see fit.

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In this photo the subject is the couple cuddling by the river. But the river’s rapids dominate the scene, a wavey series of white rapids created by a time lapse. While the couple is cute, the real visual treat is the river. I decided to keep the rapids, and leave couple on the right rather than cropping them into the center.

Your framing of a photo is the means to tell a story. That’s true even if you are reaching with a selfie or a pic of your husband’s lousy chili. Use the rule of thirds to inform your thinking.

Post Your Photos on Instagram

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Before Instagram cropping…

You should post your photos on Flickr (here’s my profile) or Picasso so they are found. But you should also post on Instagram to get feedback on your photography — your visual thinking — from your friends.

If you don’t have an Instagram account, get one. Make sure to update your follow list to match your Faceboook and Twitter communities. You can find me at geoffliving on Instagram, and I will follow you back.

Instagram forces you to post a photo that eliminates approximately 1/3 the width of a standard 2×3 photo. In doing so, your subject matter is placed front and center, and the rest of your image context is left behind. That has it’s own issues, but for a budding visual thinker the square crop forces you to consider subjects deeply.


After Instagram.

See how your photos fair. You will come to understand what works for your stakeholders — your friends and colleagues — and then adjust naturally.

Edit and Filter Your Photos

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There is a social media movement towards no filter photos centering on authenticity and journalistic integrity. For the record, I don’t see any of the no filter crowd getting published by National Geographic or licensed by Getty Images.

In the old days, adjustments where made in the dark room to film. But they were made. Today, every professional photographer uses Lightroom or Aperture at a minimum to process their raw files and make small adjustments. Yes, even those National Geographic photographers edit their photos. I know, I’ve attended two National Geographic sessions, and photographers are asked to submit their Lightroom/Aperture adjustments with their photos.

The ones who get that pure capture are also using Nikon D4s or the equivelant, a $7000 camera body. Your smartphone can’t compete with that.

Why do all photographers edit?

Cameras are machines that attempt to capture light as it is animated on a subject area, and record it. They often have a) hidden information about that light that is only revealed through editing and b) misinterpret light scenes.

That’s why most photos don’t turn out like you remember seeing them. Your smartphone is a good pocket camera, but it is very limited compared to a DSLR. Most images come across as flat. Your camera misinterpets tungsten lit (light bulbs) scenes for shade. It can’t figure out which light it should focus on, the sunset or the light on the foreground, on and on. Even a DSLR or 4/3 camera has challenges interpreting light.

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This photo in its edited form is a classic example. It was a slow capture taken at twilight. The sky was not plain white as depicted in the original raw image. The sky and street were not royal blue as it appeared in the tungsten white balance version of the shot. The combination of sun and electric light fried my Nikon white balance sensors. A Lightroom edit restored more of the actual look and feel of Larimer Square during a cloudy dawn.

Use tools and apps to help restore your photo to memory. If you want to go beyond and get artistic with it, go for it. But realize when you do that, you are exceding the conservative journalistic approach to photography. I don’t pay too much attention to those rules, but you have to find your own comfort point.

There are several apps I recommend. The first is Lightroom Mobile. It is fantastic, and will introduce you to a very important concept: Interpreting light in your photos. Lightroom is a Photoshop app, but it is less intrusive than the traditional app.

A simpler app is Google’s Snapseed, which I still use for my smartphone takes. It’s quick and easy, and has nice auto sizing for cropping photos.

Conclusion

Once you finish the 90 day challenge, you will find yourself taking more artistic photos that tell better stories. In doing so, you will be able to better understand some of the visual media trends that are occuring. You may even be ready to use your photography on a select basis with your own communications.

Good luck, and please share your results. Do you have any tips for would-be smartphone photographers?

Every Communicator Needs a Real Camera

A ton of data out shows the incredible impact visual media makes on engagement rates. There are many types of visual media marketers are using, from illustrations and graphics to video and photos.

Perhaps the easiest visual medium to grasp and use is photography. Unfortunately, there is a growing school of thought that with an iPhone or Nexus smartphone, a communicator is well equiped to meet the needs of the visual thirsty stakeholder.

Don’t kid yourself.

Every communicator needs a real camera.

Or a good photo site to research and license images from.

In spite of protests by media and pundits, marketers, entrepreneurs and artists alike would benefit from having access to a real camera and photographs. I would tell you use both a camera and a creative commons licensing site. It takes practice to learn how to take and edit photos. Having a resource to access others’ high quality photos is helpful.

The Chicago Experiment

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Have doubts? Still think you can get away with pics on a smartphone?

The Chicago Sun-Times tried this experiment for you already when it fired its photography corps and armed them with iPhones. Fast forward a year, and the Sun-Times hired back four of the photojournalists, even after taining its staff on iPhone phtography and editing. Quality dropped dramatically.

While we are growing accustomed to user-generated photos, quality stands out. Personally, I can tell you that my Instagram photos taken with a DSLR and uploaded via smartphone fair about two to three times better on engagement than my regular old iPhone/Nexus shots (yes, I have both phones).

The value and engagement we see in Tenacity5’s projects like xPotomac and with clients like Vocus has convinced me. First of all, most people attending events don’t take quality photographs. We can better report on them, and provide attendees with a memory of their time.

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Secondly, garnering equity from other events like SxSW and Social Media Marketing World requires reporting, networking and social sharing. There is no better way to do that than with photos taken live from an event. In doing so we provide extended access to the events through our communities.

If you are intimidated by a camera, there are plenty of free lessons available on these websites. Or take a class at your local art school. The most important aspects are to learn how to tell a story with a photograph and basic editing tips.

From there, the world is your oyster.

What do you think? Is quality photography a part of modern communications?

Originally posted on the Vocus blog.

MLK Day 2014: State of the Divide

Given that today is MLK Day, given his dream of equality, it seems fitting see examine how the digital divide persists in the United States. Pew released a study two weeks ago examining African American use of technology that showed progress.

Though a seven percent lag exists between white and black use of the Internet, the gap depends on platform and age group. The good news is that African Americans are as proficient with mobile Internet access as whites. Some 92% of black adults are cell phone owners, and 56% own a smartphone of some kind.

However, on the broadband side, 74% of whites and 62% of blacks have some sort of connection at home.Gaps seem to occur with older African Amercians and with prosperity as well.

On a more positive note, a reverse gap occurs with Twitter. Whites are lagging behind their black counterparts when it comes to adopting the 140 character microblog medium (see chart below).

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Though the digital divide persists, it has weakened significantly. From my viewpoint, there has been progress since 2011, when I wrote a similar post on MLK Day.

Moving Forward

When I wrote my 2011 MLK post, Glennette Clark commented: “I feel that now that the digital divide is starting to close, there need to be more focus on minorities as producers as well as than consumers.”

In that vein, I’d like to suggest folks follow these seven minority social media producers that I admire:

Sean Gardner, @2morrowknight

Tinu Abayomi-Paul, @tinu

Wayne Sutton, @waynesutton

Melinda Emerson, @smallbizlady

Shireen Mitchell, @digitalsista

Brent Leary, @brentleary

Liza Sabater, @blogdiva

This is not a comprehensive list. Feel free to add additional personalities in the comments if you’d like.

Moving forward, there’s still room to grow. When you analyze the divide as it exists now, it’s hard not to consider economics. Broadband is expensive. So much of prosperity is tied to education, which of course requires access to information and top notch schools. In that sense you have a chicken and egg situation.

If you don’t give people access to the Internet and its many information resources, are you limiting education possibilities? Or is this just BS now that broadband wireless is becoming widely adapted? How will the collapse of net neutrality impact access to information resources, if at all? And one cannot help but wonder if a resolved digital divide will impact racial equality.

One can only hope that progress continues, and that we move closer towards MLK’s dream online and offline, too. What do you think?

It’s a Tablet World

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Who would have thought smartphone mania may be overhyped and the wearable computing buzz offers a red herring? Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the tablet, the portable Internet access device of choice.

Well, maybe not choice, at least yet. Smartphone sales still outpace tablets, but in a surprising recent study from Adobe, tablets now generate more web traffic than their pocket sized brethren. Even more powerful, people browse the Internet for longer periods of time than laptop and desktop users, and significant commerce is evolving.

From an impact standpoint, marketers need to consider tablets as a crucial form factor in generating content for customer experiences.
Continue reading “It’s a Tablet World”