Log in

No account? Create an account

John Palcewski's Journal

Works In Progress

Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
Photographic Competition Defies Quantification -- Boo hoo!

The article below (linked on The Dish by Andrew Sullivan), says every
2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took
in the 1800s. In fact, ten percent of all the photos that exist were
taken in the past 12 months.

Also, it's clear analog images are virtually dead, and the competition
is growing at a rate that defies quantification. Read it and weep,

How many photos have ever been taken?
By Jonathan Good September 15, 2011


Today we take photos for granted. They are our memories of holidays
and parties, of people and places. An explosion of cameras and places
to share them (Facebook, twitter, instagram) means that our lives
today are documented, not by an occasional oxidizing of silver halide
but constantly recorded with GPS coordinates and time stamps. However
it hasn't always been like this - the oldest photograph is less than
200 years old[1].

So how many "Kodak memories" has humanity recorded? How fast are we
snapping photos today? And how many of these treasured memories are
confined to our shoeboxes as lost relics of a pre-digital era?

First we quantify how many analog photos humans have taken. There is a
surprising dearth of direct data, but we can make some reasonable
estimates. It is safe to say that at most a few million photos were
snapped before the invention of the first consumer camera - Kodak
Brownie in 1901[2]. From that time we can use Kodak's employment
statistics as a reasonable proxy for how many photos were taken
(Kodak’s dominance of those "Kodak moments" persisted for most of the
20th century). More physical photos needed more physical cameras and
rolls of print[3]. Throughout this period photos became more and more
mass-market - by 1960 it is estimated that 55% of photos were of
babies. From 1984 onwards the Silver Institute and PMIA published
estimates of how many physical photos the world was snapping each year
(silver halide being an important chemical in film)[4]. Year after
year these numbers grew, as more people took more photos - the 20th
century was the golden age of analog photography peaking at an amazing
85 billion physical photos in 2000 -- an incredible 2,500 photos per

At the dawn of the new millennium a new technology (that Kodak itself
invented) was reshaping the whole industry - the digital photo. When
the first few hundred thousand digital cameras shipped in 1997 their
memory was strictly limited (in fact cameras like the Sony Mavica took
floppy disks[5]!). Digital cameras are now ubiquitous - it is
estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital
camera[6]. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would
be a staggering 375 billion photos. That might sound implausible but
this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook,
suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there[7].
Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion
photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of

Even accounting for population growth the exponential growth of photos
is incredible (we take 4 times as many photos as 10 year ago). Today
every party, birthday, sports game and concert is documented in rich
detail. The combination of all these photos is a rich portrait of
today, the possibilities of which are illustrated by a tool like “The
Moment”. As photos keep growing we take a clearer and clearer snapshot
of our lives and world today - in total we have now taken over 3.5
trillion photos. The kind of photos we are taking has changed
drastically - analog photos have almost disappeared - but the growth
of photos continues.

Site Meter

  • 1
Since I started using a digital camera I know I sure take a lot more photos - hundreds more per day than when I used a film camera. But for me the problem is that for all the photos I take, no "actual photos" exist - I never bother to print them - someday there will be no physical evidence that I even took these photos. It is so easy now to get the enjoyment of seeing the photos without having to put out the money for printing. So someday I may have no record at all unless I get busy and print something. I wonder if that might be a statistic to look at too - so many photos being taken but how many are actually printed?

I cross-posted the article on the list run by a professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Science at Rochester Institute of Technology, and it brought up some interesting comments about the digital vs. film debate. Basically, if you don't make prints, you are absolutely right--in time your archive will cease to exist.

Here are a couple of the comments.

Reply-To: photoforum@listserver.rit.edu
To: List for Photo/Imaging Educators - Professionals - Students <photoforum@listserver.rit.edu>

Digital images will only last as long as they are âœsavedâ to the latest means of archiving and if there is a method of reclaiming the image in the future.. Any break in the storage method history and the image is lost.

Think of the ways that images have been stored to date, from the original five inch floppy to the hard floppy, Zip disks, tape drives, early removable drives, external drives, hard drives, and jump drives, CDs and DVDs. The problem will not be the images but rather the problem of how to get them if the means of extracting them is not available.

Imagine if your work were stored on a CD and in thirty years from now one of your children wanted a family image on it, if there were no means of reading the disk the image is lost.

I recently printed a sixty year old negative. Enlargers are becoming rarer, but even if they are not manufactured any longer it does not take a graduate engineer to construct an enlarger as many older members have probably done in their early years. The image could still be used.

I use digital and Photoshop and enjoy working with them, but I never have the feeling that the Image is safe or sometimes even available.

Reply-To: photoforum@listserver.rit.edu
To: List for Photo/Imaging Educators - Professionals - Students <photoforum@listserver.rit.edu>

Digital doesn't reduce the cost for many photographers. In fact more often than not it increases it by a large factor. True you do not have film and processing costs, but you have to get on the digital upgrade train. A new computer every couple of years, a new body every two years or so, software upgrades, upgrades to calibration equipment, hard drives, and of course storage transfer and archive maintenance. All those digital images are soon lost unless you maintain your archive, because today's cutting edge is tomorrows unreadable.

Compare that to a solid 4x5 view camera you can use a lifetime, medium format that likely will last you a lifetime, and 35 mm film gear that could last you a lifetime, but at least the lenses are usable on the current Dslrs.

When you factor all that in, not to mention the time in post processing digital that in the old days was done by a lab, unless you take a VERY large number of images film is still for many of us cheaper. I suspect the two main reasons many pros went digital are 1. speed of product delivery and 2. customers expect it. Some how the general public has the idea digital is better than film, not just different

  • 1