What role will instant access have in the working lives of photographers?

It's no secret that I've been playing with a camera that is nearly always connected to the web, if I want it to be. And it's forced me to start thinking like a 17 year old instead of a 57 year old. To wit, what will the next generation of cameras bring me when it comes to workflow, efficiency and value to my clients, if anything? I've more or less come to grips that it's really all about changing my mindset.  I think there are rewards for being in the forefront of new ways of delivering images. That's why I'm exploring them.

I grew up in the golden age of traditional photography and made a relatively quick and easy transition to digital in the late 1990's. The technology isn't an issue but the baggage of "how it's done" is almost a crushing burden. If you started out with black and white film in your hands and the print was your target then speed wasn't the real driver, just getting through the process correctly and with a good end product was the driver. We came to value craft and repetition as the secrets to making uniform products that we could sell, lease or license to our clients. We were creating artifacts. We were creating physical products. But that really isn't the world I live in today. Now we're making Virtual Consumables. And part of the consumable ethos is relentless freshness. We're now creating images to consume rather than images as permanent artifacts. At least commercially...

It's the same in parts of my photo business as it is in my blogging. If I don't provide timely new content for the blog the audience falls off in some sort of mathematically proscribed fashion until we hit single digit readership. The fresher and more relevant the content the more readers and the more growth the site enjoys. In making and disseminating images I'm finding that more and more clients are using the content on their sites they way I am using content on this blog. They are looking not for news but certainly for fresh. I'm not at the point yet where all my clients want everything right now buy we're getting closer and closer as our businesses get more intertwined and collaborative.

When I worked for Dell, Inc. at their Worldwide Conference last year there were parts of our shooting that required immediate turn around. When I photographed President Clinton with 60+ different people one morning part of the brief was that I would hand off a copy of the images to his public relations people before they left the building. And they were leaving the building about five minutes after the shoot. I brought along a computer and a couple of flash drives and we transferred as fast as I could. We made the deadline, but just by a nose hair.

As I worked with the new, wi-fi and cell enabled camera I've been tested it dawned on me that I could have set up a folder in DropBox and sent each image to the folder as I was shooting at the Dell Event. The client would have their copies in the cloud immediately. And in a format and "place" where everyone in their team could have nearly immediate access.

Then I started thinking about the basic format of shows and the need to send images to so many people. I would be shooting one part of an event and get an urgent call from someone in another department who had an immediate need for photography we'd taken a little earlier. If we were constantly streaming into a shared folder I could take myself out of the equation and let the PR people handle the access to the images internally.

When I started down that line of reasoning I immediately thought of our shoots for the theater. We end up shooting dress rehearsals the day before the first openings and the PR folks need images to send to websites and press first thing in the morning after the dress rehearsal. Our routine is to shoot, head home, download, back up, do a rough edit and then put all the images on a portable hard drive and either deliver them to the theatre or have them picked up by a harried marketing person from the theater.  Wouldn't it be much cooler and less agonizing to start uploading images to a shared folder from the very beginning of the show? Depending on the speed of the network the camera would inevitably get ahead of the upload but it would catch up during intermission and on the drive home. Maybe the final files would load from wherever I left the camera (in my own wi-fi or cell zone) when I went to bed.

The delivery is happening during the process. If time is of the essence a marketing person could be sitting in the office reviewing the images as they populate the folder and do a rough edit and cull. Once I hit the house I can head to bed. Later on I can go back to the shared folder and download all the images in order to back them up or I can go "old school" and back them up from my cards.

I have a client in California who hires me to shoot portraits of her company's executives here in central Texas. How great it will be to start sending test images as we set up and wait on make up and all the rest of the pre-production. I could get immediate approval or input on lighting design and the overall look.

But even thinking more traditionally, Wi-fi networks and NFC (near field communications) networks can be much quicker to use for virtual tethering than actual tethering or FTP based sharing systems. Make one shared folder and invite everyone to share via tablets or even phones and you can do a big production shoot with everyone collaborating and sharing.

All this stuff is scary for me but it works. It's not scary for people who never shot film and who grew up interfacing with screens and menus all day long, all life long. And they are our competition going forward. I'm not sure I want to be left out just to be a champion for the "the way we've always done things." I don't want to be in that part of the graph with the people who were sure that color television would never catch on. And I don't want to be the last guy selling color prints to people whose wall space is a big monitor. I'm not willing to sacrifice my access to a new generation clients just to bolster and defend an anachronistic set of traditions.

I know that a lot of my readers have been perplexed by my decision to accept and embrace this learning experience, especially given my long history of being a curmudgeon and a person who pushed back on trends. But the bottom line is that this is a business where you learn, grow or fade away and take early retirement. My CFO counsels me that the last choice isn't an option for at least the next four years so I've made the conscious decision to swallow my pride and step up to look through the window and see what the future is delivering right now. And to find a use for it or even reject it totally. But even if I reject it I owe it to myself to understand it.

Who would have thought we'd be shooting digital video? Or sharing work and production in the cloud. In a few years most cameras will probably also be communication hubs and resources. I'd rather learn about it all in the front end and be able to pick and choose how I want to use the new technology. It was sad to watch the last hold outs of digital trudge through the well worn path so many had already passed by before them. Change is scary. Not changing can be even scarier.

Note that this particular blog is not about a specific camera. There are several companies doing wi-fi capable cameras. The whole point is finding the sweet spot of the technology and deciding where, if anywhere, it fits into your business instead of waiting and letting it blindside you.

If you do this for fun instead of as a capitalist enterprise you really needn't worry about the subject. But you might find it interesting. First thought my amateur brain had was "instant back up of travel images from anywhere in the world. No computer required." Just food for thought.