When the digital revolution hit the image-making practice in the early 2000s, it seemed to media professionals that the world had been turned upside down. Cameras looked the same from the front, but everything about shooting, processing, and delivering photos and videos changed. The mobile revolution has made the digital revolution look like a small speed bump compared to the seismic changes happening now.
Mobile makes everyone a photographer/videographer
Digital may have taken film and tapes out of the equation, but cameras were still expensive, and digital workflow was hard and time-consuming. Mobile photography and videography are now ever-present, with cameras in nearly everyone’s pocket and sharing services a click away. With mobile, still and moving images are cheap, plentiful, easy to make, and easy to share.
We consume imagery differently
We are now more likely to read a web page on a mobile device than on a computer, and each of these is more likely than reading a printed publication. The small screen encourages the use of images instead of text because still and moving images are much more efficient for communication and engagement.
The mobile ecosystem creates and leverages data richness
Now that we are creating and reading on mobile, it’s easier to attach information to images and use that information. This encourages visual communication that includes a data component, further accelerating the evolution of our photographic language.
Mobile removes latency
Because mobile images are “born connected,” the time between shooting and sharing has been reduced to a matter of seconds. This has increased engagement, as photos and videos can be shared in real-time. Image and video processing apps have reduced the latency between shooting and interpreting the imagery in a personalized or artistic fashion, allowing for a more organic connection between shooting and processing.
Not just understood but also widely spoken
Human beings have been able to “read” images since the days of our prehistoric ancestors’ parietal art. In more modern times, we have come to understand the meaning of images in a certain way because photographic artists, photojournalists, documentarians, and filmmakers have developed the tropes of visual storytelling. In the film era, this was particularly hard to accomplish, as each frame of film cost money to purchase and process. Moreover, knowing that you had the story captured on your unprocessed film was a hard-won skill unto itself. In the mobile era, the incremental media cost of taking a photo or shooting a video is basically $0, and the instant feedback that reveals success or failure can take the guesswork out of shooting. In the mobile era, taking a picture or filming a video with proper focus and exposure is within reach of nearly everyone—for free—with equipment that is typically close at hand.
A mix of imagery, text, illustration, motion, and data
Mobile photography increasingly blurs the lines between images, video, text, and data. While you can certainly find purist enclaves in mobile communities, the trend is heading inexorably to images as multimedia objects. These can include text overlays, stickers, geodata, audio, image sequences, depth information, augmented reality elements, and more. The smartphone is an inherently data-rich environment, and all that extra stuff adds to the ability to communicate. People who build and manage media collections must take the changes wrought by mobile into account as they build and select systems. This changes the velocity of communication, the need to collect imagery from vastly more people for vastly more use cases, and to erase the boundaries between media types and linkable data. It’s a tough challenge, but we are far enough into the mobile revolution to make some good guesses about what will be important.