Saturday, December 26, 2009

Trends in Photography for 2010

Well, 2009 is drawing to a close. Not much has really changed in the photo world, at least from my point of view. Overall, the largest trend I see gaining momentum is amateurs who wish to learn how to use multi-flash and/or off-camera flash lighting, spawned largely as a result of the popularity of the Strobist blog run by David Hobby, and the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese-made remote triggering products. As recently as a few years ago, the Pocket Wizard folks owned a major portion of the remote triggering market, but with the rise of eBay and the Chinese manufacturers getting into the market, the entire situation has changed, radically. The term "Strobist" is a recently coined one, and increasingly the "Strobist" mentality is spreading to more and more hobbyists, which I think is a great thing.

Another trend I see is the "instant expert"; the guy who has been taking photographs for a year or a little more, and who has a good-paying job, and as a result has been able to buy a selection of higher-end lenses and a camera body or two, and who holds himself up as some type of "expert" on various photography forums. Oh, he never publicly admits he's really just a newbie with a generous budget; no, instead, he writes post after post as if he's been around photography for quite some time, and as if his opinions actually have merit. I'm seeing increasing numbers of these "instant experts".

Another trend I see gathering steam is the "50mm Brigade". The 50mm Brigade is a group of people, each of whom has discovered the beauty of the fixed focal length 50mm lens. With lens prices for many higher-specified lenses having risen quite a bit over the last few years, and with the popularity of internet photography forums, the wonders and capabilities of the 50mm lens have been discovered by an increasingly large percentage of first-time d-slr buyers, as well as more experienced shooters. The 50mm Brigade marvels at the benefits of a fixed focal length lens with a wide maximum aperture. It's good to see people getting a taste of what prime lenses are all about! Nikon's new, low-cost 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX Nikkor lens has spawned another sub-group: the 35mm Brigade. Let's hope this trend of prime lens use increases.

Among on-line forums, the increase in fanboys and One Brand Zealots has been duly noted in the year 2009; one thing I have noticed, especially among older shooters, seems to be a tendency to quite vociferously demean and put down the Sony brand. One cranky Canadian repeatedly uses his position as an old-timer in an on-line forum to refer to the Sony Alpha line of cameras as the dog food brand "Alpo". How clever is our little Canadian crank? Answer: not very. This year he ditched Canon in favor of Nikon....funny,really, some of the stories behind his defense of Canon products earlier in the year. He and I got into a discussion of the EOS 5D and its lackluster autofocusing system, with him defending the 5D's AF performance, and me disparaging it. Of course, he had never owned a professional-caliber Nikon AF body, so he had no basis for comparison for his weak assertions. But then again, this guy held himself out as an "expert", yet his experience in the d-slr world is substantially shorter and more limited than mine, so his lack of an actual basis for comparison between a "professional-level" AF body and an EOS 5D's AF system is understandable. I'm sure his experience with a higher-end Nikon (he went with the D700) will allow him to see the error of his earlier opinion.

The avalanche that is Flickr is gaining momentum,and its roaring sound can be heard and felt all over the web. Flickr has become a powerful social networking AND photo hosting site within the past year. More and more folks are signing up for free and paid Flickr accounts. Giving something away for free has long been a strategy to bring people in and hook them long-term, kind of like the old give away the razor, sell them the razor blades strategy. While the majority of Flickr users are users with free accounts, I am seeing an increasing number of people with paid "pro" accounts. As I see, it, each account established at Flickr means at least a 30 percent chance that the owner of that account will NOT establish a payed account at another photo hosting site like pBase or SmugMug, for example. Since 2009 was the death year for Microsoft's paid "Microsoft Encarta" encyclopedia (begun in 1994), I suppose it might take a while for people to entirely abandon some of the older payed sites for their photo hosting needs, in much the way people stopped paying Microsoft for (in)accurate, revisionist information,and instead settled on using Wikipedia as a way to get their (in)accurate and revisionist information without paying for said information.

Looking on eBay, a trend I have seen within just the last few days is the modification of some inexpensive Chinese-made beauty dishes to the Speedotron mount, using a rear mounting system that has four bolts and four round nuts, thus allowing the adaptation of the beauty dish to different strobe mounts. I have one of these beauty dishes in the 16 inch size, with a white nylon diffuser. The newest ones are priced at $49.95 to $59.95, to $89.95 with a 16 inch honeycomb grid at the higher price; I think this is a very good value for a beauty dish, and I predict that these affordable dishes will be popular in 2010. Why?

The low-cost beauty dishes and grids will be popular in 2010 because the studio lights for hobbyist movement is gaining momentum at a rapid pace. As a result of the Strobist movement, interest in studio electronic flash is at what I consider an all-time high. Monolight systems like Alien Bees, Elinchrom, Calumet Genesis, Adorama FlashPoint, JTL, and others seem to be drawing the attention of more and more basement and garage studio shooters than ever before. I personally like the look of somewhat smaller sources like 16 and 20-inch reflectors for single and two-person photographs. Umbrellas and softboxes are nice and all, but are not the be-all, end-all of lighting, and as people search for ways to add distinctive looks to their setups, I predict that the low-cost beauty dish will become one of the hot trends of 2010.

Paul C. Buff's new, large parabolic umbrellas were recently profiled on, and I think that 2010 will mark the introduction of the new Buff "PLM" system umbrellas as a popular light modifier for certain applications.
With sizes of 86 inches, 64 inches, and 42 inches, these new umbrellas are affordable, and they are EXTREMELY efficient, delivering unusually high guide numbers, even with smaller speedlights. Dubbed the Parabolic Light Modifier system, Rob Galbraith and crew have been using them since August of 2009, and their article " PLM umbrellas offer sweet combo of efficiency and softness" is a must-read article for those who are interested in using umbrellas for sports or group shots where it is desirable to have a very efficient light source that can cover a large area.