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November 7, 2013

The camera maker and the picture taker, part two

Yesterday we published the first part of our interview between the head of imaging technologies at Nokia, Juha Alakarhu, and National Geographic photographer, Stephen Alvarez.


Today we conclude with thoughts about the future. Where is photography and imaging technology likely to go next?

Communicating visually

Stephen Alvarez – I’m doing a story right now on the history of symbolism and we are set up to communicate visually. Most of us are set up to communicate entirely visually. It transcends language, it transcends any of those normal human boundaries. I think that’s why you see so much success in it.

Juha Alakarhu – It’s a nice area to work in. And there’s always things to make better. There have been some people asking me “don’t you think this is good enough” And then I’m like “show me your pictures. Don’t you think that we could do that much better?” There are always things you can make better.

It’s building on what I was asking about earlier. I’ve been thinking about this dilemma. When you’re browsing photos in 500px or Flickr, the top photos are super, duper, amazing. Proper wow. You don’t get the clicks unless you do “wow”.

Then I was at an art gallery in Helsinki. I was looking at the pictures, spent time with them, I felt what the photographer was saying. And then I was thinking, if the photographer put the pictures on Flickr or 500px they would not get the clicks. They would just disappear.

SA – Photography does a lot of things. It can visually overwhelm you and that’s what you’re talking about with those pictures that get a lot of clicks. You see something on social media and it grabs your attention like that. But it might not do more than that. It’s like having someone shout at you “hey look at this” and you look at it and you might like it because it does something to you.

Other photographs operate on a different level and those images take a while to settle in. They are almost apples and oranges – you can’t compare one with the other. Although sometimes there is a “wow” photograph that has so much content in that really settles in.


But those things are incredibly rare.

You kind of have to decide who you want to be. Do I want to be the photographer who just wants the attention? And you know, we all like attention. Or do I want to be the photographer who really has something to say and it’s okay with me if I communicate with fewer people.

And that’s a decision that you have to make. But I love making those pictures that make people go “oh my god”. But you want to put more into it than that. You put more content into it. That’s the subtlety of being a photographer. As you get tired of taking pictures of sunsets so you want to put more into a photograph.


When is good enough?

SA – I was going to ask you about “good enough”. You kind of answered already but when is “good enough”? When are you going to be done with this? Where is this headed? Where is the top of this in a mobile device?

JA – Now we have lots of innovations coming from the technology point of view. There’s been huge improvement for us in terms of image sensor technology, optics, miniature camera mechanics, tiny camera motors, flash and so on. There are also huge improvements in image processing, computational power, and algorithms. All these things together make it possible to do magic in a product that fits in your pocket. Cameras really have leading edge technology. The stuff we have introduced today would not have been possible last year.

The technology enables a lot, but we need also look from the user perspective – what users want from their cameras? The beauty of imaging is that people are always critical on image quality, because sight is the most important human sense. I know at least a million things that we could do much better. I want that perfect picture every time, and see even more than your eyes can see.


You can also think the original question from the social point of view. Where is this all going when everything is connected? People are experiencing the shared stories, seeing them from their own perspective, and always documenting it all by visual memories. Is this some kind of time machine where we are living? There must be something very exciting coming from all of this, but we don’t know what it is yet…

Going back to the original question – from the point of view of good enough? It’s never good enough…

Will it ever be ‘good enough’? Give us your views below.