Blog | 77 - A Thought Experiment

April 03, 2020
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   Alistair Grant 

Freelance Photographer Cambridge & London


bokeh photographic: Blog No: 77

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A Thought Experiment (for better times ahead)

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic we find ourselves living in strange and uncertain times. My inbox and social media are filled with stories of how the photography profession has been hit extremely hard. As a (mostly) Food & Drink Photographer colleagues in the sector, particularly those operating restaurants & bars, have been forced to completely shut down their operations and many are forecasting that they will go under despite the promised Governmental support. Needless to say my Commercial, Corporate, Wedding, Portrait and Event Photography workload has more-or-less disappeared overnight and I am not able to run my normal (i.e. face-to-face) Photography Training. Whilst I am still wearing my photography hat it is at a somewhat jaunty angle having been mostly displaced – temporarily – by my epidemiology hat†. Unsurprisingly, epidemiological and clinical research experience of new drugs and medical devices is in demand at the moment and although I am missing the camera I am extremely fortunate in that I have been able to fall back into what I used to do pre-photography via Consultancy. As most people have time on their hands due to the Coronavirus lockdown here’s a thought experiment based on the unique perspective of an epidemiologist photographer using statistical software to model SARS-COV-2 and novel health technologies that will hopefully get you thinking about how the photographic software market might (or should?) develop in the future.

Like (digital) photography epidemiology and clinical research is heavily dependent on software. There are multiple commercial software packages to choose from. In fact, there is probably a much greater choice than for photographic editing software including MINITAB, SPSS, MATLAB, SIGMA XL and SAS. I cut my teeth on STATA; a general statistical application first developed in 1985 that is popular amongst epidemiologists, health economists and medical researchers. My aging version of STATA works fine although it can’t handle large datasets associated with full population modelling where there are potentially multiples of thousands of data points. If you think photographic software is expensive bear in mind that a single-user perpetual business licence for the latest release of the top-of-the-range version of STATA comes in at £6,055 or £2,320 for an annual licence.

Although the numbers of people using different professional (i.e. not basic programs, functionally restricted programs or mobile phone apps that simply add filters) photographic software packages are not readily available Adobe dominates the market with its Photoshop and Lightroom variants. One unverified estimate is that as of 2017 Adobe had over 12 million Creative Cloud subscribers. Photoshop has been at the top of the tree since it was first created in 1988 partly because it offers something for everyone: with a user friendly interface and thousands of functions Photoshop allows those so inclined to tinker for hours on end on just a single image whilst also facilitating efficient ‘workstream editing’ of large volumes of images for those with deadlines to meet. However, Photoshop also remains #1 because Adobe aggressively market their products. It is telling that no sales or subscription data is available. Adobe don’t exactly hide their dominance of the market but they don’t advertise their near monopoly either. Accordingly, equally good programs such as Phase One’s Capture One or ON1’s Photo RAW have only a small foothold in the market.

Open Source (OS) software is available for both photographic and epidemiological applications. OS software are free programs distributed under a creative licence which grants users the right to use, study, change and share the modified (or unmodified) software to facilitate common development of the program. Although OS software is renowned for not being user friendly this is gradually changing and the pros of OS generally outweigh the cons such as susceptibility to malicious modification. Perhaps the best known photographic OS software is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): a cross-platform raster graphics editor written in C programming language. It is important to note that as it is the code underlying the base software that is freely available OS is different to third-party ‘plug-ins’ such as Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets. Perhaps the best known statistical OS software is RStudio (an Integrated Development Environment) based upon R programming language and which provides a software environment for statistical computing and graphics. RStudio is arguably ‘more’ open source than GIMP (in terms of the number and variety of packages, developed and modified by the R/RStudio community, that can be installed to provide additional statistical functions) and, at the risk of comparing apples to oranges, offers greater functionality compared to STATA than GIMP compared to Photoshop. Although RStudio doesn’t have a point-&-click interface and requires some knowledge of programming, like most OS applications there is extensive and to all intents and purposes interactive help available that puts the pre-programmed help menus in commercial software to shame. Moreover, in a delightful twist, iterative user modifications have not only improved RStudio as a standalone program but in a sort of arms race have prompted software manufacturers to improve their proprietary programs to the extent that many commercial statistical software packages now incorporate R into their design. It is heartening to see that commercial and O/S statistical packages can coexist in a market that is far smaller than photographic editing software. Some prefer RStudio and others prefer commercial software but the vast majority of analysts switch between the two depending upon their needs. I for one am using my old version of STATA alongside the latest iteration of RStudio. Looking towards better times ahead one hopes that the photography profession might learn from this. I’m certainly not advocating boycotting Adobe products as that would be counterproductive but instead somehow collectively fostering an environment where OS photographic software can enjoy a fair share of the market so that the whole really will be greater than the sum of its parts.

I continue to operate my (long-established) remote studio arrangements for Product Photography although this is currently restricted to those needing urgent photography with priority given to existing clients. Please get in contact for further information using the details below.



Call Alistair Grant on 07775 365507, Email [email protected] or click Booking Enquiries if you have any questions or would like to make a booking.


bokeh: "the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens"

bokeh photographic (Alistair Grant): Food & Drink Photographer; Food Photographer; Drink Photographer; Commercial Photographer; Product Photographer; Corporate Photographer; PR Photographer; Wedding Photographer; Portrait Photographer; Event Photographer and Photography Training Courses in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire.

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