Lightroom and the Innovator’s Dilemma

Adobe announced some big changes to Lightroom today, including a new cloud-native version (Lightroom CC) as well as a re-branding of the familiar desktop version (Lightroom Classic). Additionally, they have discontinued development of a “perpetual” version and all new versions will be licensed on a subscription basis. What gives?

The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma helps to shed some light on Adobe’s behavior. In the book, Christensen tracks the rise and fall of disruptive innovation, which includes rapid growth of successful applications, and an eventual leveling off of growth as the market becomes saturated. Eventually, changes in the market landscape allow for new competitors to arise, and the company becomes vulnerable to disruptive innovation and the loss of market dominance. If you don’t innovate on an equally aggressive basis, the company faces real danger. In this circumstance, your market dominance may prevent you from creating new software as you focus on maintaining the success of the old product.

The digital photography revolution
Lightroom was, in large part, an earlier response to the innovator’s dilemma. Photoshop was the clear leader in imaging software, but it was developed before the advent of digital cameras. Camera Raw was developed as companion application to Photoshop to deal with raw files, but ultimately the very structure of Photoshop was incompatible with the needs of busy digital photographers. It had a one-at-a-time file handling structure that was insufficient for many workflows.
Lightroom was developed in response to this new market reality. Adobe took the Camera Raw engine from Photoshop and grafted it on to a database, creating one of the most successful applications in the company’s history. Lightroom was developed by a small team working inside Adobe, essentially functioning as competition to the flagship product. If Adobe had put all their effort into shoring up Photoshop, they would be in very serious trouble right now as a preferred tool for digital photographers.

Mobile>digital
We are now at another inflection point, and this one, I believe, is even more transformational. The use of photography as a language, created on and consumed on smartphones has changed the way we communicate. One of the primary needs in this new world is continuous access and connectivity. Dependence on desktop software is incompatible with many of the important uses of photography. Often, we simply can’t wait until we get back to the home or office to send photos. And a great collection of images is frustratingly out of reach if you are away from your computer.
In order to serve the needs of mobile photographic communication, the Lightroom team has spent years working on ways to create an integrated cloud component to Lightroom. Publish Services allow the extension of Lightroom to integrate with a wide variety of other applications, including many cloud offerings. And the introduction of Lightroom Mobile, along with some integration with traditional Lightroom catalogs, offered some seamless interchange.
But the architecture of Lightroom as a desktop application simply cannot be stretched enough to create a great mobile application. The desktop flexibility that has powers such a wide array of workflows can’t be shoehorned in to full cloud compatibility. The freedom to set up your drives, files and folders as you wish makes a nightmare for seamless access. And the flexibility to create massive keyword and collection taxonomies does not work with small mobile screens. After years of experimentation, the only good answer was the creation of a new cloud native architecture. As with the creation of the original Lightroom, this was done by taking the existing Camera Raw imaging engine and bolting it on to a new chassis – this time a cloud native architecture.

Managed file storage
In order to have “my stuff everywhere” the new application has to be cloud native. The primary storage of your images and videos is now in the cloud. This allows Lightroom to have seamless access on multiple devices. And in order to allow Lightroom to push these files around, you need to give up control over the configuration of folders. By giving the control over to Lightroom, the application itself can help to manage the transfer of files between devices, using downsized versions when storage space is not adequate for full size copies. (and, yes, you can have a complete full-sized archive on your own drives, which is something I would suggest).

Computational Tagging
Lightroom has also made a major break with the metadata methods of the past, opting for a computational tagging system. Some of this is familiar – the use of date-time stamps and GPS tags to organize photos. Some is new, like the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence tagging that can automagically find images according to content. While these tools and techniques are pretty rudimentary now, we can expect them to mature quickly and continually. (Google Photos, for instance, just announced that they can now identify photos of your pets, and, voila, the tags simply appear.)

Not the end of desktop Lightroom
Just as the advent of Lightroom did not kill Photoshop, the introduction of Lightroom CC will not kill Lightroom Classic. It’s a hugely popular program for an important part of their customer base. And creating a cloud-native version of the software, instead of trying to shoehorn the program into a workflow it did not fit, frees up resources to make Lightroom a better desktop application. The Camera Raw development team can continue to make improvements to the engine, and each of the chassis builders – Camera Raw + Bridge, Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC can focus on building workflows for their customer’s needs.
There are a number of important uses of Lightroom that are pretty far off for Lightroom CC. Many power users depend on custom keyword taxonomies and deep collection hierarchies and these may never appear in Lightroom CC. And there are lots of existing integrating of Lightroom through Publish Services that won’t be easy to migrate. There are also a ton of clever and useful Lightroom plugins that may be impossible to add to the cloud version.
For my own workflow, I’ll be sticking to Lightroom Classic as far as the eye can see. But I expect that my wife and kids will be happier with Lightroom CC.

The end of Perpetual Lightroom
There is certain to be some unhappiness with the discontinuation of the perpetual versions of Lightroom. For those who don’t want cloud connectivity or who don’t use smart phones, this change forces them into a subscription service that may be unwanted. I feel your pain.
But the world is changing, and photography is becoming a more important part of it. I’ve spent the last four months working on The DAM Book 3, writing about these tectonic changes, and I’m convinced that mobile imaging (and image consumption) is a driving force. Adobe is in a position to help us take advantage of that change and make the most of it. If they did not accept the evolution of the imaging landscape, they could be in real trouble. As it is, it will still be a challenge to maintain their leadership in such a fast-moving market.
Although Lightroom CC does introduce some black box functionality, Adobe is still a clear leader in “you own your stuff, and you can take it wth you.” I think this attitude, central to Adobe’s products since Geschke and Warnock left Xerox PARC to found the company, remains one of the strongest reasons to use their tools. Mobile and cloud computing has changed the landscape, but this attitude remains intact.
Note – If you want a more granular description of the changes to Lightroom, check out the ever-comprehensive Victoria Bampton’s post here. 

Computational Tagging

In my SXSW panel this year, Ramesh Jain and Anna Dickson and I delved into the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming a commodity, which will be a commonplace reality by the end of 2017.  We looked at several classes of services and considered what they were good for.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the subject over the last few months writing The DAM Book 3. Clearly AI will be important in collection management and the deployment of images for various types of communication.

But I  hate using the term AI to describe the array of services that help you make sense of your photos. There’s actually a bunch of useful stuff that is not technically AI. Adding date or GPS info is definitely not AI. And linking to other data (like a wikipedia page) is not really AI. ( It’s actually just linking). Machine Learning and programmatic tagging comes in a lot of forms – some is really basic, and some is complex.

The term Computational Imaging was pretty obscure when the last version of The Dam Book was published, but it’s become a very common term. I think this is a useful concept to extend to the whole AI/Machine Learning/Data Scraping/Programmatic Tagging stack.

In The DAM Book 3, I’m using the term Computational Tagging to refer to all the computer-based tagging methods that involve some level of automation. This runs from the tags made by the computer in my camera to the sophisticated AI environments of the future. At the moment, it’s not widely-used term (Google shows 138 instances on the web), but I think it’s the best general description for the automatic and computer-assisted tagging that are becoming an essential part of working with images.

Reminder – Two upcoming presentations on scanning

I’ve got two presentations scheduled for October. The first is a free two hour seminar on scanning with a digital camera at the Click! Photo festival in Durham, NC. It takes place 10am-noon Oct 6. Here’s a link.

And I’ll be in New York at PhotoPlus, doing a tag-team presentation with Katrin Eismann called Preserving Your Photographic History. I’ll show how to scan with a digital camera, and then Katrin will demonstrate reparations and restoration techniques from her revised book on retouching. Here’s a link for that.

Use this custom landing page for a 15% discount and free show pass.

Testing Nikon D850 for Camera Scans

Nikon sent me a D850 to do some camera scan testing. My initial impression is that it it really promising, but I have not been able to get it to do exactly what I want. It does a pretty good job for most negatives, but it’s having problems on dark images.

I’ll run a number of rolls through it over the weekend and report back.  I will say that even if it’s not perfect now, I can tell this is going to be a great solution for camera scanning color negatives, particularly in conjunction with Lightroom.

What the Equifax Breach tells us about cloud security

Equifax reports an intrusion into its system which “may have” stolen the data on up to 143 million Americans, including name, address, SS#, and Drivers license number. This is a terrible lapse in security, and, on paper, it should not have happened.

Equifax is a large and profitable company, whose central business is secure, trustable data management and processing. Preventing this type of cyberattack should be one of their most important goals. And yet, it happened. What can photographers and collection managers who use cloud services learn from this?

It’s impossible to know the real story from outside
The first thing to learn is that, as stated above, looking at a company from the outside can’t provide a guarantee. It’s hard to find a company that should have a better security practice than Equifax. They are not a startup prone to pivot, or running out of funds, or a company for whom security is a second tier issue. Yes, they make all kinds of mistakes in their reporting, but that’s an inherent part of gathering up trillions of individual transaction reports from many different sources.

If it’s hard for Equifax, it’s even harder for you
It’s getting reasonably common to hear that cloud service companies get breached, It happened to Adobe,  Yahoo (x3, at least!), and many more (click the link above for fun). But this does not mean you should just manage all your cloud security yourself. The vast majority of people (and institutional IT), simply have no idea how to fully protect from attack.

Cloud services have become essential in the creation, use, storage and management of photos and other media.  Unless you are going to go off-grid (start by throwing away your smartphone), you’re going to have to live with a certain amount of risk. The entry points for hacking are exploding. Now your fridge, car, connected camera, and smart lightbulbs can all be attacked by Internet of things (IoT) exploits. It’s going to get even harder to prevent cyberattacks as IoT grows.

So our best strategy is to become more resilient. Here are some tips.

1. Centralize all of the media you want to keep. Preserving your stuff starts with knowing where it is. If it’s spread between a phone, your laptop and across half a dozen hard drives, it’s impossible to really manage safely. You can now cheaply buy hard drives up to 12 TB. There is no excuse not to collect everything you want to keep.

2. Keep a local copy of any photos or other media you want to preserve. This means you need a copy of your photo archive on local drives, in your possession. Anything you have that is only stored in a cloud service is at some level of risk, and accurately determining that risk is beyond your ability.

3. Keep at least one copy of your data offline. For most people, that means copying your photos and other important data to additional hard drive(s) and unplugging. This is a backstop for all kinds of terrible things, not just cyberattack (lightning, theft, etc.)

4. Consider write-once media. While DVD and Blu-ray are fading from the media storage landscape, there is still a compelling reason to consider them. Photos stored on write-once media can’t be infected after-the-fact. If you think you have too much data for optical disc, consider the fact that Facebook has built a cold-data archive in North Carolina that employs Blu-ray (for the exact reasons outlined above).

5. If something is really sensitive and it needs to be stored in the cloud, you probably want it to be encrypted on the client side. (This means that software on your computer holds the encryption key, and the cloud service only has a scrambled copy of the data). Note that when I say really sensitive, I mean stuff that is life or death, or has a major financial component.

Backblaze is a service that provides client-side encryption. It’s not totally bulletproof, but someone would probably need to know exactly what to look for. Note that an encrypted cloud backup like Backblaze can also help to protect you against ransomware, like the May 2017 WannaCry attack, which is a growing problem.

6. Take a look at the cloud service providers you use. 
Even though you can’t remove all doubt about your cloud service providers, you can make some educated guesses. Does there appear to be a sustainable business model? Am I paying enough for this service to care about my security? Does a google search bring up anything hinky?

If you take these steps, you can help protect the integrity of your photo collection against growing hazards. You may not be able to prevent intrusion, but at least you can recover from it.

Progress on DAM Book 3

As promised, I’m providing a significant update on The DAM Book 3. The book is moving along quite well, although significant work remains. We are setting a very conservative release date of November 22nd. We may be able to move this up as the writing and layout moves along.  I also promised a look at the Table of Contents, and you can find it here.

I’ve spent the last two months working to integrate the new elements of the digital photography ecosystem into a cohesive discussion of how the parts interconnect. I’ve also done lot of work to disentangle stuff that looks similar, but has important differences.

For instance, how is a synced filesystem utility like Dropbox fundamentally different than a cloud library service like Libris, and what is each one good for?

I’ve also spent a good deal of time speaking to the many experts I know in the field of imaging, testing my assumptions, and checking to see if I’m missing any big elements in the ecosystem.

With the scope and structure locked down, and all the old copy redlined and commented, I’m entering the home stretch. Now it’s time to finish the execution. Some chapters are basically done, and some are still in outline form. I expect that we’ll see some small changes in the Table of Contents, but those changes should be minor.

We’re still running our Dam Book 2 special. Buy The DAM Book 2 for $19.95 and get $15 off The DAM Book 3. At some point in the next month or so, we will start discounted pre-sales for The DAM Book 3. Sign up for our mailing list (on the top right of this page) to stay up to date on our special offers and release dates.

Nikon D850 – Built as a scanner?

The Nikon D850 has been announced, and it looks like a heck of a nice camera. The headline stuff includes everything we’ve come to expect from the next magical generation of digital SLR cameras – 45 megapixels, 7 frames per second, ISO 25,600, 8k video, touch screen, and so much more.

But tucked away on page 85 of the PDF brochure is this: a negative digitizer! Apparently the camera has a built-in algorithm for flipping negatives positive.

Some seasoned photographers may be exploring ways to convert their film assets created with old cameras into digital data. Taking advantage of its high-pixel count of 45 megapixels, the D850 offers an option for digitizing film (35mm-format), which can handle color and monochrome negatives. First, set an optional ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter onto a lens such as the AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED attached to the D850. Then, insert the film to be digitized in an FH-4 Strip Film Holder or FH-5 Slide Mount Holder, and shoot. The camera’s digitizing function automatically reverses the colors and stores them as JPEG images. This once time-consuming process involving a film scanner can be done much more quickly. You can enjoy pictures with family and friends while selecting and digitizing by displaying them on a large TV monitor connected via an HDMI cable. Enjoy your old film images by digitizing them with the D850.

There are several items above that I’d love to test. If it could handle color negatives reasonably well, this could be a major workflow improvement for camera scanning.

And I don’t really like the ES-2, but there’s no reason not to use a rail system or copystand /lightbox .

In any case, it’s very exciting to see Nikon acknowledge this missing market niche, especially when so many photographers have mourned the loss of the Nikon scanner line.

Photo Scanning Webinar

Scanning Photos With Your CameraDigitizing Your photos - a guide to photo scanning with a digital camera

September 13th, I’m presenting at B&H’s Event Space in NYC to share techniques from my new book Digitizing Your Photos with your Camera and Lightroom. You can come see it live if you’re in New York, or see it on the web.

I’ll be presenting material from my book on scanning photos with a digital camera. In the webinar we’ll cover:

  • The camera scanning advantage
  • Hardware setups for scanning prints, slides and negatives
  • How to ensure top quality
  • Using Lightroom for camera scans
  • Tagging your images
  • Publishing and sharing your scans

When: Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 1:00p – 3:00p
Skill Level: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced – Everyone will get something out of it
Location: B&H Event Space
Address: Second Floor of B&H NYC SuperStore at 420 9th Avenue, New York NY 10001

Register Here

FYI
All of their events are FREE!  If you want to guarantee a seat for an event, please register ASAP. Their events can fill up fast.

Can’t get to NY? The event will be streamed. Register to watch online.

Not available on the 13th?  B&H will post the video on their website.

Other questions? See B&H’s FAQ for Event Space details.  

 

DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS