Keeping up with technology

Report and pictures by: 
Gavin Foo

Today's news picture will be out-dated tomorrow. Press photographers need to meet strict deadlines every night. Our photographs are of no use if we do not get them back to the newsroom on time.

Speeding up our workflow has always been a challenge. However, new developments in technology are redefining the field of press photography. Digital technology has been influencing photojournalism for decades.

Before the digital age, we had an in-house photographic film processing studio. At the end of a long day, we had to queue up to send our films for developing. That was not what we looked forward to. But we had to meet early deadlines – the photos need to be ready for tomorrow’s paper.

In the 1980’s, photojournalists were using fixed line and analogue mobile phones to transmit pictures back through drum print transmitters. A photo printed on paper was spun slowly on a cylindrical drum while a sensor reads the image line by line. Its workings were just like a modern day scanner. Each black and white photograph took about 8 to 10 minutes to transmit. Coloured images took three times as long. And that was if no one interrupted the call.

Then in the year 2000, we traded our film cameras for full digital cameras. This meant that we did not need to send exposed photographic films for developing before we could view the photos. Our workflow changed dramatically. We could instantly download our photos from the memory card to a computer. But we had to digitally enhance the photos and add in the captions ourselves.

Back in the 2006 General Election, when the results were announced and after we had finished taking photos, we had to rush back to the newsroom to download our photos into the computer system. The eight photographers who were out that night, all competed for the three available desktops. With such tight deadline, all our fingers became thumbs. We had to get the pictures out first, before our colleagues could design the pages. We were the first in line in the newsroom.

Technology has even advanced further since. Yesterday’s photojournalists needed a laptop to download the pictures from the camera’s data card. Then a data modem to upload photos to the picture desk.

Today’s photojournalists only need a smartphone with internet connectivity to deliver pictures back to the newsroom. We have been simplifying our workflow occasionally. We currently use a Secure Digital (SD) card with built-in Wi-Fi feature in our camera. When we are not taking pictures, we whip out our smartphones and launch an app to connect to the Wi-Fi SD card. The card is still in the camera. We do not need to remove the card from the camera at all. This is well received by those with butter fingers, and more importantly, we are always ready to shoot. We select the pictures that we like, and send them back to the newsroom via the mobile internet network.

We could do simple enhancement to the photos if we preferred, and also add captions to the photos if we had a little more time. Ultimately, it was the simplicity that saved us time.

Tomorrow’s photojournalists can expect even faster workflow. Who knows, your editor may even have the ability to immediately view each and every photographs you took with your camera, while you are still taking more photographs.