2015: The year photography moved (and moved us)

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More than a trillion photos were captured in 2015.
More than a trillion photos were captured in 2015.
Photo: HypeBeast

We were too busy taking our own pictures in 2015 to notice that something about photography had changed.

This was the year the photo moved. It shed its flat, two-dimensional constraints and showed a life once left to the imagination.

The movement could be slight, as in Apple’s Live Photos, a new feature on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus camera that records a snippet of video before and after the frozen moment to add an extra dimension.

But the movement was also sweeping, as virtual reality became a tool of storytellers (including The New York Times photographers) and seemed to plunge our senses into rarely traveled landscapes. The Times launched a new VR app and, with our smartphones or a cardboard headset, we can travel just by turning our heads.

Live Photos bring a little life to your still images.
Live Photos bring a little life to your still images.
Photo: Apple
Virtual Reality experiences can be had with your smartphone and cardboard viewer.
Virtual Reality experiences can be had with your smartphone and cardboard viewer.
Photo: Test/YouTube

The cameras themselves moved to new places — in some case new heights, with HD video cameras mounted to quadcopters and other drones. In the United States alone, the Federal Aviation Administration predicts 1.6 million drones will be sold. With the growing number of drones in the skies, the FAA is for the first time requiring pilots to register their aircraft.

Drones and HD cameras are affordable, giving everyone a chance to make beautiful, cinematic video.
Drones and HD cameras are affordable, giving everyone a chance to make beautiful, cinematic video.
Photo: DJI

Megapixels, too, seemingly went sky-high, with Sony and Canon introducing cameras with sensors that recorded images with resolutions in the 40- to 50-megapixel range. There was also news that Canon developed a sensor packing a whopping 250 megapixels.

iPhone camera still rules

Despite all that oomph, the camera that continued its disruptive march in photography was the iPhone. Still humble in megapixels — 12 on the 6s — the iPhone for the first time surpassed powerhouses Canon and Nikon as the most-used camera by Flickr’s 112 million photographers. (The photo-sharing site discovered this in an analysis of EXIF data on pictures uploaded in 2015.)

The cameras on the iPhone 6s has a 12-megapixel sensor and 4K video.
The camera on the iPhone 6s has a 12-megapixel sensor and captures 4K video.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Professional photographers published books and made giant prints for art exhibitions. Meanwhile, Apple let iPhone users sell the public on the powers of the camera by featuring their work in a global ad campaign that put photos in glossy magazines, on billboards and on giant, building-size banners.

Big photos came from a little camera.
Big photos came from a little camera.
Photo: IHeartBillboards

If the iPhone camera has a worthy opponent, it would be the GoPro action cameras. The tiny, mount-anywhere cameras continued to dominate the growing action-video industry it created. But in a few cases, challengers rose up to remove a huge barrier — hours of editing. Some cameras, like Vidi, teamed with software company Shred to provide consumers editing features with algorithms that can edit clips automatically (or at least reduce the amount of time it takes to get a clip edited for posting).

The lines between still photographs and videos are blurred. We no longer take pictures or film events. We capture.

Critics and historians of photography will argue we capture so much that little of it matters. One photography organization estimates there are now eight times more people taking photos — excuse me, capturing images — than 10 years ago.

By the end of this year, 1.2 trillion photos will have been recorded and some say we are so saturated with imagery and media we are numb and unable to feel moved by the relative few powerful images.

There is one picture, one out of the more than a trillion made in 2015, that will stick to the hearts and minds of those who saw it.

Three front pages from British newspapers showing photos of Aylan Al-Kurdi, 3.
Three front pages from British newspapers showing photos of Aylan Al-Kurdi, 3.
Photo: The Independent/Flipboard

In September, a photo of a toddler lying lifeless on a beach in Turkey gave us profound pause. He drowned after his family and others tried to escape war-torn Syria in a dinghy that sank. It took a little boy’s death for us to relate to the plight of Syrian refugees in search of a safer home.

We were shocked, appalled, brought to tears. And we had to know his name: Aylan Al-Kurdi. He was 3. There were two widely published photos from the scene, one of Aylan face down and the other of him being carried up the beach by a relief worker. Some editors may have felt seeing the face was too much to bear.

Can a single photograph change the world? Probably not, but soon after this one, countries opened their borders to assist refugees.

Aylan’s stillness put some peoples’ hearts in motion.