LazyPhoto: Has everything already had its picture taken?

In the last week, the Blue Angels — a team of Navy performance pilots — have been zooming across the skies over San Francisco. The blogger Nivi decided he was going to pull out his digital camera and take some pictures of them for his friend Christa Favot.

But then he realized … hmmm, there were probably already oodles of such pictures already posted to Flickr. He checked and, sure enough, users had put up dozens of superb, magazine-quality shots.

This led Nivi to posit a funny new meme: LazyPhoto. If you’ve ever heard of the LazyWeb concept, it is, as Wikipedia describes it:

The idea if you wait long enough, someone will implement that wacky idea you had… (or already has!) Alternately, that if your blog or other publishing outlet has enough readers, a reader will know and provide the answer to a question you are too lazy to research yourself.

Nivi defines LazyPhoto as:

The idea that you don’t need to take photographs anymore because someone will take the picture for you and put it on flickr.

I love it. I’ve often suspected that Flickr could easily morph into a photo-database that puts Corbis — and other commercial photo-providing services — to shame. After all, the whole reason commercial photo-provisioning services exist is that photography has traditionally been a highly skilled trade. But digital cameras are rapidly deskilling it, the way that Microsoft Word deskilled word-processing (a “profession” back in the early 80s that people took college-level courses to master), and the way that audio apps like GarageBand are deskilling music production. Since Flickr, which has no barriers to entry, is thus growing many times faster than Corbis is, what would happen if Yahoo made it possible for people to sell the rights to their digital photos for a cheap micropayment? You’d have an enormous, sprawling database of cheap photos of virtually anything on earth. (Indeed, many Flickr users already allow liberal use of their photos under Creative Commons licenses.)

You could even pursue a Google Answers mode: Post a request for a particular type of photo, and buy rights to the best first one taken and posted to Flickr. Of course, this model would be open to all manner of abuse and unintended consequences. But the fact remains, as Nivi pointed out, that Flickr’s growth changes the stakes of modern picture-taking: If you can think of it, it’s probably already been photographed.

(Thanks to Nivi for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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