No surprises: it's my phone.
I don't think I'm over stating it when I say that my phone has contributed more to building a photographic style than any other camera I've ever owned, and there are two big reasons for that.
Firstly, it gives me permission to shoot more 'carelessly'.
When I'm taking shots on my phone I'm not shooting for a client but just for the sheer joy of shooting, and if it doesn't come out that well I can always delete it; or post it anyway and just blame the short falls on the phone. I am giving myself the freedom to be less anal, which as a perfectionist I need, and It opens my eye to the ‘happy accident’, which isn't something I have the luxury to spend time experimenting with on a shoot. I also find that once I have tried out braver shots on my phone, and seen that they are working, I then have the confidence to incorporate those ideas into pro shoots.
I know many photographers will look down on the use of ‘automatic settings’ and the often ‘over edited’ finish of mobile phone images, but this isn’t meant to be ‘perfect photography’ in my view, but rather catching the moments we often miss trying to set up our DSLR’s and lighting, if we even brought them with that day. This isn't about planned shots with the best gear, it's reactive photography.
I think phone photography today is similar to the Lomography revolution of the early 80’s. People began picking up inexpensive, plastic film cameras with light leeks and crappy exposure because they were small, cheap and fun to shoot with. The idea was to shoot often, and ‘from the hip’, almost in antithesis to pro photography. In fact I think many of the top 10 rules of Lomography relate directly to iPhoneography. Check them out:
1. Take your camera everywhere you go
2. Use it any time – day and night
3. Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it
4. Try the shot from the hip
5. Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible
6. Don't think
7. Be fast
8. You don't have to know beforehand what you captured on film
9. Afterwards either
10. Don't worry about any rules
The spirit seems the same to me. This is organic, reactive, even viral photography.
The second reason is that my phone is the camera which is always with me.
It's a way to live, photographically, in the now. My phone burns a hole in my pocket all day, every day, reminding me to keep my eyes open for the next shot, and knowing this in the back of my mind I am more conscious of my surroundings at all times. It means I am constantly training my eye, and I'm always on the lookout for an interesting scene, or light, or subject. This kind of photo-awareness stands me in good stead for the days I do pick up my DSLR’s to shoot more deliberately. I find I notice more, and have a whole host of new angles and creative ideas on tap.
It's no secret that the image quality isn't great on any mobile phone (no not even your 41 mega pixel Nokia). The dynamic range is wafer thin, depth of field is always as deep as the ocean unless your subject is pressed up against the lens, and overall the shots make the pixel peepers physically cringe. No one is suggesting that a mobile phone camera can compete with a pro camera for quality, but if I have the option to take a good photo on a bad camera, or take no photo at all, I would rather take the shot.
I suppose this comes down to the old battle between kit vs content. Which is more important?
I have this discussion with photographers regularly, and it often turns into a heated debate.
Don't get me wrong; gear helps. I can usually tell whether a shot has been taken with a point and shoot, a cropped sensored DSLR, a full frame DSLR, or even a Medium Format. But the fact still remains that a great camera in the hands of a bad photographer will be useless. It takes a talented photographer to see and capture the moment with good skill and composition. I for one, would rather look at an image shot by a great photographer on a bad camera, than an image shot by an amateur using the best gear in the world.
Photographers have gone on about it since Henri Cartier-Bresson was banging on about “The Decisive Moment” in 1952. If you point your camera at disinteresting things, even if you know your settings and rules of composition, you will have a disinteresting photograph. You have to become a student of ‘life’ and ‘light’ in order to catch the moments which matter, and which say something. We see mountains of photography everyday through our friends on Facebook, but much of it says nothing. Great photography shows you a moment, a look, a scene which surprises you with a response.
So I would say work on your 'eye' first, and there are few ways better to do that than shoot, shoot, shoot. Start getting your 10, 000 hours under your belt. Get out there and look for ‘the moment’ and use whatever you have on you to catch it. If you're not happy with it, delete it, but the mere act of shooting it will build photographic muscle reflex in learning both to see and capture.
And the tool to help you learn how to see, and which gives you permission to capture 'carelessly' and often, is likely sitting in your pocket right now.
For those who I know will be interested, I shoot on an iPhone 4 and my go-to editing apps are:
Snapseed and PicsPlay Pro for more controlled editing.
Camera+ but only really the amazing ‘Clarity’ function.
Facetune for basic retouching.
VSCO Cam to add some vintage film tones.
Mextures for light leaks and destressed effects.
Perfect B&W if I am going the Black and White route.
Big Lens occasionally to fake some depth of field.
Over Text + Photo to add text over the image.
Photosynth for panoramas.
Instagram, but only to post and rarely to edit.
PicFrame and Phoster for some fun presentation options.
If you want to take a look through my iPhoneography visit www.seantuckiphone.tumblr.com or follow me on Instagram: @seantuck.