My Most-Used Camera

tumblr_mohuulROFT1r6phlfo1_500.jpg

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.

tumblr_mtst6wjcHF1r6phlfo1_500.jpg

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

tumblr_mcrp05g89d1r6phlfo1_500.jpg

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.

seantuck_on_Instagram.jpg

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.

tumblr_mqt8y3PXMD1r6phlfo1_500.jpg

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. 

seantuck_on_Instagram 2.jpg

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.

Shooting Photo Narratives

Note: This post also includes a review of Exposure.so, but I haven't been asked to do the review or paid in anyway for it.

What is a Photo Narrative?

Well, it seems the definition varies a little, but for me it's taking your camera out and catching frames throughout a day, or an event, which communicate the story, and visually represent what went on. A good Photo Narrative, for me, requires very little, if any words, because the images are strong enough that they give you the sense of that 'happening', even if you don't have all the details. I suppose it's documentary photography in essence but has an emphasis on sequential events over a deliberate space of time.

I have always been a fan of this sort of photography.

I used to do it more actually but the 'more pro' I got the less I shot like this, and I think it's because I became too precious with my shots and prohibitively selective about which shots I shared with the world.

At some point I realised that if you spend enough time on each image, and only post your prime shots for others to see, people will think this is what you shoot like all the time. It makes sense too, and definitely strengthens your image to the world and your brand in general, but aren't you losing something in the process? 

I have a skill; and can choose to use it to take people along with me to see the things I see. It's a more generous approach to photography, and might mean I will end up posting some images which aren't my strongest in order to construct a Photo Narrative, but I really like the idea of building something out of many pieces which tells a story.

A couple I know back in Cape Town do this very well, turning their holiday shots into beautiful Photo Narratives (check out their wedding photography too which also has a great documentary feel):

http://lovemadevisible.co.za/travel/ 

I know many photographers who don't like this sort of shooting because they prefer to maintain the illusion of a high 'hit rate' by only posting one, crafted shot at a time. The fact is that if you head out to shoot and commit to posting a Photo Narrative by the end of the day, there will be some shots which are stronger than others. You also won't have the time to do deep edits on these images if you want be timeous about the things you're covering. In that way it's more akin to photo journalism than the crafted photography of the portraiture and art world. Personally I like the challenge though. I doubt anyone will be printing any of these images off as canvases for their walls, but that's not really what they're for, and I'm ok with that.

Recently I signed up to exposure.so, which is a new platform designed to display your Photo Narratives. Here is a link to a Narrative I posted showing my walk around London this Saturday morning past, visiting Mandela Memorial sites, and bumping into a Hoard of Santas:

https://seantuck.exposure.so/sadness-and-celebration

A little bit on Exposure:

First off, I'm sure you'll agree that it looks beautiful. I am sucker for the clean, white look and they have done a great job of providing a stylish and simply layout. It is also very user friendly. It only took me 15 minutes to put this Photo Narrative together and it was a fun process which felt less like work and more like effortless creativity.

Great use of fonts, good design aesthetics, and some useful control over which order photos are displayed in, as well as an attractive light box solution mean that they have nailed the look and functionality for me.

The negatives are that you only get 3 free Photo Narrative posts before you need to pay for a subscription. It's not a huge amount of money, and it's definitely worth the price if you are into this sort of 'shoot and sharing', but for someone like me who doesn't get to do this often enough it feels like just another platform I would have to give a bunch of time to, to ensure I got my moneys worth.

I mean this subscription is also on top of the other subscriptions which I have to pay monthly like Photoshop CC, Squarespace for website, 500px Awesome account and other sundry accounts for little things like Wetransfer for client file transfers. You can quickly rack up a bunch of these 'little' subscriptions for things you 'need', until you get to the point where you wonder where your money is bleeding off to every month, and I'm trying to be more careful about this sort of thing myself. Can I afford another platform which only serves one very specific purpose, even if it does it very well?

And that brings me to another negative. This would be an entirely new platform to maintain and draw visitors too. I am having enough trouble trying to draw traffic to my main website without confusing the brand I'm trying to build with yet another URL. I have only just moved everything together in one space. Until recently I was running my photography portfolio off 500px, my videography portfolio off Wordpress, my photography blog off Blogger, and my iPhoneography blog off Tumblr. It's too much. So I moved everything onto Squarespace and have been really happy that I finally have a combined home for everything, so I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot by letting a bunch of new Sean Tucker Photography content spring up elsewhere on the web.

If there was a way to have this platform integrate and display within Squarespace (like embedding the Photo Narrative onto a page or post) and a way to display on social media platforms other than just sharing a link, then perhaps it would be more worthwhile for me personally.

There also don't seem to be options to leave comments and interact as yet, but I'm sure this functionality will appear with updates?

That said, head along and check it out because it really is a slick interface providing an eye catching Photo Narrative layout. I know it sounds like I just dumped all over them but they really have built a beautiful platform which will do exactly what many photographers want. I think my rant has more to do with 'too many platforms and subscriptions' in general.

Check them out here (you may need to request an invite):

https://exposure.so/ 

I'll leave you with some shots of Santas from my last Photo Narrative:

IMG_8232 web.jpg
IMG_8215 web.jpg
IMG_8212 web.jpg
IMG_97436 - Version 2 web.jpg
IMG_97486 - Version 2 web.jpg
IMG_8260 web.jpg