Falling back in love with phone photography

This is a short story of how I went from pretty much loathing my iPhone, to using it as my number one carry around.

Now, I know a lot of people use their phones to take pictures. Heck, when I go to my daughters school events, it seems like it’s the only camera people use these days. Oh, that and iPads… But don’t get me started on my thoughts on using iPads in social situations to take photographs (hint, I'm not best pleased).

But you see, I was always one of the few parents who took their DSLR to sports day. People would often ask me why my pictures looked aesthetically more pleasing than theirs. Then within same breath would answer their own question by immediately putting it down to the fact that I had a big, imposing professional camera and lens. Any advice I gave about composition and framing would then fall on deaf ears.

It’s so easy to think that if you’re using the same ‘something’ as person X then somehow you'll be able to create things in the same way. Which, while simplistic, I must admit to falling prey to the same reasoning. In fact many times in the past and not just in photography. I’ve taught myself programming tools, libraries and more in the hopes that I could replicate my heroes.

If anything I’ve found more than ever, that it all confused and slowed me down by placing an even greater cognitive load on my poor brain. I’ve always felt that there should be creativity in everything, and when you have to consciously think too hard for a solution, it’s rarely ever elegant. Over time, I’d somehow arrived at the positions that the more stuff I had, the better I was as a person. Whether that was creatively or in my own personal life.

The hard and surprising truth is, that the less you have, the more freedom you’ll achieve. We use possessions as a crutch. Rather than having only a few things that you really need and love. We’ve been taught that somehow having more is better, but it rarely is it the case.
Having only a few of cameras that I truly understand and love has meant that for the first time in a few years I’ve actually been shooting for fun again. It’s stopped being a chore or a worry.

Of the few cameras I have now, most of them have only one lens. Those either being a prime. With either a 50mm or 35mm equivalent. The iPhone being one of the few I have with a wider equivilent.

It’s not enough to just know your camera, but also understanding the quirks, limitations or subtleties of your choses lens. How wide can you shoot? What’s the best aperture for sharpness? When I’m shooting groups of people, depending on their distance from me and each other, what’s the best aperture? Does this lens loose contrast and flare badly if I point it towards the sun? Is the flare pleasing for what I'm trying to achieve?


Now imagine if I was one of those strange people who insisted on carrying around a menagerie of lenses ‘for fun’. Not sure how fun that could possibly be, or even how much creativity would go into their photography. I'd usually find that those people usually blame gear for poor technique and always seemed to think that buying a better camera body would somehow fix their poor composition or lack of ability to tell a story through pictures.

So, with all this background you can see how I fell back in love with my iPhone for taking pictures. It’s always with me. Has a fixed aperture lens and I understand the limitations of it and the built in sensor.

I’ve also come to love how quickly I can edit my pictures with the raft of high quality mobile apps available. Take a picture. Import it into either Snapped or VSCO Cam and a few tweaks later I’m sharing the image to the world. It was always either fiddly or virtually impossible to take a picture with my old DSLR’s and try and share something I’d just seen only a few minutes before. And I think that one of the best ways of making creativity fun. Be spontaneous. You don’t always have to have a vision or spend hours and days creating perfecting it. A constant stream of ideas should be flowing. Most of them won’t be interesting to most, but there will always be that one idea. That one image that catches someones attention and either entertains or causes them to pause in thought.

When I compared the image quality of modern phone cameras to that of high end DSLR’s from just a few years ago, I was really shocked. The dynamic range and sharpness that these little cameras can produce in comparison to their bigger more expensive cousins is just simply outstanding. It really makes me questions what on earth are we paying thousands of dollars for in a DSLR body? It certainly isn't the same dramatic advancement in image quality we're seeing in phone cameras.

The London Eye, Big Ben and the Thames

I remember reading an article a few months ago that claimed that professional photographers and DSLR’s would become few and scarce in the future as phone cameras ever constantly closed the gap between the usefulness and quality found in DSLR’s. I also think it true that professional photographers in the future will be far fewer as more people are given the tools and knowledge to create results that were once only thought possible by the paid high-end. Remember how computers were once the realm of the Enterprise? How they’d occupy whole rooms and need specialists to operate them? These days most kids phones have more processing power than those main frames of old.

When I look through other peoples VSCO grids, Instagram accounts and Tumblrs, I see so much beauty. Most of these pictures are taken with phones or even ancient film cameras. These simple devices, if used correctly produce images that are far more interesting and aesthetically pleasing than the average photographer randomly snapping away with his 36 Megapixel D810 and 70-200mm zoom.

It’s because of all this hidden power and simplicity, that I’ve fallen back in love with phone photography. You don’t need all the high end gear that the ‘experts’ are telling you to buy… Simply learn to take pictures that you find enjoyable and interesting.

With your phone, you’ve got all the tools you need. Besides, a little constraint only ever made people more creative.


Jonathan Conway

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