The digitalisation benefits of smartphones have been covered often enough in my posts not to warrant going deep into them again. Always-with-you pocket convenience is great. Superb performance in appropriate conditions, also. But knowing your pics are being backed-up and organised as you shoot may be the most satisfying of the lot. So much so that I once again can’t help feeling camera makers have completely lost the plot. Which they have.
But this post is about non functional aspects of using a smartphone for photography. It’s more about the process, more about the flow.
Art is a refection of our integration in the world. It has a dual nature.
On the one side, art is essentially relational. It doesn’t have meaning until we show it to someone else. We can’t express to others what we see, feel and think without sharing our photographs, paintings, musical compositions, videos, installations, pottery, knitting … with the world. Without that, they are just trees falling in an empty forest.
On the other, it is deeply personal. We create, first and foremost, for ourselves. Creating heals. Creating elates. Creating empowers. Everyone alive needs to create for him/herself, however hard our schooling system, our over-inflated rationalism, our social media, our … try to hide the fact.
Our gear can, and probably should, reflect that dichotomy.
And I feel recent smartphones have become the ultimate relational art tools, at least for photography. Not just because they make sharing far easier than traditional cameras do. But because they are so ubiquitous they also let us blend in, get closer and more in tune with others. And so intuitive that they allow our ideas to shoot out freely, unhampered by the ergonomic gulags some digital cameras have become.
As a personal project that’s been at the back of my head for a long time, I’m working on visual Haiku. Photographs with very little information that try to communicate a feeling or a thought more than a situation or an action. They can be busy, they can be empty, but they need utmost clarity because the subject itself feels almost meaningless. A phone might work for such a project, but not as well as a dedicated camera with higher image quality and more post-processing leeway.
For this, I can take my time, select, cherry pick. It’s a process, albeit a intuitive one. My X1D is fabulous for that. And the lower convenience of that camera has made my phone all the more complementary and desirable.
You don’t blend in with a camera in your hands. You can’t shake hands, wave, greet, … To your subject, you’re not a human being with that huge outgrowth on your chest and hip/back, you’re a photographer. That creates a barrier, a distance that the ubiquitous phone doesn’t.
But even more important than automatic backup and stealth is the shooting style the phone allows. The phone is wysiwyg and instant. It captures exactly what stirred you, making the sharing all the more instinctive and natural. If it could spit out a tiny print, it would be a worthy Polaroid successor. I love that the size of my phone screen, at a distance of about 12″ is absolutely perfect for framing instantly. I see/feel something and nothing else available transforms that into an image quite as directly. The phone removes all obstacles from the shooting process. It’s images are closer to my brain’s interpretation of a scene than anything else on offer. There’s a direct line between my neurons and its pixels. Compact cameras are every bit as small and inconspicuous, but they are slow and have tiny screens that break the vital imaging line for me.
You could argue that real photographers would have been at this scene, tripod at the ready, milking the sunset to its last drop. But that’s not true. It’s a fallacy peddled by workshop merchants. The fact is tripod man wouldn’t have been there because :
(1) this was a fast moving moment (running for a bus)
(2) it was located in a grubby marina along a busy road with no pavement or easy transport. No one would have deliberately sought out this place.
That’s not to say the tripod / golden hour photography has nothing left to offer. But I always make tons more interesting photos by being constantly on the move than by sticking to a single spot hoping for something great to happen, HCB style (he had far more time to do so than me). And the smartphone is an essential component of this personal, nimble approach.
Also, there are times when a good photographs simply isn’t possible. Because of cars, tourists, light, danger, precipitation … Does that mean we shouldn’t take notes, if only to practise composition or PP? The phone’s “innocence” lets you try things you would feel unworthy of your real camera. So you learn a lot more quickly. It is both cheaper (in time and storage measurement) than the traditional camera, so lets you experiment a lot more. It also removes social pressure and expectancy.
Finally, I just love the rendering from a tiny sensor *when the conditions are right*. In absolute, physics, sense, bigger is definitely better. In aesthetic terms, however, I find that every sensor size has its own rendering. And using a really small one, alongside the biggest my budget can afford, effectively gives me two very different looks. Sure, the envelope of good behaviour of the phone is much smaller and anything too harsh or made in low light really looks ugly. But, in the right conditions, there’s a clarity (in small photographs) that’s really difficult to recreate with larger sensors.
Now, that’s not to imply everyone should follow this path. I envy and admire those who can achieve everything with a single camera (which somehow seems the case of many users of “smaller” sensor cameras). And even if you did want two cameras, the “smaller” one might not be a phone. To each his own.
This post is merely an observation that, as my dedicated system steers further away from the spontaneous type of shooting that has always been mine, and takes me to a more meditative operational mode, my phone is becoming the indispensible notebook and immediate tool that constantly provides instant joy, instant sharing and will keep me away from the jail of intellectual wank-groups that place ideas above all else. For me, the question isn’t “will my phone survive my Hassy?”, but “will my Hassy survive my phone?”
Of course, feel free to disagree 😀 But let me know if you too have a dual level approach to photography and what you use to quench that double thirst.
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