I dread to think how many words have been written on camera and associated equipment reviews. The photography industry is constantly reworking camera and lens models. It feels as if the pressure is always on to upgrade and add more and more pixels. The magazine and online journals seem to profligate this message (of course fueled by the advertising revenue from said equipment companies). It is easy to get caught in a spiral of ‘if only I had this lens my images would be better’.
Many photographers will tell you that they are asked more about the kit they use than the creative process. However haven’t we got this the wrong way round? It is not the photographers’ ability to utilize the equipment as part of the creative process that makes the image, not the equipment per se.
If you are always carrying a full kit bag you may find that your creative decisions are overtaken by equipment decisions, what lens to use, tripod, filters, flash before you even get onto thinking about camera settings and eventually post-processing decisions.
What happens when you don’t have your fully kitted out camera bag with you … for whatever reason you have to improvise. Here enters the camera phone.
“The best camera is the one you have with you”
I was first aware of this quote by Chase Jarvis an American lifestyle photographer. He was an earlier adopter of plugging phones to take images and published a book of his iPhone images in 2009.
We are seeing an ever-greater proliferation of images taken on phones. For many people this is the only way that they take and consume images.
However some photographers will dismiss the camera phone as not being a proper camera, and denigrate the camera phone for only being able to produce selfies for social media feeds.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss the camera phone, as there are some very strong projects that have been created with just these devices. At The Photography Show in March I saw talks by several photographers talking about their camera phone work.
Jo Bradford is an art photographer based on Dartmoor, her work is based around cameraless photography. In January 2015 she was on maternity leave and wanted to keep taking photographs. She started a 365 project based around Dartmoor where she lives. Taking her two small children with her meant that she could not carry her full kit as well as a supply of baby food, nappies etc. So she used her camera phone, posting one image a day to Instagram. The project gained momentum and ended with a following of 56,000 followers. The project ‘A Love Letter to Dartmoor’ features the landscape of Dartmoor and every image is taken on an iPhone. By being freed from equipment worries, the use of the iPhone allowed Bradford to concentrate on the creative process of taking the images.
Julian Calverley is an advertising photographer. He started using his iPhone for recce shots when scouting locations. The ease of using the phone plus its ability to log GPS coordinates meant that a whole area could be scouted quicker. He found that the focal length of the iPhone camera was similar to the lens for his large format. Over time the iPhone images become their own project and now have been published and exhibited. Calverley says that there is something about the spontaniety of the little device that freed up his picture taking. More than once he had revisited a scene with his large format kit but could never match the image taken on the phone.
All three of these photographers have been able to use their photographic skills when switching to the camera phone. Their images, regardless of the camera taken on, show considered understanding of the basics of photography.
The camera phone has alleviated some of the technical decisions over kit and allowed the photographers to concentrate on taking photographs and being creative. The camera phone images have become projects in their own right, developed their own direction and impetus, separate to their regular photographic output.
So is it not about what camera you have; it is all about using the camera you have to hand? Or is that just an excuse to be lazy…
[Image credit: Grafex Speed Graphic by Thunderchild7 on flickr used under a Creative Commons licence]
Also published on Medium.