When it comes to smartphone photography, we try to cover a bit of everything here at MakeUseOf. From seriously high-end accessories, zoom and lens tips to techniques for reducing those blurry photos; we’ve even covered the basics of shooting in 3D.
Sometimes though, among the sea of apps and accessories, social networks and hashtags, the essence photography can get lost. Sometimes even photographers lose their way, and it might not have anything to do with technique or equipment. Here are some nuggets of wisdom I’ve practiced long enough that I feel it’s time to start the preaching.
You’d better read this before you next launch Instagram.
Shake The Stigma
There are no mobile cameras, only cameras, of varying abilities and price ranges. To shun the technology in your pocket because it can’t outperform the thousands of dollars worth of glass and sensors in your bag is to rob yourself of opportunity. To shun the attempts of others for simply having a go is much worse. Why then, does there seem to be a stigma involved with smartphone photography?
Could it be the reaction that many “real” photographers have to articles like this (or this over at CNET) – as if the very notion of someone taking a picture they are proud of with a phone is itself a very shameful act? Wake up – a good photograph is a good photograph, whether you took it on an iPhone 5 or a Dycam Model One. Let me rephrase that: throwing money at a hobby will not improve your abilities.
Don’t be afraid to share your best smartphone shots alongside DSLR exposures or 35mm scans, rather than relegating your smartphone shots to the likes of Instagram and Facebook. Then again…
Having an always-connected mobile device that stores all your most personal information and provides a constant window on the world is a sure-fire way to develop an oversharing complex. Before long you’ll be Tweeting trips to the fridge and Instagramming every snack. Resist.
This might be where the smartphoneography stigma initially developed – smartphone photography has the potential to be very “disposable”. You can literally take a picture of anything you want, whenever you want, without worry of using an exposure on your film roll safe in the knowledge you can “delete it or Tweet it!” straight away. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Even if you’re a hobbyist photographer, who never dreams of making a cent out of your work, it’s best to limit your output for maximum effect. This might mean only posting a few Instagram photos a day. It might mean adding one, carefully chosen image to your photoblog each day. It is the antithesis of posting every semi-pleasing shot that graces your Camera Roll.
Apps & Filters Won’t Replace Talent
Apps are great – we love apps at MakeUseOf. Apps enable us to take photos on our phones, edit them, apply a myriad of different styles and effects and then post them online . Unfortunately, there is a lot of over-processed, app-hindered photography out there; a result of many people embracing the “filter = instant art” philosophy. Whoa there, Nelly.
Filters catapulted Instagram to fame with their initial iPhone app. People were buying iPhones for Instagram, and the culture of iPhoneography that developed alongside Apple’s painfully-hip walking advertisements. Filters, it would seem, are the key to monetizing photography, at least in a mobile-centric consumer market. Unfortunately, filters do not fix bad photographs.
Composition says more about your photograph in the way you approach your subject – even if you take two steps to the left to get a better look at your scene, you’ve still technically composed and improved your shot. Lighting sets the mood, and can completely make or break an exposure; but risks can and do pay off.
Your very choice to press the shutter while your camera is pointed in that direction, at that exact time says more about you as a photographer than the “one of twenty” filters you chose to dress up the image afterwards. It’s not that filters are the scourge of photography – it’s that too many people think of the filter they want to apply before even pressing the shutter.
Similarly, the practice of applying 15 different filters via a daisy-chain of apps should be approached with extreme caution.
Beware Gear Acquisition Syndrome
As anyone who has ever dabbled in a photography habit (or addiction, your call) may tell you; many photographers come dangerously close to living in a box eating cold beans for dinner. This is due to something known as “gear acquisition syndrome” which causes many to spend all of their money on tripods, lenses, speedlights, spare batteries and memory cards (to name but a few). The smartphoneographer can also fall ill to this syndrome, though it’s admittedly a less expensive way to go.
While dedicated smartphone lenses, tripod adapters, steadying mechanisms, light filters and accessories in general are a lot of fun – they will not make you a better photographer. There is no substitute for learning how to use your favourite app to the fullest extent. Wide-angle lenses look cool, but point it at your dinner and it’s still a boring shot of your dinner, except with a reduced perceived focal length. Food for thought.
Quality & Popularity Are Two Different Things
Looking around at Instagram, Hipstamatic and even platforms like Flickr, quality is judged purely based on popularity. Anyone who has taken a look at the state of popular music or Saturday night TV should know that popularity is not indicative of quality. Instead, popularity has become somewhat of a lowest common denominator. You can’t gauge subjective merits with a number, so we have thumbs-up buttons instead.
Unfortunately, likes are not indicative of quality. A good honest comment is worth its character count in Likes, particularly if it’s more than “amzin pic wot filters u use?” or one of those group “awards” on Flickr. While tagging your photo with every conceivable related tag might make you an effective marketer, there’s a fine line between tagging for categorisation and tagging for likes.
Likes are a great way of massaging your ego, and they’re certainly not a bad thing. At the same time, good photographs don’t need Likes to be quantifiably awesome; they can just be awesome too.
You might not agree with some of this advice – after all, what’s talent without application? Why take great photos if you don’t market them? And just how long is a piece of string? The answers to these questions can be found in your photography, and what it is you want to say or achieve. Just don’t be held back by the perceptions of what the camera in your pocket should be used for, regardless of what any self-proclaimed photographer tells you.