by Catriona Mills

In Defence of Phone Photography

Posted 4 October 2010 in by Catriona

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about photography and my phone. Most of the truly extraordinary phone photography is—like non-phone photography—done by people who know what they’re doing.

Does that mean the rest of us are simply pretenders, jumping on apps that do the work for us, to achieve results that used to be far more arduous?

I think not, myself. I think that’s a little like saying you can’t be a mathematician if you don’t know how to use an abacus—especially if you never wanted to be a mathematician in the first place.

The increasingly sophisticated cameras on smart phones and the increasingly funky camera apps just mean that we can have a little fun and maybe record events and meetings that we would otherwise have let slip by. You still need an eye for the composition and a sense of how the technology is working for you to take something that isn’t, well, just a camera-phone snap.

I myself am not much of a photographer. I enjoy it, I learnt the basics in high school (including dark-room development), and I very much enjoy it. But I’m just an enthusiastic amateur and not even the best of those. I don’t pretend to anything else.

But I do think that what phones are allowing us to do with photographs these days is rather amazing.

I’ll give you an example, in this picture of a bauhinia I took while walking home from work one day:

(I stopped so long waiting for Hipstamatic to load for this one that a student stopped behind me to ask if I was okay, which I thought nice of her. Mind, she gave me a very odd look when I said I was just waiting for my camera to warm up so I could photograph a bauhinia.)

Now, I happen to think this isn’t a bad picture: it was bright, midday sunshine when I took it, and I’m enough of an amateur to think “crisp” = “good.” But that’s not the point right now. The point is what I can do with this photo before it even leaves my phone.

Example One:

Through the app Retro Camera: a retro coloured film (unfortunately, the app doesn’t name or describe its films, but this one had kind of a ’70s vibe, lots of bright blues and reds) and then a maroon-coloured filter over the top. This is hands down the least successful, because overlaying the maroon filter destroyed the crispness of the original photo. But I still like the colour effects.

Example Two:

Through the app Tilt Shift Gen, which you’d normally use (as with other tilt shift processes) to make photographs of real places look like little models of themselves. But what I love about Tilt Shift Gen is the blur function, which I’ve used here on its narrowest setting.

Example Three:

Through a free and extremely cut-down Photoshop app: Sharpen and then a “Warm Retro” filter.

Example Four:

Through Swankolab: I wish I could remember which of the pre-mixed developing formulas I used to get this effect, but I can’t. I believe it might have been the one with “Beige” in the title, which would explain this lovely washed-out effect.

Is any of this great art? Oh, certainly not. But I do think it’s extraordinary that we can do this to a photograph (which wasn’t a bad photograph itself, to begin with) without it ever leaving the phone.

Experts and highly skilled artists will keep pushing the boundaries of new technologies. Amateurs? We’re just having fun, and that neither harms nor helps.

Share your thoughts [3]

1

Melissa wrote at Oct 10, 04:18 AM

Sometimes I think that it is artists who push tools to communicate their chosen concept, but amateurs who push the tool itself. I personally think ‘amateur’ is a pretty noble title to give; the lover of photography is the one who pushes it to go places others wouldn’t even dream of.

Also, I would like to know the name of that cut-down Photoshop app! :D

2

Catriona wrote at Oct 10, 06:50 AM

The app’s called PS Express, and it’s actually pretty good: does a wide range of things, though not nearly as much as a full version of Photoshop would do. I grabbed it so I could crop photos, which Hipstamatic doesn’t allow, but it’s proven more useful than I had hoped.

I like your definition of artist vs. amateur. After all, the post-Internet world (or the world in which we have an Internet, which might be a better way of phrasing it) allows amateurs to really shine forth, I think: it’s so much easier now to share your interests, skills, and knowledge with a wide range of people, if even that same knowledge is more a hobby than a profession.

3

Melissa wrote at Oct 11, 09:41 AM

Ah, handy! I downloaded Photogene (paid app) for the same reason…to crop photos. The other thing I use it for is white balance; my 3G is a bit rubbish at auto-white balance. PS Express is definitely more user-friendly.

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