So I said I was done with gear posts during the last post. I guess I kind of lied. The one camera I hadn’t talked about yet was probably the one I use the most.
The mobile phone has been the camera I’ve used the most over the past 5 or so years. Like people always say, it is the camera that is always with me. Unlike many others, I don’t always carry a proper camera. In fact, I usually only carry a camera when I’ve remembered to charge its battery. Considering my laziness, that isn’t all that often. So, there are many circumstances when the phone is the camera I end up using to capture my memories.
I didn’t really know how to write this post, so I’ve separated my thoughts into a cheesy “5 reasons” list.
1. The Purest Way to Capture Memories
I think this is the most important reason why I like shooting with my phone. A phone, at least in my opinion, is easily the least obtrusive way to take a photo in the modern world. I mean both to the subject and myself. Because of the very simplistic nature of a mobile camera it doesn’t allow for extreme manipulation of moments. I think when I take photos with my phone, the moments most closely match my feeling. When I look back at photos taken with my phone, they always seem to be the most honest interpretations of my memory. The above photo, for example, was taken during a trip to Jeju Island in 2011. I had taken two other cameras with me on the trip (A 5D Mark II and a Leica M9) as well as a plethora of lenses. The trip quickly became more about the cameras than the experience. It is easy to say that is my fault for letting it happen, but if we are honest with ourselves, switching lenses or trying to decide which camera to use isn’t conducive to actually “experiencing” anything. This photo still feels like the most authentic memory of the trip. I can still remember the time leading up to taking it. I was sick of carrying around the other cameras and when we decided to go to a temple on a rainy morning I left all my gear at home. It is still one of the only moments I really care to remember and I didn’t need the giant cameras to record it. In fact, I doubt I would have felt the same way about this photo had I taken it with one of the others.
While this photo maybe isn’t one of my best, it is one that will stay with me forever. It was the day after starting my summer vacation in 2010. I was staying in a hotel in Seoul after partying pretty hard the night before. I took this photo right after receiving a phone call from my brother telling me my father had drowned. I can say with all honestly I don’t remember taking this photo. I don’t remember why I took it. Somehow though, I did. I’ll never forget that moment and while it is probably the saddest of my life, I’m happy I took this photo. I don’t think I could have or would have taken this photo with a “real” camera.
This is another photo from the same trip to Jeju Island I talked about before. After ditching my cameras in the morning for the temple we spent the afternoon climbing Korea’s tallest mountain. I didn’t take many photos during the walk but I felt like I had to take this one.
2. Unobtrusive is Always Best
The second reason I love shooting with my phone is similar to the first in a way. Because mobile phones are so common nowadays they are very unobtrusive as cameras. I don’t silence my phone when I take pictures, never really felt the need to do so. When I take a photo with my phone, people generally don’t care a whole lot as they seem to never really take it seriously.
I remember taking this photo of my friend in his house. He is generally the kind of guy who hates having his picture taken. If I stuck a real camera in his face he would probably punch me in mine. However, even knowing I’m a “photographer” he wasn’t bothered at all I took this. He was leaving Korea soon after, so I’m glad I took it.
People in public react similarly as well. I remember taking this with the flash on and the girl just sort of looked puzzled. I think had I been using a proper camera she might have wanted more of an explanation than flattery.
Of course not always the case, this little dude was smiling at me until I stuck the phone in his face ha.
3. Why Ever Miss a Shot?
I feel like one phrase I’ve heard too many times is “ah, if I only had my camera now.” I always find this funny since the person saying it is usually holding a phone perfectly capable of taking a photo. Sometimes I’ll mention it to them and the answer is usually something stupid like “well what if I have to make a print of it later?” Sure, you will. Sure. And even if said hypothetical person wanted to make a print they most likely could make a very decent one.
This photo, I took with an iPhone out the front window of my car was used for an album cover and poster series by a popular band here in Seoul. Sure, it looks grainy as hell but I’m not sure it really matters. Embrace the fact that there are limitations to what the camera can do and use them.
4. Creative Constraint
For me, the constraints of the mobile phone camera sensor can be a good thing. I think shooting with mobile phones has taught me to figure out how to make a good photo in a bad situation. This is something real cameras don’t do. Real cameras figure out how to do that for you. The above photo, for example, was taken at night with an ancient iPhone 3GS. I remember one thing I always did with that camera was expose for the highlights which is what I did there. Because the depth of field is so deep I could focus on the lights in front of me and keep the boys still very much in focus.
I made a pretty big print of that photo for a mobile photography exhibition and it looked fine. 3.2 megapixels.
Another example of how the extremely deep depth of field helped me. In fact, I was carrying a Leica M9 when I took this photo but decided to take it with the 3GS I was using as an MP3 player to make sure I kept everything in focus.
Of course, the iPhone lens is pretty wide but I took this photo while playing with a cheap wide angle adapter in an accessory store. I just held it up to the lens and turned on the flash to see what kind of flare I could get. In the end, people will probably never take mobile photography very seriously. That being said, it is very fun and I think for most of us that is what photography is supposed to be about.
5. Less Choice for Better Decisions
One of the things I’ve always struggled with in photography is having too much choice. Sometimes I look at my gear on a Friday night and I can’t figure out what camera to take with me on a Saturday. Sometimes, I’ll go on a trip and end up taking three cameras because I can’t decide on one and then get stressed out trying to figure out which one to use each day. It is fucking stupid.
I remember going on this trip to Montreal in 2012. I decided on a whim to just take my phone as a camera. I can’t tell you how much relief I felt during the trip not having to think about it. Too much choice in anything is a negative. I took better photos because of having less choice.
If you don’t believe me, try it. Go on a trip and just take your phone. You’ll be surprised by how it makes you feel. And if you’re worried about not being able to get the photos you want you’re probably far too dependent on your cameras to take good photos as opposed to your skill. People will argue that certain cameras are made for certain situations. While that is perhaps true, to me, that is more of an excuse than anything else. Especially to the 99.9% of us that just do this as a hobby.
That isn’t even taking into account the convenience of not having to carry around a camera with you.
You’re going to take your phone anyway.
So, that is about it for my rant on mobile phones and gear. If you have any questions feel free to ask. If you’re curious about editing, all the photos were edited in the VSCO app with the B1 filter.