It was Chase Jarvis who said “The best camera is the one you have with you”, well…he’s at least the one who had the initiative to make a name for himself on the back of that phrase. When I shot “The Kids Aren’t Alright” I was surrounded by good cameras, but for the entire duration of the production I shot all of the behind the scenes photos on my phone.
The phone at the time was the HTC One Mini. I’ve always loved taking pictures on my phone, the simplicity and convenience of having it all in one – photo, process, post… it really engenders a carefree type of shooting. At least for me, I’m not exactly an influencer where my livelihood relies on my social media content, so I tend to be a bit light hearted with it.
Phone cameras aren’t the best quality, no matter how many viral articles go around about a photographer shooting a whole wedding on an iPhone. But they’re so unobtrusive that people are naturally a lot more comfortable around them.
The thing I love most about taking pictures on my phone, is how amateur they feel – and the sense of intimacy that stems from this. The lack of depth of field, the distortion, the poor image quality…I think it all adds up to create a very unique feeling that can sometimes be hard to achieve. The experience has a lot of character about it.
Perhaps it’s a deviation of the social media effect, but there’s a real sense of presence in the photos it produces. While a 50mm is commonly seen as the most accurate representation of what a person sees, the form factor of a phone camera really places the viewer inside the scene. And given how widespread phone photography has become, I think the general public’s perception of a phone camera’s field of view is becoming quite the representation of their sight.
Everyone knows what it looks like to see through the camera on their phone, everyone is familiar with consuming media through that perspective. People take pictures on their phones every day, so to present them with pictures taken through the same source instils a natural sense of familiarity.
While depth of field can add to photos being more beautiful, people address the beauty of the image without engaging with the content of the image. A concept I learned through working in film – when a cinematographer is doing their job right, how the film was shot will go completely unnoticed.
I think a lot of the beauty in phone photography is how entirely unnoticed the camera and photographic techniques are.
Maybe we’re regressing on a general level of what passes for a medium of documenting life, and people are more divided between the extreme ends of the spectrum. But I think with the paradigm shift in how we consume, create, and share, this is simply just the next phase in how we most popularly record our history.
There’s no specific magic to it, if anything it’s just simpler and more derivative of everything preceding it. But it still demands you to be present, engaged, and attentive of your subject.
And your light – don’t forget your light. I did mention these cameras don’t tend to be particularly great, so you really do need to be attentive of your light.
In the end, it’s just another means of creation. One I find myself reaching for quite often. One that’s so easy and simple to use. One that lets me just snap a picture of what I see when I don’t want to run the risk of being mugged carrying all my photography equipment around.
But after all that, maybe it’s just something I use to kill the boredom when others are talking, and when I want to play around with some photo editing while sitting on the bus.