Living with cell phones: An essay.

I’ve been toying with this subject for a long time.  It’s been troubling to me because I could see the efforts of serious photographers being diluted by the millions of cell phone images made every day.  I guess I had a personal fear that my photography would be less appreciated, less valued if anyone with a mobile phone could do it.  But that has changed.  Here’s what is going on.

Mobile phone photography is BIG.  Consider these facts from The TomiAhonel Almanac (2013 Edition):

Eighty-three percent of all phones in use are camera phones.

That means that 4.4 billion little cameras are carried everyday and are connected to the communications networks.

Ahonen says that “more than 90% of all humans who have ever taken a picture, have only done so on a camera phone.” 

The camera equipped phones are eating into the world of digital photography.  There is a Lightroom app for your iPhone. There are at least seventy-nine groups on Google+ that deal with mobile photography.  Flickr says that photos uploaded from iPhone 4′s surpass (in volume) those from the Cannon Power Shot series.

Why is this so?  Well, for one thing, the cameras in phones are getting better and better.  Lenses are sharper.  There is high capacity storage on board.  And Nokia makes a 40 megapixel camera phone for goodness sakes.  Secondly, a cell phone is convenient — it’s there when you need/want to make a photo or when you want to show off pictures of the grandkids.

All that is great but I’m convinced that the One-Big-Reason is this:  A camera phone is a phone — and a phone is connected to every other phone in the world.  An image you make on your iPhone can be presented to everyone you know in seconds — anywhere in the world — and on almost any social media.  In my opinion, that is the primary mover behind the explosive growth in the use of mobile phone cameras.

So…where am I going with this?  I have talked myself out of the feeling that mobile phone cameras are a threat to serious photography.

This is not to say that some serious photography is not made with mobile phones.  Indeed, a massive amount of good photography is made using mobile phone cameras.  In fact, mobile phone photography is getting some pretty high level recognition.  For example, Carole Kropscot, who writes the Just for Beginners column in the Photographic Society of America’s Journal (Hint:  Join PSA to get access to this excellent photography publication.) wrote recently that her column will increasingly address photographic practices with these small cameras.  It is a recognition that people will start making images with their cell phones and then progress to devices with more controls and possibilities as they strive for higher quality.

But I digress.  My personal coming-to-grips with this issue and the acceptance of mobile phone photography as a good and legitimate genre of photography was done with these things in mind:

We are probably looking at this with the same blinders we had on when digital imaging hit the scene and when point-and-shoot cameras became the rage.

Artistic expression is valuable however it is done.  This is true even though a great portion of this type of photography is more for documentary purposes than for artistic endeavors. 

It really IS an easy way to communicate an image.

I, however, will continue to make the best images I can with the best equipment I can afford.

And last, I think it is a bit of intellectual snobbery to look down my nose at those who don’t really care to make high quality photographs.  My granddaughter is having FUN making goofy photos and sharing them with her friends.  Doesn’t that count?

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David Michael Horine - First, it’s all about the photo, not the camera. Second, this year I have taken a sabatical from my conventional gear for the purpose of improving my photography AND to demonstrate to myself and others that it’s the photographer and not the gear that’s most critical. If my attitude does not support the “value” of conventional photography, that’s too damn bad.

skeeter - Thanks for the comment, David. I agree with you — it’s all about the photograph. By-the-way, I checked out your web site, particularly the “camera phone gallery”. Nice stuff!


John Simmons - I think the point of photography as an art is to make a print one can hang on a wall to be viewed time and again and never be bored with it. Such photographs are made by an artist usually with the best equipment to insure his desired result. Sure if a phone is all he has at the moment, with a bit of luck he still may make an outstanding photograph. I’m a firm believer that the print is the thing.

Bernard Novell - I think camera phones have a place in any photographers armoury. I personally have a DSLR, Compact, iPhone and iPad and use them all at different times for different purposes photography wise. You are probably also aware that there are now International Salons specifically for images taken on a phone and the results are stunning. It’s not about the device, it’s about the art that the device produces.

skeeter - Of course you are correct, Bernard. I was checking out an art photography site a few days ago — a large number of the images (great stuff, in my opinion) shown there were produced with the cell phone.

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