I don't write that much about using my smartphones to take pictures, basically because not many people seem to want to read about that. My enthusiast demographic seems far more interested in mirrorless interchangeable. However, if you follow me on Twitter and / or Instagram, you will see I'm still very much into the 'Smartphone Aesthetic.' I'm also uploading images shot in this style to picture libraries such as Clashot, Stockimo (2nd. Account) and 123RF.
There is also the fact that I enjoy this way of working more than any other (though not the sales returns, which are disappointing) and for me it's producing some interesting pictures as I move outside my comfort zone. Comfort zone being the operative word. Some of the above was shot in pouring rain under an umbrella. It's a long story, but there I was and had my Nokia 1020 with me, so why not?
The great thing is the freedom this allows me and the complete absence of suspicion. After a wet walk, Ann and I, together with an old friend from University days, ended up in a (very good) Chinese restaurant. I wanted to take a shot of the food preparation which was taking place behind us. I popped up from the table, looked at the chef and pointed at my phone. He nodded, I took the picture. All very civilised and seemingly run of the mill. Try doing that with a DSLR.
The great thing about phone cameras is that they have made it OK to take photographs again. A few years ago it seemed to be the case that if you dared to use your camera in a public place, you were a paedophile or a terrorist. Thankfully, because of the use of phones as cameras, it has now become acceptable again. Though that reminds me of an experience I had recently.
I was visiting a local castle in the summer holidays. There were some activities with kids and parents going on. All the parents (at least I presumed they were the parents) were snapping away in all directions. I took a few shots myself with my Blackberry. Ann and I were sitting near the entrance enjoying an ice cream, when an almighty kerfuffle approached us from the castle grounds. A man was being chased out by a woman who shouted at one of the volunteers who run the place 'Arrest him, he's TAKING PICTURES OF CHILDREN' He did manage to escape, with the woman screaming after him. 'Pervert' The difference? He had a DSLR and a bag of lenses.
Now I had watched what was going on. I had seen the man photographing and I have to say, I saw nothing suspicious or intrusive in what he was doing. The woman who chased him (and the man she was with) was however photographing what were presumably her children and everybody elses. Again I saw nothing suspicious or intrusive in that and it was in fact a surprise that such an unsavoury situation occurred. Now as photographers, we probably won't be surprised by this. And certainly I think things are better than they were a few years ago, at least in the UK, but this double standard, phones are OK, 'proper' cameras aren't is an interesting phenomenon.
Despite the above, I do think that it is the case that smartphones and / or some of the smaller mirrorless interchangeable cameras and even the good old point and shoot compact can be a useful tool for documentary photography. I've seen some great war zone footage shot with compacts and even iPhones and the advantages of using something like that are obvious. I'm also starting to see some top class 'street' photography (I hate that term but can't think of anything better) that these phone or phone type cameras can produce in the right hands.
Since the summer, when I started using phone cameras seriously, I've been wanting to explore what they can offer me. And though it might not seem that relevant, it's one of the reasons I bought the Leica T. Because with the 23mm f/2 lens attached, no viewfinder, the touch screen operation and the brilliant quality of the screen itself, using the T looks pretty much like using a phone. It's not of course and with that lens attached and the excellent Sony sensor I would have a very high quality yet unobtrusive camera that gives me most of the benefits of my phones but with that added quality and low(er) light capability. In fact, the radical solution I was hoping to implement before financial sense took over, was to sell everything apart from my Leica and use that and my phones.
The reason for this is that I feel able to go out and shoot instinctively again, after wondering for the last few years whether that would ever become anything other than a nostalgic hankering. I enjoy it, I find it engages my brain and my eyes and I'm getting some results that please me. And it has to be said that I see this as purely the result of the impact of phones with cameras. Which those with long memories will remember I took every opportunity to rubbish as thoroughly as I could.
Well I was wrong. Far from being the destroyer of photography, the smartphone is in fact in the process of rescuing it from oblivion and putting it at the centre of peoples lives. And in fact I can't think of a previous time when taking photographs was so universal. So, I will continue to embrace the 'Smartphone Aesthetic' even though I don't necessarily use a smartphone to make pictures with. I'm far from finalising what I want to do and how I want to work with this technology, but the journey so far is fascinating and I can see even more fun ahead. And who would have thought that these micro sensors and tiny lenses could have such an impact? I certainly didn't, but when I opened up to the possibilities these things can offer, I've had no hesitation in following my instincts again. After all, they haven't done a bad job so far.