Smartphone or Camera? Your Call


Hi there folks, I'm just entering my place now, and I felt the urge to share something with all of you. Before you continue reading, I want you to know that this isn't the traditional post I usually write; it is a very personal one. As some of you might already know, I teach photography at a design university in my country. The careers are pretty broad and are not focused only on photography but graphic design and product design in comprehensive terms.

Photo by Otoniel López

We just finished the first academic term of this year, and I want to share an experience I got from this past course. I lectured in Photography 102, and each student built a concept, planned it and eventually developed it. They were performed at a very slow pace, just as good photographic projects should be. To my surprise, there were plenty of documentary photography projects on the table, but one of them got me thinking for real.

You can take a look at it right here, and the photos will speak to you way better than reading me talking about it. Therefore, I won't spoil it for you. The project is focused on documenting Teresa Martínez's way of living. She is one of many (MANY) Salvadorans making their living by harvesting specific types of vegetables and fruits and eventually selling them at a local market.

The project was developed by Otoniel López, one of my students, but it was performed with a pretty unusual tool, his phone. His camera broke right at the end of Photography 101, and until this day he hasn't been able to replace it properly. He was pretty upset because he thought that it should be done with a camera. I encouraged him to continue pursuing the story with his phone, and he resolved the technicalities via some application that allowed him to shoot manual exposures. I don't know what app was the one he used, but it also allowed him to shoot raw, which frankly was pretty awesome for me.

He presented his project in a public exhibition we organised at the university this week, and it had a huge welcome by all of the attendees. After the event, we started talking, and I felt the need of encouraging him to pursue the life of this woman beyond her working lifestyle. To his surprise, I told him to keep shooting with his phone until he manages to get another camera.

The thought or the idea that I want to share with all of you is that smartphone photography is just another format, like film and digital. The trick is to hack our minds to make the most of it. Let me explain it for you. When we go out there with a camera, we tend to feel a little bit guilty for not shooting the thing; or at least that happens to me a lot. By relying on our phones (which we tend to carry with us almost like a piece of clothing), we tend to skip that guilty factor that makes us more aware of our surroundings and therefore enables us to shoot more photographs. In other words, by trusting the device in our pockets, we get a little bit lazier.

If you are trying to take meaningful photographs with your phones, do it, but always remember that everything around you has the potential of being a great photograph. As long as we can trick our minds into thinking that we are out there in the world, expecting to capture great photographs, we will surpass that comfortable factor a phone give to us, and we'll be able to capture moments just like if we were out there with a camera.

Based on this idea, I told him to get another phone, a pretty basic one, like a Nokia 1100 or something like that, so he felt that his smart-phone was his camera. By doing this, I think a psychological effect will enable him to develop that urge to keep on shooting photographs, even if they are done with his phone.

I wanted to share this with you because many people are more worried about which camera they should buy for making good photographs. I've even seen some cases that people have shot amazing photographs with their phones, but they think that they are not worthy of showcasing them because they were made with a phone. You don't need the latest and greatest to capture meaningful photographs. The choice is yours, so don't you ever let gear rule you. Please, share your thoughts on this example.

PS: We have some challenges at the forums in which photographs made with phones are encouraged and very well received, take a look at one of them!

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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