I find myself conflicted. On one hand, the journalism industry is suffering unspeakable losses as publishers scramble to turn a profit. The Chicago Sun-Times, for instance, recently laid off its entire photojournalism staff, apparently expecting reporters to cover the chasm with their smartphones. This is a novel concept, but while it might seem a decent idea for Facebook or Instagram, I can’t see it producing Pulitzer- or NPPA- caliber photojournalism. As a lifelong news junkie, an ardent (if fairly new) devotee of photography, and the husband-elect of a journalist, this development strikes me as a harbinger of bad things to come.
On the other hand, while I greatly appreciate photography as an art form, I also love to take my own photos. I’m the guy who whips out a camera and makes some memories, sometimes when it’s appropriate, and sometimes when it’s not. Lately I seem to be studying the work of respected photographers (e.g. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gliden.. the list goes on and on, but I’m decidedly a fan of Magnum Photography.) I also try to do a decent job of self-editing, so as not to flood my friends’ feeds with stuff that belongs on the cutting room floor. Sometimes I even get paid to shoot, but believe me – I’m keeping my day job.
Talking with a good friend recently about his search for a new camera, I remembered a nugget of wisdom I came across soon after I got into photography: F/8 and Be There. At first I mistook it as an esoteric formula for calculating aperture, but over time I found it to be both a classic rule of photography, as well as something a philosophy. Over the past few years I’ve owned (and sold) a handful of decent cameras and lenses, but lately some of my most fun and interesting photos came not from my Fujifilm X100, of which I’m a HUGE fan, but from my iPhone.
Don’t get me wrong. In terms of image quality, iPhones can’t muster anything approaching the output of cameras with bigger sensors and better optics. But whatever kind of camera we own, the one most of us have with us at any given time is a smartphone – with its tiny sensor, non-zooming lens (a good thing!), Facebook app, Angry Birds, and all the rest. Which brings to mind another aphorism – The Best Camera Is The One You Have With You.
I loved having my “good” camera handy to shoot Will and Christine’s flash wedding, but my iPhone shots seem to be plenty popular. They show up in the darnedest places, including DC/neighborhood spots like FamousDC, Borderstan, Greater Greater Washington and DCist. </self-promotion>
It’s not the same, but why let that stop you? Say you’re driving up California’s Route 1 / Pacific Coast Highway. (Shira and I did in 2012, and got engaged along the way.) Obviously, we’re glad we rented a Mustang convertible – but I’m sure we’d have done fine in another car. I would have asked, she would have said yes, we would have driven up the coast to Sonoma… hell, in a smaller car, maybe I wouldn’t have scraped the quarter panel off in the parking garage.
Same goes for photography: whatever you have, use it! Go nuts! I say the world is an utterly fascinating place, if you slow down long enough to pay attention. All it takes is a fraction of a second.