Why your best camera also sends texts
Two accomplished photographers extoll the virtues of mobile phone photography.
There's an old adage among photographers, whether they're Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists, portrait photographers whose work has graced glossy magazine covers, or weekend hobbyists: "The best camera is the one you have with you."
It's true; that expensive DSLR you bought really does you no good if it's in the car or at home when you see something picture-worthy. Luckily, most nowadays have sutured to their person that handy little camera-wielding object that also makes calls and sends texts: a mobile phone.
A woman walks near the central Jerusalem bus station. (Photo: Michael Temchine)
"Frankly I think it’s the perfect street photography tool," photojournalist Michael Temchine told From The Grapevine. He's specifically talking about the iPhone, which he's used in his personal photography projects for the last half-decade. "Everybody is staring at their phones all the time nowadays, so nobody finds it odd that you’re just holding up a phone. And whether it’s directly in their face or that the lens is actually pointed at somebody, even though we’re all taking pictures constantly and videos with our phones, we still think of it as, oh, this person’s probably just reading something."
In this image from his new book, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly captures gymnast Kara Sadlik in mid-swing. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly)
In 2011, Temchine went to Israel to shoot life in Jerusalem and in other locations. He took two cameras with him: a 110-year old large-format view camera that took one-at-a-time sheets of film...and his iPhone 4. While he used the view camera to take portraits, when he hit the streets, all he had was his iPhone and the Hipstamatic app, which he used to give his photos the look photographers achieve when using plastic film cameras like Holgas and Lomos.
What Temchine really appreciated about the iPhone was how unobtrusive it was, allowing him to get close to his subjects in a more natural manner. "The way I travel is, I just like to wander, and I just walk streets, and I sit, and I wait, and I watch," he said. "I love to just wander through cities. I might not even go into museums or anything at all, but I just love to wander and absorb one place with a lot of time. Like most good street photographers, it requires just attention and patience. I would just find a place that seemed interesting to me."
A young couple shops for sunglasses at Magen David Square in Tel Aviv. Michael Temchine took street shots in Israel using an iPhone and Hipstamatic. (Photo: Michael Temchine)
Other photographers are more enthralled with the fact that they have a capable photographic tool in their pocket and they don't have to bring a separate point-and-shoot. That's the main appeal to David Hume Kennerly, a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist with five decades of experience. "I don’t always carry my cameras around," he told From The Grapevine, "and I’m asked all the time by other photographers, ‘Wouldn’t the picture [you took with the iPhone] have been better with the Canon?’ It would have been, I’m sure, certainly quality-wise. But the bigger question is, 'Would I have taken it?' and the answer is probably no because I most likely wouldn’t have had the bigger cameras with me. So this kind of filled that gap and I really appreciate it for that reason. It’s made photography more fun for me, to be honest.
When he started using his iPhone to take pictures around his neighborhood, he realized that "you really have to look around. I came up with this idea of doing the Kennerly Photo Fitness Workout, which really boils down to going out in your neighborhood and photographing five things that you’ve looked at every day but you’ve never really seen, and what that does is that sharpens your photo instincts and will help make you a better photographer."
A child looks in wonder at an aquarium in Singapore. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly)
His new book, "David Hume Kennerly on the iPhone," is full of his photographs, as well as tips to get the most out of that camera on your mobile phone. Sure, the tips about getting close, taking photos from unusual angles, and other standard photography tips are all there, but one thing that Kennerly sees in a world of selfies and Instagram feeds is a decided lack of editing.
"There’s no excuse to put everything you shoot online. Period," he said. "There’s no excuse for it because really it’s not fair to your viewing audience, which will diminish by the minute when you do that but I just think, you know, just tell the story." Being trained on film, he tries to be more judicious about what he shoots, even though his phone holds the equivalent of a couple of hundred rolls of Kodachrome. "You don’t shoot a lot of pictures but what you do counts. Certainly, my shooting ratio I’m sure is better than most people, but you know you don’t get a good picture every time."
Travelers cast shadows at LAX. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly)
Temchine agrees that, despite the fact that you can snap away on your phone with abandon, a more selective approach will yield better results, including getting closer to your subjects and positioning the camera correctly. "My message in the end is, you need to think about the picture that you want. What do you want to see in the end? In the old days before everybody used cellphones to take pictures every picture that somebody took was a horizontal. You’d be standing in front of the Eiffel Tower with somebody, and you’d make it horizontal. Now everybody only takes vertical pictures, and now we have to look at all these vertical videos, which make no sense to me."
Pedestrians near the central bus station in Jerusalem. (Photo: Michael Temchine)
As do others who consider their mobile phones to be part of their suite of equipment – and there's a big enough population of professionals and advanced amateurs using their mobile phones that there is a Mobile Photography Awards competition – both Temchine and Kennerly have used Hipstamatic for their projects, but they also cited apps such as 6x6, which mimics the square form of medium format cameras, and 645 Pro, which allows photographers to manually control their phone cameras like they could with those massive DSLRs that they love.
David Hume Kennerly snapped this funny juxtaposition of a Jim Morrison mural with a "One Way" sign and a security camera with his iPhone. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly)
Like any other piece of photographic equipment, though, it's all a matter of getting to know how it works, and having a good eye for composition. "People have seen me take pictures with [my iPhone] and they say, 'How are you doing that? You’re not pushing the button on the screen,' because I use the volume button," said Temchine. "They don’t even know that that’s possible."
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