You can’t turn a webpage without coming across an article about Lytro, a new company making a bleeding-edge light field camera that is supposedly redefining photography. Maybe it will, but I am not holding my breath. Instapaper creator Marco Arment said it best when he wrote last week, “It’s a novelty for shooting one type of photo, and not particularly usable for anything else.” I agree — because increasingly cutting-edge technology means nothing to John and Jane Doe. And it is not just Lytro, but other standalone digital cameras who are under the gun as they compete with a simple little thing: convenience.
For me, that convenience comes wrapped inside the iPhone 4S. For others, it might be a Samsung Galaxy. But in the end it is the convenience that makes all the difference.
Let me explain!
I have a Lumix GF-1 on loan from a friend, but frankly, my rowing machine gets more use than that camera.
Why? I am just one of those weird people who likes taking photos with my iPhone 4S, which is with me all the time (except when I am sleeping). I don’t need to carry any extra chargers or different cables. These days with iCloud and PhotoStream, I don’t even need to back up photos constantly. In other words, it is damn convenient. But mostly I like the iPhone as a camera because it is just there, ready to go into action, when the right moment strikes.
Sure it doesn’t have the greatest lens and has shortcomings. I like its constraints, and I like its simplicity. And I like the fact that the photo is not a snapshot, but instead it is a networked moment, meant to be shared.
What photos mean today is changing
The iPhone 4S actually fits how I like to take photos and why I take photos. For me, photos are not creating art. Instead, for me photos are social experiences, moments (a phrase often used by both Path co-founder Dave Morin and Kodak) to be shared with others who matter to me. Most people take hundreds of photos and then find the perfect one.
I do the exact opposite. I find the perfect moment and take a picture of that. Think of it this way — the frame (or the moment) unfolds in front of my eyes, my brain captures it and then I whip out the iPhone to digitally record that moment in my brain. That moment has context and emotion attached to it, and that is something I like to share with others.
Sharing is the important part. Recently, when I went to India, I found some old photos from my college. I uploaded the scan of those photos to Facebook and tagged a bunch of my classmates. And a wonderful discussion — a trip down memory lane — followed. It was less about the photo and more about the shared context.
Camera+ apps + network = New photography
In many ways I think of taking photos much like how I write and take notes. In the past, I would typically take notes and capture the mood, decor and location and feelings attached to something I was doing. If I was traveling overseas, I would create a travel journal. Airline tickets, restaurant receipts, stubs of museum visits and random drawings would find their way into my notebook.
Now, my photos are those notes or “moments.” Apps such as Camera+, Photogene and Snapseed that come with different filters help evoke context and emotion. (For instance, my photo of Connaught Place, a British-era shopping area was filtered to evoke that vintage feeling of the past and yet it was contemporary.) The GPS sensor helps provide the location context, which is also important.
What iPhone (and other camera phones) and photo apps (filters and editing) and networks (Path, Instagram, Facebook) are creating is a new kind of photography. Some call it iPhoneography and that’s fine by me. I am just happy snapping photos. Gotta go take some photos of Seattle!