Phone cameras are a great way to cultivate talent in hobbyists and irritate the daylights out of professionals.
We all know that smartphone photography has come a long way. In 2019, anyone with a phone has the tools, if not the training, to take a decent picture.
What hasn’t come a long way: the etiquette of wedding guests with smartphones. The fancier the phone, the more likely that a guest will feel entitled to use it in a way that undermines the official photographer.
I witness this sense of entitlement at almost every wedding. For instance, when I’m getting a family arranged to take a posed photo under a tight time crunch, frantically trying to command the attention of 10-12 people, including a sleepy 2-year-old niece and a sulky 15-year-old cousin, the last thing I need is for people to be standing on either side of me with their phones, yelling “Taylor! Taylor! Look over here!”
It’s not that I dislike phone cameras. I own one myself, and I can’t live without it. I shoot with my phone whenever I don’t feel like carrying my SLR around, which is most of the time.
While we’re praising these glorified point-and-shoots, I’ll admit that I’m thrilled with how they have democratized photography. When I spoke to some middle school students at a recent career day, the number of aspiring young photographers impressed me. All of them use phone cameras–no surprise there. The eye-opening part is that they’re taking terrific shots.
Their phones accelerate the learning process: they can shoot as often as they like, and they can analyze and learn from their experiments right away. (I started out shooting film. I think of how few pictures I actually took because of the time and expense involved. I nursed each roll of film for 36 pictures and waited a week to print one.)
Phone cameras let photographers get their reps, and as a result, some of these 12-year-olds are doing professional quality work.
Sure, the phones do the heavy lifting when it comes to focus and exposure. And yes, these young shooters haven’t exercised their editing muscles at all. Still, their compositions reveal a clear intention and point of view. Their phones aren’t choosing the subject matter. Their phones aren’t finding these eye-popping angles. It’s not the phones that are inspired; it’s the kids.
With a smartphone, anyone has the chance to develop their eye. This technology is a gift to the young artists of 2019: it enables them to act immediately on creative impulses.
When a guest at a wedding reception thrusts a phone into my hand and says “Can you take a picture of me with my phone?”
When guests’ phones clutter the margins of my pictures while the wedding couple is walking up the aisle…
When a bridesmaid or groomsman–or even a bride or groom–won’t quit taking selfies when they know I’m standing right there with my camera…
It’s beyond annoying, but I’m always polite. Sometimes I have to resist the urge to politely chuck the phone into the chocolate fountain. I try to respect that they’re having fun, and I try not to think about the extra time I’m going to spend editing the phones out of my pictures.
Yes, I understand the instant gratification that comes with a phone camera. When you get married, it’s not easy to wait a month or more to see pictures. (Ask anyone who got hitched before 2002 how long it took them to see their wedding photos.) And instant gratification isn’t very gratifying when the guests’ phone pictures are mediocre. That’s why I give couples a large handful of shots within a day or two following the wedding, so they can see some professional-quality pics in short order. I comb through the photos to give them something quick and good.
Some people don’t care how good the photo is, as long as it’s in their own device. That gives them license to elbow the professional out of the way. Even major newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Daily News have devalued image quality, laid off their entire staff of photographers, and now settle for photos taken by reporters with phones. When I see the mediocre results, I think “How could they do that?”
But for every person like me, there are a hundred people with iPhones who look at a professional shot and think, “I could do that.”
Modern camera phones are giving people a false sense of expertise. The phone does everything for them, so they think they did it all themselves. It’s a symptom of our culture of shortcuts: people gain a little experience with something and immediately think they’ve mastered it. Like my four-year-old, who told me after her first swimming class, “Dad, you can let me go in the water by myself. I know how to swim now.”
(I’m as guilty of this as anyone. For instance, I recently read about the Dunning-Kruger effect, and here I am making sweeping generalizations about it in this blog.)
Ahem. Where was I…?
All I’m saying is, there’s a time and a place for phone cameras. Shoot with your phone when it’s the best option. When there’s an experienced shooter on hand, maybe trust that the professional’s photos will be good, and keep the phone in your pocket.
And if you’re a photo enthusiast who’s really serious about photography… Commit to it. Get an SLR and learn to use it. Get Lightroom on your computer. Take a class or two. Hone your craft. Your phone is only the first step.