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Tablets, Smart Phones and “REAL” Photographers

Last week, I wrote about “photography as art.” My good friend, and mentor, Ray, commented about my blog in his own blog, and probably had the best answer to the question a photographer being an artist: “I don’t know. Do you want to be?” In other words, “does is really matter?” He just makes images – great ones. Go see his work! And thanks, Ray.

Ha'Penny Bridge River Liffey Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Ha’Penny Bridge
River Liffey
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

While I am dwelling on the topic of digital, this may or may not be a logical follow on. But you may want to grab onto the rails, as this blog is probably going to take some strange turns. 🙂 While surfing during the week, I ran across a thread of photographers complaining about the use of smart phones and tablets to make images. Some were just complaining in general. Others had legitimate “beefs.” But I found the subject and the train of thought fascinating.

No “real” photographer would shoot with a tablet or smartphone, right?

The article that captured my attention was by a wedding photographer who was objecting to attendees shooting photos with their iPads, and to a lesser extent, complaining also about cell phone shooters. There are some (what I think are) obvious issues there, but not really related to the medium of capture, in my view. More on that in a minute. One comment in the article by the photographer struck me: “I don’t have any ego about this, but I am certain that my shot would have been much better than that of the person shooting with her iPad.” Hmmn. Does anybody else see inconsistency in the statement? There were numerous comments about the “crappy” quality of table and cell phone cams, and asked why anybody would bother. I mean, no “real” photographer would shoot with a tablet or smart phone, right?

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

It strikes me that all this teeth-gnashing really misses the point. I don’t know who originally said it, but I often see the quote: “the best camera is the one you have with you.” And, the reality is that I have seen some pretty impressive images made with smart phones, and a number of them posted by seasoned, talented pro photographers. Digital technology has, for an “old-school” photographer like me, taken mind-bending turns over the past 10 years. The cameras in phones, and though lagging behind a bit, tablets are becoming more and more impressive. But it really isn’t so much about technology. It is more, in my view, about the Henri Cartier Bresson – attributed, “decisive moment,” about creativity, and about using the tools available to you. Should we photographers really be “bashing” tablet and smart phone owners who use the cameras in those devices to capture images?

Should photographers be bashing Tablet and Smart Phone shooters?

Well ………. No. Inexpensive digital photographic technology, and especially with the ubiquitous mobile phone and the increasingly ubiquitous tablet, and all manners of hybrids in between, along with internet sites like FaceBook, Flickr, and their progeny, has simply made photography easily available to everyone. Hence, everyone is out there making images and posting them. Most, to be brutally honest (I will admit that I do have some “ego” about it J ). Aren’t very good. The fair majority of almost hackneyed “beach sunset” images would lead a view to believe that the earth is indeed flat and frighteningly, tilts precariously to the right. The “family and friends” shots are often sillouhettes. But again, that perhaps misses the point. These shooters are not trying to be Ansel Adams. They are simply capturing memories. And, relating back to the “tools” comment, a serious photographer tries to use the correct tools for the job. If we are going to capture a landscape image for use other than a Facebook posting, or are making wedding memories “for hire,” we are, of course, going to use “better” tools (for the time being – technology marches on). And yes, I hope the pro photographer will make a “better” image than the rank and file attendees – does that really need to be said?

Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On the other hand……….Yes. Why shouldn’t anybody who wants to and owns a phone or a tablet with a digital capture device be able to shoot images when and where s/he wants? And why should “we serious photographers” (hard to impart this in writing, but I am poking fun at myself with that comment) whine and complain about it? Is it the “competition”? Maybe. But that’s nothing new folks so adapt and get over it. It’s not going away (easy for me to say as I don’t make my living shooting; and I am not unsympathetic; just pointing out reality). To me, as one who has spent 30 years shooting through a viewfinder with a dedicated camera, all those folks holding the tablets and phones at arm’s length look kind of silly. But don’t knock it until you try it. I have actually found times when having the ability to hold the device at odd angles and at arm’s length works to my advantage. Just because everybody doesn’t do it my way, doesn’t mean they are wrong (really, it doesn’t, though sometimes I need to be reminded of that).

This isn’t really about Tablets and Phones at all … it’s about Manners

So why Yes? My wonderful, late, maternal grandmother (family and friends who knew her will agree that she is – perhaps the only member of the family – worthy of being referred to as a “saint”), once defined “manners” for me (see, I told you we would be taking a weird turn – that’s why my blog refers to “musings”). “Manners,” she said, are very simple to define and to carry out: “they are simply put, consideration for others.” So there is the answer to why I said “yes.”

But it’s not really about tablets and smart phones, is it? The wedding photographer was really complaining about the discourtesy, or at least oblivion of the wedding guests. And this is a “people” and “manners” issue. It is not a choice of technology, or even a “right to,” issue at all. As a professional photographer, charged with creating professional and creative memories of the event, the shooter found it very difficult to do the job, with guests stepping in front of her during the ceremony, or even monopolizing a shot by standing in the aisle. There is nothing that says “romance” like that shot of Uncle George snapping the groom kissing the bride. J. And there is nothing more frustrating to the professional than Mrs. Jones’s flash blowing out a nice, moody, natural light image. And during other parts of the wedding (including, incredibly in my view, during the formal shooting before and/or after the ceremony) guests shooting, and often disrupting the process and distracting the subjects. And, by the way, all of the above can be done just as well with a “pro-style” camera as with a tablet or smart phone. So that really is just a “red herring.”

Warning in the Fog Sony Nex-6; 16-50 Sony Zoom; f5.6 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Warning in the Fog
Sony Nex-6; 16-50 Sony Zoom; f5.6
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Should we blame these folks? Probably. We could all (I need the reminder daily) profit from my grandmother’s definition of “manners.” Because this post is really about manners and not about technology (though it’s hard not to conclude that technology has had some negative effect on manners). But it probably doesn’t rise to the justification for a rant. Maybe the photographers should take some responsibility for the fact that we do not live in a 2-dimensional world. Over the years, I have whined and complained about the inability to get a clear (i.e., people-free) shot of some of my sought-after landscape subjects. My wife has a way of bringing me back to a state of humility by reminding me that most of these places (like National Parks for example) were put there for everyone to enjoy – not just for me to get my award-winning shot (and, thank god for “content-aware” cloning in Photoshop). J

As for events like weddings, couldn’t a lot of this be solved by “management?” Shouldn’t the hosts of the event and the professional photographer take some responsibility. Why not educate and negotiate with your clients to prohibit, or at least “manage” guest photography at these events? It seems like there could be times that could be restricted, or designated areas and times for taking shots for all but the hired event photographer.

Tablets don’t kill people, people kill people (oh, wait …. That was guns ….but you get my point, I hope).


(Note: This is a photography blog, so I always feel compelled to insert a couple photos. I searched my archives – in vain – for some images taken on my phone or tablet. I don’t do that, so I don’t have any, though any one of them could have been taken with a tablet or phone)



2 Responses

  1. First, thanks for the kind words.

    It’s true, whether I’m working for somebody or not, I Just want to make pictures. Sometimes it takes a little more doing than others. But, as a friend of mine once said, “The hardest part of taking a picture is just getting there.”

    Now, to the other points which are all good. Especially the word manners. Around here we call that respect. Pay proper respect. I photograph a lot of the cultural things that make New Orleans wonderful. Jazz funerals, second line parades, Mardi Gras Indians, the Zulus. In many ways, those things are all high culture and they come from a certain culture. You must present yourself. You must say thank you when you take a picture and as I did yesterday, sometime you must say no. No? I was photographing a jazz funeral. Just a small neighborhood one. I was invited into the funeral home’s chapel which is a very high honor. I turned it down. Why? It was about 90 degrees outside. Rain was pouring sideways. Umbrellas are useless, so I went troppo. Shorts and a t-shirt. Running shoes. That is not how you pay respect to the family of the newly deceased. You dress for the occasion.

    Same thing with all these smart phones and tablets. They are fine. One of my most popular pictures on Facebook this month was made while we were having a long walk in a local park. I generally don’t carry “big” cameras when we do that. Yep. An iPhone picture. There are collections of iPhone that blow me away. So, it’s all in the attitude of the picture taker. It’s respect. It’s not sticking your hand up, in front of somebody’s face so you can take a bad picture.

    Oh, and Andy. It’s not sunset pictures. It’s cat pictures. Cats, cats, cats. Cats all the time. My dogs are getting really concerned.


    I wrote too much. Sorry As musicians sometimes say, “Way too many notes.” Maybe I won’t write Storyteller today. Wait a minute. I’m way too OCD not to.

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