Picture This: Camera Phones

Not every photo has to be perfectly lit, edited, and framed. Many great photos are simply funny, odd, and flawed. Photography is all about documenting life: the good, the bad, the strange. But many times we don’t have cameras with us when we come across something amazing. What should we do? Enter stage right: the camera phone.

People have a lot of opinions on camera phones as this little feature becomes more popular and smart phone apps are multiplying. Some people think they have no place in photography but I’m firmly in the camp of, “If you’ve got it, use it.” All photos are equal in my eye. Just take a look at some of the amazing work people are doing with their camera phones and tell me that this isn’t photography! And take a look at this fashion photoshoot done with an iPhone!

A big wall full of spam cans.
Spam, anyone? Taken with the world's worst camera phone.

We’re not trying to be perfect though. Today’s assignment is simply to be observant and to use your camera phone to help you document life as it happens around you. If you don’t have a camera phone, that’s okay (I didn’t have a smart phone until 3 weeks ago) and if your camera phone is crap, that’s okay too (this is an exercise in being observant, not in being the-best-photographer-on-earth). Ideally, we’ll all be using our phones to take photos but if yours can’t, then pack your camera with you all day for one day and try to take some photos as you go about your business.

So, now the nitty-gritty: how does one become more observant? Here are three tips to get your started:

1. Try people watching. Sit down in a busy place and take a moment to just watch people do their thing. Malls are a great place for this as are busy street corners, markets, grocery stores, and train stations. Take note of what people say, what they eat, what they where, who they are talking to, how they sit, their facial expressions, if they fidget.

A keyboard with an upside down key.
My keyboard was broken so I asked the school for a new one. This is what they brought me. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?

2. Look up! Don’t just plow through your day with your eyes set in front of you–try looking up or down. Look for signs, trees, birds, garbage, reflections, broken light bulbs, ceiling decorations, strangely shaped clouds. Often times we miss curious little pieces of life because our eyes are fixed in only one direction. Take a moment to really take in your surroundings, not just the ones at eye level. You might be surprised!

3. Slow down. Take a moment in your day to just wander aimlessly through the park, your neighborhood, a food court, in the city. Be a tourist in your own backyard! One of my favorite things to do is to stop and consider graffiti art (sometimes the subject can be so fascinating!). You might also want to try reading labels on food and products and looking for patterns on sidewalks, walls, shelves, or in groups of people.

Now that you’ve tried being observant and you’ve got your photo, what will you do with it? There are lots of photo sharing apps out there (Facebook, Flickr, tumblr, instagram) as well as lots of photo editing programs (Photoshop, iPhoto, Aperature, Camera Effects, iDarkroom). There are even some cool alternative camera settings like the Retro Camera app for Android that lets you take photos as if you were using antique cameras! There are lots of options out there to help you improve your photos and make them ready for sharing.

Your assignment this week is two fold: First, you need to be observant and take photos from your day to day life. Got a cup of coffee with a beautiful design on the top? Take a photo of it. Second, you need to use an editing app (if you can) to make your photo all flashy and ready for sharing. There is no rule with this one so if you want to share a pop-art print, go for it! When you’re finished, post your photo here. For extra credit, you can check out this National Geographic tutorial on how to take good photos with your camera phone.

Graffiti art of a homeless man with the caption: Best we forget.
Sometimes in our rush to get to work, eat lunch, and drive home, we fail to take notice of what's happening around us.

All right folks, get going and make it snappy!

By Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

9 replies on “Picture This: Camera Phones”

Getting snappy! I like clicking around more than Going Somewhere and Making Pictures. Only thing about this is that I don’t know what to do with those pictures and they just hang around on my camera or computer until I do a cleaning and throw them away/throw them online without any word.

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