Stare at Your Phone More

A few weeks ago I was at a family party. I’d been wrangling a 3-year old all day and I was exhausted. As he went into a room full of other kids, I took a seat for the first time in hours.

Knowing I had about 5 minutes left before the next explosion of toddler tears, I went for my phone. I wanted to fill that 5 minutes with something, anything, from the outside world. I just wanted a break from it all. I opened Twitter for the first time that day and caught a glimpse of some really great photography. Just what I needed. 

30 seconds into this respite came a tap on my shoulder. It was an older gentleman I didn’t know very well. Pointing at the room filled with kids, he said, “That’s what’s important.” In other words, put your phone away, idiot, and engage.

Normally, I would agree. In fact, this sounds like something I’d say to myself (if I hadn’t been exhausted already by what was important). But this time I went from happy to height of pissitivity in seconds. Where did this outbreak of smugness come from and what made it socially acceptable to impose your personality on others?

Honestly, I’ve done it before in my writing, when asking others to put down the camera and enjoy life. What if that enjoyment of life included the camera? After all, life is nothing but neurotransmitters bouncing back and forth. Who’s to say the thoughts derived from a device are any less valid than the thoughts from so-called “real” experiences?

Actually, quite a few social warriors believe they are the ones to say and it’s been all over the internet in recent days.

A new photo ad campaign tells us, “The more you connect, the less you connect." This makes sense as long as you don’t think about it.

Also making the rounds this week was a photo essay, The Death of Conversation, which is just black and white photos of people staring at their phones in public. It’s a manifesto for social nannies that seems to have no tolerance for the differences in personalities or life experience with commentary like:

"I felt that the devices were actually causing the awkwardness and the silence. They basically allow people to withdraw rather than engage.”

No, they allow people to engage more deeply with what they value. They just may not value you or your conversation that much.

In the palm of your hand, you have a device that contains the sum total of human knowledge, the preferred method of communication for a planet, a haven of comfort in desperate times and a pretty spiffy camera. You expect us to not use it? 

Not to mention that introverts, who account for around 40% of humans, now have a means of interacting with other humans that doesn’t require heavy amounts of recovery time. Cool!

Remember this meme from a few years ago? It’s right on the money. Humans have always been this way. It’s only the devices that change.

Jason Kottke also took on the topic of “screen addiction” this week: 

"People on smartphones are not anti-social. They’re super-social. Phones allow people to be with the people they love the most all the time, which is the way humans probably used to be, until technology allowed for greater freedom of movement around the globe.”

Smartphones have introduced a new golden era for photography. It’s about time we lost the smug expectations for some kind of urban social interaction utopia that never really existed in the first place.

Embrace your phone when you need to. Take those photos. Be grateful you live in these times.

This originally appeared in the A Lesser Photographer newsletter.

“Mobile” Photography Doesn’t Matter

Neither does DSLR or any other form of modern photography. Photography technology will progress in ways we can’t foresee.

But it will progress.

Today’s top-of-the-line camera is tomorrow’s relic. Today’s most popular camera (the iPhone) is also tomorrow’s relic. All images from today will be seen in the light of advances we can’t imagine and it will happen in 20 years instead of 50.

The future of photography technology can’t matter to you now. What matters is the story. What matters is the subject. That’s all that will survive this era.


From the A Lesser Photographer Newsletter.

A Glimmer of Hope

I used to place all iPhone camera apps (and really all camera phone apps) into two categories: useful and distracting. The useful camp was usually a lonely place, population one: the basic image capture tool that came with the phone. The distraction camp was filled with hundreds of whiz-bang apps that made your photos retro-social-HDR-cover-up-your-story-with-fluff cool.

This month, I’ve had to admit that a few apps have finally brought the useful.


There’s a reason the best photographers embrace black and white. In the words of one of the greatest living landscape photographers, Clyde Butcher:

“Color is duplication, black and white is interpretation.”

Black and white reveals the most important aspects of an image for the discerning photographer: pattern, texture and luminosity. It’s just the biology of the human eye to be distracted from these elements with the addition of color. Black and white photography is not about purism or minimalism, it’s about mastery of a craft.

Leica recently took advantage of the resurgence in serious black and white photography by introducing their M-Monochrom digital camera. I won’t even get into the sense of buying an $8000 camera that might be obsolete in five years, when for $2000 you can have a Leica film camera that will last a lifetime and still be worth $2000 when you die, but I digress.

Hueless is an app meant specifically for shooting in black and white, with black and white previewing (including the typical black and white filters). This is not processing for black and white after the shot, but viewing in black and white in real time. I still prefer to visualize in black and white and process to match that visualization (interpretation as Clyde says), but if you want the accuracy of a digital preview and you’re trying to capture a fleeting shot, nothing will get you there quicker than this app.

iPhoto for iOS

I’m trying to skip over all the needless and clunky parts of iPhoto for iOS (and there are many) to get to a sapling of hope for lesser photographers: Photo Journals. Let’s face it - as much as we know our photos are better when they’re part of a larger story (including text and other elements) - we’re terrible at taking the time to construct those stories.

What iPhoto Journals attempts to do is make storytelling easier by allowing the simple drag-and-drop publishing of images, captions, maps, weather and dates to a responsive web page for sharing. It’s a sorely-needed start.

No. Just No.

I spotted this today and a few readers emailed about it as well; another example of how to ruin a perfectly good camera (and pay through the nose for the privilege).

How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Camera

The New York Times makes a valiant attempt to understand the rise of camera phones:

As the technology that powers smartphone cameras has steadily improved, the point-and-shoot has become an endangered species. 

However, writer Nick Bilton quickly veers off track:

Companies are producing dozens of inexpensive smartphone attachments that can easily convert a mobile phone into a mini-professional camera.

Oh boy, I can see where this is going. As in: What can be sold to these people that they really don’t need?

For iPhone-toting paparazzi who want to snap a picture of Lindsay Lohan at a bar, Photojojo sells a powerful telephoto lens kit for $35. This lens can zoom up to eight times as close as a normal iPhone camera.

Besides the obvious life re-examination you should perform if you actually find yourself in this situation, a simpler solution would be to move closer to your subject.

Of course, every photographer with a kit of lenses needs a tripod.

We’re still talking about camera phones, right? So, now we’re carrying a kit of lenses and a tripod, which, if your male, probably means you’ve stretched your pockets to their limits - unless a murse is the next item for sale.

There are also attachments for experienced photographers who already own high-end camera equipment. Photojojo, for example, sells an iPhone S.L.R. camera mount for $250 that can attach Nikon or Canon lenses from a normal 35mm camera.

Oh, that old chestnut. But what’s with the notion that this highly impractical, even comical, accessory has anything to do with “experienced” photographers? By the way, the “normal” cameras are now camera phones, not 35mm cameras. Check Flickr.

Last month in San Francisco, hundreds of smartphone photographers attended the 1197 conference, where photojournalists and authors offered talks about tricks they have learned.

Now, we’re back on track. I love the idea of this.

Meanwhile, there’s the AstroClip — a plan to produce an attachment that would marry an iPhone to a telescope or microscope. 

And just like that, we’re back off the rails. News is broken.