Two years ago I set my wonderful dSLR and all of my beautiful lenses on the shelf, and have hardly touched them since. For someone passionate about photography that might seem like a drastic thing to do, but I wasn’t because I gave up on capturing images or anything like that. Quite the contrary! I put the dSLR away because I discovered a new source of creativity using a different camera: The iPhone.
I talk to photographers all of the time who are shocked by my choice. “You are giving up so much,” they say, “I could never do that!” And it’s true, there are tradeoffs with using an iPhone camera. It doesn’t have all of the capabilities we have come to expect in our modern, digital cameras. It doesn’t have the manual camera controls, the sensor resolution, or the high quality lenses.
What the iPhone does have is form factor that fits in my pocket, along with some amazing post-processing capabilities. What this tiny device has brought to me is freedom. It has forever changed how I view and approach photography.
Freedom to Photograph Anytime, Anywhere
I’ve always loved what using a camera does to my powers of observation. I see the world in a different way when there is the possibility of taking a photograph. I notice the smallest details and find beauty in places I would never expect. I am fully present in place and time, which is a wonderful experience.
Unfortunately, my desire to photograph was at odds with my minimalist nature. I’ve always liked to carry as little as possible around with me as I move through my regular day, which means I didn’t carry my dSLR and lenses with me everywhere. Even though I kept my gear intentionally light and minimal, the weight and bulk were such that I only brought my camera with me when I thought I might want to photograph something. That in turn affected my photography, limiting what and when I could photograph.
The iPhone changed things. Now that I carry one small device and have a camera with me all of the time, I can respond to the world around me any time. The range of possible subjects and photographs expanded infinitely, and it shifted what I capture. Early on, I started noticing and photographing the leaves on the ground and the bare branches of the trees in the sky. It led to a whole new subject matter and body of work for me.
Freedom of Constraints
It might seem limiting to have a simple camera such as the iPhone. There are no choices around lenses, apertures, or shutter speeds. But beyond having adequate resolution and getting exposure right, having more choices doesn’t necessarily mean better photographs. It can mean more time in making decisions, which can lead to missing the moment. It can mean paying more attention to the technical settings and less on the artistic result.
Having a simple camera means I can focus on what matters most for me in photography: Composition and framing. I love taking a scene from the real world, and turning it into art as a photograph. That requires being intentional about subject, background, point of view and framing. It means paying attention to the dynamic interaction of line and space within the frame, along with the impact of color.
Sure, I need an app that gives me some control of exposure and focus point. I need to get physically closer to my subject if I want to zoom. Beyond that, the choices I have to make are all creative choices around composition and framing. Within those, I actually have more choice with the iPhone than another type of digital camera, because my camera app allows me to change my aspect ratio. There is nothing better to improve your composition skills than to play with framing in various aspect ratios, real time. I fell in love with square format after using the iPhone, and I love to play around, finding the best aspect ratio for each photograph I take.
Freedom from the Rules
The processing power of the mobile phone has changed the digital darkroom, too. What once required a serious investment of time and money in computer software can now be done in a user-friendly app or two. For a couple of dollars, you can experiment with effects and transform your photographs in new ways. You can blend the output from multiple apps and create something unique to you. If you don’t like an app, delete it. No big deal.
It wasn’t until I really started to play with my images using apps, making them into something that doesn’t necessarily look like a photograph in the end, that I realized how many rules I had been placing on my photography. Somewhere along the way I had gathered up requirements for what a photograph could and should look like. What I was allowed to do with it. Others tried to impose their rules on me as well. “That’s not photography,” they would say. And I would listen, thinking I was doing something wrong because my work didn’t fit the norm.
It turns out, all of that was just baggage I was carrying around, keeping me from being truly creative. I can do anything I want with a photograph, this is my art! I love experimenting and pushing the boundaries, seeing what a photograph wants to be. In the process, I’m surprising myself and others with what can be fashioned from a starting image. It’s a whole new way of approaching a photograph, thinking of it as raw material for creation rather than an end product at the time of capture.
A Transformational Tool
Any one of those freedoms would have been good for my art and creativity. All three from one simple device? Phenomenal.
When I look at the iPhone has done for me, I am amazed that so many photographers resist learning to use this amazing camera in their pockets. I hope by telling my story I’ve got you thinking, and that you will take some time to learn how to use your mobile phone’s camera if you haven’t already. At the very least, you will always have a camera with you.
You never know, it might transform your art too.
Kat Sloma is a fine art photographer, writer, and instructor who developed her distinct contemplative style when she began using an iPhone to create photographic art. A believer that everyone has the potential to share a unique point of view through art, Kat writes, teaches workshops, and speaks about iPhone and other creative aspects of photography. She is the author of Art with an iPhone: A Photographer’s Guide to Creating Altered Realities, available now for preorder on Amazon.com. To learn about iPhone photography and see more Kat’s work, visit kateyestudio.com.
Thank you, Kat, for joining us today.