Some Thoughts on Smartphone Photography and the Rise of Good Photos Over Great Photos
I'm having a bit of a photography-obsessed afternoon today, and while I was researching people's opinions on using old cameras/phones for photography, I came across a video focussing on using an iPhone 7 to do street photography.
If I'm honest, I don't think the video review itself was very useful, or at least it wasn't what I was looking for. It seemed to focus on the raw camera qualities of the phone, being able to take super fast photos, and taking a really small crop and still being able to have it printed, rather than what kind of photos the camera produced. But it did make me think about what I appreciate about photography, so that's something.
There was one quote from the video that stood out to me though, although probably for different reasons than intended:
In Apple's quest to make every photo a good photo, sadly no photo becomes a great photo.
While I don't think it's particularly true that you can't take great photos on iPhones, or that this is a result of Apple's goal to improve its camera. I do think that in general, too much focus is put on taking a good photo, rather than creating a great photo.
When you watch reviews of cameras online, they spend the time talking about the fastest shutter speed, resolution, aperture, and battery life, but very rarely the characteristics of the photos that they produce. Maybe it's because I see photography as an art form, rather than an act of documenting the world. It could also be that this just is what modern photography is nowadays.
When I think about what a great photo is, it's never the level of detail in the image, or that every face is clearly lit. I care more about the feel of the photo and the mood that was captured. Maybe that's why I stray towards old cameras/phones, 35mm film, and "retro" camera apps.
There's definitely something about harsh shadows and a bit of grain that I appreciate, but I think it goes deeper than that. Film photos feel more like real life to me. Whereas I get the feeling that camera manufacturers (inc. Apple) want to remove the messy human element and create photos that are technically good but have no feeling to them.
I guess this somewhat relates to what Marques Brownlee said in his recent videos about the iPhone camera, where the emphasis was being placed on making every photo good, but in some cases, the photos felt unnatural, the sky was a little off, or the shadow from a face was removed. There's even a thing called the "Netflix Look" which is the accusation that everything on Netflix looks the same.
With the right skill and tools, you can take amazing photos on the iPhone, but it certainly feels like the rise of the smartphone and its emphasis on computational photography has led to a kind of photography gentrification.
Maybe the reason behind people becoming more interested in old phones, film cameras, and retro-camera filters, isn't just because of some TikTok trend. Maybe it's because they realised that there's more to photography than the generic smartphone sensor and post-processing effects.