One of the key components of improving your ability in the photographic realm is practice. Practice seeing opportunities, seeing shapes, patterns, plays of color, and compositions. Unfortunately, our ability to exercise photography is often limited, as we don’t always have our ‘serious’ camera with us. During weekdays at work, for example, or going out for dinner, or even just walking down to the convenience store for ramyeon, we usually don’t have a camera with us… or do we?
Most mobile phones and hand-held devices have a built-in camera these days. To be sure, in terms of technical image quality they fall far short of that ‘serious’ camera. Most exhibit too much image ‘noise’, are all but useless in low light and are severely limited in, or totally devoid of control over things like exposure and depth of field. It is because of these drawbacks that most people, once they acquire a ‘serious’ camera, eschew that crummy little token to device functionality as inferior. And rightly so from the standpoint of technical quality and control. But in terms of the more important abstract elements of an image – composition or the capture of color, pattern and shape play – they are no different than any other camera. Indeed, they share exactly the same limitation: your ability to see the opportunity.
When we are out with that ‘serious’ camera, it’s often for a purpose and we tend to assume some degree of responsibility to take great (or at least good) images. But an image is never great because of a camera; an image is great because of the mind and eye driving that camera. And just like behind the wheel of a car, the more you drive the better you get. With an attentive mind, your ability to read the road, the conditions and potential problems improves with the miles. Likewise, you can vastly increase your mileage behind a lens by using the tools at your disposal and one advantage the small ‘token’ camera has is that we tend not to take it seriously – we are free to take pictures that don’t matter.
But if the pictures don’t matter, if the apparent limitations render our images poor from a certain point of view, what’s the point? It is that mileage we are after. Or to be more precise, mileage coupled with an attentive and critical mind. Furthermore, we can take those limitations and use them to hone and strengthen our photographic eye.
Can’t control exposure? Saddled with one (usually short) apparent focal length? No ability to exploit depth of field or make pretty bokeh? Stuck with seemingly random (and usually too slow) ‘shutter’ speeds? It may seem a bit like running into a headwind, but these are blessings in disguise for the development of you photographic skill. Your ability to spot opportunities that lie within these limitations, along with your composition and choice of point of view, absolutely has to be more acute. Do it often, do it with consideration and attention, and you will surprise yourself at the quality of the images you can extract from your phone, and every time you pick up that so-called ‘serious’ camera, the wind will be at your back.