There once was a time when photographers had no choice but to implement their art through film. Selecting the appropriate film, loading the camera and developing the image in a dark room were all a part of the process. If one desired to get even more creative, she would expose these images to specific amounts of light for a period of time to change the look of the photo. It was an art that encompassed not only composition and a good eye, but refined technical skills.
When a travel photographer ventured to other countries only a couple of decades ago, they had to carefully pack their camera bags with all of these supplies and ensure their film was stored appropriately afterward. Just as the Moroccan sun reached its final stage of setting, one would proceed to click the shutter release and...realize it's time to change the film. That moment has now passed.
Today, with the touch of a screen, a moment can be captured and shared with your social network within seconds. The look of an old photograph can be recreated through a synthetic kind of nostalgia. Recently I've heard some criticism towards Instagram and other phone photo apps. As someone who considers herself somewhat of a photographer I decided I needed to take some sort of stance on this because up until recently I was undecided.
Part of me becomes slightly irritated when I empty out my wallet developing film from my Diana F+ camera to find I got maybe four good shots. In reality, I could have taken that exact photo with my iPhone and applied the "Toaster" filter to it to achieve the same look -- for free! Then there are the inevitable photos that show up on your Instagram homepage that may irk you. "Is that...is that the Eiffel Tower? I can't quite tell due to the colour distortion and added blurs." Yes, for these reasons and more, I understand the qualms photo enthusiasts have with these photo apps, but there are also a few other ways to look at it.
Recently I was scrolling through my homepage on Instagram and came across a stunning photo a friend of mine took in Iceland. There was a simple filter applied to it, perhaps "Valencia," however it didn't spoil the image. In fact, it looked quite artistic. I took a moment to appreciate it.
"Uploaded 3 minutes ago." I almost felt as though I was there with her.
Later that day as I was perusing Twitter, I came across a photo essay shared by Reuters. A few photos took me through a little journey around Old Delhi. Yes, you can tell these images had filters applied to them and yes they were taken with an iPhone, but the composition and artistic eye that this 'iPhotographer' possessed truly impressed me. And so I came up with a couple of reasons why I believe these phone photography tools can be beneficial, especially while travelling.
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First, you can't beat the instantaneous ability to snap a photo of an unfamiliar place and share it with friends and family. Anything that promotes storytelling and photo sharing while travelling faster and with greater ease interests me. Perhaps I wouldn't have whipped out my DSLR camera in West Africa and adjusted my settings to get the perfect shot of the street food I was about to indulge in. However I may take my phone out of my purse, snap a shot, maybe even apply a filter to it to look a little more interesting and caption it for my followers on Instagram. I see it as a tidbit of a greater story that will be shared when I return; a small window into a story from a new place.
The way I look at it now, I see Instagram as a challenge -- a new way to utilize my love for storytelling through images in my own style. When I looked at that photo essay the images moved me, they evoked emotions. My thought wasn't "Wow, what a way to cheat and use your phone and apply some fake filter on it." It was "Wow, this reporter captured these artistic images with a phone! That is crazy." That inspired me.
Technology has certainly come a long way and those who tend to succeed in photography are usually the ones who embrace it. Those who have a strong knowledge and a true appreciation of the art would never look at a faux-filtered image and be tricked into thinking it was an aged film photo -- let's be serious. And for those who do, does that actually matter? No.
That being said, I still cringe when my friends go on trips and ONLY take photos using phone apps, mainly because I know they won't get printed and will potentially be lost in cyber space. I am a big believer in hard copies of photographs to preserve for future generations, especially while travelling. However perhaps as the social media app grows in popularity there will become a common and easy way to have hard copies of these images. As far as my travels go, I think the way I would like to use Instagram will be to capture an image to share instantly (and artistically), but also snap a photo with my DSLR to edit and print later on.
There will always be new and different tools that artists can use to create beautiful things. Sometimes those tools will require more skills than others. There will be good art and there will be bad art, but at the end of the day regardless of the tools used, the artistic eye will always prevail, and that's what I will continue to strive for.