A few months ago I bought Google’s Nexus 4 smartphone. Since then, I’ve found myself picking it up more often than my DSLRs and I can honestly say it has made me a better photographer. True, the image quality doesn’t hold a candle to a camera like Canon’s 5D Mark III and the sensor noise is often downright ugly, but there is something very freeing about shooting with a smartphone that has changed the way I work.
I think the biggest change is that it has made me less afraid. I know this isn’t how it should be but whenever I’m shooting with a “big” camera, I tend to take less risks and do fewer experiments. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of my hard drives overflowing with junk or maybe it’s because I secretly don’t want anyone to find out that 90% of the photos I take are garbage. With a smartphone, I don’t feel like there are any expectations on me to produce great work, which allows me to just to have fun.
I think the thing I’ve enjoyed most since I started using the Nexus 4’s camera is shooting “cliché” subjects. Close-ups of flowers, sunsets for sunset’s sake, ducks in a pond, and a parade of other things I might have hesitated to shoot in the past, have all found their way into my phone. The same goes for overly photographed locations. I’ve had a blast shooting places around Seattle like Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle with a camera that can fit in my pocket, while someone with a huge tripod and telephoto lens agonizes over finding an original location and waits for the perfect moment of photographic bliss to arrive.
Fundamentally, it has made me a better photographer because it’s reminded me that — under the piles of gear, gigabytes of software, mounds of effort, and struggle with originality — photography is supposed to be fun. This whole crazy photography thing is about capturing the amazing world around us and maybe doing some good every once in a while. But we can get turned so inward and become so obsessive about progressing as artists that we forget the passion that brought us here in the first place, the passion that makes us good at what we do.
Another thing we forget is that our art shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. I started taking pictures because I wanted to share the places I visited with my friends and family. Why, then, do most of my pictures end up inside my computer never to be seen by anyone? Using a smartphone has allowed me to share better and to share in the moment. So what if that picture of you and your newborn nephew isn’t exactly National Geographic cover material, slap an Instagram filter on it and release it into the wild!
Photography is social, it is fun, and it was meant to be about a whole lot more than just you. Because of the constraints on my time these last few months, I just didn’t have enough energy to plan or execute any significant personal work with my big cameras. But that distance from my DSLRs was therapeutic. It gave me a chance to see where things had been going wrong and a chance to see how they could be better. It reminded me that this art is about community and it reminded me I can’t forget the passion that inspired me in the first place.