So, after my recent Instagram post I’m going to start this with a little clarification. I am not opposed to cell phone photography, I simply find that utilizing it in some ways is unnecessary. But, I believe in the right tool for the job and there are instances where an iPhone happens to be it. Onto the rest of the post.
A couple issues ago I was shooting for a story on a local screen printing business called The Ink Shop. On that shoot the designer and I felt that a wide shot of the entire workspace would be fitting top art. Well, being a Tuesday afternoon with less than a day to work meant speed was paramount. First, I took a series of shots with my SLR and prepared for a process of stitching a panorama together. But, then I realized the new feature iOS6 granted to iPhone users, panoramas.
I pulled out my phone and quickly moved across the scene. A bit of editing in the office led to a usable top image for a front story. Best tool for the job.
This was then followed last Thursday with an odd shoot. Driving back to campus with a fellow editor we saw a swarm of emergency vehicles downtown. I pulled out my phone and took a couple shots as we drove by.
Once we were back on campus the phone calls began. We needed to get a photographer downtown for an investigation into a suspicious package. Fortunately, I already had a photo and we were able to put a story with art up online very quickly. The photograph and story even got picked up by a news station in Syracuse.
Cell phone photography is an incredible advancement in photo technology. We have a high quality camera in our pockets at all times. Use it when the need is there or the aesthetic is desired and serves a purpose. It is something to be utilized.
You may have read about Ben Lowy. He’s an award winning photojournalist. However, that is not what makes him important. He became famous for his use of the Hipstamatic app while shooting images on his iPhone. Should we really allow this type of photography in a journalistic manner?
I will concede the earlier point by Rachel Woolf that Instagram and other apps provide social networking opportunities that are wonderful for the world of photography. But I will say that this type of editing should not be used in journalism. One thing to look at is that Ben Lowy himself even helped developed a “lens” for the Hipstamatic app that was more suited to journalistic work. Why would that be necessary if what he was doing was already ethically okay?
Cell phone photography is an amazing thing for journalism. We can produced technically usable images at a moment’s notice without the need for professional equipment. That is great. We see it has had a huge impact in the world of citizen journalism. The reportage of the Arab Spring revolutions would not have been as well covered or followed if it wasn’t for cell phone and citizen journalism, it even started to be funded by the United Nations.
Let’s take a look at some recent cell phone photos I took.
Above is the same image both Instagrammed, left, and put through standard editing in Photoshop, right. Is it a spectacular image? I wouldn’t say so, but it does work well for our discussion. Especially since it was a situation where professional cameras weren’t permitted and I was forced to use my iPhone.
Here we see Jon Samuels making a phone call in the parking area of the event. That is the very basic first look at the image. Now, if we look at simply the square crop of Instagram we can see some information lost. The main thing I notice is the lighting. In the original image we can see that it is a high placed spotlight set up for the event. In the Instagram photo we can’t tell if it is a light, a car or even the scale of the event. Just from that quick analysis we should be starting to question whether or not this is appropriate for journalistic work.
Next, the color is just off and unrealistically edited. If I were to be editing for a news organization I would feel uncomfortable doing that amount of color manipulation in Photoshop. So why do we allow it be done for us quickly using an app? It seems like just an excuse in lieu of an argument that would be completely unfounded.
I don’t see the point of Instagram beyond a social networking tool for the everyday cell phone photographer. Photojournalism is a field involving skill, thought and ethics, that is what keeps photojournalists relevant, and as such we should analyze these trends with as much diligence as everything else in the field, not just let it slip on through. Evolution of technology is great, but not when it hampers our journalistic integrity.