Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” And cell phone cameras sure have their limitations. But they can also enable us to capture moments we otherwise never could. They can also help us to spend more time savoring the world with an artist’s eye and becoming better photographers.
“The best camera is the one you have with you.” Photographer Chase Jarvis made this line famous a couple years ago with his book and app by the same name. He and many other professional photographers have shown you can create amazing, award-winning work using cell phone cameras.
Last year when Annie Leibovitz was asked about what camera she recommends, she discussed the iphone. Of course none of us are giving up our nice fancy cameras. There’s a lot that nice gear can accomplish that a small cell phone camera just can’t. But every tool you have comes with its own strengths and limitations. The secret to being successful is knowing how to work around the limitations and play to the strengths of whatever gear you have and whatever situation you’re in.
When you consider limitations not as roadblocks but interesting and even fun challenges to work around, you’re making the leap from taking quick snapshots to experiencing the world as an artist. Some of my best photographs have come from situations where I wasn’t able to take the obvious photo and was forced by limitations to be creative. Your cell phone camera won’t be able to freeze the motion of a running dog. But it might capture an image where blur conveys a sense of energy and movement that may even be more powerful than a sharp photo. And one of the great things about modern digital cameras is you can see what you’ve got instantly. Then you can take the step that can set you and your work apart: think how to make a more powerful photo and try again . . . and again, and again.
Cell phone cameras aren’t as forgiving of poor lighting conditions, but you can still create a stunning photo with great light. So using your cell phone can help you learn about light. And you can fit in little practice sessions whenever you’d like. Waiting for friends at a restaurant? Try experimenting with the candle light . . . or the light streaming in through the window . . . or the neon light in the window.
In a few minutes you may learn something new and find yourself more engaged and awed by the world we live in. And you’ll have a great conversation starter for when your friends arrive. Maybe you’ll even inspire them to see the world in a new light too. Plus you might come away with a stunning new photo or ideas to try with your nicer gear. Even if you don’t, the process will have enriched your life.
The key is to not get stuck focusing on the camera’s limitations but to revel in its strengths — one of which is its ability to help you, wherever you are, develop your eye.
Your assignment this month is to take more photographs. Try to spend at least a moment every day looking for a photo to create. It could be while standing in line at the coffee shop or grocery, or while making dinner, or as you walk in to work. It doesn’t have to be a big investment of time — just a quick moment while you stop and soak in the world. Make it easy enough that it can become a habit you keep. And don’t focus too much on the results. It’s the process that matters here. We’d love to see some of your favorite photos and hear about your experience. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share them on Spot’s new website.