2013 was the first year I made a New Year’s resolution: to carry a real camera around everywhere. It went great!
Photography has been a strictly casual hobby throughout my life. It’s always been something that lets me capture enjoyable things that happen in my life, but never something that itself became a focus of my life. So why make a New Year’s Resolution for it? Aren’t those things usually done with the intent of bettering our lives?
The answer lies in how most of us have changed our photography habits: anyone with a smartphone is carrying a camera with them everywhere. Before smartphones, I was carrying along more traditional cameras to events where I thought I’d want them: vacations, concerts, and the like. But smartphones were the ultimate popularization of the old photographer’s adage: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
Now, blame my twentysomething lifestyle, but many of the best moments in my life happen in the shadows – exactly where tiny cell phone sensors struggle to perform. Concerts, restaurants, twilight walks, and the like. I started finding myself out with something great going on, taking out my camera, and getting results that made me feel like I wasted my time even bothering to take a picture. That was it, really – I guessed that I’d capture more good moments if I carried a “real camera” to it all.
I started off determined to take a non-geek’s approach to my resolution: I didn’t need another expensive hobby, something to learn a million new tech specs about, or something that would actually take me out of those life moments I wanted to capture. I searched around and found a camera that looked decently portable, but also had examples of good concert image quality when I used Flickr’s camera search tool.
The initial experience was one of discipline. The hard part of this resolution wasn’t taking a real camera along on vacations or nights out; it was remembering to take it to the office and the grocery store. There were just so many days where I went through those motions and didn’t want to take pictures of anything. But on those surprise occasions where there was something cool I wanted to catch, I was ready!
Time went on, and I started to understand what serious photographers mean when they talk about how light and color work – mostly by dissecting my many failed photos! I built up my instinct for quickly changing my camera’s settings without disappearing from the moment into a bunch of knobs and buttons.
Some things are still different about photography with a dedicated device instead of a smartphone. A big part of that is the serendipity of a device that can instantly share photos online: I think people spend little to no time maintaining photo albums any more, instead building their collections as they go on social networks. They’ve changed people’s expectations, too: since everybody is using a camera that costs a few bucks on the phone’s bill of materials, there is less pretension about having perfect results. But dedicated cameras still have small, lower-quality screens – most of the time, I don’t know what photos turned out well until I look at them on a computer screen. Usually, that’s long past the time I want to share something on a social network, especially if I want to edit the photo first. I know that sounds like an impulsive desire, but I do think there is a good experience in sharing real-world events as they happen with a greater circle of people. I definitely had a few times where I opted to take a photo with my smartphone instead because I mostly wanted to share it right away. But these cameras are catching up – they’ve had the ability to load photos onto mobile devices via Wi-Fi for a while, and I more recently got both a camera and a phone that support photo transfer via NFC, which makes sharing photos from a real camera almost as fast as ones from a smartphone. (My camera even has a square aspect ratio mode for proper Instagram use!)
My original desire from this resolution – to get less crappy photos in those life situations where I was reaching for a smartphone – was definitely a success once I had trained myself to carry the extra hardware with me. But I’m most pleased at what I learned along the way. The extra practice did teach me more about the mechanics of taking good photos, but in doing so, I think it also opened my eyes to the world I see without a camera lens. I notice aspects of my everyday life that I never would have before.
And then there are those moments of natural beauty: the ones that would disappear in the time it would take me to properly capture them with my camera. I remember so many such moments in the last year, and the knowledge that their beauty was both fleeting and hard to capture made me cherish them that much more.
You can follow my photo updates at http://www.flickr.com/photos/zekeweeks/ .