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When is a Camera not a Camera? Well, when it’s a phone of course.  

Hello everyone, thanks first of all for taking the time to read my first article here in Tyne Valley Express. (Always assuming you continue to read … ha ha) You may or may not have noticed, that I’ve been providing the images for the covers on TVE for almost a year now. I’ve been taking photography as a serious hobby for around 22 years now. I started off with film and was basically self taught and learned through trial and error. Lots of errors actually. Back in 1999, I joined a camera club and with the help of another member, learned to develop and print my film in my own darkroom. This was mainly black and white film, which is easier to work with in a home darkroom that colour print or slide film for reasons I won’t go into here, although I did develop at least one colour life film. However, although my main love was black and white, I still liked to shoot in colour for some things, so I ended up going out with at least 2 camera bodies, one with colour slide film and the other with black and white film. Often I’d have more that 2 with different types of black and white film, or just trying new or old cameras. I had the idea back then too, that bigger was better. Bigger camera, more expensive camera, meant better images! So I got a few medium format cameras, and even large format cameras. I was so loaded down with gear I was completely knackered most of the time. Now with film, generally it’s true that bigger is better when it comes to negative size and getting better quality large prints. The bigger the negative, the better quality you get when blowing it up in the enlarger, and this is definitely true, medium format film will produce bigger, better quality images than from a 35mm negative. Many of you reading this may think I’m talking a foreign language here if you’ve grown up with digital, but bare with me. When digital cameras came along, I was very anti digital. It will never replace film said I! How wrong I was, but it took a while for me to find out.  

I finally succumbed and when I could afford it, I got my first digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. And it was great, I only needed one camera to cover both colour and black and white for a start, although I was still not convinced as to the quality of software for black and white conversion, so I still stuck with film for my mono work. Then, travelling for my full time job became a lot more common, and living abroad meant no more darkroom, so digital became my main way to produce my images. There was still this thing in my mind though, better cameras meant better images along with peer pressure to have the best you can. There are many out there even today that will swear that you can only produce good quality images when you spend thousands on the “best cameras” available. Amongst your peers, there is always that pressure to get bigger, better, faster, more expensive and it can get crazy. I have to admit, I too thought the same for a long time. It is true though that if you are a professional photographer a better camera is more useful. A wider range of lenses and functionality for sports, landscapes wildlife or whatever would certainly make life easier. But, having said that, for the vast majority of us, as hobby photographers, it isn’t necessary to have the best cameras and lenses to produce good images and to enjoy photography. As I got older and, hopefully, wiser, not to mention less inclined to carry heavy gear all over the place, I came to realise that it’s just not needed for most hobby photography.  There’s always an exception, but I’m talking generally here. 

A few years ago, while in the Lake District on a photography trip, my lens on my big SLR broke. It was the only lens I had with me, on a Sunday and in the middle of nowhere. So I’m in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and my camera is broken. With no alternative, my only other option was to use my phone camera. It was that or miss the shots I’d come a long way to get. So iPhone it was! Later, when evaluating my images and doing a few prints, I realised it actually gave pretty good results and I was able to print good sized images. I began to realise that I didn’t necessarily need to always use my big SLR.  

As I mentioned, I had to travel with my main job, and that included six years in China. Whilst I was living in China, I was working on my first book of street photography and with street photography you need to capture the moment. That moment doesn’t wait until you have your SLR with you, it just happens. So sometimes I ended up using a small compact camera or even my phone, and ended up using some phone images in my book. I would defy anyone to go through and tell me which ones were phone images.  

My point as you may have gathered, it that the best camera is the one you have with you! And quite often, that happens to be the camera on your phone! I’ve come to realise over the years, that a camera is just a tool. It’s what you do with it that is important. Imagine you are an author, writing a novel. If you buy a Gold Mont Blanc pen for a thousand pounds, will your novel be better than if you use a Bic ballpoint? Of course not, it’s the content you write, not the tool you write with, that counts the most. Thus it is too with photography and image creation. You may go and buy a Hasselblad or a Leica for thousands, and if you point it at a brick wall, you will get a photograph of a brick wall. It may be super sharp but it’s still a brick wall. It only really matters when you want to print big. Then bigger files are like bigger negatives and better quality prints come from bigger files. If you are not printing big, then don’t worry about it. Photography is not just about the tools. Of course, it helps to understand light, apertures, shutter speeds and exposure, but you still need to “see” the image and compose it correctly. Composition is in your mind, how you frame what you see. Then after you take the shot, assuming you are able to get it sharp, it’s what you do with it after you take it that creates the final image, how you process what you’ve taken. Just as a darkroom worker can spend hours adjusting exposure on some parts, shading other parts, mixing different chemicals, using various techniques and different papers to get the final image, you need to spend time on the digital image too, to get what you want. There are three main things you need for a good photograph. See the image, Take the image, then finally process the image. The camera influences only one of these three. 

We can go into more detail on these things in another article (assuming the editor lets me write another, lol), but what I’d like to leave you with is this; if you want to enjoy photography, and many people can these days, then do enjoy it. I use my phone more and more these days as it’s lighter and very competent, and above all, it’s always in my pocket. For specific subjects, I still have my big SLR but it rarely gets used. Don’t get hung up about having the right cameras, the best SLR, the biggest or best lenses, etc, think more about composition and enjoy using your phone camera when you see something you like. So when is a camera not a camera? When it’s your phone of course! I hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like me to go into anything more specific, then please do get in touch through TVE. Thanks for reading!  

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