the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE POLAROID EFFECT

BY MICHAEL PERKINS

I’VE BEEN TRYING TO FIND A WAY TO DESCRIBE THE COMBINATION OF HOPE AND ANXIETY THAT ATTENDS MY EVERY USE OF A SMARTPHONE CAMERA. Coming, as do many geezers of my era, from a tradition of full-function, hands-on, manual cameras, I have had a tough time embracing these miraculous devices, simply because of the very intuitive results that delight most other people.

But: it’s a little more complicated than my merely being a control freak or a techno-snob.

What’s always perplexing to me is that I feel that the camera is making far too many choices that it “assumes” I will be fine with, even though, in many cases, I am flat-out amazed at how close the camera delivers the very image I had in mind in the first place. It doesn’t exactly make one feel indispensable to the process of picture-making, but that’s a bug inside my own head and I gotta deal with it.

Stealthy and readily at hand: smartphone cameras keep opportunities from being lost.

Stealthy and readily at hand: smartphone cameras keep opportunities from being lost.

I think what I’m feeling, most of the time, is what I call the “Polaroid Effect”. To crowd around family or friends just moments after clicking off a memory with the world’s first true instant film cameras, those bulky bricks of the Mad Men era, was to share a collectively held breath: would it work? Did I get it right? Then as now, many “serious” photographers were reluctant to trust a Polaroid over their Leicas or Rolliflexes. Debate raged over the quality of the color, the impermanence of the prints, the limited lenses, the lack of negatives, and so on. Well, said the experts, any idiot can take a picture with this.

Well, that was the point, wasn’t it? And some of us “idiots” learned, eventually, to take good pictures, and moved on to other cameras, other lenses, better pictures, a better eye. But there was that maddening wait to see if you had lucked out with those square little glimpses of life. The uncertainty of trusting this…machine to get your pictures right.

And yet look at the above image. I asked a lot in this frame, with wild amounts of burning hot sunlight, deep shadows, and every kind of contrast in between just begging for the camera to blow it. It didn’t. I’m actually proud of this picture. I can’t  dismiss these devices just because they nudge me out of my comfort zone.

Smartphone cameras truly extend your reach. They go where bulkier cameras don’t go, prevent more moments from being lost, and are in a constantly upward curve of technical improvement. People can and do make astounding pictures with them, and I have to remind myself that the ultimate choice…that of what to shoot, can never be taken away just because the camera I’m holding is engineered to protect me from my own mistakes.

 

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9 responses

  1. At least you don’t have to wave/shake the phone, to dry the print. 🙂

    April 17, 2014 at 1:10 AM

  2. Reblogged this on Clever Fox Photography and commented:
    Fantastic blog on the merits of smartphone photography.

    April 17, 2014 at 4:51 AM

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, and for the generous re-blog!

      April 17, 2014 at 6:27 AM

    • Hi, I am so late in seeing your kind comment. Sometimes my secretary (me) fails to see a new entry. Thanks so much for reading. Hope you find other things you will enjoy as well.

      May 8, 2014 at 7:15 AM

  3. Yes! You packed a lot in that frame for sure….including “modesty” hehe. Just teasing! Great post.

    May 7, 2014 at 9:22 PM

    • I really was surprised at how the image came out. Mobiles are not the solution to everything but they do produce wonderful surprises. Thanks for the kind words.

      May 7, 2014 at 10:55 PM

      • You’re welcome! I use them too sometimes. If you saw my school house photo, that one was on the iphone with snapseed. They’re fun! Thanks for stopping by.

        May 8, 2014 at 6:13 AM

  4. Hi, Laura: Can you tell me where in your blog archive to find the schoolhouse photo? I’d love to check it out. Thanks for reading. This particular post seems to have struck a familiar chord with several people.

    May 8, 2014 at 7:17 AM

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