Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

­Don't forget to Have Fun!

Occasionally even the dedicated photographer has to be reminded that we are supposed to be having fun. It is all to easy to get sucked up into the supposed 'seriousness' of the process of capturing the best possible photograph that we can forget why we first got involved in the medium. While I do not wish to lessen the importance of those efforts, it is equally important to remember that it is all too easy to start taking yourself too seriously.

I was recently reminded of this when I discovered a photo app for my iPhone. I've perused the Apple App Store often, looking for interesting applications for the iPhone camera. Most fall into the 'serious' category and as I have far more powerful software on my main desktop, I tend to eschew these smaller dedicated programs. One exception is the Camera Genius app. This is a surprisingly capable little program. The feature I like most is the ability to separate and adjust the exposure and focus areas right on the touch screen. Very neat trick that. Just slide the exposure point to the area you want to meter and the focus box to the main point of interest and click. Very nice job designing that, guys. In addition are a series of effects and adjustment presets to add interest to the finished image. Another little detail I like is that the edited image is always saved as a new file and the original remains untouched. Well done. If you only buy one photo app, this one should get a hard look.

The program that really peaked my interest, however, was entirely unexpected. The app is called Hipstamatic. If you are old enough (no comments please!) to remember the really cheap, plastic, crappy Instamatic110 cameras of the 70's, you will relate to this program very quickly. The 110's used a little snap in film cartridge and made the family vacation snapshot all but ubiquitous. They were very inexpensive and very accessible and everyone seemed to have one. Most of those old family photos were very likely taken with one of these cameras or a similar model. We can all revisit these old memories because of them. So, in the end, the job that these cheap little plastic cameras did proves to be priceless.

The makers of the Hipstamatic app claim their little camera program emulates a small, cheap plastic camera marketed unsuccessfully in the early 80's. The original Hipstamatic camera is apparently apocryphal however, and the 'history' presented on the web page just clever marketing. While perhaps a bit disappointing in this respect, it detracts nothing from the functionality of the little camera program. It actually emulates the Instamatic, but it doesn't take much of a leap to imagine certain trademarking complications in using the Instamatic name.
(click on image to enlarge)               'You gonna share those chips or what?'
It really intrigues me that the poor quality of the photos from the Hipstamatic, as can be seen in the photo above, is what makes them so interesting. Bad color processing with terrible clarity and focus somehow combine to occasionally produce an odd and ultimately fun form of art. The iPhone app makes all this accessible to a generation that had never seen or heard of those lousy old cameras. I think this is a very good thing. We sometimes become so involved in the drive for perfection in a photograph, that we can sometimes miss the essence. There is a fun irony in that, by intentionally ruining the high quality capability of the hardware, the essence of the image can be captured instead of the technical detail, seemingly by accident.

Let's repeat that: 'Seemingly by accident'. I suspect that the fun lies right in that aspect of this entire idea. The Hipstamatic takes all the usual photographic choices away from us. It is a simple 'box' (OK, it actually an iPhone but you get the idea) with two buttons, shutter and flash. That's it. Period. Shut up and take the shot. Wow! The 'viewfinder' doesn't even show the whole scene or even center it accurately. This opens up a whole new world to the photographer. With such simplicity being the only option, you are forced to focus strictly on composition and the moment. As even the viewfinder is really badly limited and much guesswork is involved, you just point and shoot and hope for the best. How much fun is that! The resulting image is almost always a surprise – not always good mind you, but always a surprise.
(click on image to enlarge)               'And then she said...'
In one of those curious serendipities of life, the evening after I first purchased and downloaded the Hipstamatic app, I happened to stumble onto the Zeitgeist video production on Sally Mann and her unique photography on Youtube. In one of the opening scenes of this fascinating video, Ms. Mann is preparing one of her collodion glass plates and explains that she hopes that the plate is flawed, but flawed just enough to make the image interesting. This is the space that the Hipstamatic operates in. By intentionally distorting the otherwise decent quality of the iPhone camera, something truly interesting happens. The drift away from recording precisely accurate image detail towards a technically inferior image results in something more likely to engage one's imagination! We become engaged in a captured moment that would otherwise be rather ho-hum. As Mr. Spock would say: 'Fascinating!"
(click on image to enlarge)               'Santa's Summer Job'
My exploration into this world has only just begun. My new journey is literally barely 48 hours old as I write this. As with all new explorations, the vital quality of FUN is fully enjoined as we engage with the new concepts we discover and dance with. The creative sparks fly all around we experiment! I love this part of photography and life. Absolutely love it!