A Smartphone Doesn’t Make You A Photographer

I recently read an article about how “everyone is now a photographer” because of the ubiquitous smartphone. Granted a smartphone camera can be handy, but it doesn’t make you a photographer any more than a hammer makes you a carpenter, or a chisel makes you a sculptor. These are tools, and they can be used for different purposes. Not everything need be artwork, but the artistic element must always have its place. Most photography is not art, it is simply snapshots. I’m not knocking the snapshot as I take them all the time. It serves a purpose. It is a slice of history, a moment in my child’s life or a reminder of the fantastic Thanksgiving dinner mama cooked back in 1987. It doesn’t require much expertise and one can easily accomplish the purpose of preserving memories.

A snapshot is popularly defined as a photograph shot spontaneously and quickly, usually with no artistic intent. They may be technically “imperfect” or amateurish. They may be out-of-focus or poorly framed and composed. But, again, their purpose is to capture the events of everyday life, such as birthday parties, Christmas, children playing, group photos, pets, tourist attractions and so forth. Increasingly, smartphone photography is used to prove you were somewhere. The selfie with the Hard Rock Casino sign lit in the background, or the backstage selfie with Bono and The Edge.

With the snapshot, one doesn’t have to worry with lighting and composition. There is no need to be concerned with aperture and depth of field. The goal is to get a quick pic of Johnny playing with the puppy, not freezing a fast moving athlete playing soccer, or smooth out the flow of a fast moving waterfall. Their point-and-shoot camera, or smartphone, automatically adjusts the focus, white balance, ISO, shutter speeds and other functions for them. It is quick and easy, though the results will never make the cover of National Geographic. But hey, there are only twelve of those each year, and I don’t look for any of mine to make it either.

Compositional photography is a set up process. You take time to plan out your shots. You have to figure out your lighting and it may even dictate the time of day you shoot.  You choose your white balance and decide on your ISO, based on lighting. You determine your aperture setting and depth of field. You figure out the shutter speed based on the shot, and you may even have to set up a tripod for the slow speeds. You take into consideration the principles of composition such as “The Rule of Thirds,” “Leading Lines,” “Angles,” and…when to break the rules. As you move above the snapshot into amateur, enthusiast, or even professional photography you find it a challenging art. And then there you have the whole field of post processing.

I was at the amateur level for quite a while and consider myself to currently be a member of the enthusiast club. As I continue to practice and learn, I hope one day to be considered a professional. Most photographers claiming to be professionals are really amateurs with some nice equipment, an enthusiast at best. It is interesting that my son, Nathaniel, has recently taken a strong interest in photography. As he awaits his departure to Air Force Boot Camp, he can be seen daily with DSLR in hand, composing off-the-wall shots. I thought he might be interested in learning my personal photography history, so I offer this brief sketch dedicated to him.

High School Class & the Instamatic

I took a class in photography as a junior in High School. After I got kicked out of drafting class (another story), I asked to get into the graphics and photography program. By the time I switched over, they had moved past the basics and composition, and were into photo developing. I hated missing the first part but it was really kewl working in a dark room. Developing film, you had all the chemical processes to deal with. You had the developer, stop bath, and fixer to produce the negative. Temperature and time had to be just right, and they don’t call it a dark room for nothing. Then you had to place the negative in an enlarger and project it onto a sheet of photographic paper. Finally,  you start the chemical process all over again as you produce the positive, or photograph. Being mostly a thing of the past, few will ever get the opportunity to work with real film.

Kodak Instamatic CameraThree photos remain which were rejects in the dark room. One photo (below) is of me playing guitar, another I’m playing drums. The third is the only photo I have of my first car, a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. I haven’t been able to locate this photo, but I know its around somewhere. I’ll post it when I find it. The good photos were turned in for grading and the poor ones are what remain in my possession.

After graduating I bought a Kodak Instamatic camera which was the “point and shoot” camera of its day. The Instamatic used easy-to-replace film cartridges, though the small negative size pretty much limited its use to family snapshots. At some point, I even bought a Polaroid camera. The quality was awful but you got instant prints. I once photographed an Alice Cooper concert with the Polaroid and thought, “someone could have a pretty good business with this.” As I was taking photos people were offering me money to buy them. This continued as I left the Coliseum.

Movin’ On Up – The 35mm SLRs

Olympus OM-2 CameraThe bug began to hit in when I was working in Iran. For the famous Cripps Camel Adventure (I am posting the story soon) I borrowed a friend’s 35mm camera in order to take some nice photos of indigenous camels. I really liked the camera and all you could do with it. The following year, as I passed through Singapore, I purchased an Olympus OM-2. This camera gave me the desire to shoot photography, not snapshots. With it came a lot of learning. It would have been nice back in the day to have had the Internet along with all the tutorials on composition, lens, lighting, aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, white balance, post processing…the list is endless. I always say real photography is more complex than rocket science. Keep in mind, when I say that…I am being serious! Remember, a smartphone does not make someone a photographer.

I began to shoot a lot of photos while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are so many great photo ops and I especially loved crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and spending the day there. Unfortunately, most of those photos have been lost over time. During one of my many moves, the moving van company lost some of the boxes. I do still have this camera in my possession.

Movin’ Down – The Digital Age Begins

Nikon Coolpix 995 CameraBy the time I returned to Mississippi in 1984 I had, for the most part, lost interest in photography. I began to play music again and I suppose it took precedent. In the late 90s I purchased a Hewlett-Packard C200 Photosmart digital camera. It was a whopping 1 megapixel camera and the quality was awful. But, it was easy to use and you could discard all the bad shots. It cost nothing to point-and-shoot all day long. It was more of a gimmick than anything else.

Hot off the press in 2001, I purchased a 3.3 megapixel Nikon Coolpix 995. It was very expensive but came with a lot of features and was widely considered the best camera in its price range. 3MP doesn’t seem like much today but it was a really big deal 13 years ago and some of the photos taken with this camera I consider to be very good. It had a swivel style body which allowed me to rotate the lens with respect to the LCD screen. I could compose photos from difficult angles, a very nice feature. The camera had adjustable ISO, exposure metering and even shutter speeds of 1/8000 to 10 minutes. I added a wide angle Nikon lens at some point. I continued to use this camera for seven years. My son, Nathaniel, is now in possession of this camera and continues to shoot photos with it.

Movin’ Back On Up – My First DSLRs

Canon Rebel XTi CameraAs I made plans for my second trip to Alaska in 2008, I purchased a 10.1 megapixel Canon Rebel XTi (a.k.a. EOS 400D). This was my first Digital SLR. I took over 11,000 photos with it. About a month ago I put it up for sale online and, even though it is six years old, I received numerous inquiries about it. No one tried to talk me down on price. One man wanted to drive all the way from Pensacola. A woman in Idaho offered to pay additional shipping if I would mail it to her. This model was only in production for a year and a half, but it remains so popular it sells quickly…especially if it is in good condition and has all the parts and manuals. As I was about to ship it out to Idaho, Nathaniel said he wanted to buy it. Since then, the bug has really bitten him and I think he will become a real photographer as well.

In hindsight I never should have bought my next camera. In 2013, there was a fantastic Black Friday deal on a 24.2 megapixel Nikon D3200 Digital SLR camera kit with two lenses, including a 200mm telephoto lens. While the 24.2 megapixels sounds a lot better than 10.1, for the most part it ends up being overkill. If I were printing poster-size images it would make a difference, but not for the majority of my shots which end up online. I like the camera but it wasn’t the step up I really needed. In fact, I lost some features, such as AEB (Auto Enable  Bracketing) which the Canon had. However, the new camera brought with it a new excitement. I also really enjoyed having the telephoto lens. In early 2014, we took a family cruise and I really put the D3200 to the test. At this point, the photographer in me was re-emerging. I was spending more time in composition than in snapshots. I also bought a set of filters and some ND Grads, which I had never used before.

Up to this point I had always used Adobe Photoshop to process images. I had developed certain techniques that gave many of my photos a personalized look. In particular, I was fond of high contrast, vintage and grunge effects. In 2014, I started using Adobe Lightroom and it has since become my main photo processing software. I have also added HDR effects to my repertoire (See Cozumel Photo below).

The Big Daddy D750

Nikon D750 CameraAfter the Cruise and subsequent photo shoots in Pensacola, Vicksburg and Okatoma Creek, I really started to desire a full frame camera. I was now spending a lot of time in photography and felt it was time to invest in a camera that matched my investment in time. I also felt it ridiculous to purchase any additional lenses for the Nikon DX (APS-C) format. Lenses are really the best place to spend your equipment budget. While technically functional on FX format cameras, there is a much smaller field-of-view due to the sensor sizes (see photo below). Knowing I would one day buy a full frame camera, it didn’t make sense to hold on to a APS-C format and have to re-purchase lenses later on.

I began reading the reviews and found my timing was perfect as Nikon had just introduced the D750. It is the newest full frame Nikon with 24.3 megapixels and comes with identical, or better features than many camera priced much higher. It has a tilt live view screen which reminds me a bit of the old Coolpix 995. The thing I like best is being able to access numerous features externally that I used to have to access through menus. This is a fantastic time saver. I haven’t taken many photos yet, but I will post some sample shots very soon. The article I did on Jack Bruce contained photos shot with the D750.

John Cripps photography for hireNEED A PHOTO SHOOT

As the featured image says, “The World Looks Different Through My Lens.” If you would like an outside-the-box custom photo shoot, send us a note via the contact manager. Whether it is a family shoot, a band photo, business shots, or whatever, we produce striking results at a competitive price. If you are after the typical “dress up nice and do the standard pose” gig, then hire someone out of the phone book. However, if you want something different…if you want photography that seeks to capture the real you, not some fake pose…then by all means contact us now.

I have more samples of my work on the Mojo.sexy website (don’t worry – they are all PG rated).

Photo Credits:
1. Photos of Cameras from Wikipedia
2. Sample Photos below taken by John Thomas Cripps and are copyrighted.
3. The exception to #2 are the two high school photos (can’t remember), and C200 sample taken by Nathaniel Cripps.
4. The fox images are copyright Mojo Foxx, LLC and used by permission.