iPhone At War – New York Times Photo Essay Shot Using Hipstamatic

Published On June 19, 2011 | By Mike Carroll | Retro Camera, Shooting News

Image courtesy of The New York Times. (Copyright The New York Times 2011.)

There has been a controversy roiling in the professional photojournalism world over the past months about a New York Times war correspondent who took a number of photos while on assignment with an iPhone using the Hipstamatic photo app rather than using his regular Nikon.

Click on this link to see the New York Times photo essay shot on an iPhone using the Hipstamatic photo app.

Personally, I don’t agree with the naysayers. I like the photos and think they present the war in a more snapshot, everyday style, while still being highly artistic and documentary.

Sony XDCAM, JVC HM100U, Canon 7D, Android, iPhone. It’s all about making images with the tools at hand. You decide how an image is going to look by the choice of lenses, using a wide-angle to get a wide, dynamic shot of a scene or a telephoto to show detail, such as an isolated close-up of someone’s hands.

The lenses, the cameras, the settings – all these are selective decisions that a photographer makes creating an image. And it is always subjective to the photographer’s take on a scene and can be completely different from how another photographer sees the same scene.

Cameras have changed monumentally over the past century from bulky box cameras that required several seconds to make an exposure, to Kodak Instamatics that anybody can use, and now digital cameras in phones. So why not take advantage of the wide (and ever growing) variety of camera apps for phones?

Using a photo app that applies a certain look to the photos, as long as none of the subject matter of what is in the photo is being altered or removed, such as adding or deleting people or objects, then more power to it.

Iconic photojournalists like W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Bruce Davidson all cropped their photos and would print them using “dodging and burning” techniques to make areas of a print darker and dodging over other areas to keep them from being exposed too long to keep them lighter. These traditional darkroom practices are now just a matter of a few clicks in PhotoShop.

Does a photo have any less significance because it was taken on an iPhone rather than a Nikon or Canon 5D? To me that’s simply another tool. If it’s smaller and less obtrusive than another tool, more power to it. The subjects will probably be less conscious of what you’re doing.

Another link to a PRI journalist’s iPhone photos from Afghanistan.

To be an absolute purist you could only use pictures exactly the way they came out of the camera, with no adjustment for color temperature or manipulating the exposure, contrast, highlights, etc. – and using only the full frame of the image with no cropping.

“No cropping” – I can go along with that.

But no manipulating of the image – every pro photographer I know shoots in Raw, which necessitates adjusting everything in PhotoShop, Lightroom, Aperture or something.

However, changing a shot digitally would be another matter. If you had a photo of a platoon of all-white Marines (or a firehouse of firefighters or a classroom of second graders) and you or a photo editor says, “This shot would be so much better with a black guy here and an Asian guy there.” That would be manipulation.

There was a time when you either used black & white or color film. Now all digital cameras shoot in color by default. If National Geographic or the New York Times runs a photo in black & white it is to make a statement. It’s saying, “This is serious – and more dramatic – because it is not in color.” It’s a decision to alter or manipulate the original image shot in Raw and color.

It’s ironic, though, that the “Purists” are also often among the first to dismiss TV news as serious photojournalism when the footage on the news is almost never blown-up up or color corrected at all.

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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