Mobile photography as a replacement for shooting film

***Updated 03/26/2019 with the following statement. I have been asked if these photos were indeed created with a cell phone and I realized I never included that in the original article. So to clear up any questions, yes all of the photos in this article were made with various cell phones. That includes images from my original Motorola Droid all the way up through my current iPhone 8+. Enjoy!

I know this may be controversial, but hear me out. I think there is a valid link between the experience of shooting film and shooting with your mobile device. With your phone possibly being a near perfect stand in to scratch that film photography itch, at least from a certain perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, film photography is fantastic.

We are in an age where film photography is enjoying a nice renaissance and I’m all for it. I’ve only dabbled in a little 35mm film shooting and truthfully barely scratched the surface of what I want to do with my recent foray into the medium format realm. But I’m sitting here looking back through a few old galleries on my website that contain nothing but images I made with various phones and apps over the years and a major thought occurred to me.

Some of the appeal of shooting film is very apparent in a ton of the images I’ve made with my phone. Now before you rage close this website and decide I’m an idiot, hear me out.

What are some of the appealing factors of film photography?

Without a doubt I think the biggest, most consistent, comment you’ll hear from film shooters is how when shooting film you learn to embrace some of the imperfections that film introduces. The grain, potential for softer focus, exposure challenges, etc..

If you listen to photography podcasts or follow film photography websites and shooters, specifically those that cover the topic of shooting film, you’ll often hear things talked about such as how contrasty a specific film stock is or how it has a unique and pronounced grain structure. You’ll hear them talk about how certain films have a specific look.

You’ll also hear a lot of talk about how, especially with 35mm film, there is a certain spontaneity in the smaller form factor of many 35mm film cameras. This translates into people shooting more and taking time to photograph more of their day to day lives.

Of course you’ll always hear about “the look”. Film does indeed have it’s own feel and look. To take it even further, each film stock has IT’S own distinct flavor as well.

That sounds nothing like a cell phone photo.

Let me be clear. I don’t think that shooting with my mobile phone LOOKS the same as my Nikon FA.

But it DOES share a lot of different attributes the more I look back on work I created in the past with various phones. Most often there will be an element of grain or noise in the photos. It’s not always pleasant, but depending on your post processing it can very much resemble grain from shooting a higher ISO/ASA film.

Your mobile phone images can take some post processing but by and large they can’t handle anything real extreme due to the fact they are still just jpegs. So we get a much simpler edit most often, very similar to our film scans. I don’t know about you, but I try not to do much post processing at all with my film images. I want to keep the character of the film as I shot it.

But most importantly, shooting with your phone virtually eliminates the barrier to carrying that clunky camera around. We always have it with us and can make one simple motion on our phone to pull up a camera and snap away. Additionally, we can do so without making the people around us nervous since we aren’t walking around sticking big camera’s/lenses in people’s faces.

Phones get a pretty terrible reputation from “serious” photographers.

If you jump into any photography forum or club and say you shoot with your phone you’ll get laughed out of the building, virtual or brick and mortar.

It’s the tool that most serious photographers look at and think of as an amateurs tool, not a real camera. A tool not worthy of making any REAL art with.

They are full of shit. Probably just insecure and jealous of the fact that someone was able to create work that was interesting without spending a small fortune on that big camera and bag full of expensive lenses.

Don’t get me wrong, I shoot MOST OFTEN with my big camera(Fuji X series) and a bag full of expensive lenses. BUT, especially now with technology where it is, I won’t laugh a photographer out the door for creating images with their phone. The simple fact is that this little computer in our pocket can let us make some pretty damn amazing work if we take the time to learn the tool and use it appropriately .

Want to experience shooting more film but can’t afford it?

You could certainly get set up with a scanner and home developing kit to ease a lot of that cost burden. But what if what you can’t afford is the time needed to develop film, scan it, etc.?

What if you just want to have that pocket 35mm point and shoot for easy documenting of the world around you? If you can’t make shooting film work for you, I would suggest you pull out your phone and give it a shot.

It’s the same process as making a photo with a film camera(or digital for that matter). You still need to pay attention to composition and exposure. It’s still you capturing YOUR vision. It’s just a tool.

But it’s a tool that has the ability to give you super easy access for the ultimate spontaneous capturing of moments that happen all around us. If you’re wanting that experience of using film to document the world around you, don’t be afraid to pull out your phone and see if that scratches the itch.

At least temporarily.

Long enough to get yourself some film for your camera and put boots on the ground.

Though you may just be surprised at the themes that emerge in your photography as you look back over those “simple phone photos”.

Don’t knock it until you try it, right? Embrace those imperfections that mobile phone/device photography provides and treat it much the same as you would a film camera in your hands.

I think you’ll be a little surprised at the results if you can keep an open enough mind to take it just as seriously.

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