What a creative writing teacher and an Apple iPhone taught me about photography

A smart phone camera requires a thinking photographer

Many years ago, I took a college course in creative writing. The class was given an assignment; I piped up and said “what's the word count?” The teacher looked me in the eye and in firm voice, declared “say what you need to say, then stop!”

The same philosophy can be applied to taking photographs: Photograph only what you want to photograph, and nothing else. Use the whole frame; leave out anything that will distract the viewer.

Here’s an example of what I mean:


This is not just a cute (albeit grainy) photo of my dog (or a quick shot of how I make potato pancakes): It tells a story: The pooch wants what's in that frying pan.

I was making potato pancakes the other day and informally documenting my progress in the kitchen—first photographing the potatoes and onions being cut, then in the blender, and finally, in the frying pan. As I was about to shoot the last shot, I realized my dog was sitting on the floor, looking up expectantly. I chose a high angle and shot down to include him in the shot, and shot so there were a lot of visually dynamic diagonal lines.

Why does the shot work? Because I only included what’s important, and nothing else. And the camera I shot it with? An Apple iPhone! (After I shot this, I ran to my office and grabbed my DSLR to re-shoot but by the time I got back, the pooch was gone, apparently realizing that he wasn't going to get any scraps.) Yes, the photo is technically imperfect—it has a ton of grain, typical of low-light shots taken with a small sensor camera—but the humor comes through.

Minutes after I shot this picture, I uploaded it to my Facebook page and the comments are still coming in. It was fun to share. I wish I could do that from my DSLR!

The morals of this short story?

  • No matter what camera you use, if you use it thoughtfully, you can take great pictures with it;
  • Say what you want to say, and stop. In other words, crop in camera! and...
  • The simple, low-quality camera you have in your pocket is better than the one in your office that you can't get to on time.

What camera is in your pocket?


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