Over the past year or so, my trusty Nikon D7000 has collected more dust than it has beautiful memories. Sure, the pandemic was partially the reason, but even with that on the side, I noticed that I more often grab my phone to shoot than I do my camera. It got me thinking – am I going backward as a photographer? Am I downgrading and degrading? In this article, I’d like to reflect on some of the reasons for the change and hopefully give some insights to all of you who may have made the same switch.
I was greatly inspired to write this article after reading Dmitri Popov’s How not to be a photographer. Like Dmitri, I’m also a hobbyist, and I don’t make a living from photography. It’s one of my many hobbies and one of the very few ones I stuck with. And ever since I bought my first DSLR, I connected photography strictly with it. But things have changed.
The impact of the pandemic
We all know what 2020 looked like. For me, lockdowns meant no travels (not even locally), no concerts, no festivals – and these are the places where I take photos most often. Instead, I spent the spring of 2020 at my boyfriend’s place. I was cooking, trying to draw, sitting on the roof watching sunsets… And slowly, unnoticeably sliding into a severe depressive episode. So not only did I not visit new places and events I could photograph, but I also stopped being inspired for any other kind of photography or creative work in general.
Thankfully, my depression has been under control for a while. The coronavirus situation is also getting better here in Serbia. I have been fully vaccinated, and last week I went to my first gig in nine months! My brother was playing, but I still didn’t bring my camera, which is very strange. So over the last few days, I’ve been thinking:
What has changed?
Well, a lot. Times have changed, and so have I.
Both depression and pandemic forced me to look deep inside myself, rediscover and reinvent myself, and reevaluate my habits and behaviors. I had to find alternative ways to spend time and try new activities that keep me creative and grounded at the same time. Me being me, once I got better mentally, I got interested in everything.
So, other than taking photos and writing blogs in two languages, I now also do embroidery; I’m learning two styles of calligraphy and how to draw, paint, and model air-dry clay. With my day job, social life, and keeping myself and my home in decent condition, it’s somewhat hard to find time for photography other than the occasional snaps.
Because of all those new interests, my creative energy and ideas have been redirected. I felt a little guilty at first because I left photography on the side. But as I thought more about it, I realized that it’s actually a good thing to “refresh” your creative energy a bit, to rewire your brain and come up with new ideas and new kinds of ideas. I’m really enjoying it now.
So, am I going backward?
The short answer to this would be: No, I am not. But I admit that it took me a while to realize it and understand why this is the case. So here are some of the reasons why I don’t think I’m going backward, neither as a photographer nor as a creative in general, and you feel free to let me know if you agree.
I apply my photography knowledge to other things I do
Lighting, composition, colors – I learned all this through photography. And guess how useful it is when drawing and painting. Knowing composition and color is also very helpful for embroidery work. In addition, I take photos of my finished pieces, and I know how to do it because, well, I’ve spent over ten years with the camera in my hands.
I combine photography with other media
Some of you might have read my article about transferring photos on canvas and embroidering on them. I also plan to embroider on paper prints and transfer photos to clay. So, I use my photos, only in different ways, and I love it.
I challenge myself by limiting myself
In my case, there’s no way I can compare my DSLR and phone photos. The phone camera has a wider angle than any lens I use with the Nikon, not to mention the differences in lens and sensor quality. But we grow when we limit ourselves and overcome challenges. So not only that I’m not going backward; maybe I’m even going forward by shooting with my phone. I quite like this thought.
It’s not about the gear
I know we can argue about this, but in my case – gear really doesn’t matter. Sure, I can’t expect a shallow depth of field or high image quality as I get with my DSLR and a good lens. But I can still recognize an interesting scene or good light; I know how to compose a shot or tell a story even with just a phone snapshot. So sometimes, a JPG image edited with Snapseed works quite fine for me. And when it doesn’t, we get to the next point.
I still use my DSLR when I need to
Although I’ve mainly used my phone lately, I still use my DSLR when necessary for whatever reason. For example, I took some photos for a collaborative exhibition with Christopher Larson earlier this year. I wanted them to look as neat as possible and to have plenty of wiggle room for editing, so I took RAW photos with my DSLR.
A few days ago, I took some portraits of my boyfriend. He is competing in Balkan F1 Esports League, so I wanted to make an “official portrait” for him. I was so into it that I even used OCF. :)
The bottom line
While my smartphone won’t be the first choice for photos I want to exhibit or for any type of portraiture, I still think it serves its purpose. It helps me capture some everyday moments I find interesting or important. At the same time, it unburdens me from carrying a heavy camera everywhere I go (which is something I used to do). Like Dmitri mentioned in his article, it lets me be a tourist and look around me. I can just wander around and enjoy my city in a little different way (and still capture interesting moments when I spot them). Finally, when there’s a need for more serious gear, I will still use it. After all, it’s like riding a bike. So, as long as I’m paying attention, using my knowledge, and taking photos, at least with my phone – I think I’m cool. What do you think?