In 2010 I travelled to northern Sri Lanka to document the post-war recovery efforts. I left my iPhone at home that time, worried that it wasn’t a ‘real’ camera and that I wouldn’t be taking the job seriously.
Recently I was presented with a similar opportunity to shoot in the sub-continent – as a blogger for World Vision Australia – but this time I couldn’t wait to use my iPhone. Two years later, it had become my camera of choice for documenting such a journey.
World Vision Australia is the Australian branch of the worldwide international charity that works with developing communities. One of World Vision’s key fundraising initiatives is the child sponsorship program, matching individual donors to a specific child and community. I was lucky enough to be asked by World Vision to join three other Australian bloggers – Eden Riley of Edenland, Kelly Burstow of Be a Fun Mum and Carly Jacobs of Smaggle – to document both the sponsorship program and the organization’s development projects throughout northern India. Over nine days we visited child journalist projects in the slums of Delhi, women’s training and farming projects in remote villages and other efforts. Eventually, Kelly, Eden and Joy (our World Vision social media officer) got to meet their sponsor children.
Creating a dialogue
As the group’s ‘token’ photo-blogger, my intention was to do a rolling photo documentary of the trip, presenting my photographs as a series of short snapshots, or ‘stories,’ of our experiences. At each site I tried my best to take photos to show what was happening but also to learn enough about the story to try and provide honest and accurate captions.
I shot more than 2,000 photos with my iPhone throughout the course of the trip. I was able to capture, edit, narrate, sequence and share a series of photos all from the phone the same day as they were taken. I decided to use Instagram and Twitter as the primary means to share the photo stories each day, so that followers (my own and those watching the #WVAIndia hashtag) could follow our itinerary in real time.
What this also meant was that followers could also connect with the trip by adding their own comments and questions almost instantaneously. This is, I think, the greatest advantage of shooting with a smartphone while travelling: the connection provided by social networks and the ability to share the work on daily basis. By using Instagram and Twitter, the photos became interactive: people were able to engage with images and ask questions about both the images themselves and the journey in general. Commenters also shared their own stories of travelling through India, the challenges of third world development, and even their own stories of hardship that they saw reflected in the images. It was as much about the dialogue as the photos themselves.
To show you how I used Instagram during the trip, I am sharing my favourite series of photos, taken on the second to last day, while we were visiting the slum regeneration project in the town of Raipur, in Chhattisgarh. As you can see, each photo is numbered and captioned. This helps people see, while they are scrolling through their feeds, that the shots are part of a larger series of work, and where they fit into the timeline of the trip. Longer accompanying captions can be found by clicking through to the Instagram photo directly.
Getting closer with a smartphone
Another great advantage of shooting with a smartphone on such a trip was seeing the locals relax when they saw me with my iPhone. They are familiar with smartphone cameras, and many pulled out their own phones to snap photos of us in return! I recognized that they, too, wanted to preserve the moment.
This photographic exchange was a great ice breaker on a number of occasions. One time, I exchanged phones with a young man who was documenting the welcoming ceremony that had been organised for our arrival in a village outside Bilaspur. The man showed me the videos and photos he’d been recording. I showed him what I’d taken, in turn. He smiled and gave me a big hug when we left the village.
As people relaxed, I was able to take more intimate photographs. I didn’t feel constrained by having to be ‘The Photographer’ on the journey. The phone let me participate in the projects and document them at the same time. There was no barrier between me and my subjects—I was no longer hidden behind a big camera.
The majority of my photos have little-to-no processing applied. I decided that, in this context, filters didn’t add anything to the stories I was sharing. I believe that knowing the colour of the sky, earth and skin helps people better relate to the location and subject of the image.
Camera phones are not without their limits
So were there any limitations? To be honest, yes, there were two: low-light shots and close-up portraits. While most smartphones have come a long way with low-light performance, it’s still not enough when you’re in a small single room house in an Indian slum lit by a single 20w flickering bulb. Also, while it’s more field of view rather than device related, I did struggle to take close up portraits that were flattering to the subject. On these two occasions I found myself taking out the DSLR and 50mm prime.
Tips for shooting with your smartphone abroad
1. Get a good camera replacement app which gives you control over focus and exposure.
I swear by ProCamera because it’s the fastest and most stable shooting app on the iPhone. Experiment to find your favorite app for your platform.
2. Back up your photos every night!
I also bring along my PC, so I just plug my iPhone in and copy photos over. You can also set up DropBox or Google Drive for Cloud Backup.
3. Get a spare battery pack.
You will need extra battery life when out in the field. I actually had two backup batteries.
You can find all my photos of the trip on my website. They are ordered from Day 8 through to Day 1. As mentioned above, click through on any photograph for a longer description of its contents and the subsequent comments from followers. You can also find out more about World Vision Australia’s development work on their website.
I’d love to hear from other photographers that use smartphones for photojournalism and if there are any other advantages or challenges that you find with the device. I’d also love for you to share any photos that you’ve taken by posting a link in the comments section below!
Misho Baranovic, @mishobaranovic, has worked as a photographer for many years and is prominent in the emerging practice of mobile photography. His street photography has been exhibited internationally and in 2011 he held his first solo exhibition, New Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia. He is a founding member of the Mobile Photo Group, and the author of iPhone Photography.
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