I love Hipstamatic. It takes ordinary scenes and imbues them with color, character and subtlety sorely absent from other, lesser camera applications. One can almost believe the hype wholesale—that the app is developed by artists. And, in suspension of disbelief, the suspicion that visual artists and photographers aren’t likely to be masters of XCode and Objective C at the level required to create such an application is almost completely dismissed.
Despite its merits as a photographic tool, Hipstamatic isn’t without its shortcomings. It doesn’t save the original, unprocessed shots, and you can’t apply effects to existing photos. You can forgive the app for this, since it’s meant to be a camera emulator, not a post-processing app or a camera substitute. But a third disadvantage is this: although you have total control over which effects are applied, you have zero control over how they are applied. Except for the obvious randomization, Hipstamatic shots are as cookie-cutter as they come. 10 people standing at the same spot taking photos of the same scene using the same film and lens combination will take virtually identical photos.
Luckily, there is hope of escape from this creative walled garden. If you’re tech-savvy iPhone user with a jailbroken phone who’s not afraid to tinker with its file system and (more importantly) has decent Photoshop skills, you can modify the existing lenses and films to create your own unique variations.
These days, when you hear the phrase “mobile photography”—especially in its iPhone-centric incarnation, “iPhoneography”—the first things that come to mind are retro filters and faux vintage processing. The results are generally tasteful, but are not infrequently reminiscent of a collaboration between a photographer with a mold-infested camera and a darkroom artist who’s inhaled too many chemical fumes. Needless to say, the tendency to over-process shots for the sake of artificial nostalgia can certainly go out of hand.
My mobile photography arsenal reached a tipping point where I had three pages of photography and processing apps. Realizing the absurdity of this situation, I decided to keep things simple and more about shooting photos than processing them. It certainly helped that at this point my Instagram gallery was starting to look garish as a result of inconsistent and sometimes poorly thought out processing choices. So I decided to shoot my mobile photos exclusively in high-contrast black & white.
A while back, photographer Chase Jarvis made quite a killing in the app market with Best Camera, a pioneering iPhone photography app that capitalized on a very simple premise: “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” The simple truth behind those words can’t be overemphasized. Indeed, of what use is an expensive DSLR or medium format rig if its whole reason for being—taking pictures—isn’t realized because you don’t have it at hand when a photo opportunity strikes?