Phone Photos – Convention or Chaos?


Some may believe that the proliferation of phone photos has created chaos in the world of photography.  Some may believe that this is the new norm, that it is now conventional, mainstream.  Both these viewpoints may be true.

I’m looking for a different take on the viewpoint.  I’m looking at the chaos I can create with an absence of viewpoint.


Having just acquired a phone with an inbuilt camera, it was time to experiment.  It was time to play.  It doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s worth occasionally trying a “no pre-viewing” shooting style?

Conventional wisdom, or “how to take great photos every time”, dictates rules of composition and stresses the photographer’s control of perspective.  We are encouraged to move around and find the best view point.  Balance.  Proportion.  Movement.  Shape and Form.  Colour.  Dynamics.  These are regular textbook headings.

And then there’s Minimalism.  According to one of the beautiful photographic reference books I’ve started collecting, it’s a style “known for its precise and pared-down aesthetic”.

“Minimalism advocates an essential quality of geometric abstraction, and often uses a monochromatic or a highly reduced array of colours.  With influences from Zen philosophy and the Japanese sense of beauty, essential forms, order, materials, and simplicity are advocated.  Minimalism can be seen as a reaction against expressionism, ornamentation, and even consumerism.”  (Dilg, p72)

The phone photos so far aren’t pure abstraction. The pavement and road look like pavement and road, with the exception of some that are too blurred.

Which brings me to the five themes that have emerged.



Pace through doorway

Pace with blue shoes

Blurring is used by photographers to achieve a variety of effects, including softness, spontaneity, energy, mystery and even poetry.  In these phone photos, the blurring occurs because of the pace of my step and the motion of my arm at the time the shutter is released.



Markings GIT 4

Markings yellow on blue

I was surprised at just how drawn upon, painted and embossed are our urban pathways.  It’s not graffiti.  It’s official.



Shadows in chaos

Shadows in order

Contrasts and highlights are a way of directing emphasis in an image.  In this style of image capture, I find instead that the contrasts are creating order, chaos and divisions but not a lot of direction.



Division with blue

Division with yellow

Given the angle of the camera and the urban subject matter, Divisions was an inevitable theme.  At their simplest, the divisions do no more than divide.  Sometimes they create frames within the frame, often devoid of a subject.



Periphery at the bus station

Periphery at the markets

Negative space is the space that is not the subject, the space between and around the subject, sometimes empty, sometimes not, but always directing attention to the main reason for the image.  But what if all that’s available is a glimpse of the subject in the periphery of your vision?


This is not a brand new way of making images for me.  I’ve wandered around with my big DLSR and just clicked the shutter without first using the viewfinder.

However, the phone camera brings a new level of convenience.  It also brings a different physical action.  How do I hold this sliver of a thing so that I can take photos while on the move and not look silly at the same time?

The low shooting angle ensures I won’t be secretly photographing anyone.

It also ensures I look at the results though a different view point.  Granted, I still decide when to tap the shutter button and then which images to keep.  However, by not pre-viewing the image before capture, I leave myself available for surprises in composition that are not dictated by convention.



Mora, G. 1998.  Photo Speak: A guide to the ideas, movements, and techniques of photography, 1839 to the present, published by Abberville Press, New York.

Dilk, B (editor). 2014. 30-second photography: The 50 most thought-provoking photographers, styles and techniques, each explained in half a minute, published by ILEX, East Sussex.

Ang, T. 2013. Digital photography masterclass, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London.



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