Have you noticed recently that we are living in an era of snap-happy shutterbugs? Everywhere we look, people are using their smartphone cameras to capture all sorts of images of the moment, while apparently finding inspiration in absolutely everything around them!
From striking landscapes and fascinating individuals to everyday life and delicious cuisine, the average person is developing their photography skills at a remarkable speed. However, even with a great deal of experience, there's more to smartphone photography than meets the eye.
Danushka Kumarathunga is a lyric writer, graphic designer, Video Director, photographer and author of “Essence”, an exploration of mobile photography “visualising the untold tales of a nature-bound rural community”. Today he chats to us about this new era of smartphone photography, his latest book, and also offers some simple techniques for taking remarkable pictures with both iPhone and Android.
Diving in at the deep end, Danushka, please tell us this: what is the difference between someone who manages to capture exceptional moments on their phone, and another who daily chronicles every mundane detail of their lives, posting selfies at every opportunity, and producing endless pictures of their food?
Well, I’d like to put it this way. I hope no one will be offended because almost everybody who owns a smartphone today is doing either or both of the above. The main difference lies in their objective and the impact they wish to make.
For someone who is interested in capturing exceptional moments, their photos will carry a lot of meaning in order to create an impact. There can be satisfaction in producing images that stand for things/beings which/who can’t express themselves, and that represent deep meanings that can’t be put into words. But in the case of the latter, their purpose in posting about their daily life may be simply to impress someone, or to show off, or even for no reason but just to ease their boredom. So I think the difference lies in the purpose and the impact that each individual wants to generate.
How do you explain this upsurge in mobile photography and the world's apparent obsession with smartphone images? Is it the same in Sri Lanka?
I consider that much of this trend towards an upsurge in mobile photography is positive and inspiring: people expressing themselves as well as appreciating more around them. Obviously, this is true in Sri Lanka as well, mostly inspired by global trends and by travel and tourism. Apparently, almost nobody’s worried any more about not owning a camera to capture moments because they can use their phones for mobile photography! So, yes, it is the same in Sri Lanka.
So, what's your story – why and how did you become interested in random mobile photography? What inspired you to write a book about it?
Well, what inspired me to take photos with my phone more seriously was my deep interest in photography. It wasn’t accidental that I took these incredible photos because it has always been my passion. Luckily too, my job and the work I do give me ample opportunities to follow my love for photography. But I guess, what I capture, even at random is nurtured by the exposure I receive through a diverse range of interactions I get to make every day.
What I wanted was to bring out my creativity at its best, with nothing other than my smartphone. That’s how I think my interest in random mobile photography grew.
Then, to be honest, what inspired me to write a book was, (and this might sound presumptuous, but it’s true) realising how good my mobile photos actually were!! I thought that the intense emotions I felt when seeing the snapshots should be appreciated by other individuals, so I wrote a book.
I know that smartphones are more than just cameras – they offer significant advantages such as editing and publishing photos too. But can they fully replace the traditional camera?
I’d say No. Because when it comes to specific situations, the traditional, professional cameras can never be completely replaced. This is due to the fact that with the advent of technology, all devices including professional camera equipment, are being further enhanced.
For example, when large advertising posters and professional design programmes require photos with very high pixel density and high-quality image resolution, the general smartphone camera won’t be adequate enough to serve the purpose.
What mobile device are you using now and how long did it take you to go from capturing happy snaps to creating your artistic photos?
I used the Apple6-s basic smartphone to capture all photos in “Essence”. I have been experimenting with artistic photography since the very first days when I started using smartphones, but it has been about two years now since I began to observe and study smartphone photography techniques that are updated day by day, and used by local and foreign travellers and photographers.
In the course of your own mobile photography, do you download new mobile photography apps regularly or use other phone features/tools such as 'Lightroom' for photo management and photo editing?
I don't regularly download new photography apps as a practice, but since I care a lot about post-capture management and enhancing the quality of the photos, I use the mobile “Lightroom” and “Snapseed” for photo editing.
Have you any favourite apps or techniques you can share with readers interested in improving their mobile photography, or for getting the best out of their mobile phones?
The key point is that, if you are interested in mobile photography, you need to identify the specifics of the smartphone you own. You have to check the extent to which the utilities could be applied with the advanced settings and features of the smartphone camera.
By capturing the photo in very low exposure and non-exposure mode in the frame ensuring the data within the frame is not erased, a very well-edited final photo could be obtained with the aid of apps like “Lightroom “and “Snapseed” which are my favourites.
What kind of images do you like to shoot with your phone? Do you also like shooting videos?
I especially like nature photography. I think we haven't yet explored enough and experienced the natural beauty of Sri Lanka through photography. I also like video shooting in order to store live sceneries in the form of beautiful motion pictures.
What has been your best shot from your phone to date?
On the 20th of February last year (2020), I had the opportunity to visit the city and the villages of the Jaffna District in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, where the culture is explicitly different from other parts of the country. The mobile phone photos I took near the Sangupiddy bridge are most memorable and these remain my best shots so far.
Past research links taking selfies with narcissism. But is there more to the ubiquitous selfie than mere attention-seeking?
With the advent of smart devices, the world's corporate connections have expanded. But human relations and social behaviour have changed since then. People have become more isolated with their smart devices communicating virtually instead of face-to-face.
So, loneliness can often be a reason why people become obsessed with themselves and on the other hand, beyond narcissism. I think people have become insanely attached with the convenience of archiving memories with each and everything that occurs within a day, which includes oneself.
Many people take selfies on their phones not only to share on social media platforms but to keep to look at again and again. However, there are others in society who are either annoyed or embarressed seeing people continuously taking photos in public and find it totally unacceptable.
How do you see the future of mobile photography?
Personal moments that were filmed by a photographer in the past have come to the point of being filmed on everyone's mobile phones and with the introduction of new software (in-built apps) and hardware including numerous lenses, to the smart mobile-phone market, I believe that these consumer tools will outperform high-end professional tools.
Thank you Danushka. We hope that your book "Essence" is a huge success and hope to see more of your smart-mobile photography in the future.
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