Why your phone is not your friend


by Bellamy /

4 min read

Why your phone is not your friend
This is a piece I have been thinking about for a while now, as it became apparent to me that the devices that are supposed to make our lives more convenient actually drain away what little free time we have. I think that phones are not the friend of photographers, let me tell you why.

There is no escaping it, mobile phones are now a standard feature in most of our lives. Except the gadgets we have in our pockets (honestly, who keeps theirs in their bag?) are no longer just phones. They are a phone, walkman, calculator, diary, book, games console, camera and so much more all rolled into one. This is incredibly convenient, you would think. But it just means they take up so much more of your time.
Stop and look around you the next time you are on the train platform or waiting for a bus and you will see people completely absorbed by their device. Not looking where they are going and not concentrating on what is going on around them. God knows, I am just as guilty. My phone helps me keep updated on the site, orders and helps me to find moar cameras.
So if it can do all of this, and take pictures, why is it not your friend? After all, it makes you life that much more convenient so that you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy, right?
Wrong. As we become more dependent on the devices, we become more dependent on being spoon fed information and we forget what it is to think and what it is to be aware of our surroundings. We use them for every time we are lost, or bored, or when we cannot think what to say. We use them to pass time, to pretend we are busy and to avoid actually interacting with people. It just seems to me like people find more and more excuses to stay completely glued to their device. Soon it will be that people won’t know how to communicate directly.

As a photographer your phone is not your friend because ultimately it is stopping you from doing what you love to do. The camera on your phone is not a real camera, it is a convenience and that should not be forgotten. Now before you all get your nose out of joint saying “but there are street photographers who only use a smartphone”. You are right, there are. But they are using the device in a way that it was not originally intended (and in some cases beyond the devices capabilities) and they are making sure they are aware of their surroundings.
Because this is the crunch…When you are looking at your phone you are missing what is going on around you. You are missing the moments that you should be catching, because you are so absorbed by Candy Crush Bullshit or watching the latest cat video on Youbook.
It may sound obvious, but this is really what it is all about, by checking your phone constantly or chatting on LINE you have removed yourself for the observers point of view and you have merely become another part of the street furniture.

So here is my idea. Switch your device off, put it in a bag, get your camera out of said bag, look around you and go shoot.
I have made it a rule that when I have the my camera in my hand, my device will not be. In fact I have taken to turning it off completely when I want to go shooting, so that there are no distractions. This is a decision that I really think benefits not just my photography, but also my ability so see what is going on in society.
When I don’t have the device I am more aware of when is going on. I listen and look for cues, I watch people and the way they interact with others and I actively search for light. When I am shooting I don’t even listen to music, because I want to have all my senses at my disposal.
You don’t have to do this all the time, but just try it and see how it works out for you. I have days when I don’t have a camera because I am working, but if I do have a camera in my hand I put my device away and focus on what I love, taking pictures.

Of course I am talking about street photography here. But this is totally applicable elsewhere too. When you go sightseeing, do exactly that; sightsee. What is the point in going to a fantastic spot if you are only going to look at it through a tiny screen before you upload a shitty video facetubes or whatever? If you want to take a picture of a fantastic view, then take a bloody camera. That is what they are for.

Don’t become a slave to your device, make it work for you.


51 comments on “Why your phone is not your friend”

    Kent August 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm / Reply

    Great read Bellamy! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been trying to do that more too, unless im just fooling around with the iPhones camera.

    Peter Russell August 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm / Reply

    How right you are. People have become unthinking sheep today. Here is a great game to play – for a short while until you become bored and frustrated. Stand near some traffic lights on a street that is relatively quiet and watch as people wait to cross. Unless they are older than about 45 you will see that they are completely controlled by the ‘cross’ or ‘do not cross’ symbols, regardless of the state of the traffic flow! I’ve seen whole families standing beside a completely empty road waiting for the lights to ‘allow’ them to cross!

    Likewise, the so-called smart phone is just another nail in the coffin of the free thinking person. I seldom use my iPhone as anything other than a phone whilst I am out and about. If I get lost I do one of two things; ask someone or use a real paper map. If I want to take a photograph I use my little Canon Powershot G10. If I want to answer a text or check on the internet – I don’t; at least not until I stop to have a drink perhaps. Dodging people walking down the road with both eyes on their phone held in the grip of death whilst not looking where they are going has got to be one of my biggest gripes about modern life. I am becoming a true grumpy old man – and love every moment of free thought!

      Robby August 5, 2013 at 2:51 am /

      I guess you live in a place where jaywalking doesn’t exist. Where I live how you cross the street isn’t representative of intelligence.

      Ed August 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm /

      Slow down, Captain Sensitive. Peter wasn’t talking about lack of intelligence. He was making the very astute observation that the reliance on technology has conditioned some otherwise smart people into the habit of letting it dictate some decisions for them.

      Robby October 28, 2013 at 3:42 am /

      I can understand analogies. I was making “the very astute observation” that whether whether or not you wait for the light to cross the street is culturally (and legally) determined. Using a traffic signal doesn’t make you an “unthinking sheep.”

      Marius September 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm /

      I wait for the cross sign, just because its the law. It doesn’t make me controlled by technology, I abide the rules. Especially after getting some fines for crossing during a do-not-cross sign on an empty intersection. What is more concerning is that you see 2-4 year old kids who grow up with the smartphone and thus are incapable of playing outside in a, for example, sandpit. No imagination, no motivation to create their own little world.

      Kitte February 25, 2014 at 8:57 am /

      Do you have children? The reason “whole families” stand and wait for the light to change regardless of the traffic is because they are training their children to be careful around traffic and obey the potentially lifesaving rules. Children should not be expected to make the determination as when it is safe to cross the street, they lack the experience, and learning by example of getting hit or nearly hit by cars is a terrible alternative, so we teach them to obey the signals. The alternative you suggest, training them to jaywalk instead, could get some kids killed. It would be negligent parenting at best.

    Greg Williamson August 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm / Reply

    Agree 100% I lived most of my life without a mobile phone. My iPhone always lives in my bag, never my pocket, and usually on silent…

    Robert August 3, 2013 at 6:08 pm / Reply


    Jenna August 3, 2013 at 8:20 pm / Reply

    Interesting read and loved it.

    Giovanni August 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm / Reply

    (Virtual) hand shake, Bellamy.
    It’s said to say it but it even more sad to see it: people constantly looking at their phone while roaming on the streets are as close as we can get to zombies. Having a phone without internet connection in Japan is nowadays completely anachronistic, but better a grandpa than a wired brainless.

    Tom Nirider August 3, 2013 at 11:10 pm / Reply

    So true, and thank you for the reminder. These so-called “smart-phones” tend to be the opposite.

    Aaron Kawai August 4, 2013 at 12:01 am / Reply

    thank you and cheers, ya’ll!

    S-F August 4, 2013 at 12:01 am / Reply

    Lucky me, but I only use my phone for calls – if I have bothered to charge it. I have always found phones annoying, and guess I always will. Don’t call me, I’ll call you…

    Aaron Kawai August 4, 2013 at 12:02 am / Reply

    glad to hear this, been trying somewhat to figure such feelings, and the advice came just in time.
    not to become a slave, and be a shooter.

    firendly cheers

    Richard August 4, 2013 at 12:07 am / Reply

    I’m not sure if you will agree with this, but for the most of us who loves to visit your site, actually uses out mobile phones to pop in. The convenience of smart phones these days, makes it a lot easier for users to explore the world wide web in an instant. Hence, the boom of social media marketing. I’m not sure you’ll agree that many of those who visit this site is through links you put up in Facebook too.

      Bellamy August 4, 2013 at 7:46 am /

      Absolutely and I understand this. Which is why I said make the phone work for you. Use it when you need to, but when you want to shoot put the phone away. I use mine for the site too and it is invaluable, but you have to draw the line as to when you use it and when it intrudes on your shooting.

    Fred Windberg August 4, 2013 at 1:29 am / Reply

    Right on the money, Bellamy…I bought my first cell phone in 2002 for a 6 week trip and it was intended to call home [cheaper than long distance] and for emergencies. I have a Tracphone [switched off all the time], I buy 100min of time a year and use it only for emergencies. I carry it in my pocket because I’m a heart patient and need quick access if needed, but that’s it. I walk everyday, take a camera and always can hear and see everything. If I didn’t need a cell phone, I wouldn’t own one..!!

    Philipp Ulrich August 4, 2013 at 8:04 am / Reply

    Great read and an important matter. The article contains many of the reasons why I’m abandoning my smartphone to switch back to a “dumb” one.

    art August 4, 2013 at 11:52 pm / Reply

    you must read
    technological determinism by marshall mcluhan (google it)

    Adam Burns August 5, 2013 at 6:10 am / Reply

    I totally agree that soon people won’t even be able to communicate in person anymore, they will need to do it through their device. If you ever talk to somebody age 12-18 these days you can totally see it, they seem to have a lot of trouble maintaining a normal convo. I just recently deleted Facebook and Instagram from my life and after the first couple days of getting used to it, it’s so awesome. Basically I have much more time available every day. “Smartphone-checking” becomes a full-on addiction, like drugs or something.

    britpopbism August 5, 2013 at 11:48 am / Reply

    you complaints about how lame having a smartphone is but still spent your money on buying it anyway.. to put it on your bag? what a hypocrite bitch ;p

    Larry Kenner August 7, 2013 at 2:18 am / Reply

    Brilliant! I could not have said this any better Bellamy! It makes me want to cancel my Verizon account and go to a prepaid Flip Phone! :) Honestly when I think about it, spending almost 5000 dollars a year on company smartphone plan! Airfare to Paris for two every year! I need to ponder this!

    Benoit August 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm / Reply

    Well said! I have found a cool solution: use a tablet as an addition to feature phone with limited 3G access, it is too big to put in your pocket, but still convenient :)

    jmk August 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm / Reply

    and my camera is may friend?
    Both they are a devices and with both i can take pictures. I don’t care with what I take pictures or when I see photographs on the web or in galleries with what they have been taken.
    This sort of “photographers” who list their gear on their website, ridiculously enough on their frontpages, I cannot take them seriously.
    What matters is the result, not the device that took it.

      Bellamy August 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm /

      You seem to have completely missed the point of the article. Have you perhaps considered reading it again?

      cliff August 24, 2013 at 1:59 am /

      The end result is definitely important but isn’t the end result a print not an image on a monitor?

    Carsten August 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm / Reply

    I feel a bit guilty now. Guilty because I also am wondering more and more about how distracted and how much not-in-the-world I have become. But on the other hand I am just collecting a lot of apps that are useful for film photographers. I use my smartphone as a light meter, as a processing timers for developing film, and all sorts of things related to film.
    I agree though that it is hard to not get too dependent on it. People were able to find directions before Satnavs and GPS enabled phones, and photographers were able to guess the correct exposure without an iPhone luxmeter. In fact, I know wonder whether I’m doing myself a favour by using it or whether I should first become better at guessing exposure without consulting my phone (when I am using any of my older cameras without a built-in meter)
    Anyway, I will not throw away my phone now but a stimulating article nevertheless!

    Jim August 11, 2013 at 9:01 am / Reply

    Bellamy – you perfectly express what I’ve observed for quite some time now. It can and does lead to tragedy sometimes. When my daughter was 15 yrs old (she’s 22 now and a photography enthusiast herself – and into film, thank you very much), one of her friends was killed because she had stepped into the path of a German Strassenbahn (trolley) while obliviously engaged with her iPhone (with earbuds). I was hard put to console and try to make sense of it all to my daughter at the time (you can’t), but she did learn one lesson from the experience – that one can’t allow these devices to overtake and ‘fog’ one’s awareness of the world around you. She now views these devices (and all ‘devices’) as tools to be used at an appropriate time and place, regardless of the perceived import of a call, or an email, or a text, whatever at a given time (I would note , however, regarding your pic of the Japanese girls on the train, that they are or seem to be of HS age, and that what they’re doing might be considered a ‘natural’ and understandable (i.e. appropriate) activity for them in that environment). I commute daily through the Wash, DC corridors and while I leave the phone on, I never answer an incoming call or message while I’m driving. I rarely use it to access the Internet, and most importantly (in this venue) I hardly ever use the camera, except when one of those ‘special’ moments arise and I have no other recourse – and again, never when I’m driving – it just does not occur as an option.

    Jim P August 12, 2013 at 1:14 am / Reply

    Another thing I hate about cell phones — it’s becoming tough to shoot street shots of people where they’re not looking at their device. We live in a heads down society.

    I do, however, love the fact that I have a couple of light meter apps on my phone when I need to check an exposure. Very handy to have in my back pocket.

    Dan August 15, 2013 at 2:42 am / Reply

    Humans are social creatures, and having the Internet and such connectivity in a mobile device is a relatively new thing, few people can debate that.
    People are so inseparable from their phones because the connection you feel through your phone to other people combats general feelings of loneliness.
    Making connections through your phone shouldn’t replace authentic, in-person conversations but to say that any gazing at your phone is a bad thing is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    Having a phone and staying connected is important, not just for the fact that all of the collected information of the Internet is there in the palm of your hand, but this, like most things needs to be done in moderation.
    Having so much connectivity is a new thing for humans, we are only just beginning to figure out what is considered acceptable when it comes to using smart phones in public.
    Hating technology is fun but it might be a better use of our time to figure out acceptable ways of using the technology rather than saying it is more trouble than it is worth.

    Sharon Yim August 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm / Reply

    Well said JCH! What an interesting article that I absolutely agree with, especially with a fortunate/unfortunate event that actually happened to me just 10 days ago; on the very first day of a 10 day holiday and trip to Taiwan, I actually lost my Iphone and I have never felt so scared yet excited shooting film solely because there isn’t an “instant” picture that I can look to. For this trip I brought my Yashica Electro and Zenit 122K and I have never felt quite as happy shooting everything and anything on film from sunset to sunrise, from the mountains to attempting to take a long exposure of the stars. Whenever I travelled around, my camera(s) was always on hand, especially with no phone and no instant gratitude, I saw a whole lot more things and experienced a whole lot more events from. It really feels good to disconnect!

    Carsten August 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm / Reply

    Hi Bellamy,
    I have used this article here as an introduction to my final round-up of useful apps for film photographers. This time asking the question whether you should include mobile devices in your analog workflow at all. Hope you don’t mind if I share it here, because I feel it can add to the discussion. (If not please just delete, I’ll not be offended ;-))
    The final installment in my series about useful mobile apps for film photographers: To App or Not to App? http://bit.ly/19BoSCs

    cliff August 24, 2013 at 1:56 am / Reply

    totally enjoyed this article. I am doing a project right now in NYC based on the PDA bubble people engulf themselves in during their everyday lives. It has made me actually not want to ever take my phone out when I’m commuting to class with the exception of changing my playlists.

    Jim Clinefelter September 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm / Reply

    Nice to see you post on this. I will never own a cellphone. I just don’t need to call anyone that badly. I have an “iRefuse”…a simple piece of paper in my wallet, with a few phone numbers on it…no screen, no batteries, no apps, no stupid first world pointless twaddle/neediness. There are many problems with all of this fine “convenience,” including: A- a lot of the E-waste that is being created is shipped off to less-fortunate countries, where the i-this and thats are barbequed apart by kids. B- the current generation of 20/30 somethings will be needing some mighty strong bifocals by the time they are in their 40s/50s.

    Mike September 7, 2013 at 7:20 am / Reply

    I quit using my point & shoot camera (a Canon G12) when I got my iPhone 5 since I find that it takes better pictures and is more convenient. It won’t replace my D90 (when I feel like schlepping it), but it’s better than most point & shoot cameras.

    Martin September 17, 2013 at 11:04 am / Reply

    Nice read. Go one step further and sell that iPhone. Smartphone productivity apps have to be one of the largest oxymorons of the modern age.

    Ditch the phone, see what’s around you.

    James Lee October 27, 2013 at 7:53 pm / Reply

    Good reminder. Like all modern tech, one just need to balance the use of it. The only problem with your post is, you use iphone? Come on, that’s an overprice piece of equipment, you know, just like Leica…. oops. :P

    Ralph Hightower October 27, 2013 at 8:07 pm / Reply

    I use an android app, EXIF4Film, to record exposure information of the photos that I take. But for fast paced situations, like sports or air shows, I don’t bother to record the exposure information. Still, EXIF4Film is a handy utility to have.
    Yes, I regret those times when I don’t have my 35mm camera with me for something that would make a beautiful photo or catch some humorous vanity license plate and all I have with me is my smartphone; I don’t care for its focus-seek.

    michael October 28, 2013 at 9:41 am / Reply

    Good reminder and I am guilty as well. But I tell you what, one thing about digital, it is good to learn how to recognize the pros and cons of digital world. It can be your friend or your enemy just like anything else. So we need to use them wisely to enhance our experience and not sabotage it.

    HK October 28, 2013 at 11:08 am / Reply

    Nice article, something to consider.

    Jonas normann October 31, 2013 at 6:01 am / Reply

    Great post. ;)

    Klaus December 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm / Reply

    A very true observation. Each morning on my way to work I see the same girl at the same bus stop waiting for the bus and doing the exact same thing: staring at the phone, completely oblivious to what happens around her.
    As useful as smartphones have become it is equally important to know when to switch them off or ignore them. During meal times I keep my phone in another room, when I’m out photographing I take it with me but sound and notifications are muted. Strangely I also find it much more interesting to just let my eyes wander about when waiting for a bus / train or commuting than to be absorbed by my phone. I’m a geek when it comes to using my phone, trying alternative software and system distributions (like Cyanogenmod) et cetera and I use it for many things but I’m careful not to let it dominate every spare minute of my life. Oftentimes doing nothing and simply observing is much more relaxing than staring at the screen and trying to keep up to date on everything. There’s a chance you end up knowing every unimportant detail on your virtual online contacts but at the same time getting completely oblivious to what happens around you. Just like the girl at the bus stop. I notice her every day but I doubt she ever realizes anything going on around her while she’s absorbed by the digital bubble.

    Francesco February 25, 2014 at 12:42 am / Reply

    I think the point is balance…. with food, sleep, beer….. so same can goe for tech. I would not go so far as to say I would turn it off when I have my camera sometimes I shoot with both because with my phone I can easily edit and post an image. Most times these types of phone camera bashing posts make me think you guys are insecure about how good the photos are looking from an iPhone and making your work with an expensive camera look sub par…..

    Tom February 25, 2014 at 2:08 am / Reply

    The evolution of people using smartphones is evident in my street photography. The last few years feature people using smartphones in 75% of the pictures. 10 years ago that situation didn’t exist. Try going to a college campus or a big city and take street photos where people are not using a smartphone. It ain’t easy.

    Great article.

    jason gold February 25, 2014 at 9:26 am / Reply

    I don’t have a cell/mobile. Not a standard, not a “smart” one.
    Folks think they have so many friends.. but they stand alone.
    Humans are social animals. This is not socializing.
    It is dangerous to be so absorbed, it is utterly rude and crass, to use such devices at a dinner table, where one is a guest.

    Martin February 26, 2015 at 12:44 am / Reply

    Amazing, my wife did that the other day. While walking around town, having a good time, suddenly she asked for my phone. Shot it off and put it on her purse. And she asked, are you taking photos or answering the phone? Relax! Enjoy the time together! Disconnect to get more connected.
    I didn’t knew what to say, really. But thanked her immediately.

    Andre June 29, 2015 at 2:48 pm / Reply

    A great piece of information. You hit the hammer on the nail. I’m a professional photographer, who hates cell phone cameras. I use my cell phone for one reason; communication. I call it the zombie stare, when I observe the general public walking with their eyes glued to latest piece of information posted on their cell. Not long ago, I was on the national mall in Washington, D.C., with my camera on the tripod waiting for the sun to rise from behind the U.S. Capitol. A female jogger passes by, pulls out her cell phone and takes a picture. Why? I do not know. The sun had not yet risen. She then showed me her image. While changing lenses, I gave a stern look and said, “Scram. Beat it. You’re botherin’ me. See?”

    Fred December 25, 2016 at 11:44 pm / Reply

    Well written. Guilty as charged. Think you just articulated what should be my New Years resolution.

    Frank Lehnen December 26, 2016 at 1:44 am / Reply

    So true, and even more so since 2013 when you first posted this.

    I see those things take over our everyday life. No one looks u, no one sees anything anymore. No one makes photographs except stupid selfies…..

    I have one too, I rely on it nearly every day of my like but I feel more and more that it’s becoming a burden!

    This world is slowly becoming pathetic. I’m no luddite by any measure. I’m a computer nerd and a fool for new tech.. but those phones…. something has to be done!

    Not for nothing I went back to film 4 years ago!

    Carlos December 26, 2016 at 9:00 am / Reply

    Nonsense, It’s a nice article with a throught problem. Social Networking and ads kill your time, not the Smartphone. That is really just a contemporary swiss-knife in your pocket.
    All the problems come with our addition to social networks. If you don’t want to waste your time with them, just don’t look it up, deactivate notifications, and follow content not crap. You can friend with your friends and unknown people, you just don’t need to subscribe to their crap. look them up if you are interested in what they’re doing.
    Pull instead of Push, but Pull when you want real information, not the daily shared rubbish packed with ads.
    Don’t text when driving, don’t when taking photos, don’t when you’re creative, don’t when you’re thinking, don’t when eating, don’t when talking to a friend, don’t when in business meeting, don’t when you’re meditating for girls and boys, don’t invent new rules, just think of sensible decisions that have been around for decades if not centuries. Many make sense still today. Others may not.
    Have fun, whatever your decisions are.

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