Ode to My Mobile Phone Camera

Ode to My Mobile Phone Camera

How my mobile phone helped me to discover photography and what I learned along the way

Not too long ago the number was 36. That was how many pictures you could take with one roll of film. I went through about three of them per year. Two for the holidays and another one for the remaining family get-togethers. The constant lack of remaining shots on the film, the hassle of taking that little black box to be developed – it’s safe to say, I wasn’t a fan. To me photography felt complicated and out of reach.

Digital photography came along and things changed. People around me still took photos of their holidays and families. But now it wasn’t 36; now it was more like 360. I would sit through endless photo presentations, but picking up a camera myself wasn’t an option. Things seemed to get even worse when mobile phones turned into cameras. I remember buying my first smart phone. “I want to make phone calls and send text messages, why does this thing have a camera?” Oh, sweet ignorance…

They get us all in the end

Eventually, while everyone else was already busy taking selfies and stuffing Facebook with pictures of their daily lives, my inner photo geek awoke. First, it would only stick out its nose into this wondrous world of social media and mobile photography, quickly retreating whenever someone accused it of finally being interested.

What really caught my attention were blogs and, of course, Instagram. There I found people using their phones beyond the odd snapshot. For years I’d visited Instagram pages in my browser. Just for their photos. The social part of the app was too far out there for that little photo geek. Consumption okay, but sharing? No way! It takes confidence to put yourself out there. Most Instagramers, like me, are not professional photographers. However, this isn’t National Geographic, it’s a phone app and we all learn a thing or two as we go along.

The best camera is the one you have with you

Yes, I know. Phrase-mongering! But it’s still true and I learned the hard way. It was my second visit to Australia. The first time I went, the camera I brought gave up on me after two weeks. So one year later I returned home with only two photos, and a travel diary, but that’s another story.

Armed with a new DSLR and lots of determination, this time I was going to get it right. However, DSLRs are heavy and did I mention complicated? So it stayed in my bag for most of the trip. Not so my phone. It saved the day more than once and slowly but surely taught me to approach photography from a different point of view. That of a storyteller.

My friend contemplating the loneliness of Redbank Gorge in the West McDonnell National Park Australia

Getting to this place meant a long hike through a dry river bed and the burning heat of the Australian outback. We started before sunrise. Guided by the light patches of white sand, we made our way through the bush and gum trees rattling in the morning breeze. Without sunlight the rocks appear black. They radiate the heat from the day before and there is a distinctive scent in the air that can put me back to Australia in an instant.

As we reached the bottom of the river bed, the sun began creeping over the edge of the gorge and turned black into glowing red. It was beautiful but also meant we were up against the clock. Walking back with the sun up was not an option. So when we finally got to the end of the gorge there was just time for a few pictures with my mobile phone. The big camera stayed in my bag the entire hike.

Somewhere in Tasmania

This guy was about as big as the tip of my thumb. There were thousands at this beach in Tasmania. We had a blast trying to capture them in a photo without having them retreat into the sand or running away. This was a beautiful place and sunset, but I would not remember it as vividly had we all not spent an hour or two chasing crabs with our phones.

There is a difference between capturing the essence of a memory and a snapshot of a moment

At some point during my trip I began capturing things simply for their uniqueness or beauty. These photos have no story, but they form one if I put them all together.

The crystal clear waters of Lake McKenzie.

They aren’t about what happened but what it felt like to be there. The color of the water, the texture of the sand and maybe even the sound of the birds in the morning and the scent of the gum trees at dusk. The details of everyday life.

Suddenly everyday things become special

Power plant along a freeway.

We all know them. The things we pass by on our way to work. They are familiar and yet we rarely pay attention to them. Especially when they represent the negative things of what we do to our environment. This, however, caught my eye. Since my phone camera and I have become better acquainted, I catch myself looking for interesting shapes and colors. I had stopped at the side of the road for the canola field, but ended up posting this on Instagram.

Sometimes a picture can make my day. Like the cool T-shirt you got for a bargain or the train you almost missed.

The perfect ending to a not so perfect day at the office.

For the non-professionals among us, our phone can be our best friend

I admit, I like my DSLR and I use it often. There are things that my phone just can’t do and I enjoy the challenge of learning about exposure, aperture and all those other things. But there are times when it’s not my camera but my ability to use it that reaches its limits. And more than once my phone has gotten me the photo I wanted.

This is not fog. It’s the heaviest rain I have ever been in. A sight to behold, but my camera wasn’t happy. Holding the camera in one hand and the umbrella in the other I just couldn’t get anything in focus. Freezing, drenched and quite annoyed I finally took a few shots with my phone. Not perfect, but sooo much better.

My phone makes me a hunter for opportunities

I am a writer and sometimes I desperately look for a picture to illustrate a thought. That’s when I go on secret photo missions. Wherever I go, I try to create an image that will translate that picture in my mind into something others might recognize.

Instagram caption: What if you could jump and dive into that other world?

And sometimes it is a song.

“There is nothing more difficult than talking about music.” – Camille Saint-Saëns
🎶 Camille Saint-Saëns – The Aquarium, Carnival of the Animals 🎶

Gadgets – every photo geek’s dream

Be warned! There comes a day when even the humblest mobile photographer opens their bag and it’s full of equipment. Halfway along my journey, I discovered gadgets. My favorite is this tiny lens that produces the most amazing macros.

The Alien – A beautiful poppy, so creepy up close.

My next lesson is how to do street photography. It helps to only have my phone. It doesn’t feel as intrusive when I sneak up on people.

Lovers on the love lock bridge in Cologne

There is still a long way to go before I master those intense portraits taken on a train or in a café. Let’s have a talk about your friendship with your phone or how to tackle those little photo geek insecurities. Find me on Instagram @tonivisual and say hello!

Thank you, Alexandra, for editing! @whisper_feather

German Hanami

German Hanami

“It is spring time now! While the world looks for a new war to fight, you look for a cherry blossom to watch!  Let the stupid seek violence; you seek the elegance!” Mehmet Murat ildan

The wind picks up a plastic bag from the street and swirls it into the air. The crackly noise breaks the silence; the kind of silence that only an early Sunday morning can bring in a big city like Cologne. It’s quarter past 5am, the sun hasn’t come up yet, but the sky already has that golden shimmer. I am loading my car with cookies, hot tea and of course my camera gear. Alexandra (a friend I met on Instagram) and I are going to Bonn to enjoy a very special treat. One that only lasts for a couple of days every year.

Hanami – Japanese – “the enjoyment of the beauty of flowers”.  A word that is mostly used to describe the more than a thousand-year-old tradition that exists around the blooming of the sakura. The cherry tree.

In the 80s, when the city of Bonn decided to undertake major restorations in its city centre, they also planted cherry trees. Today, for a few days in April, a handful of narrow streets are dipped in pink.

I pick up Alexandra at the river Rhine. There is still a chill in the air but it is promising to be a beautiful day. We are engulfed in mist as we drive along the big river and then down the six-lane highway which, usually full of traffic jam, is now completely deserted.

Enjoing the silence of an early sunday morning.

As we get out of the car in Bonn we are greeted by the aroma of fresh coffee. Some of the locals have opened their windows and one of them is looking down on us while we slowly make our way along the street, our heads tilted back.

The sun rises and we begin to feel its warmth. As we turn around a corner onto the main cherry-blossom-street, we almost bump into another photographer. There they are, about ten other early birds, with their tripods and big cameras.

The things we do for a good photo…get up at 4am on a sunday!

I own a small DSLR camera with a standard zoom lens and a 50mm that I really like, but a lot of my pictures are still taken with my phone. I enjoy the spontaneity of it and that I have the result right there, ready to edit with an app and share it straight away if I want to. Apart from my phone, my other constant companion is a plastic bag. I get a few strange looks as I pull it out of my bag to get down on all fours into the curbstone.

#beautyiseverywhere Don’t you think?

The meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan is best summarized as a symbol of perfect beauty and the beginning of spring, a time of renewal. And then there is the fleeting nature of its life: a cherry blossom lasts only for about two weeks. It falls after a long maturity in the moment of perfected beauty.

An ocean of pink in a blue sky.

The Japanese cherry trees in Bonn are not plants whose fruits can be eaten later. These are ornamental cherries with many pink flowers.

As the morning goes on, more people appear on the streets. The café owners and delivery men don’t pay much attention to us taking pictures of their trees. They are used to this madness around at this time of the year.

Slow living.

Alexandra tells me about her first visit here, a week earlier, on a Saturday afternoon. “It was so busy“, she says, “people were waiting in line to reach one of the few high points in order to get a clear shot of the flowerage.” Entire busloads of tourists, couples in wedding attire taking wedding pictures one month before their wedding, girls posing for their Instagram pages…

The unknown Instagramer and her photographer.

And in fact, the crowd starts to change while we continue down the street. After the bright daylight has replaced the golden sunrise, the professional photographers disappear one by one; families, groups of friends and photographers with their models fill the air with happy chatter.

We all know what this will look like in Instagram, don’t we! 😉

The occasional car scatters the crowds onto the sidewalks for only a moment. The magic of the pink tree tunnel has us all back in the middle of the road immediately.

“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” Kobayashi Issa

It’s almost 10am now and my phone is about to die. Alexandra and I have walked up and down the pink streets a few times, but now it’s becoming a challenge to avoid getting caught in the different camera lenses pointed everywhere. We return to our car and head back home, leaving the cherry blossoms to the masses that will appear shortly. We will return next year.

My lucky shot. I didn’t even see them before editing this picture.

“Ah, if in this world there were no such thing as cherry blossoms, perhaps then in springtime our hearts would be at peace”. Ariwara no Narihira

Thank you to my lovely friends Alexandra and Alexandra! @alexandra.loves.cologne for being my photo walk buddy and @whisper_feather for being my editor!

For more cherry blossoms in Bonn visit the IG hashtags #kibo17 and ‘kirschbluetebonn. See you around! @tonivisual

Stories in Square by Antonia Baedt

Stories in Square by Antonia Baedt

I am a storyteller by profession. Most of my inspiration comes from everyday life. I believe our lives are made of a never-ending string of stories that connect us all to one another – if we are just willing to listen. By sharing pictures on Instagram, I feel like I am offering something in return to people who share their stories with me. Through their pictures, I can walk along an Australian beach, sit on a rooftop in New York City, dip my toe into the icy waters of Canadian lakes or sit in a cozy café in Warsaw.

11 months ago, I created an Instagram account as a task assigned to me by my employer. I never saw the point of social media, where most people seemed to connect digitally to people they knew in real life. But Instagram has turned out to be a window to the world. My Instagram feed is a collection of ideas, coincidences and random things, that catch my eye during everyday life. I am not a photographer and I don’t have a theme or style to my account.

 

Finding beauty in ordinary things is what inspires me most.

About half of my pictures are very spontaneous. I often stop during the day to take a photo with my mobile phone. This was one of those crappy days at the office. Nothing had gone according plan and I left a lot later than I had hoped to. Carrying a pile of paperwork, my bags, and the trash, I walked over to my car, just wanting to get home. The bright yellow caught my eye. After a moment’s thought I disposed of the trash, threw my stuff in the car and spend the next 15 minutes bent over the stairs with my phone. Strange stares by passersby ensued. The next day the leaves were gone. Someone had “cleaned” them up.

The Mummelsee in the German Black Forest area engulfed in fog.

Besides everyday hidden beauty, bad weather has become a welcome photo opportunity. This picture of the lake is the outcome of a business trip. I was supposed to bring back picturesque photos of a popular tourist area. Well, as you can probably guess by this picture, that was a complete disaster. It rained for 3 days straight. I fell in love with the dreamy mood of the thick forest all engulfed in fog. Now, I go out hunting for fog and rain on purpose.

Chasing fog during a visit in die Central German Uplands, where I grew up.

Creating and learning as I go is one of the gifts IG has given me.

Not all my pictures are things I find along the way. The other half of what I post is planned. Copying artists that inspire me is my way of learning. I don’t necessarily aim for an identical picture, but I like the reverse engineering part of it. Everyone who spends some time on Instagram will spot some patterns of what is popular. Lamps, candles and fairy lights are a current trend. I thought: you can’t judge something you haven’t tried. So, I went on a photo walk with a fellow Iger, all set up with lamps and fairy lights. We realized quickly that taking an atmospheric picture like this is much harder than it looks.

After living in Cologne for many years, I am discovering it all over again.

A fellow Instagrammer has a similar picture of the church in his gallery. It was taken in the city I live in. I was so fascinated by the angle, that I started looking for the position he must have taken it from. A fun way to explore places you pass by every day.

 

Sometimes I have to wait a while for the perfect opportunity to take a picture I have had in mind for a long time.

Pictures rarely turn out exactly the way I intended. If they do, they take a lot of planning. As with my experiments, I constantly look for locations and great light. The tracking of weather, seasonal changes and the movement of the sun have become part of my every day routine. Because I don’t have a lot of time to take pictures, I use that info for the occasional quick hunt – by leaving an hour early for work to stop along the way, for example.

 

Connecting with people all over the world and making new friends is what makes Instagram so special.

Last but not least, my new-found Instagram friends are a wonderful way of creating new pictures. I am lucky to have met a few in real life. It is amazing to see how different the pictures are that you each took of the same things. I have learned a lot about photography and how different Instagrammers see the world around them.

“The frozen tree”

I often get up before sunrise to chase for that magical light only the rising sun can give you. This picture was taken on a Saturday morning. It was freezing cold. The morning fog had just lifted and everything was covered in ice. Billions of tiny crystals reflecting the harsh sunlight. If I can’t go with a fellow Iger, I like to go alone. I can walk and stop at my own pace and just enjoy the silence of a fresh day. This time I had a few of my IG friends with me. We connected via a group chat app and were each out hunting for the perfect picture that morning. All in different countries but all looking into the same rising sun.My photos are snapshots of my life’s stories and my way of bringing my visual ideas onto paper, so-to-say. As a storyteller in the movie industry I think in pictures every day and connecting stories to them comes very naturally. But I am not a photographer for photography’s sake. I take photos to have something to share on Instagram. Something I like and something I hope a few people can connect to, so that the strings of their stories and mine can intertwine.

 

So let’s connect! You can find me on Instagram @tonivisual or visit me on koenigsfilm.de

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