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Documentary photography with an iPhone

“Mind the Gap” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Taken with Hipstamatic.

Couple of days ago, I have stumbled over The New York Times blog Lens post that reminded me of my own recent experience as a documentary photographer.

The post dealt with the 3rd place winner of the Pictures of The Year competition, Damon Winter, which snapped the winning image via iPhone’s Hipstamatic app. According to the Lens (and the post author ) “Critics have pounced. The debate over the propriety of using apps, already hot, is intensifying”. Personally, I feel Damon is damn right and it doesn’t matter which tool was used for capturing the moment as long as it conveys the autherntic atmosphere, moment, happening and such that matters. Now, how’s this relate to me?


Two months ago, at the start of July 2014, I have been drafted to the IDF as a reserve infantry soldier at the dawn of operation “Protective Edge“. Within several hours I have already been en route to my outfit, alas, without any camera with me. Well, except for the iPhone 4S.

“Under the net” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Post processing by SnapSeed.

Throughout the length of the major phase of the operation, I have taken hundreds of photos through the use of the iPhone camera, capturing it naturally or via the Hipstamatic app. Post processing was also applied in certain cases with SnapSeed, another powerful app. While photojournalism and documentary photography put a heavy emphasis on authenticity, it is clear that using a cellular phone’s camera (with or without using apps) is not as far as people might think since the essence is the same. On the contrary, capturing moments with a cellular phone is much difficult, especially since many of the controls on a DSLR (not to mention professional grade ones) is much more suited to capturing the “decisive moment”. The camera on the phone give’s one the ability to get close to the subject or be there when the event happens much more easily.

“Untitled” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Hipstamatic. Post processing by SnapSeed

Using the Hipstamatic app is far from being intuitive in terms of output. The filtering algorithm is such that it can be hard to anticipate the expected result and thus it requires experience to know which combination of film and lens can be the best for the current situation. Exposure lock is out of the questions and thus can lead to some interesting and also frustrating moments.

“Untitled” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Taken with Hipstamatic.

So, similar to Damon Winter, I have found the iPhone camera both small and thus acceptable by my outfit’s comrades, and thus enabled me to get some very interesting imagery. In other aspects I needed to be extremely luck to capture the exit of a mortar shell, as seen below.

“Untitled” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Post processing by SnapSeed.

Getting the subjects unaware of your presence as a photographer is key to capturing genuine feeling and atmosphere, whether edited or natural.

“Treatment” Under the net. (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Taken with Hipstamatic.

I will summarize by the belief that more and more cellular originated picture will find their way to the front pages due to the availability.

“Looking for a missile hit” (c) Chen Guttman, 2014. Taken with Hipstamatic.


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