A few weeks ago I spent a spare evening importing pre-1999 photos into my Lightroom catalogue: about 10,000 images which had been taken on both digital and film since 1977. I’m not especially OCD about my photo organisation but I needed to access some of my older gig pics and a few photos from my Star Trek fanclub days (1992ish) for the Leeds Starfleet reformation – the images I waded through set me thinking how sad it was that some were such low resolution.
Back in the late 90s when I started out in digital photography I borrowed a small digital camera from one of my Mailbox Internet colleagues for a few nights. It took photos at a VGA resolution of 640×480 which were perfectly adequate at the time but now are way too small to be used on the high-res monitors we have nowadays. Given availability of hi-res scanning I regret not using more film even though it was pricey (24 exposures would set you back at least £7 on film+processing) as I’d love to have decent, untainted, nice images. Sadly I have to resign myself that those memories are forever held in under 1MP of poorly colour-balanced postage-stamp JPEGs. The Kodak DC200 I bought in 1998 was marginally better, a great little point-and-shoot which was convenient (if you saw me taking photos in a pub with friends in the late 90s, odds on it was this particular camera) but still 35mm outweighed consumer-grade digital… put up with 2MP or shut up.
However (cue fanfare) we can make the decision nowadays: we have splendid small high-resolution point-and-shoot cameras available to us on the high street for the price of a tank of petrol… yet many people still insist on using low-resolution low-quality cameraphones. Why?!
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that there’s fun places for cameraphone pics and there’s a whole branch of imagery (“phonetography”) which takes advantage of it. My beef is that many people will use them instead of a decent little point-and-shoot at important events. Case in point: I asked a friend if they wanted to borrow one of my better P&S cameras for their best friend’s wedding; the answer came back “oh no, I’ve got my cameraphone thanks”. The resolution’s there, but the glass in the front of the phone, the absence of flashgun, the light balance issues, even image stability are all going to factor into taking a pretty bad shot.
It gets worse: with the prevalence of Instagram, Hipstagram and all those ‘retro’ iPhone apps, you don’t just get to destroy your memories with bad photos, you get to utterly demolish them with ‘cool’ effects which in a few years time are guaranteed to be cringeworthy. Those wonderful memories of your honeymoon? The gorgeous photos of your newborn son? “Oh, yeah, they’ve got that really really cool negative ID mark and colour-burn and they look oh so retro, but… well, sorry we can’t fix it, we’ve only got that pic of Grandad holding Billy when he was just a few hours old and it’ll have to just do.”
There’s a final issue: when was the last time that you, as a consumer, copied the images off your camera onto a better storage solution? I’m not talking about uploading to Facebook (see arguments passim along the lines of “online is not a storage solution”), I’m talking about sticking them on a memory stick and putting it in a drawer. Several friends have lost images through phone resets, broken memory cards and such; when I’m asked to help, sometimes I just can’t and I have to break that news to them. So copy those images off, frequently! Memory sticks are less than a tenner from WHSmith, are your memories worth less than a tenner? Can you guarantee they’ll be worth less than a tenner in a few years time?
So here are some suggestions: get a reasonable little point-and-shoot, stick it in your handbag, take that to your events. Don’t rely on your cameraphone, and especially don’t chuck your images through some naff retro-image-processing tool without keeping the originals safe (I’m picking on Instagram and Hipstagram here but there’s loads more). No matter how random the photos, they’ll form part of your memories in later life so keep them safe and untainted.
PS. Some may consider this hypocritical considering my enthusiasm for B&W photography recently. In actuality I’ve made this mistake myself but using B&W instead of my 5Dmk2 at a family event, so it’s still fresh in my mind…