A lot has been said by photographers in the blogosphere about the apps they use for capturing images and manipulating them through portable devices like iPhones, iPads, Androids etc. As someone who works in photography I love having the ability to capture images on the fly using my iPhone.
However, when you enter the realm of writing stories AND taking pictures as a contract photojournalist, the game changes significantly.
Over the years of doing photography, the one major constant relating to the amount of gear that photojournalists carry around is the increase in camera gear. I push the boundaries every.single.time at airport check in counters when I travel for work. I am the classic nightmare for check in counter employees, pushing them into a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation because I refuse to check my camera gear in. I will always insist I carry my camera gear on board with me and yes, I struggle with complying to the size limits. Yes, I also always go over carry on weight limits. If there are any check in counter assistants reading this post, I apologise profusely for my past behaviour and also in advance for future altercations because I am sure our exchanges are not over.
When I first started in this game, not only did I have to contend with a humongous amount of camera gear, I also carried notepads, pens, address books, a personal recorder, spare batteries for the recorder, spare tapes for the recorder etc. All of this was wrapped up in a huge bag that I used to lug over my shoulder. I still have that bag and all my notes from those days. I occasionally look back on them with great fondness.
Well fast forward to 2013 and how times have changed. I recently travelled through four countries in Africa for work and on an expedition to remote Antarctica and you know what? I never picked up a pen and paper to write a single note! I satisfied extremely complex client briefs by using my phone and laptop only.
No you haven’t misread that. I used electronic devices for all my field work. I was working for seven different clients, taking photos and writing stories on these two journeys.
To avoid lugging around even more cumbersome gear on top of your camera and laptop, I thought I would do a quick round up of the tools I used on my phone to capture stories. Articles that varied from simple location pieces, to avifauna profiles, mountaineering interviews, human impact stories and geographic journal articles. By profiling these tools, I hope I can give other professionals in this field a break from handwriting and also help to lighten their load a bit in the field.
Notes are superb for jotting things down during talks, taking names and addresses of people you photographed and copying scant yet important facts from information boards etc. I even use notes to compose poetry on long bus trips when I am bored! My one suggestion is to turn off the spell check mechanism before you start taking notes in foreign languages, otherwise the phone tries to second guess what you have written and it nearly always gets it wrong! Having spell check on while taking the address of the Damara native you have just photographed, can turn a 2 minute exercise into a 15 minute unnecessary drama and you sometimes just don’t have that sort of time with people when you are at work!
Are invaluable for taping interviews, recording your own voice messages and taping talks to replay later so you have captured the facts correctly. I have even taped the sounds of some bush creatures that I’ve heard, taken them home and identified that creature just from its call using the voice memos app.
I could wax lyrical about all the different uses a phone camera has in the field. I have used mine for all sorts of things but if time is short and I need some text from a publication that is out of print and that I cannot buy after the journey, I have taken photos of text from my phone instead of making notes, taken them home and downloaded them for research. Be warned there are copyright issues with photographing any text or images that have already been published. I would suggest you use this tip for research only and if you are photographing published material, delete the images after you have finished with them!
If you are working around indigenous people, you will often find that a phone camera is way less intimidating and far more discreet than a DSLR. The beauty of phone images these days is that the resolution at which many pics are shot at often mean that they can be published. I used to think I could only ever publish and sell images from my DSLR. In the past 12 months I have not only published photographs from my phone, I have sold them to private collectors and won competitions with them.
To complement the former. Its good to review the images quickly in Photos to work out if you need to take another shot if the first was out of focus. People also love to see their picture on a phone. I was swamped by a Namibian family in Swakopmund last year after I took a family pic of them with my phone. I later sent the image to them via email (see next tip) when I came into net range. Naturally this is where all your original and manipulated images are stored too.
Its surprising what you can email if you have internet access in the field. Not only can you copy all the text you’ve made in a note and paste it in to the body of an email, you can email individual notes and voice memos (if they are small enough) to yourself for use later. You can email a pic you have taken of someone directly to them if they have an email account or you can keep on top of your client emails while you work too.
If you have online access, the internet is sometimes good for checking facts while you are on the run, answering emails, posting a blog post, sending an email, keeping up with social media and showing people your website etc.
Great for staying in touch with family if you have net access and also for conducting video/telephone interviews with clients remotely. Skype can be used to instant message, video and voice chat and over longer periods on location, it allows easy access to communications if you have access to the internet.
Do you always run late for appointments? Try to fit too much into the schedule of your day? You can keep a diary using the calendar app in your phone. It has a setting for reminders and acts as an electronic schedule so you never lose track of where you should be and when.
Addresses of people you meet in your travels are easily stored here and you can add fields to contain more specific information. The beauty of your address book is that it syncs automatically with your phone and you can just dial a contact or email them directly from their entry.
What writer doesn’t use a dictionary? A fairly lousy one. I have had to write editorial on long haul flights and I find the dictionary in my phone very handy to use for spell checking and also for finding synonyms and antonyms in its Thesaurus.
CAN I GO WITHOUT PAPER ALTOGETHER?
Never! There are some things that, for me anyway, will never replace paper. I still like to sketch and draw pictures in the field on rare patches of ‘down time’. I love the look, feel and smell of paper as much as any other reader/writer!
I would, however, hate to find myself in this predicament!