Do Real Photographers Use Hipstamatic?

Posted by David Ozanich — 12 Feb 2011

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Anyone with a Facebook page has surely seen the parade of images that use the Hipstamatic iPhone app. It mimics old analog cameras with their quirkiness and uniqueness of exposure with a variety of "lenses" and "filters" that manipulate the photo.

It's great for taking pictures of the family picking apples in an orchard or for snowy landscapes or really just about anything. People love it. But what about when it's used in photojournalism? Does its digital manipulation of the image invalidate the seriousness, or realness, of the images captured?

This debate came to a head when New York Times photographer Damon Winter won third place this week in the Feature Pictures category for his photo series "A Grunt's Life" in the 68th annual Pictures of the Year competition. Here's what the Times had to say on the subject back in November when the photos were originally published:

Does it really matter what camera Damon Winter used to make these beautifully composed images? I don't think so. It's the images that are important.


Whenever possible, I avoid writing about camera gear. The photographer takes the picture, not the equipment. Few people care what kind of typewriter Hemingway used.

"Composing with the iPhone is more casual and less deliberate," Mr. Winter said. "And the soldiers often take photos of each other with their phones, so they were more comfortable than if I had my regular camera."

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Seems like a fine bit of reason there. But photography professor Tom White of Photography Lot wonders:

I worry about this - as I said to my students when they brought it up; it sends out mixed messages. The AP guidelines on retouching (in a typically vague manner) state that anything above basic colour correction and toning should be labeled clearly as a photo illustration. I think these fall into that category. On the other hand, is using the hipstamatic app really so different than choosing to shoot with a holga or load your camera with high speed black and white film because of the effect it gives? At what point are these things unethical?

In a lengthy response to the questions raised, Damon Winter writes on Poynter:

I think any discussion on the validity of these images comes down to two basic fundamentals: aesthetics and content. At the heart of all of these photos is a moment, or a detail, or an expression that tells the story of these soldiers' day-to-day lives while on a combat mission. Nothing can change that. No content has been added, taken away, obscured, or altered. These are remarkably straightforward and simple images.


What I think has gotten people so worked up falls under the heading of aesthetics. Some consider the use of the phone camera as a gimmick or aestheticizing (Is that a word? I don't think, so but I'm using it anyway) news photos. I think that those are fair arguments to make, but those arguments have nothing to do with the content of the photos. We are being naïve if we think aesthetics do not play an important role in the way we as photojournalists tell a story. We are not walking photocopiers. We are storytellers. We observe, we chose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders, we even decide how much or how little light will illuminate our subjects, and yes we choose what equipment to use and through all of these decisions, we shape the way a story is told.

I tend to fall on the side of Winter in this one. Photojournalism is storytelling and photographers should be able to use all the tools in their arsenal. What do you think?

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