I have little doubt that most—if not all—of you have heard some derivative of the photographer’s mantra: the best camera is the one you have with you. To some degree, I appreciate the idea but I’d expand on that to discuss the importance of intent. Sure, having a device that is capable of taking photos is important. In actuality, it’s sort of mandatory, right? If you don’t have a device capable of capturing photos, then you’re not exactly doing anything in that realm. Yesterday, I had an entire afternoon to roam around San Francisco with nothing but my iPhone 7 Plus. I wasn’t looking to go on a mobile-only photowalk but there I was and the only camera I had was my phone. So, we’ve established that having a camera with you is better than having no camera at all. Brilliant. And so what?
What good does a mobile phone camera do if you don’t have some intent to go with it? In other words, when I hear the phrase, the best camera is the one you have with you, I feel like I’m settling or that I’m making an excuse to myself for taking a subpar photo. It’d be as if I told myself, well, all I have here is this phone but I’ve got it so I might as well take a photo. It’s not nearly as capable as my larger camera that is at home, so I don’t need to have as strong of an intent or expectation to create at the same standard. I don’t buy that at all for several reasons.
All one needs to do is look at the marvelous body of work created by some of our historic photographers. These were folks who were working with cameras and tools that would be considered positively crude by today’s standards and yet they never looked at their gear as a crutch to limit the expectation of achieving greatness with each single exposure. I see a lot of parallels here and would like to amend the statement about the best camera being the one you have with you to the best camera is the one you have with you that you use to create with intent regardless of what the device is. It was because of this attitude that I pushed myself to move beyond the typical excuses I would make whenever I used my phone to take pictures and, as a result, I’m seriously happy with the outing.