2012: The Year I Quit Photography?

Well, not quite. But it will definitely be the year I make a major transition in my photography. As I will explain below, 2012 will be the year that I begin to take most of my photos with my iPhone. Since I purchased my iPhone 4S this fall, I’ve been using it more and more as a replacement for my Nikon D3100 DSLR camera. The improved camera specs of the iPhone 4S (8 megapixels at F2.8), along with the new features in IOS 5 (such as quick access to the Camera app from the home screen, the ability to use the volume up button to take a photo and VoiceOver compatibility) make the iPhone the ideal device to “capture the moment” for someone like me.  As Chase Jarvis has stated, it is the camera that’s always with you, always at the ready to document those fleeting moments in life.

However, it’s not only the convenience and ease of use of the iPhone that’s drawing me away from using a traditional camera to capture images. As most of you reading this know, I have a visual impairment and I’m slowly losing my vision to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP for short. At the moment, I have less than 10 degrees of vision left (less than 20 degrees qualifies you as being legally blind). RP leads to progressive vision loss starting with peripheral and low light vision. In my case, my low light vision is what has been most affected by my RP, but the usual closing in of the field of the vision is also there.

I’ve been lucky that my progression with vision loss has been pretty slow, but the last few times I’ve gone out to shoot with my camera, I’ve noticed some changes in my remaining eyesight. It’s ironic that it is photography that is helping me judge these changes in my vision. I’m not sure if these changes are really there or if it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. Much of what I’ve read about RP states that people with the condition lose most of their peripheral vision around the age of 40, and guess what, I turn 40 in a few days. So, maybe it’s all in my mind, but the last few times I’ve gone out with my camera I’ve ended up with some major eye fatigue and pain afterwards. I think what’s happening is that since I can’t see that much of the frame through the viewfinder, I’m having to move my eyes a lot to make sure I have framed the shot properly. All of this eye movement is probably fatiguing my eye muscles, so that when I get home I have pain in my eyes and the area around them. It usually takes a few doses of pain relief medicine and some warm compresses for the eye pain to subside, and I would rather avoid it if at all possible.

I love photography, and I would hate to give it up. However, when I got into this hobby I knew that the day would eventually come when my vision loss would make photography really difficult. I have no regrets for having spent a considerable amount of money on my DSLR and my lenses and other accessories over the last couple of years. I would not give up the joy that the hobby has brought me over that time. My photography has allowed me to experience a lot of beauty around me that I would normally miss with my own eyes (the camera has a far better range of vision than my own eyes). I also saw photography as a challenge, not only for myself but also for all of us who have visual impairments. I have always enjoyed the expression on people’s faces (when I can see them) when I step up to a spot with my white cane and pull out a camera to take a photo. I know they look, and I know they probably ask themselves “wait, isn’t he blind, why is he taking a photo?” If I have forced anybody to confront their preconceived ideas of the meaning of blindness and disability, then it has been all worth it to me. I can continue to make a similar statement through my use of the iPhone as a video and still camera.

So the thought that has been on my mind for the last few days of 2011 and the first few of 2012 is, where do I go from here? Well, I would say that for 95-99% of the time I will be using the iPhone to take photos. The large, bright, sharp display on the device will make it easier for me to frame shots without having to stress my eyes as much. I also plan to use a trick I recently learned that makes it easier to take a photo by pressing the center button on the Apple headphones. I’ve looked at other options, but for now the iPhone appears to be the best one for me. The wide selection of apps with filters also means that even if I don’t quite get a picture right, I can apply a few filters and turn my failures into “creative experiments.” In some ways, I find not having to know so much about my camera sort of freeing, in that I can now focus on getting the best composition and less on what my camera is doing. In some ways, that’s exciting.

My DSLR camera does have a LiveView mode that allows you to use the LCD screen to frame a shot, but that mode is very slow (defeating the purpose of having a DSLR) and it is difficult to get sharp photos if you’re not using a tripod. Having said that, I have no plans to sell my camera and lenses. I could still use the LiveView mode for recording the videos I use in my tutorials on mobilelearning4specialneeds (after all, video is the reason that mode is in the camera in the first place). I could also use the camera for some brief shoots in a favorable lighting conditions. Limiting my time using the viewfinder will be the key, as will be making sure I take frequent breaks to let my eyes rest in between shots. At the very least, I will keep my camera and lenses as a nice present for my daughter when she gets older (though I’m sure there will be much better technology for her to choose from at that time).

I’m so grateful to Apple for taking the iPhone in the direction that it has by making it such as great portable camera (it is now surpassing traditional point and shoot cameras in the number of uploads on Flickr, one of the most popular photo sharing sites). Without the iPhone 4S, I think 2012 really would be the year I end my journey as a photographer. The way I see it, without digital I would have never gotten into photography in the first place (too costly considering the number of photos I have to take for a few good ones to turn out), and without the iPhone I would not be able to now continue in the hobby. It has been a beautiful journey with its usual ups and downs (times when I have gotten really frustrated when I couldn’t take the photos I wanted to, either because of my lack of technical expertise or the limitations of my eyesight), but I wouldn’t change a thing. There is a saying well known to those who follow Apple, “here’s to the crazy ones.” Well, I guess photography helped me see myself as one of those crazy ones who can change the world one small step at a time. It is crazy for someone with my kind of visual impairment to invest the money and time I have in pursuing a hobby like photography, but I hope that my crazyness has inspired somebody else to take on their own crazy adventure into whatever hobby fills them with joy and passion.

This long blog post is really the inspiration for the video I submitted for my application to the 2012 ADE Global Institue in Cork, Ireland, which is available below:

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