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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Positions and Practice – Hipstamatic and Journalism

As Damon Winter explains to Steve Myers in the interview about his award winning photographic series ‘A Grunt’s Life’, “We are storytellers. We observe, we chose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders”.[1] This is exactly what the images Winter took did. They tell the story of the soldiers, framed in a way that would speak to the viewer.

Since the dawn of the photographic process, photographers have been able to frame a photograph to tell the story that they want to tell and they have been able to develop the photograph exactly as they want. In the days of analogue photograph, dodging and burning an image in the darkroom was common place. In today’s digital world, a few clicks on Photoshop allow us to manipulate the image. Hipstamatic offers everyday users of iPhones the chance to add filters to give their photograph a different aesthetic to the actual scene in front of them. We have always been able to manipulate images; iPhone apps just make this quicker for us and this has to be a good thing if used in the correct way.

Reading around the subject it has become clear to me that society’s current fascination with nostalgia and retro has led to a rise in the popularity of the use of these types of apps. In my opinion, Hipstamatic is often used to try and make boring and poorly composed images appear more interesting. But underneath the filters there is still a boring and poorly composed image. Adding the filter layers makes the photograph appear old and that somehow translates into a more interesting image for some people. This is a misconception that I find hard to understand; after all a poor image will always be a poor image whether a filter is applied or not. Composition and framing are key elements of a good photograph. They are fundamental to an image’s success or failure. These elements are unconnected to the equipment you use, whether it is an iPhone or a DSLR.


Figure 1: Expert Photography 2016

The content of the image does not change in Hipstamatic; nothing is added and nothing is removed. So why the controversy and fuss over Winter’s images being shot using Hipstamatic? Winter did not add or remove any content from his images. Through Hipstamatic he applied a filter that gave the images an aged aesthetic. Did this change the message of the image? No, of course not. He was able to take informal and candid photographs of the soldiers he was with. The use of a phone is less intimidating than a large camera. After all, everyone takes selfies and photographs on their phones these days. He would never have been able to get close enough with his SLR to get the shots. Without his iPhone, we would never have seen these images. Even purists must surely accept that this is a positive use of the iPhone camera.

Is the fuss because the Hipstamatic app is perceived to do all do the work for the photographer? Or is there an element of snobbishness amongst ‘traditional’ photojournalists against news stories being captured on an iPhone? In my opinion, purists feel threatened by the technological advances in smartphone cameras. The ease of use and discreet nature of the phone make it an attractive proposition to reporters; they can take their own photographs of events. Traditional photographers fear that they are no longer required when each reporter could have a mobile phone. My mobile is always in my pocket to capture images when I do not have a camera to hand.

Dan Chung used his iPhone to shoot images at the London Olympics for the Guardian newspaper. The images show his skill and experience as a photographer and are not a statement of the equipment he used. When viewing the images I do not find myself thinking that they were taken with an iPhone, instead I enjoy them for the content . Reflecting on his use of the iPhone at the Olympics, Chung said “I found shooting on the iPhone quite enjoyable and quite liberating. Surely, part of photography is also about that: Did the photographer have a good time, or not? And actually, I did.” [2] Chung explains further on that the iPhone does not produce images of the same quality as the DSLR, but allow us to explore our creativity. Chung was able to provide us with a different perspective on the Olympics that we would not have otherwise seen. Traditional photojournalists seem to have forgotten that photography is about telling the story in the way that they, the photographer, sees fit. Photography is about having fun. Maybe if the purists embrace this, they will see iPhones for the useful tool they are.


[1] Myers, S. (2011) Damon Winter explains process, philosophy behind award-winning Hipstamatic photos. [online] St. Petersburg, Florida: The Poynter Institute. Available from [Accessed 09 October 2016]

[2] Lodi, Erin (2012) Photojournalist Dan Chung reflects on shooting the Olympics with an iPhone. [online] Seattle: Digital Photography Review. Available for [Accessed 09 October 2016]

Figure 1:     From Expert Photography. 2016. Instagram, Hipstamatic and Reasons Photography Is Starting To Suck » Expert Photography. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 09 October 2016].

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