Since the prevalence of camera-phone technology, we’ve all sort of become hobby multimedia journalists, mostly reporting on our own lives, but also mixed in with some good ol’ citizen journalism. As a byproduct of my formal photojournalism training, I think I’ve also learned some good camera-phone photography etiquette. I’d like to use this editorial to share it.
When to put your camera-phone away:
1. A little kid is swearing like a mothertrucker.
Maybe this is a bit crotchety of me, but I hate hearing little kids swear. I’d even go as far as saying that finding humour in children dropping f-bombs is a bit perverse. And I’m not against profanity, I just think it needs to be used tastefully. Hearing a kid swear is like seeing a kid drink coffee—it’s a privilege that should be earned alongside the hardships of adult life. The “Thug Life” compilation on YouTube is a good example. The video is primarily clips of young kids saying wildly profane things, followed by a dramatic zoom shot and the music of “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” playing in the background. And the videos would actually almost be funny if it weren’t for the fact that these children are obviously agitated and have no anger management skills. Put your camera-phone away. We don’t need to exploit these angry kids.
2. Someone’s emotional breakdown and you think it’s funny.
By now, you’ve all probably seen the video that went viral of a woman having a screaming fit at the Victoria ferry terminal. I first saw it on the Spotted in Victoria Facebook page, but since then, the video has also appeared on various news networks, including CTV Vancouver, which ran the very ironic headline “Viral video of ferry terminal outburst raises privacy questions.” Where do I start? First, this isn’t news, so let’s stop treating it like news (and no, trying to angle it as a “look at privacy laws” story isn’t fooling anyone). Second, I’m among the ranks who think this video shouldn’t have been taken in the first place. This video wasn’t taken with intention of being a case study on BC Ferries, human temperament, mental illness, etc. This video wasn’t shot and circulated with intent of citizen journalism. It was shared so we can laugh at her. It’s sort of in the same class of humour as watching a guy hit his face off a diving board (or any other pain-for-humour stunts you’d see on Jackass, except those people actually give consent for the video to be shown). Put your camera-phone away. We don’t need to laugh at someone else’s misfortune.
3. You’re 14 and a boy is asking to see your boobs.
Or if you’re any age, really. This rule of thumb is pretty straightforward. Put your camera-phone away. Don’t take and share photos of your bikini areas unless you’re of age and trying to become a nude model/porn star. Then put your iPhone away, dial up a professional photographer, and go for it.
When to take your camera-phone out:
1. You’re on a boat and a pod of orcas start circling.
I’m a sucker for these videos. It’s times like these that I’m happy people have camera-phones, and they’re happy they have an otter-box for it. Take your camera-phone out. If there’s anything we know from the internet, it’s that people love cute and extraordinary animal videos.
2. It’s your first or second selfie of the year.
Alternately, if it’s your first or second selfie of the day, you might want to stop while you’re ahead. There’s nothing wrong with a little occasional vanity, especially if it’s at just the right amount of low-resolution that you can take a close-up shot without it being way too much information. Take your camera-phone out. In this day and age we can archive stages of our lives without needing a photographer: embrace it, but don’t spam it.
3. At a protest or other political event and you feel it’s your duty to record the happenings.
Video evidence can be a powerful tool. Recent examples of citizen journalism include footage of the Sammy Yatim tragedy in Toronto, and recordings of protests at Burnaby Mountain in Vancouver. Take your camera-phone out. If you’re at the right place at the right time, seize the opportunity to be a citizen journalist. (However, don’t block or obstruct the way for real journalists. Just kidding, we’ll just plow through you anyway.)