Joshua G's  5th birthday

Sisters in Woodlands, Microsoft Lumia 435 ‘phone camera, Photo John Robinson

Cell phone cameras do not produce the same image crispness of a medium format Carl Zeiss lens, but the ‘phone camera does have the same ability of a medium format to take pictures out of the way of the human contact between the photographer and the person photographed…

Way back when I was just starting out on my own photographic journey, I remember Jenny Gordon commenting on the ‘feel’ of her photographs taken on her medium format Hasselblad camera at the time. When a Hasselblad camera is used, it is usually mounted on a tripod out of the way of the photographer and the persons photographed at the time; and this reduces ‘strain’ on the person or persons photographed.

Click your shutter button now, don’t chimp, look and be surprised later. When using a ‘phone camera in bright light it’s often hard to see the coming image on the camera screen, so just have a quick look to make sure of your angles, the camera has already a surprisingly good hold the exposure and focus side of things. So just get on with capturing the moment – it’s only digital, so no loss as ‘they’ say… And your pictures will be more spontaneous and ‘of the moment’ too.

On the theory side, when someone is being portrayed they can become ‘normative.’ Another way of saying this is: they present themselves to the camera in a way that they think they should be portrayed. The result of this behavior by the person been photographed is that the photographer does not get the moment as she or he saw it. The ‘phone camera is much less “serious” in the mind of the person photographed and so they get less up set by the process…

To end this piece, I say spend more time taking pictures and less time getting hung up in photographic gadgets; I also think that if H.C.B. had had a ‘phone camera he would have used it too.



Illustration – pages 62,63 The Camera, Life Library of photography, Time Life Books

Cell phone cameras are becoming in the 21st century as were the 1st 35mm rangefinder cameras in an age of then bulky unwieldy cameras. When Henri Cartier Bresson first held a Leica M rangefinder camera in his hands, he had a camera that was small and easy for him to use, just as are the cell phone cameras in so many of our hands today… The Leica M camera has always been about a focus on the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO; and leaving the way open for the individual’s capture of the moment.

All cameras are just a light proof box with a controlled hole that lets a momentary light in onto a light sensitive surface where a image is recorded. There are just 3 controls in this regard: the aperture, the shutter speed and ISO.

“The quantity of light that reaches a piece of (photographic) film (sensor) inside a camera depends on a combination of aperture size and length of exposure (shutter speed). In the same way, the water that flows from a faucet depends on how wide the valve is open and how long the water flows. If a 2 second flow from a wide open faucet fills a glass, then the same glass will be filled in 4 seconds from a half open faucet.” – Editors of Time Life Books, 1976

The technical side of photography is simple. But as a photographic teacher I have had many learners who’s whole focus has been on all the buttons on the modern camera rather then on the images produced by these essentially simple devices, prompting the idea that these learners would be equally satisfied with a new multi buttoned torch in their hands.

Photography should be about the moments framed and not all about the gadgets framing. I have a client that does not mind if I use a digital or analogue camera, rather minding the picture produced by me. Just as the Leica M cameras changed the way we saw things when Henri Cartier Bresson first got one, we now have changed again the way we see things through the lens of the cell phone camera.

The cell phone camera has cut us loose from even the 3 basics of photography by dealing with these remarkably well on the whole, letting us focus on the moments in front of their tiny lens.

Now it is just for those who sill look down their noses past the ‘chimp’ screen on their DSLR camera at the little smart phone that could just as well frame the moments unseen in front of the ‘photographer.’


Durban in off season. Gaura Sundara a Hare Krishna devotee from Ukraine gives out flyers and booklets to passersby. September 2016, Durban, South Africa, John Robinson
Durban in off season. Gaura Sundara a Hare Krishna devotee from Ukraine gives out flyers and booklets to passersby. September 2016, Durban, South Africa, John Robinson

I am a narrative photographer working out of Durban a city on the east coast of South Africa. I have a passion for environmental portraits.

1. Get out of your personal space. I once had my own car, but I rolled it while texting at the wheel. I now use public transport to get around town; this has let me see a lot more of my city rather then just driving through concentrating only on what is in my path.

2. Be aware of the voice within yourself. I have often waited at a spot in the city on a ‘whim’ or the ‘voice within’ and a moment as above has come together before my eyes. Concentrate on what is around you rather then on exact compositions. Let the moments just speak for themselves. I have general ideas of what pictures I would like, but I let my photos talk for themselves.

I just wanted a picture of a Hare Krishna devotee, but I got one of Gaura Sundara with a flank of young men passing through…

3. Use just one lens, I use a 50mm prime lens on a rangefinder camera. there are no surprises for me when I lift the camera to my eye, a 50mm lens lets me keep some distance from my subject but without giving away a sense of connection. A 50mm lens is close to the natural view of my human eye. My street photography is all about the moments out there rather then about whacky eye views.

If you are using a factored frame camera rather then full frame I would recommend a 35mm lens rather then 50mm, this will give you a view angle that is closer to human eye view.

4. If there is movement in the background, capture the moment. Many times my photographs have been enhanced by an unexpected movement in the frame. I can’t buy these additions for all the wealth in the world. It is just for me to be ready and able to press the shutter button on cue.

I use a hand held light meter while photographing on the streets, and also pre focus the camera as much as I am able. The hand held light meter sorts out the exposure issues for me so when the moment comes I can just press the button.

5. Never ‘chimp’. The moment to view your images is not on the street when taking pictures, you may just miss another moment that has been given to you, rather just carry on just taking pictures until you feel that there are no more moments for your taking; and view your images back home in front of your computer screen.

I have been using my Leica M6 camera for about 18 years, I am so used to it now, it’s like my tooth brush, I can concentrate on the clean feel in my mouth rather then on the brush itself. I feel that many photographers are more interested in their camera rather then the photographs it takes.

The camera is just a tool, if you use it right it will do the job.



Walking through the Montclair park, looking for the starting point for a new sketch; the trees and grass patches said to me, ‘slow down we have something for you.’ I waited and a monkey jumped down from a tree and a young woman walked through the shade…



Julius Malema; the young vocal leader of EFF is a festering thorn in the side of many South Africans who support the Democratic Alliance. ‘Juju’ as he is known on the streets of South Africa is known for anti eurocentric rants like “one boer one bullet”.

Julius Malema came out of the ranks of Jacob Zuma’s ANC as the leader of their youth wing, he was also a close supporter of Jacob Zuma. Disgruntled, Malema left the ANC to form the Economic Freedom Fighters a vocal leftist political party with much inside knowledge of the ANC. The EFF are now in overall third place in the South African Local Government 2016 elections. Juju is now in the position of king maker to the Democratic Alliance to the ire of some of its pale supporters in some areas where there is no outright winner in these elections.

South Africa is now in the age of coalition politics whether some people in the country like it or not…