How photography apps made us all picture perfect

“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” Henri Cartier-Bresson

We all know how pictures used to look when photography was first invented: black and white/sepia toned, rough edges where the film wasn’t exposed, grainy… The delicate film just wasn’t capable of producing tac-sharp, imperfection-free images. And we’ve certainly come a long way since then.

In 1992, the first picture ever was uploaded to the web. Tim Berners-Lee, a CERN employee working on the creation of the ‘world wide web’, uploaded it to prove that the internet had uses beyond the Physics department. And with Instagram users now uploading an average of 55 million photos every day and Facebook hitting 250 million photo uploads per day, Berners-Lee’s initial hunch has proved to be pretty prophetic.

Between 1930 and 2000, the amount of photos taken per year grew from 1 billion to 86 billion; by 2011, that jumped to 380 billion photos taken per year. 10% of all photos ever taken were taken last year — thanks, in no small part, to the fact that most of us now carry a camera with us wherever we go: our smartphones.

This massive advance in mobile digital photography has pushed more ‘non-photographers’ to share pictures of their day-to-day activities, and made professional photographers to became even more creative — Nettie Edwards won Mobile Photographer of the Year at the American Aperture awards with her iPhone pictures of Versailles which could fool anyone into believing she used a 6×6 medium format camera.

Mobile phone cameras are naturally capturing important cultural moments now too. It speaks for this generation that when Obama’s photographer joining Instagram, it made headlines. Jeremy Cowart’s iPhone images of Haiti, taken during his time volunteering in the aid effort there, show the iPhone’s potential to capture a nations feelings and relay that to the rest of the world — another reminder that the subject of a photo is more important than image resolution.

So we now all have the capabilities to create incredibly effective images with our smartphones, and there are numerous apps and add-ons to help us achieve this. A personal favourite of mine is VSCO cam.

First, this professional film emulation company absolutely nailed Adobe Lightroom plugins that allowed you to add a specific film effect to any digital photo, then they followed it up with an app. The first release was relatively basic, dealing with simple adjustments and filters, but the latest release syncs with your Instagram account, giving you the option to create an online “grid” which shares your photos in a portfolio fashion, and allows you to buy similar film effect packages that made the Lightroom plugins so popular in the first place.

What started off as a rival to Instagram now works as a friendly companion, with the hashtag #vscocam now returning close to 8 million images.