Candid camera

A Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR (image: Wikipedia)

As a father and minor photography geek, I have a close relationship with my cameras. They have recorded all the major milestone events but also the myriad of minor ones which constitute the fabric of my life. It’s that ability to record those unexpected moments which yield an insight into the honest reality of our day-to-day experiences – there is a good reason that such unposed images are called ‘candid’ shots. In that respect, advances in technology have made capturing such images so much easier and more affordable.

When I was a lad

Like so many other gadget-related things, I owe my love of photography to my father. When I was the age Isaac is now, Dad’s pride and joy was a Rolleiflex twin-reflex camera. A top-end machine, it’s a thing of beauty in terms of its design and quality with its Zeiss f2.8 optics and a proper push-button shutter. A good second-hand example will set you back upwards of £6,000 today. (I wonder if Dad still has it? Not that I’d sell it – I’d just love to hold it.)

A Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR (image: Wikipedia)
A Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR (image: Wikipedia)

I took my first ever photo with this camera – a shot of my then baby brother clinging to the bars of his cot – aged six. It was the start of my love affair with photography. Two years later, Dad bought me my first camera – a Kodak Tele-Ektra with a plug-in disposable flash, for those of you with long memories – and I’ve been snapping away ever since.

Back then, taking a photo was a considered affair. Although my little compact Kodak was effectively a basic point-and-shoot, Dad’s Rolleiflex required the use of a manual light meter to gauge exposure, and it wasn’t something you could just swing into position and snap away with. The viewfinder was folded away inside the top edge of the camera – you had to open it up and peer down into it to compose and focus your shot – and each roll of film only allowed you to take 10 or 12 shots before it needed to be replaced. To take a decent photo often required half a minute of setup.

It all made for a painstaking, time-consuming and expensive process. I loved it, though. I learned my basic photography craft with a combination of Dad’s camera, my Kodak and later a Pentax ME Super SLR (which I still own). But it wasn’t a process that made it easy to grab a series of candids on the off-chance that you might capture a special moment. Photos took time and had a tangible financial cost to them – assuming you had your camera to hand to begin with.

Now I’m a dad (I): The posh option

Part of that problem is easily solved with a modern digital camera, where the cost of using film instantly disappears. I currently use an ageing but inexpensive Canon EOS 350D body, onto which I graft various bits of glass and other gizmos to suit the occasion. I recently calculated the value of the contents of my camera bag – let’s just say to replace everything would not so much burn a hole in my pocket as totally incinerate my trousers in a conflagration which would not look out of place on Guy Fawkes’ Night. I’m heavily invested in my camera – both literally and figuratively.

Canon EOS 350D (image: Wikipedia)
Canon EOS 350D (image: Wikipedia)

Going digital has taken away some of the romance of film photography – which I’m not totally immune to – but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. I do still enjoy the process of framing and composing a really good shot, but equally if I want to pap 100 snaps of the kids in the expectation of deleting 99 of them later, I can do that with a freedom I didn’t enjoy before when I’d be thinking about the cost of developing and replacing three rolls of film on the off-chance of producing one great shot. It removes the risk from speculative photography, freeing up new avenues for creative adventure.

Now I’m a dad (II): The 24/7 option

When you have three young kids like I do, any trip out involves carting around so much child-related paraphernalia that the camera bag often stays at home. But that doesn’t matter so much, because nowadays I am permanently within arm’s reach of a camera a thousand times more capable than my old Tele-Ektra: my iPhone 5.

My ‘everyday’ camera, an iPhone 5 (image: Apple)

By modern standards, the camera in the iPhone is fairly basic – there’s no optical zoom, it’s too slow in low-light conditions and the flash is useless – but nonetheless it’s a more than competent performer that more than compensates for a lack of finesse by being on hand 24/7, ready to capture Kara’s latest achievement, an off-the-cuff moment involving the boys, or something slightly more posed.

By the time I’ve located one of our other cameras, unsheathed it and powered it up, the opportunity is often long gone. With my phone, I can simply reach into my pocket, flick a slider with my thumb and be ready to shoot in five seconds. I cannot begin to count the number of candid moments that has allowed me to capture which would otherwise have escaped posterity.

Plus, for those of us who are social media-inclined, there’s no need to complete the film, take it to Boots and wait for it to be developed before I can inflict my latest cute kiddy photos to friends and family. Now I can review the image on the spot, manipulate it with Photoshop Express or Instagram to correct poor composition or add colour and filters, and publish it to my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account within seconds. The overall quality of the images is not as high, of course, but the ability to customise and share photos on the go is priceless.

Just to finish off, here’s a selection of recent photos of the kids, all taken on the hoof with my iPhone. I’ve included them not because they’re great, exhibition-worthy images – they really aren’t – but because they are meaningful to me, enshrining a specific moment or reflecting an aspect of personality. Without a cameraphone, they would exist only in my increasingly unreliable memory. These photos help fill in the gaps in the record of my and (my family’s) life – and I love that. Give me a rough but comprehensive photo-journal over a beautiful but woefully incomplete one any day.