Monday, November 15, 2004

Using mobile phones to take news pictures

A few months ago I toyed with the idea of giving online journalism students mobile phones with cameras built in, and sending them out to take web-ready images. At the time the idea was rejected because of the poor quality of images taken this way and, of course, cost.

But it seems things may be heading in this direction: the BBC reports that one tabloid newspaper in LA is giving photographers camera phones to catch celebrities, while some picture agencies are already paying for exclusive phone pictures.

The same article lists a number of stories where mobile phone photography featured. This included:
  • The daily Amsterdam newspaper De Telegraaf publishing a mobile phone-photo of murdered film maker Mr van Gogh's body taken moments after he was killed. The BBC quotes the editor as saying, "The picture was the story".
  • A flight from Switzerland to the Dominican Republic which turned around after someone took a picture of a piece of metal falling from the plane as it took off from Zurich (reported by the Swiss daily Le Matin).

  • Two crooks who robbed a bank in Denmark were snapped before they carried out the crime waiting for the doors of the building to be opened (reported by the Danish regional paper Aarhus Stiftstidende).
And while I'm lifting wholesale from that BBC article, it also gives some useful links to mobile photography blogs Reiter's Camera Phone Report and picturephoning.com, and 'moblogs' (that's a blog using mobile photography) BlueHereNow and Buzznet. Like most neologisms, 'moblog' is open to different interpretations - it could also include blogs posted remotely (ie. while mobile) via PDAs, email, or mobile phones (see About.com definition).

In a related story, how about this great photographic response to Bush's election victory at sorryeverybody.com? Here the half of America who voted for something less vague than 'moral values' express their sincere apologies to the rest of the world for messing up our lives and environment for another four years. In the true tradition of the Net, it didn't take long for a response from the unapologetic half. Quite a few images seem to consist of toddlers posed with pro-Bush statements, which I'll leave you to make your own conclusions about.

UPDATE (16.Nov.04): In a timely move, the Consumer Electronics Association in America has issued a code of conduct regarding use of mobile phone cameras (PDF version here). This includes not using them where cameras are normally not allowed, and using 'discretion' when taking images of under-18s. The article that reports this move also mentions the fact that Saudi Arabia banned mobile phone cameras two years ago.

UPDATE 2 (18.Nov.04): Meanwhile, this Slashdot posting mentions a BBC news report that Privacy International is asking that all camera phones incorporate an automatic flash to prevent covert pictures being taken. The same posting mentions "In Korea, the government would like phones to make a loud sound when taking a picture".

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