Why Does Photography with an iPad Look so Silly?
Why does this look so silly? (at the Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋), Iwakuni Japan) -- Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋) -- Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/320 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
does this look so silly?
(at the Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋), Iwakuni Japan)

What is it about taking photos with an iPad or other tablet that makes it look so stupid?

My iPad has no camera so I've never been tempted to take a photo with it, but even if I could, I'm not the kind to take advantage of its social-networking benefits (like immediate posting to Facebook or Instagram or whatever the current fad is). So I'd probably not use it for photography any more than I use my iPhone, which is to say, not at all unless it's the only camera around and my quality threshold happens to be low.

But anyway, tablet photography looks downright silly. Why? Is it that we're just not used to seeing people holding up big boards to snap a photo? We're used to small boards (phones), so that's why people taking a photo with an iPhone don't look silly?

Practically speaking the resulting photos should be similar to those taken with a phone, so I can't come up with a logical reason why I (and the rest of the Internet) has such a visceral reaction when presented with a scene like this. Any ideas?

Continued here...

All 10 comments so far, oldest first...

To me it has looked like the person taking the picture is either looking in a mirror or watching some sort of program on the tablet — all in the middle of this vista they are trying to capture — and it seems silly to be doing that at the moment of capture — and I don’t get that impression with a phone or camera.

— comment by Phil Connor on November 11th, 2013 at 11:09pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I can think of two possibilities.

1) Privacy and socal standards. As far as hand-held devices go, an iPad is a huge screen and it’s incredibly easy for anyone nearby to see what you’re doing. By comparison, iPhones and point-and-shoot cameras use smaller screens that are a bit less conspicuous. Cameras that utilize a viewfinder instead of a screen are even better. Society (or at least, American society) still gets squeamish about public photo-taking (people are either wondering what you’re taking a photo of and why you’re taking it, or they’re worried that you’re photographing them). Put the two together and it’s like you have someone who is indiscreetly engaging in something that can make others nervous, and they’re even brazenly revealing what they’re taking photos of. Put that way, it’s difficult not to view the person as some kind of idiot who isn’t following social norms and/or has no idea that people can see what they’re doing. It’s almost equivalent to someone picking their nose or scratching their privates in public.

2) Ergonomics. A phone may not be great compared to the L-shaped SLR form factor that we know and love, but it isn’t so far removed from a point-and-shoot and it can be used one-handed. It also doesn’t require raising anything above one’s head; the positioning relative to the head can be the same as a DSLR or a point-and-shoot. An iPad is clearly not ergonomic, absolutely requiring two hands for operation. While it may be possible to do, it always seems like people use the iPad in photo mode by having to position it so that the device is held up in some form, and the iPad cases that people use certainly don’t help this cause. Like someone wearing oversized shoes, it just looks silly and incredibly awkward.

— comment by David K. on November 11th, 2013 at 11:49pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

If you put the iPad on a tripod and hid your head under a dark cloth, would it look silly?

Yes. —Jeffrey

— comment by Mark Sirota (Philadelphia, PA, USA) on November 11th, 2013 at 11:51pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

It may be a question of people thinking “so much for so little”.

We are used to think that bigger cameras produce “better” pictures so it looks silly when a guy shoots with a huge tablets (plus its deployed protective flap of course) when we know that it will produce mediocre “I was there” social-networked pictures at best. It’s also impractical with the poor display brightness (outdoors) and shutter placement, leading to funny contortions just to see what’s on the screen.

I can see this a few years from now: a guy with baggy clothes, a funny hat, shoes 15 sizes to large (*) and a big red nose taking pictures with an oversized tablet. Kids will have fun at the circus in 2020! (c:

(*) the current fashion of oversized dress shoes for salarymen in Japan would fit perfectly here.

— comment by Damien on November 11th, 2013 at 11:53pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I sometimes take photos on my iPad, when I have neither real camera nor phone.

And it feels silly, but it’s actually quite an enjoyable experience simply because the screen in SO BIG. You can perfectly see what you are taking a photo of, even more-so (it feels like) than looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR.

— comment by Zak on November 12th, 2013 at 12:27am JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Not having a smart phone while traveling overseas, it was the only way I could send pictures to family! But it was only photos from around the hotel. I was not willing to lug the iPad around when touring.


— comment by D Nakano on November 12th, 2013 at 2:52am JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Perhaps the iPad was the only camera they had with them at the time and they didn’t want to miss the shot? Why you’d lug around a tablet instead of, at least, a smart phone is beyond me mind you. I first saw this when we were in Edinburgh earlier in the year. I saw a couple of people shooting with their iPad and thought it most peculiar.

— comment by Kevin Spencer on November 13th, 2013 at 3:52am JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

The Best Camera is always the one I have readily available – so I would use an iPad if I had nothing else – BUT the iPad Cam is inferiour to anything else I have, including the iPhone of course. The Ergonomics are just not present, and I’d feel likeh iding my eyes in a newspaper while walking through a cool spot.

All of that context goes into the sorry feeling when seeing someone use an iPad for Photos. As for the looks – I automatically perceive the iPad as areading device and it really makes no sense to hold a reading device up like that. Imagine someone running around with a book or paper held like that. It looks helpless.

— comment by Ulf on November 13th, 2013 at 7:07pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I’ve thought the same thing more than once myself – the Onion had an amusing article making fun of this a while back too. Where it crosses the line from silly to annoying for me is at Sea World (and presumably other theme parks) where I see people holding their iPads up to film the entire Shamu Show, effectively blocking the view for little kids unfortunate enough to be sitting behind them. I keep hoping someone will politely tap the perpetrator on the shoulder and fling their iPad into the tank like a Frisbee, but haven’t seen it happen yet…

— comment by Brian on November 14th, 2013 at 6:54am JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I often will take a shot with my tablet while in Yellowstone. The wildlife you are looking at is usually a dot on the far side of a valley, sometimes a mile or more away. It’s really only recognizable in a spotting scope, Very strong lens (600mm is short) or binoculars. Finding it and describing how to find it is an art and there are always more people showing up at the sighting. People are always asking “where is the xxx?” I’ll take a picture of the valley on my tablet, and then all I need to do is point on the screen.

But I agree that it looks really dorky to be taking pictures using the tablet all the time. The quality doesn’t matter to most, though, since they are just wanting something to trigger their memory.

— comment by Hugh on November 15th, 2013 at 12:11pm JST (10 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...

All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.

IMPORTANT:I'm mostly retired, so I don't check comments often anymore, sorry.

You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting