A photographer’s justification against humiliation. Or why you should pack one in your kit.
Why I hate them
The selfie stick (or as I prefer to call it, my portable extendable-arm image-facilitator on the basis that the other name carries with it a stigma that no self-respecting photographer would wish to be tainted with) has more uses than just taking selfies. And I don’t mean as a back scratcher – although I have used it for that.
In my travels I have often been accosted by this offensive flailing stick. The popular travel locations are (well, were) filled with people in close proximity whose normal personal space is considered to be their own body plus perhaps an arms length. But with their fully extended selfie sticks they suddenly are able to describe a circle around themselves of about three metres diameter. With their eyes fixed on their distantly extended mobile phone, the other pulling that lock of hair into the perfect position, face locked in a rictus of a perfect smile, relying on the soft focus filters to transform them into their celebrity influencer idol, so they find the perfect backdrop by swinging the stick in a great arc and sending everyone in their proximity into defensive mode. The open brolly in the eye in the high street has nothing on it.
In Iceland I became fixated on the guy who, for the fourth day of the tour, gathered more video clips with his mobile phone. This involved holding it at arm’s length on his selfie stick, whilst staring into the camera and then filming himself by rotating a full dizzying 360° whilst grinning against this circular panorama of his current location. He did this everywhere. My fixation centred around imagining the post-vacation viewing experience at home when he showed his friends a lengthy series of his face with a spinning panorama on each one which was surely guaranteed to bring on severe motion sickness.
In China, where the selfie stick seems to be obligatory, I forever found myself in a crowd, trying to lean into a position for a shot that excluded the mass of humanity around me only to see an extending black stick sliding into my viewfinder yet again.
That hardly sounds like praise does it.
Why I love them
But at some point a few years ago I realised that a’selfie-stick’ could be a very useful photographic aid during mobile photography. Although I have to face sarcasm whenever I get it out and suppress the paranoia that other photographers are looking down their noses at me I try to carry it everywhere. But why?
Even when I have my full camera equipment and tripod with me I often grab some shots or maybe video clips with the iPhone, and sometimes using the phone and stick are the best option. And when I leave my main camera kit at home the iPhone is always with me for that shot you need and that stick might just make the difference.
It’s when I realised it wasn’t just for taking grinning selfies.
I was amused by the serious photographers looking very puzzled at my selfie-stick-waving activity at a Goodwood Revival weekend. At full extension I was able to grab lots of unique shots that I could see the heavily laden keen DSLR set were just not getting. I could reach to about 2.8m above the ground and get high views with my iPhone.
Better still, when I came across the WW2 aircraft I could even reach up and over into the cockpit of a Spitfire as if I was actually sat in it. Then it’s up to you if you want to tell people the truth when later your friends go ‘wow, you were in a Spitfire!’.
The following images can be viewed larger by clicking / tapping on them
Naturally this is a technique that requires capturing a lot of images because you cannot see what you are taking. So bring the stick down, review your captures and repeat if necessary. It also requires that you edit the images and crop afterwards because, again, it is impossible to frame them and get horizontals right. Basically, grab the raw material and sort everything in post processing.
Going high gives unique perspectives, especially when people are involved. Going high over their heads gave me a different view of the Millennium Bridge in London, or when faced with a crowd of the back of peoples’ heads in China I simply shot my extended photo arm up two metres in the air.
I have also found it useful as a steady-cam both for still shots and video. There is nothing worse than the usual awkward finger-corner-holding-screen-jabbing technique for potential bad shots.
Equally, when trying to set up those low-level shots and save your knees or craning neck when waiting for the right moment, or using a slow shutter speed, then the tripod section comes in very handy.
Of course, it is far better to get out the proper tripod and / or the big camera for the best results, but when you just need that shot quickly or need height then having my portable extendable-arm image-facilitator with me just adds to the creative possibilities.
And I also discovered it can also be used for selfies….. if you can overcome your embarrassment.