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'Thirty Six' app makes you a thoughtful photographer again

Last summer I ran into the first photography teacher I had in the States. He was visiting London and we sat down over a pint. We spoke about the state of the photography industry, the Instagramification of consumer photography and the future of digital photography. And while we agreed that digital photography has been a good thing for both the industry and photographers, one negative effect it brought was the technology's tendency to turn people into lazy photographers.

In the mid-'90s when I was a teenager I first learned to shoot on film. Rolls of 36 exposures were my norm and I chose each shot judiciously as film was expensive to buy and develop. And while I welcomed digital photography -- as it lowered the cost of being a photographer -- I (and my former teacher) began to notice that it also seemed to make young, budding photographers lazy. After all, why take the time to frame the shot and "edit in camera" when you can just shoot off a hundred snaps and then choose the best of them? Digital photography, we both agreed, had taken the discipline and patience out of the art of photography.

As fate would have it, months later I met Gary Cohen, photographer and Senior Computer Scientist at Adobe (who, since joining the company in 1999, has worked on PhotoDeluxe, Photoshop and the Creative Cloud), and he told me he had observed the same thing in photography -- younger photographers that lack the discipline to be selective with their shots and edit in the camera. But he was working on a solution: an app called Thirty Six.

Thirty Six, which is Cohen's creation and not affiliated with Adobe in any way, is a deceptively simple app from first appearances. It allows the user to take black-and-white pics on their iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. However, the brilliance behind the app is that it works like a film camera. The app operates on a system of film rolls of 36 exposures each. The user cannot view any of their photographs until they've shot their photos and "developed" the film roll in the app. Once the photos are developed users can view them on a contact sheet and, via taps, select the photos they like or absolutely love.

What I really like about the contact sheet option and the selection process is that Thirty Six does not automatically save any of your photos to your iPhone's camera roll until you tell it to. For each developed film roll you can also tell the app to save just your selected "liked" and "loved" photos, or the entire roll. You can also choose to email your selected photos or the entire roll, and of course share them on Facebook and Twitter.

Everything about Thirty Six is something old-school, classically trained photographers are going to love. The app is also something that every budding, young photographer should have on their iPhone. The ability to take a virtually unlimited number of photos on a digital device is nice, but nothing contributes more to becoming a good photographer than being forced to really think about what you shoot, having the discipline to make a finite amount of choices, and judiciously planning each shot before you take it. Thirty Six accomplishes all of that.

Thirty Six is available now on the App Store for US$1.99. It's also a universal app, so it works on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.