If you’re the kind of person who prides themselves on avoiding cliché vacation photos, Interaction Design student Philipp Schmitt has designed an iPhone camera case that actively helps you avoid commonplace tourist snapshots. His project is detailed on his website.
The project is called the Camera Restricta (a play off Camera Obscura) and it uses a custom web app and your iPhone’s GPS to determine if too many people have taken photos at your exact location. If it deems that you are trying to photograph some tourist trap, it will prevent you from taking the picture by physically retracting the shutter button and blocking the viewfinder. With any luck, you’ll feel inspired to explore away from the well-beaten path, at which point your camera will return to normal and your life will become less generic.
How it Works
For the Camera Restricta to determine the density and frequency of photos taken at a given location, it compares your iPhone’s GPS coordinates against public photo location data available on Flickr and Panoramio. The project’s creator, Philip Schmitt created his own Node.js server to query for the number of pictures nearby. The code behind the query is open source and made available by the author on Github.
As a user, you’re made aware of your location’s photo saturation in two ways. The first is to look at your iPhone’s screen for real-time statistics on just how many recorded photos have been taken where you’re standing. The second is an audible series of clicks (deliberately styled to sound like a geiger counter).
This audible feedback (while irritating) is a clear indication that you’re in a tourist photo danger zone. More than just a cute sound effect, a real-time Web Audio API analyzes the frequency of these clicks. When the app determines that the clicks have reached beyond an intolerable threshold, it triggers an ATTiny85 microcontroller and retracts the shutter button.
From a mechanical perspective, the camera-shaped case design for the iPhone looks relatively simple. A 3D printed shell encloses the iPhone, an ATTiny85 microcontroller, and a handful of electronics needed to power and operate a servo that raises and lowers the shutter button. The prototype design looks a little cartoonish, but I personally like it. I figure if I’m going to be snobby enough to actively avoid popular photography destinations, I may as well rock my faux Leica to complete the tortured hipster look.
The Camera Restricta is both a fun project and an artistic artifact worth pondering. In an age where our phones and our cameras are essentially the same thing, consider how easy it might be for governments to force a kind of software geofence around locations they don’t want easily photographed.
Personally, I like this project for the kind of creative treasure hunt it forces on its user. If we can all admit that gorgeous photos of the Eiffel Tower are just an image search away, then why not seize an opportunity to capture the unsung corners of our world?