"The more you shoot the more you learn why you shoot."
I recently listened to a video tutorial by a well-known photographer who, while suggesting that observation and discovery are vital elements in improving our photography techniques, urged the viewer not to do this discovery using a phone camera, but rather to have a real camera at hand for this experimental work.
He cited as a reason for saying this the fact that the lenses and focal length are very different between phone camera and dedicated camera and that the phone camera will give an inaccurate impression of what a photograph with a dedicated camera would turn out like.
While I do take his point, and know that it makes a lot of sense, I also believe that the phone camera has a role to play in improving photography, particularly for learners.
Why do I believe this?
Well, let’s take a look.
I have come to realise, something which to me was quite a major revelation, that there really is a lot to learn in photography.
Photography is not just about going out with a camera, pointing at a few subjects or scenes, pressing the shutter a few times and coming back with great images.
Apart from learning all about our camera, there is a lot of learning about the art of photography that must take place before we begin to produce anything worthwhile.
We need to understand the importance of light and how to use it to our best advantage.
We need to be able to identify a strong subject in our scene that will draw the viewer into our image.
We need to know about composition, learn composition techniques and know how to best compose our image so that it is pleasing to the eye.
We need to learn about some of the accepted ‘rules’ of composition but also be brave enough to break them so we can follow our own instincts.
If our photography is to become something that we own, something unique to us, then we need to experiment, explore, discover things for ourselves and do things our way.
What do you want from your photography?
For me, photography is experimental.
I don’t expect to go out and make amazing images.
If I get even one image that pleases me, I consider that to be a success.
What I do want is to make progress.
I want to see a development in my photography; an improvement in the quality of the images I make.
I want to compare my images to those I made last month or last year and see that I have advanced, even if the advancement is just a small step forward.
I want to master the essentials – to be able to identify strong subjects for my images, make better compositions and learn how to make better use of light.
I want to be able to notice mistakes immediately rather than posting images with glaring faults that no photographer, not even a beginner, should make.
All of this needs study and practice: study of the many and varied elements that go to making up a good image; practice to internalise these elements and to be able to use them naturally when taking photographs.
Some of this work can be done by reading, listening to or watching tutorials and learning from instructors online or in workshops.
But most of the real learning is done ‘in the field’.
This is where we put the theory into practice, when we take what we have read or heard and use it in the making of our images.
How can the phone camera help?
Learning photography involves constantly observing, being on the lookout for photo opportunities, finding ways to improve.
I believe that the phone camera can help us here in several ways.
Below are the three most powerful ways I see in which your phone camera can help you improve your photography.
1. Improving Composition
When I am focusing on composition techniques my ‘camera in my pocket’ is invaluable because I can take it out at any time, frame up a scene or subject, and see whether it works as a composition.
For example, when I am learning about how to use leading lines to enhance my images, I can look out for examples of these as I walk in my local area or park and experiment with their use by taking out my phone camera and trying out different ways to incorporate leading lines in my images.
I always think leading lines are more effective when there are people in the picture. In this image it is almost as though the path leads our eye along to the two walkers
In this image the road runs on past the walkers and leads our eye beyond them into the distance
The same is true for other composition techniques such as natural framing, symmetry or using different perspectives. My phone can help me to experiment with different ays of using these techniques to capture an image.
I used the bars to frame the image, and managed to capture the boats between the bars
The water provided a good symmetrical image here
I like to capture subjects from unusual perspectives
2. Finding Strong Subjects
When my emphasis is on identifying a strong subject for my images I can observe as I walk around to see where I can find interesting subjects or elements that would make good focal points, and I can shoot my subject from different perspectives to see what turns out best.
3. Working With Light
Light is an important element in photography. It is something that is always changing and that affects our images in different ways depending on its source or intensity.
Shooting with the light behind us will give a different result than having the light behind the subject.
Side light will reveal another result.
Shooting in soft, diffused light will give a different result than shooting in harsh light.
Being able to experiment with different light has opened my eyes to the importance of light and my phone camera has provided opportunities to experiment at different times of day and in all kinds of light.
These images were captured on an early morning walk in summer, before the light became too harsh
While some photographers will say that it is not a good idea to experiment with photography techniques by using a phone camera, others will no doubt say that a phone camera is good enough to make our final images without having to resort to a real camera at all.
For me, there must be a balance.
I don’t exclusively do mobile photography, but neither do I see it as second best.
At times my phone camera gives me exactly the images I want, and I often take photos with only that camera.
I don’t see my phone camera solely as a tool with which to experiment before I bring along my big camera to make ‘real’ images.
But sometimes it does fulfil this function.
It allows me to practise my learning, to experiment, to discover new possibilities, and most of all to enjoy the journey rather than becoming too focused on a finished product.
Over to you.
Do you agree with the photographer who tells us not to practice photography with a phone camera or do you think it has a role to play in helping us become better photographers?
Have your say in the comments below.
You might also like to read my earlier post on the same subject.