Have you ever found yourself faced with a perfect photo opportunity and lamented the fact that you haven't got your camera with you? Have you ever turned a corner and encountered a beautiful sunset but know that by the time you take your camera out of its bag and attach the right lens, the moment will have passed. These are the occasions when I am glad that I have a capable phone in my pocket. Having relied on my phone camera on numerous occasions I no longer see it as inferior to my 'real' camera but as a tool that can enhance my photography practice and allow me to make the most of every opportunity for making photographs.
I wrote this post last year and find myself re-reading it as I set out with my new iPhone camera.
I’m always on the lookout for the perfect photo opportunity. I find myself constantly looking around while out walking – for patterns, colour, unusual objects or interesting sky formations. Even when driving I often spot a picturesque scene and find myself stopping to assess its potential for a photograph. This may be what commentators call beginning to think like a photographer, beginning to look at the world from a photographer’s point of view, even without having a camera at hand. It is also one of the reasons that mobile phones have helped photography, as they are usually immediately available to turn that potential image into reality.
I don’t imagine that many serious photographers give a lot of credence to pictures taken with mobile phones. Although there are many wonderful images taken with mobile phone cameras, they tend to be dismissed by those for whom DSLR or mirrorless cameras represent real photographic equipment. But apart from developing the photographer’s eye, and being a camera in the right place at the right time, I would venture to say that my phone has actually improved my own photography practice in a number of different ways.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
As with any pursuit, improvement in photography comes with practice, and indeed, in order to make good progress, daily practice is what is required. That being said, it is not always possible to have a camera on hand at all times, given the busyness of our everyday lives. That is where the mobile phone comes into its own.
While walking to my local supermarket on a winter morning I was able to capture the first frost of the year that had covered this bunch of leaves.
Similarly, on an evening walk I was surprised by the changing colours of the sky and managed to capture a few images.
As mentioned above, having a ‘photographic eye’ (or maybe more accurately a photographic mind) is a major part of developing as a photographer, and it is good to assess a scene or subject from the viewpoint of how it could be framed as a photograph, but it is an added advantage to be able to immediately translate that vision into an image because we have a camera in our pocket or bag.
The next few images were taken unexpectedly on a Sunday trip to the countryside.
Experimenting with image making
There are a few aspects of mobile phone photography which are particularly helpful in improving at the art of photography. A lot of photography teachers will say that the most important elements in a photograph are subject, composition and light. It is essential to an image to have a clear and strong subject or focal point and in order for this subject to stand out in the frame we need to pay attention to the way in which the image is composed. Naturally, how the light affects the image will be of utmost importance and these are all elements of photography that we can ‘play around with’ using a phone camera in order to improve our technique.
Turning on the camera’s gridlines can make a big difference to composition and go a long way to balancing our shot. With the gridlines turned on we can easily see how to place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines to create more pleasing
Setting the camera’s focus is another option that is easy to use on the phone camera and the simple act of tapping on the screen to focus has helped me become more aware of the need to choose a focal point in all my shots rather than simply let the camera choose where to focus.
Working with single focal length is an interesting aspect of mobile photography. I try not to use the digital zoom on my phone as it doesn’t give a good quality image, and while this does tend to limit the type of shots I can capture I have found that the lack of an ability to zoom forces me to become more creative by varying my perspective and angle, getting closer and looking for interesting subjects that will work will within the given focal length. With my particular phone camera I have the choice of two focal lengths and I can vary the type of shots I take accordingly.
Working with my phone camera, and taking into account that I can’t change lenses, has encouraged me to focus on close-up images a lot of the time, and I love capturing small, delicate details that could easily be missed.
Capturing textures and colour works well on a mobile phone also, and these are images that I tend not to take with my bigger camera as they are often things I come across unexpectedly.
Since photography is essentially ‘painting with light’ it is good to take opportunities to play with different light sources and to make images in all types of light. I enjoy making silhouette images or capturing an unexpected play of light.
I have experimented with the phone’s exposure, adjusting exposure manually if the camera is not getting the light just right, and sometimes deliberately underexposing to obtain a certain effect.
Another area where the phone camera has been an invaluable tool is in taking candid images when out and about, in the street, at the beach, in the park. Wherever there are people doing interesting things there is potential for an interesting photograph, and the phone camera leaves us in a good position to capture those shots.
Editing on the go
Editing images can be a valuable part of our photography process but editing images from our cameras on a pc in Lightroom, Photoshop or other editing program does take time. Having said that, it is worth making subtle improvements to our photographs from time to time so a mobile app such as Snapseed can fit the bill. It gives us a lot of the functionality of a more complex editing program but is quick and easy to use. In addition, Snapseed produces good results as well as giving practice in editing skills.
These are just some of the ways in which my mobile phone has actually helped my photography, despite the fact that it might be technically inferior to my bigger camera. But of course, photography is about taking photographs so the main value of the phone camera is that it gets me out there taking pictures. Many of them are consigned to the bin fairly quickly, but below are a few that have survived.
Someone's addition of the band around the arm of the sculpture caught my eye!
The person at the end of the street drew my eye, but I should have moved closer to get a better shot.
All of these images were taken with my mobile phone, and all have taught me something about composition, subject, perspective and focusing. They have also helped me discover the types of photographs I am most drawn to, and given me ideas for improvement.
Leica, Schmeika, the camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them record what you are seeing. But you have to see. ~ Ernst Haas
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