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Why I Don’t Dismiss My Phone Camera for Street/Urban Photography

What type of photos do you take with your phone camera?


Many people use their phone camera for posting on social media, taking photographs of family and friends, and for other types of casual photography.


Many would not consider their phone camera to be an option for serious photography.


Sure, it will take a great sunrise or sunset shot and these don’t always appear when you have your ‘real’ camera with you, but to get the best out of photography most people tend to reach for a bigger camera than the one their phone offers.


In many ways I agree that a phone camera is not ideal for serious photography. It doesn’t provide the real photography experience that many budding or serious photographers look for, which comes with using a dedicated camera.


When I think of going out for an enjoyable time with my camera it is my Nikon that I’m thinking of, not my phone!


As well as lacking the ‘real photography’ feel, phone cameras are often lacking in terms of image quality too. Colours can be overly saturated and have that phone camera look that many photographers dislike.


However, there is one area of photography in which I would argue that the phone camera can hold its own and that is in street/urban photography.


When photographers give advice about the best type of camera for street photography they usually advise using a small camera that will be easy to carry around and will be inconspicuous.


Also recommended would be the use of a fixed focal length lens or a short zoom. Compact cameras such as Ricoh and Leica, although expensive, have been favourites for street photography, and Fujifilm cameras are popular with modern day street photographers.


I have a small Olympus micro four thirds camera which I pair with a 14-42mm pancake lens for street shooting, although it’s a bit too big to carry all the time. It is for that reason that I don’t dismiss my phone camera for street photography. I have it with me all the time, always at the ready so that I don’t miss that candid shot.


Given the specs of the best street cameras, I am not suggesting that phone cameras are on a par with dedicated cameras, nor that the fact that we always have them with us is all we need.


Successful street photography is about more than just snapping images in the street.


But I do believe that phone cameras can provide most of the requirements of a good street photograph.


On a technical level they can produce sharp images, and most mid and high-end phones now house multi lens cameras in a compact package. They slip into a bag or pocket and are easy to access, so taking a photograph couldn’t be easier.


On a creative level phone cameras also have much to offer to street/urban photography. We can shoot from different perspectives, take a wide angle shot, get close-up and blur the background, use different camera modes such as motion or portrait mode, or take a panorama shot. And all without changing lenses or fiddling with camera settings.


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Street photography is about being there, in the moment, ready to make an image when the conditions are right.


A good street image will have an interesting subject, a simple composition and be a documentary of everyday life in a place. It will require good observation skills and a keen eye for what will make a decent image.


A good street image will tell a narrative of a people, a time and a place.


It will reveal the character of a place through its buildings or features.


And it is the photographer whose skill is required, regardless of the choice of equipment.


On recent street photography/urban photography outings I have deliberately gone out with just my phone camera to see if I am at a disadvantage for not having my real camera with me.


I also attempted to experiment with different urban photography techniques.


In each of the examples I describe what I was looking for and you can decide whether the phone camera was able to deliver.









Exploring shapes



Looking for examples of symmetry or near symmetry






Experimenting with capturing images through glass


Although most photographers would not use their phone camera as their go-to camera for serious photography I would argue that we shouldn't dismiss our phone camera for doing street or urban photography, either close to home or when travelling.


A phone camera is convenient, easy to fire up when a photo opportunity presents itself, it has several lenses for different shooting options, it makes a decent image and it allows us to experiment, discover what is around us and document our surroundings at every opportunity.


Why not take your phone camera out to your nearest town or city and enjoy discovering what it can do?


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I believe that a photographer who really sees, but has a cheap camera; will produce better images than a photographer with the best gear, but no vision... every time. Sean Tucker

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