Today roughly marks the day that I have been in the smartphone world for one month. Back in december I received one as a gift–and at the least, this gift has opened my eyes. I’ve made it clear through my voiced opinions, in some my video work, that I am partial to smartphones. That mentality hasn’t changed entirely, but it’s changed enough to write about it. That change can be summed up in two words: the camera.
Cameras on smartphones, in the past year, have made an enormous leap–including the technology with editing on smartphones. Apps such as Afterlight, VSCOcam, and many others have allowed pretty much anybody to make their photos look better. I’m not saying photography is dead, or that smartphones have taken over the world of photography–they clearly haven’t. That being said, they have changed the game, and they provide valuable lessons even for pro DSLR shooters.
My work is gradually moving more into the film world, but every now and then I still take on a photo project. When I shoot portrait work, I typically use a DSLR, and lenses ranging from 50mm to 200mm, sometimes a 24mm. Now with a smartphone in my pocket, my eagerness to grab my hefty DSLR diminishes (depending on whether I have a client or not). Why? Because I have found that a smartphone camera can “re-open” a photographer’s eyes–especially a portrait photographer.
A phone camera comes with a few challenges. First, the resolution is by no means close to DSLR standards, so “zooming in” on a smartphone is a poor choice, because it degrades the quality that you’re fighting for. So, you’re left with an ultra-wide lens without a great capacity for shallow depth-of-field. Second, the dynamic range is pretty weak because of the sensor’s size, meaning you can loose a lot of detail in the shadows and highlights. Lastly, it’s easy to shoot too much with a smartphone–what you had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not necessarily photo worthy or relevant–but it’s easy to fall into that trap because your phone is basically your life companion.
With these challenges, comes a lesson for all photographers. Say if you’re shooting a portrait, how are you going to take an intriguing image with the camera’s restrictions? The key is incorporating the world around the subject. Too often to portrait photographers fall into the trap of shooting a whole session with just the nifty fifty, or a 200–I have done this plenty of times. How can you shape the structures around your subject to captivate a viewer who’s scrolling through newsfeed after newsfeed? My point is, breathtaking images can be taken with a smartphone, it’s just a matter of adjusting your eye for the occasion.
I’m not saying my phone is my favorite camera of all time, and I’m not going to sell my DSLR and shoot exclusively phone photography. I’m just a firm believer in the idea that the best camera is the one you with you. Regardless of whether you like images from smartphones, they are great tools for scouting, planning future shoots, and testing shooting situations. If you wish to continue to follow my work with the iPhone, follow my Instagram here, or below.