Smart Phone Photography: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The maple tree in the front yard filters the sun on a warm spring day; the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8, with its seven straight aperture blades, delivers a bright, clear, dazzling sunstar to help express the moment.
The maple tree in the front yard filters the sun on a warm spring day; the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8, with its seven straight aperture blades, delivers a bright, clear, dazzling sunstar to help express the moment.
This is the same scene as the image above it, but shot with my iPhone 5. Note that the sun overwhelmed the image sensor and the lens, leading to the sun being a bright blob surrounded by an odd cluster of pink flare.
This is the same scene as the image above it, but shot with my iPhone 5. Note that the sun overwhelmed the image sensor and the lens, leading to the sun being a bright blob surrounded by an odd cluster of pink flare.

Smart phone photography, taking pictures with the camera built into a modern multipurpose cellular telephone, is here to stay. Even the most “old school” among us has come to appreciate that the cameras in our phones can replace the point-and-shoot cameras we once toted around, at least in some cases.

The good…

This is a super-macro image of the camera and LED light on my iPhone 5. The lens is about the size of a match head. Despite using a Q-Tip and some canned air, this was about as clean as I could get it.
This is a super-macro image of the camera and LED light on my iPhone 5. The lens is about the size of a match head. Despite using a Q-Tip and some canned air, this was about as clean as I could get it.
  • Smart phones are always with us
  • Smart phones in 2014 are fully integrated with social media like Flickr, SmugMug, and Shutterfly
  • Smart phones are less conspicuous, allowing a certain level of intimacy and candidness

The bad…

  • Smart phone photography tends toward mundanity and silliness, such as…
  • The smart phone scene is rife with trends like Instagram filters and hold-away selfies
  • Shooting with a smart phone leads the photographer take his craft less seriously and subjects take him less seriously
  • Smart phones, like very small point-and-shoot cameras, are easy to lose and easy to steal

The ugly…

  • Tiny image sensor plus tiny lens equals diminished image quality on several levels, such as the lack of selective focus and high-ISO noise
  • Social media integration means images are always in JPEG format instead of RAW
  • The tiny lenses collect tiny dust, which can interfere with image quality
  • So far, anyway, there are no interchangeable lens smart phones, meaning you are stuck with the characteristics of a single, compromise lens

The really ugly…

An odd take on convenience photography, the iPad photographer.
An odd take on convenience photography, the iPad photographer.
  • Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photography department, 24 photographers in favor of training their reporters to take pictures with smart phone. No one, not even the managers who did that, believes that smart phones can, on any level, replace bigger, better cameras and, more importantly, real, full-time professional photographers.

The trump card of the cell phone camera is decidedly its convenience, not its quality. As a result, that’s when I use them, when quality takes a back seat to handiness. If that sounds like a microcosm of western life, it is. Thus is the struggle of the artist, to guard against shallowness and sacrificing our vision because of convenience.

I’m not a futurist, and I could be completely off base about this, but I believe that smart phone photography can coexist within the rest of the art.  It would be a conceit to imagine that those of us who consider ourselves artists are above the clutter of commerce, so it might be a smarter play for photographers to see their art, along with their lives and careers, in balance.

Another potentially maddening thing about embracing technology like this is that in two or three years, it will seem antiquated, as more and more impressive devices appear. That can be something of an impairment to creativity, since it is easy to fall into a downward tech spiral, instead of an upward creative curve. The solution to this curse it to stay on task: creative photography.

A nice family recently hired me to make senior pictures of their son and group photos of the whole family. I feel certain I could not, despite all my experience, have come up with images like this if I was shooting with a smart phone camera.
A nice family recently hired me to make senior pictures of their son and group photos of the whole family. I feel certain I could not, despite all my experience, have come up with images like this if I was shooting with a smart phone camera.
0
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

1 Comment

  1. That’s a nice photo at the end, and definitely something I couldn’t have done with MY phone. 🙂

    I haven’t done any side-by-side comparisons with my phone’s camera and DSLRs, but I know it can’t take a usable sports photo. 🙂

    0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *