Are smartphones impacting on the professional photography environment? - Part 1

Here's a shot taken recently I like. Below is the exif data. 

Yes it's a smartphone picture, taken on my Blackberry. And yes I'm VERY sneery about pictures taken on smartphones (and dumbphones for that matter) However, yesterday I had a long conversation with another experienced stock photographer, who happens to be my wife Ann, and we were discussing the implications of the rise of the smartphone and the general explosion of picture taking that has triggered. Plus of course the implications of what that might mean to us as photographers, if any.

We've all heard the stories. The iPhone wedding, the war zone photographers who shoot on phone cameras, plus all the other assorted examples of how these devices are replacing point and shoot compacts and becoming a form of 'artistic expression' in their own right. 

Now I've always been unimpressed by the quality of phone photography. And skeptical about claims that phones can produce anything worthwhile. But these days the picture libraries I sell my work through all have mobile phone picture options and the implication is (though never actually stated) that mobile phone photography is fresher, more spontaneous less 'old-hat' and way cooler than anything conventional cameras can produce. Now I pride myself on being able to spot the trends in stock photography and I'm wondering whether this is indeed a way to go. Much as I dislike the whole idea, I was wondering whether I could actually find a way to express what I want with the limitations of these devices and whether it's something I could see as being a part of where my photography is headed. 

Now I have actually taken a Blackberry shot that sells very well.

To be honest it's not that surprising. It's the kind of shot that would sell well no matter what it was taken on. However, it has made me think.

So to start Ann and I shot some images yesterday with the Blackberry, which are unremarkable in themselves but are now in fact sitting on a picture library website available for sale, so there doesn't seem to be an issue with them being accepted.

Now Blackberries have no reputation at all as far as I'm aware in the world of smartphone and mobile photohgraphy, but my Q10 does have a few things going for it. Firstly it shoots square pictures, which I like, it's not over pixeled (around the 6MP mark for the final result) and somewhat surprisingly it has amazingly accurate colour rendition, in fact I can't think I've ever seen anything quite so realistic. The flowers above are in our garden and the colours are absolutely spot on. I processed everything in Photoshop after transferring the images to my laptop using Bluetooth, but I have to say I was also impressed with the dynamic range. It's far better than I thought. 

There is of course the noise reduction. And the original images are dripping with it. This is after all a
1/3" (4.8 mm × 3.6 mm) sensor and the images are somewhat soft and 'smeared.' However a bit of subtle sharpening worked OK, but they are still 'grainy.' The lens is a somewhat incredible 4.1mm (equivalent / approximate to a 31mm lens on a 35mm camera) so depth of field isn't a problem!!! And the shutter speeds are high at an aperture of f/2.2.

Another advantage is that the images are also incredibly quick to process. No raw nonsense here! I guess I could have seen this coming when I wrongly set one of my Fuji's to shoot small jpg. size images only and had the whole batch edited and uploaded within an hour, which I actually really appreciated. So the other advantage of this is the speed. This is certainly not a time intensive workflow.

So where will this go? Well I have no idea. I may revert to type and never shoot another phone picture again, I may become a passionate advocate for phone photography. Who knows? I certainly don't. However, I feel that I owe it to myself to explore this and see what can be achieved both artistically and in terms of sales, as at least 50% of my images are bought for web use only. And also to check out my prejudices of course, which is always a useful thing to do. 

So expect some smart phone photography posts in the next few days and some interesting reactions I'm sure.

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