Are smartphones impacting on the professional photography environment? - Part 2

All above Blackberry Q10 smartphone

So I went out yesterday for the first time ever and deliberately shot over 50 images for my stock photography portfolio using a smartphone. My Blackberry Q10. And I'm pretty sure I never anticipated ever writing that. As you can see, in terms of web reproduction, there's really not a lot of difference in terms of how the images look compared to what I shoot normally and if I had said they were shot on any of my other cameras would anyone have queried that? I doubt it. 

There is a certain kind of 'smartphone aesthetic' that involves naff filters and a kind of artsy desaturated old faded print look that emanates from Instagram and the like, but I've avoided that. Apart from anything else, stock libraries hate it. They figure, quite rightly, that if the people who buy the pictures want that kind of image they can add the filtering themselves. The quality of these images is pretty similar to early digital camera files I have and also very close to some 35mm transparency scans I have. Colour I like very much and the dynamic range isn't bad. A few quick edits in Photoshop however and they are ready to go. 

So what's the point of walking around taking images on a picture taking device that is OK but only usable in good light and pretty much the worst camera I currently have? Well a clue can be found in one of the links I posted yesterday.

'As for shooting in conflict zones – As I grew more and more comfortable using the phone, I realized it had certain advantages – it was anonymous, it wasn’t particularly heavy, it didn’t get in the way of being intimate with a potential subject. And it was fast, I could just pull the phone out of my pocket and take a picture as things were happening in front of me.

More than that, it produced images in a visual style that people weren’t used to seeing. That is important to me. There is so much information out there these days, and its very hard to capture the attention of a – for the most part – apathetic public. By showing important images of a war or social issue to people using a unique aesthetic, I believe I can capture their attention and shine a light on some of these stories.'

OK. I'm no war zone photographer. But anonymity is useful to me. As is the ability to walk long distances carrying only what I would carry with me normally. Any impression that I'm a 'photographer' either professional or a hobbyist just disappears with the phone. I like the extraordinary depth of field, I like the simplicity, I like the spontaneous almost 'throwaway' feel of the whole thing. I like the size and weight, I like the square format of the Blackberry sensor and yes I like the slightly grainy look of the images. I've also been surprised by just how 'photographic' the images are. The above shots are pretty close to how the pictures come out of the camera.

And then there's this.

Samsung seem to have come up with a different approach. Instead of taking a phone and adding a camera to it, why not add a phone to a camera? And that's pretty much what they have done. There are some picture samples HERE. Unlike the Nokia Lumia 1020 with it's 41MP of pretty nasty pixels that only creates decent images when significantly downsized, the Samsung gives pretty standard compact camera, micro sensor results and justify the 20MP's the camera has. (At least in good light.) Now the review with the samples seems to be from a tech. head phone user and not from a photographers perspective, so I ignored most of that. And I have decided that I'm going to be getting one of these. It's far from expensive and a camera with 4G phone and internet capabilities is something that's really useful to me. And not just because I'll always have a decent backup camera with me.

I've always liked to explore different picture taking options. I am after all shooting every day. (If the weather's not great then I'm testing.) Using the same camera / lens combination every day would have driven me to another career years ago. I like trying odd combinations also. The APS-C 10-18mm zoom and Voigtlander 90mm on my Sony A7r that I've been using recently being a prime example. While I do demand a minimum quality for the images I produce, I'm not a 'pixel snob.' Last summer I was having a great time with a Nikon 1 V1 and lenses and loved the whole feel of that system. While I've never been interested in what most phone photographers produce, because of the ridiculous 'effects' people add, (Something that slightly puts me off Ben Lowy's work in the link above. Great photographs, shame about the cheap and nasty filtering) I do like the freedom a 'non-camera' can produce and I also like the fact that it is different. 

I see no reason however to move away from taking pretty conventional looking pictures. I'll not be 'instagramming' my images anytime soon. And in most ways I won't be changing my photographic practices either. However regular readers will have noticed a slightly more 'experimental' series of images in recent weeks, though I'm not likely to stray too far from what might be described as my 'house style'. 

And to me that's the essence of the impact of smartphones on the photographic experience. Shake things up a bit, loosen attitudes up somewhat, persuade us to take a few more chances and try something a little different. I write often enough about how the photographic internet is full of rote repeated dogma, cliche and closed mind thinking and is full of people trying to put other people into neat little boxes and criticise them for daring to refuse to be constrained by this catergorisation. Now I'm no avant-garde photographic maverick, far from it, but I do like to challenge myself, approach things from a different angle and of course take a 180 degree turn and go in the opposite direction whenever I feel like it. 

It's now become clear to me that a smartphone, under the right conditions, can produce an image that satisfies my minimum technical requirements. I have had that for over a year now, but my inbuilt prejudice and desire to define myself as a 'serious photographer' prevented me from seeing that. And if pulling my head out of my you know what isn't a great reason for going out shooting with a smartphone, then I don't know what is!!

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