Why I take photos with my crappy mobile phone camera?
Two weeks ago I joined Instagram. Well, I know I missed out on the biggest Instagram boom and I guess I am light years behind everyone who is there, however better late than never, right? I’ve always thought that this is a useless social platform for people who want to promote themselves and show their perfect life. Joining another social platform made me realize how millions of photos are being shot every single day and uploaded online, even thinking about numbers makes me feel dizzy. The overflow of photographs is so huge that you may start to think whether it’s worth to upload anything for the sake of 1 minute online fame. When it comes to Instagram you can see it at a glance. Photos just come and go, another one, another one… However, I found a bunch of talented photographers there with amazing photo feeds.
Oh, by the way – if you want to join me on Instagram, click -> HERE <-
Instagram is a mobile-photo sharing social network so besides photos taken with DSLRs and other cameras, you can find tons of photographs taken with Iphones and other phones. Few months ago I destroyed my mobile phone by dropping it to the pavement. To be honest I did the same thing with previous phones. I am a terrible phone user that’s for sure. My clumsy fingers and absence of mind are a really bad combination. 3 or 4 months ago I bought MyPhone. Yes – MyPhone. It’s not Iphone, unfortunaletly it’s not. It’s MyPhone AXE LTE and as the name suggests it should be as tough as an axe. So far so good – my phone has been working like charm. It’s waterproof, dustproof and costs around 240$. It has a built-in camera of course and to my own surprise some time ago I started to make use of it.
It’s nothing fancy. Yes it has 13 megapixels but even phones for kids have more or less the same. We all know that photography is not about megapixels anymore, right? This phone is equipped with camera and that’s it. It’s all you need really. I did not pay much attention to phone photography as such, however after taking some street shots with my mobile phone it hit me how great it can be, especially while shooting street and urban stuff.
Size does not matter, technique does. All men ask themselves this question and I am not talking only about photography. But let’s focus on photography – yes, the size of the mobile phone is perfect for street and urban environment. You just put it in your pocket or hold it in your hand. Even bigger smartphones are more handy than any DSLR available. When talking about quality of photos – just look at Iphone Photography Awards and see it for youreslf if you haven’t seen it before. Of course it is Iphone, not the cheapest one of the bunch, but still it is a mobile phone, not a camera. They say : ‘Good photographer will take a great shot even with a mobile phone’. I wouldn’t go as far as that because I think it depends on a theme, but generally I agree. One or two years ago if someone gave me a mobile phone and tell me to take shots with it, I would be nothing less than sceptical. Since then I’ve come a long way, from gear lover to photographic minimalist. Let’s be honest here – I think that all these beautiful photos taken with smartphones are usually works of photographers that have been using other cameras and learned how to deal with light, composition etc. I might be wrong here as there are some exceptions for sure, however I believe that this route is very common especially nowadays when we are flooded with devices, equpiment, gadgets.
Practice, practice, practice. It’s all it takes. Try to use your mobile phone in different light situations, various locations, interesting points of view. Work with light, moving subjects, practice your composition skills. Mastering technique is a key even if others will tell you that your mobile phone camera sucks. Try to find inspiration in everyday life and document your surrounding, it’s easy with a mobile phone. Don’t pay too much attention to quality, focus on subject, light and composition instead.
Your camera is always with you. Everyone had similar situations – you are coming back from a shop or work, on your way something superordinary and extraexceptional happens, simply ideal photo opportunity and guess what – you don’t have your camera with you. You know that feeling, right ? Now, with your mobile phone those situations won’t repeat. Of course, you can’t take any kind of photo with a mobile because it has it’s limitations. But ‘always available’ phone is priceless in everyday photography. You take your mobile phone almost everywhere you go hence your camera is wherever you will go. Taking DSLR even with one lens attached is always a problem. I used to have Canon 5D classic and it was heavy as a brick. Now add a weight of a prime lens and there you have it – perfect recipe for hating photography. Did I pack my DSLR and lenses into the back and go for a shopping or to a doctor? Of course not. Did I miss some great photo opportunities ? Of course! That’s the point – having a piece of photo equipment that fits in your pocket and palm of your hand that is always in “stand by” mode and ready to shoot is the best what you can do.
Shoot where nobody else shoots. It’s so much easier to reach places that were not that accesible before when you take photos with your mobile phone. I don’t urge you to break the law of course, but just think about all these places that camera is not a welcome guest, now you don’t have to be that extra careful because phone is so inconspicuous. It also refers to the simplest, everyday things – let’s take jogging as the simplest example. I used to run on a quite regular basis, however not so regularly recently. I’ve always been running without headphones but some time ago I decided to put them on, so I took my mobile phone and played my favourite playlist and then it hit me – now I don’t have any limits, I can go wherever I want and always have my camera with me. Of course the last thing I want is to stop running every 100 meters and take photos but I have that comfort that I am not going to miss anything worth capturing.
Everyone uses mobile so you are everyone. I think it’s the most important point from the list when talking about street and urban photography. Just hit the streets and see dozens, hundreds of people with their noses stuck in their mobile phones, few years back it wasn’t as visible as it is now. What does it mean to you? Great news – you can melt into the background, be invisible, be everyone. People won’t treat you as a photographer (or a creepy weirdo with a camera) and this creates a perfect situation for taking photos unnoticed. Blending with the crowd will help you to take candid shots and come real close to people. Very often you might be taken for a Pokemon catcher or a tourist that checks his location or someone who has problems with signal reception. People will feel comfortable and relaxed in your company only when you mute the shutter sound. Some phones need special app to mute the shutter sound, for instance my phone does. With one click I mute all the sounds and my super spy camera is perfectly silent. Taking a shot with a mobile as you see is the easiest thing ever. It’s never been easier as it is now, so take the most of it – have your phone ready to click. I usually mute the sound, turn my camera on and lock the screen, so that when I unlock it I have my camera ready to shoot.
Post processing reduced to minimal. I like how things are getting even more simple when you are on a ‘mobile route’. Taking a shot with a standard camera, downloading photos, post-processing – all these activities take time and devoting too much time for around-photography stuff is a waste of a precious time. Basic post-procesing can be done in most free apps on every mobile phone. Of course, you can go beyond that and use one of the more advanced applications available. I use in-built camera application to take shots and I import them into VSCO application. It’s free, however if you want some more filters to play with you need to buy them. VSCO is very intuitive and fast. Processing photos is so easy that even a kid will master it in few minutes. There are dozens of other applications also depending on your mobile phone operating system, choose whatever suits your needs. Coming back to Instagram – it also has some basic editing options. I am not a huge fan of extensive usage of filters and ‘overbeautifying’ photos but it is possible to choose from various filters and experiment a bit with colors. All in all, doing it all on your mobile phone really makes everything simpler and faster. On the other hand there is no way to see the small deatils or flaws on photos when looking at such a small screen, so if you are into pampering your photos for hours – it’s not for you.
Do we still need a ‘normal’ camera? The answer for this question is not that easy. Ok, I praised the mobile photography like crazy in this text and of course I am all for it but still when I had my mobile phone on various occasions especially in low light situations, I wished I had my Fuji X100T with me. I love taking photos during evenings, nights and in some weird badly lit places. My mobile phone has really poor light handling and ISO abilities so it is a big drawback for me personally. Holding a proper camera in your hand and knowing that you can rely on it in the dynamic street environment is not to be underestimated. There are reasons behind all these options, buttons and switches in camera and appropriate using of them together with your passion and technique results in beautiful and exceptional photographs. Usually when I am about to go for a photo walk and I know I will have an hour or two only devoted to shooting – I take my X100T together with an additional battery. I use my mobile phone on every other occasions – shopping, jogging, sitting in my car and waiting for a green light to come etc. All I want to say is: do whatever you feel is right for you but remember that gear is a secondary matter. First of all focus on taking shots with whatever camera you have, look for themes, emotions, light, composition. Mobile photography has been developing so rapidly that I am more than sure it’s going to be one of the most important trends in photography in the nearest future. The other question is : how to really stand out from the crowd of ‘mobile photographers’ when there are literally millions of them out there? It’s a matter for completely different article.