“The best camera is the one you have with you”. Chase Jarvis, reminds us that all the most expensive equipment is useless if it isn’t where the photography is at, so how do you make the most of your cameraphone?
J-SH04 may not have a ring to it but back in the year 2000 it was the first mobile phone handset to feature an imbedded camera. It shot photos with 110,000 pixels (0.1 megapixels) and set in motion a trend that this year saw Nokia release its high-end camera phone with a 40 megapixel sensor, 400 times the resolution for the first cameraphone from Sharp Electronics.
Obviously cameraphones have improved exponentially in the last decade, what started as a gimmick or proof of concept has now become the de facto standard of everyday photography for millions of people. The cameraphone has unwittingly become the modern day family snapper and national network news gatherer, Chase Jarvis’ (@chasejarvis on twitter) famous quote now effectively reads ‘unless you take your camera then your mobile will do’. He would be right too. It is amazing what the new breed of cameraphones are capable of.
iHave a camera on me at all times
Personally, I’ve used an iPhone since the ’3′ which shot in a rather poor 2mp. The cameraphone market back in those days was lead by the likes of Nokia with the N95. Nokia’s phone shot via a Carl Zeiss developed lens with a more respectable resolution of 5mp. Apple soon began to realise that their iPhone wasn’t king of the hill when it came to capturing photographs but that all changed with the 4s and now the iPhone 5.
Both the 4s and 5 feature backlit sensors which improve low light capabilities along with much better optics which translates to sharp images with good colour rendition. In my opinion, although Apple are using Sony sensors, coupled with their own lens design and software algorithms, Apple are leading the way when it comes to cameraphones.
Anyway, thats enough about the past, I’d like us to take some time looking at where things are up to now. It’s taken us a while, but nearly everybody now agrees that the latest smartphone handsets are taking some pretty impressive photographs and although I don’t feel well-placed enough to comment on Samsung or Sony, or any of the Android handsets, I can hopefully help when it comes to the iPhone. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on how you can get the most out of your equipment documentally, artistically and even possibly financially.
Something which we all do, we take photos to remind of us of what has happened. A party, a night on the tiles, a family event or even a holiday. Lots of people are now using their mobiles instead of a separate compact camera and although the new breed compacts will always outperform an iPhone, the difference in quality isn’t as obvious in well-lit locations.
When photographing a scene its nice to know that both the 4s and the 5 use a nice wide lens to capture the detail. Henri Cartier-Bresson would of been right at home with the 34-35mm focal length on the iPhone, this means that you are getting plenty in the frame from a relatively close distance. Obviously you need to hold the iPhone as still as possible while taking the photos but also don’t forget to hold the phone sideways if you want to take a ‘landscape’ or more ‘scenic’ photograph.
Also at this point, its worth remembering that you can also use the volume buttons to release the virtual shutter however be aware that the lens placement means that its very easy to partially cover the lens with your fingers as you do this, something which I find far less likely when holding the phone with the lens located ‘at the top’
Also essential is a good case. You want to be able to respond nice and quickly and at such speed can sometimes lead to drops or even scrapes if you keep your phone in your pockets with keys or coins. Once you’ve got used to handling the phone and launching the camera app (now possible by the lock screen too), you’ll find that you can respond quite quickly and efficiently to events that unfold around you.
For those amongst us who enjoy street or reportage photography, the iPhone has another stellar side-effect, namely it enjoys a level of discretion that most cameras cannot match. Even a cursory visit to justwhatisee.com will leave even the most seasoned street photographers with absolutely no doubts of the capabilities of the iPhone, Greg Schmigel’s wonderful website shows how liberating photography with a smartphone can be. Unbound from conspicuous cameras, Greg’s pictures seem to capture natural scenes which have not been influenced by the presence of a photographer, the simple truth is that most people don’t even look twice when someone is snapping away on a mobile phone.
Don’t be fooled, the iPhone does a great job when it comes to capturing a scene without the hassles that even some compact cameras can throw up.
I couldn’t complete this section without mentioning ‘A Grunt’s Life’ by Damon Winter (link here). As more and more photojournalists turn to iPhones as a realistic option, Winter combined the hardware from Apple with a photography app called ‘Hipstamatic’. There’s more on this app next but his work for the New York Times shows how, combined with a simple to use app, the iPhone can create photos with extra mood and poignancy. (n.b as a journalist myself, I appreciate that doing-so can ‘colour’ the content in such a way that some photojournalists may deem ‘unhelpful’, those interested in wider photojournalistic debate may click here, here or here, (links courtesy of ‘cropped‘)
It’s one thing to take a photograph, most of us would know how to do that but what happens afterward can be just as important (and satisfying) towards the finished work of a photographer. When I started, quite rightly my emphasis was on what I ‘saw’. I simply wanted to create a pleasing record of a scene which could be appreciated by anyone who saw it. I was focused on ‘composition’, I would (and still do) spend ages moving around, trying to get the scene just the way I wanted it, excluding some things, including others. We often know what makes a good photograph but sometimes we may not know why.
Hipstamatic – flawed genious
Sometimes a photographs strongest feature isn’t necessarily what’s in the frame, it is ‘how’ it’s in the frame. Colour effects, lighting and even flaws such as lens flares or vignetting add to the mood and make a photograph take on a whole new character.
Photographers have been re-introducing such flaws in post processing for years but now, thanks to some nice mobile apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, the process is much quicker and can be done without any editing know-how.
For me, Hipstamatic is cream of the crop. This paid app mimics a style of square format photography that was born out of Eastern Europe with low budget equipment which was made to compete with the more instant style compact cameras from the likes of Kodak (brownie).
Hipstamatic brings a distinctly analogue feel to your iPhone. The premise is simple, choose a lens (often modelled around cheap plastic novelty lenses from the 1960′s), then some ‘film’ and a flash, then you can shoot away.
The results are as varied as the combinations and the genuinely-passionate-about-photography team at Hipstamatic are always bringing out new lenses and packs, some for purchase, some for free.
It may be just a graphical gimmick as to how effects are rendered on your final photographs but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Even as you swipe the lenses and film around the screen, you get a warm glow that something special could be just around the corner, and as we saw previously, the results can be seen worldwide if it’s a photojournalist behind the screen.
One thing that I absolutely LOVE about Hipstamatic is that it opens up mobile photography to a 24 hours a day, antwhere in the world kind of persuit. There’s always something to capture and create with the various lens and film combinations and unlike conventional photography where weather and location can encourage or discourage, there’s always something to be had with Hipstamatic.
Another nice feature is how the software patches and updates are reflected by the number on the front of the camera, it’s this quirky attention to detail which really helps to highlight how much thought is going into this platform from the Hipsta Team.
I cannot praise this app highly enough. Get it installed and get shooting!
Aside from all those great features, Hipstamatic is fully compatible with the Instagram platform offering an easy to use sharing mechanism and also the team have recently launched one of the most wonderfully inspirational digital magazines I have come across. ’Snap’ offers readers both insight and inspiration when it comes to the Hipstamatic platform. The magazine is completely free and being digital, even offers its readers a degree of interactivity. Want to find out what combination a photograph was taken with? Most offer the information via a handy link button.
You can read ‘Snap’ via the appstore or online. I’ve included the link ‘here‘
Many people may be aware that Instagram is now owned by Facebook and it will come as no surprise that some of the ‘follow’ and ‘like’ mechanics seem right at home for social media sharers but Instagram also offers an engrossing way for people to flick though some great photographs.
The service is totally free and unlike Hipstamatic, the interface has no ‘retro’ feel. There’s no gimmicks on offer, just a simple UI that allows you to snap first, then apply a filter later.
You can easily follow or favourite other photographers and photos via the app and any twitter users will be familiar with the ‘@’ prefix for users or #hashtag mechanics too.
Instagram is a great way for people to share simple snapshots from everyday life. Like Hipstamatic, it gives us all a reason to take photos and share without having to plan a photography outing or make a big deal about it. It’s as simple as that!
The only downside for Instagram could be that until recently, You had to use the app to browse the photos. Thankfully that is now changing as the API has been released which allows some really noce web front ends to be developed which harness the core instagram experience. There’s plenty to choose from, I am enjoying using the service from ’5thvillage’, You can take a look for yourself by clicking ‘here‘.
There’s Gold in them there Hills!
What a way to end my write-up of mobile photography. How would you like to earn money from your mobile snaps?
It’s possible thanks to services like ‘foap‘ which offer an easy upload service (including Instagram) which then puts your photos up for sale (either editorially or commercially). I will be posting on selling your photos separately soon but thought it worth giving the service a quick mention as it does offer a way by which we could claw a bit of money back and what would be better than knowing that someone, somewhere appreciated your mobile photography so much, they decided to buy it.