Mobile Photography: Rising Star Medium or Mediocre Cop-Out?

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Mobile photography is loosely defined as any photography created with a mobile device other than a camera, i.e smartphone, tablet, etc. Since 2007, when the first iPhone was available with a two megapixel camera, mobile photography began evolving. And that’s when the debate started about whether or not it was an actual artistic medium or a ridiculous cop-out.

In the early days it was pretty easy to tell which images had been created with an honest-to-god camera and which images had been captured using a mobile device. Now, with improvements in technology, the cameras found onboard mobile devices are incredibly high quality. Often producing better images than DSLRs from five years ago.

So is it just the technological advances that have created a medium and a population of mediocre photographers? No, I think not. If you put a $35,000 Hasselblad in the hands of a snapshot shooter, you will get an incredibly expensive snapshot. Now if you put an eight megapixel smartphone camera in the hands of a photographer the image produced will be something worth talking about. It’s all about who is looking through the lens.

How many of you have had this conversation and cringed?
“Wow you take really good photos, your camera must be really nice.”
“Actually I took it with my phone.”
“Oh, well my phone pictures never look that good, it must be a really good phone…”

I usually have to steer the conversation elsewhere at that point. Sure, mobile devices make it easier to shoot more photos, but they won’t improve the quality of the image, composition, light, or angle. The upside is, you will almost always have a camera with you, so photographic regret (not having a camera when you really needed it) is basically a thing of the past.

Like everything else, change brings debate. The old hangers-on versus those embracing the new. This is not unlike the debate that raged in the early 2000s when photographers were making the change from film to digital. And before that, from black and white to color. Or even from radio to television as the top form of home entertainment.

The truth is, no mobile device is going to be able to tell you that the scene unfolding in front of you is an amazing one. It can’t tell you how to frame up your shot, it can’t decided for you how to hold your camera or how to see light and shadows. The only thing it can do is expedite adjusting the settings on the camera. And that is no different than shooting in auto on your great big DSLR.

In general, I think that the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Your phone is usually your everyday shooter. Can mobile photography do all the things a DSLR can do? Nope. But for most things when saying “let me go get my camera” isn’t feasible. Your phone is your camera’s pinch hitter.

Is it photography format? Yes, in my opinion. Like digital, medium format or 35mm. Is it a niche? Yep. Just like Holga photography and Polaroid photography, which have developed a loyal fan base. Mobile photography is here to stay, and while it may not be for some people, neither was color photography when it first became available.


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