Category: Mobile Photography

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.


4 Things to Remember When Shooting Mobile Photography

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Not here to debate whether or not mobile photography is or is not a kind of photography today. That’s another post here. Today we are just going to go over a few things that I think make my mobile photos better. These ideas aren’t necessarily original to me. But they work and I try to apply them whenever I can.

I wanted the figure in shadow so there would a bit of mystery. I had to try a couple of times since the phone wanted to lighten the shadows.


  1. Hoof It! – The zoom feature is horrible on camera phone. ANY CAMERA PHONE. INLCUDING YOURS. It doesn’t actually zoom. It crops the image to make your subject appear larger. So like any overly cropped image, the final result will appear pixelated. So use your feet and get
    Photo with high dynamic range. I exposed for the sunset, and brought the shadows up just a bit in Photoshop Express.

    closer. Think of it like a prime lens on your super expensive DSLR.

  2. Keep the lens clean!- Smudges and crud will gunk up any lens, including your phone’s. You might not notice a little bit of gunk best to keep things tidy because a lot of dirt or gunk will ruin your photos. Even if you can’t see any dirt particle in your photos, dust and and other things can create a layer that will mute colors and make it harder to expose properly. When you think about it, just wipe the lens off with a lens cloth or if you are in a pinch use a your shirt if its soft. That way your phone is always ready to go.
  3. Watch the Highlights!- The camera on your phone will allow you to adjust the exposure manually. Expose for the sky. Especially if you are shooting at sunrise or sunset. If you shoot the images and your highlights are blown out, then the details there are just gone. A lot like with a regular camera. It is easier to bring up the shadows when editing then to lower the highlights and recreate the colors that were lost. Granted this can be done with a laptop and a good ‘ol raw file but, who the heck is going to do that on their phone?
  4. Download the Photoshop Express App!- Its free! Of course there are features that have to be purchased to unlock, but in my experience, I have never needed to make that purchase. This app gives the option to apply filters (gross) or manually adjust clarity, exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, temperature, vibrance and saturation. There are others but the ones I listed are the ones I always double check when I use my phone. This app will let you bring back some details in your highlights that might have been lost and raise your shadows a bit. You can crop and straighten here as well. Crop unrestrained or to specifications for popular social media feeds.  

    Because of the wide angle of the phone lens, I am practically in the weeds shooting. Zooming would have caused significant pixelation.
  5. BONUS!- You can set a watermark in your Photoshop app, so there will be no doubt about who took that fantastic photo everyone has been sharing on Facebook.

This will get you started. It’s nowhere near a comprehensive look at mobile photography. If it was you’d forget 90% of it anyway. I know I would. I did actually….