Smartphones Will Not Replace Cameras Altogether

My friend Richard Binhammer forwarded me an article that theorizes that the new iPhone 6 is the harbinger of the end of the camera. I couldn’t help but think that this is true for point and click cameras, but not for higher end photographic equipment.

The theory has merit. MP3 players were replaced by smartphones. Before that pagers were replaced by phones. So it makes sense that phones would also replace cameras. After all, point and click just a basic function. You can see the result of basic point and click throughout Instagram.

The article theorizes that the new iPhone 6+ is the closest to replacing the standalone camera. It says “NETWORK+SOCIAL+APPS=CAMERA.” Meaning digital photography on phones embellished with apps is good enough to post now on social, effectively rendering the camera useless.

Yes, the smartphone marks the end of the point and click camera. Why bother spending $200-$500 on a camera that is marginally better than the small brick that’s already in your pocket?

A real photographer will want more. The fickle nature of serious photography demands more functionality than what basic point and click cameras offer. A real camera offers more.

Just start with RAW files that allow you to examine rich data assets about your photo. The way a camera interprets the light is often wrong. That’s why images don’t look exactly like you remembered them. A pro photographer or an amateur enthusiast uses more advanced equipment to capture how light refracts, and uses editing software to improve or interpret a photo.

The Photographer’s Mindset

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The camera itself is but a tool. And all tools are not created equal. A Swiss Army knife is not a Shun blade. Nor is a Smartphone a full-frame camera, a high-end Micro 4/3 camera, or even a high end crop camera like a Nikon D7200.

High end cameras and their sensors are not things that you can bolt onto a phone. I am not sure why you would you want to do that. The same goes for the prime and telephoto lenses that you can use with a DSLR or micro 4/3 camera.

Frankly, a smartphone’s form factor makes it difficult to grip and shoot like a camera body. What is good for is a compact computational device to communicate with and play with various media. Much like a Swiss Army knife is handy to do

I agree that the iPhone OS is superior to the Nikon OS. But that’s about where the theory ends for me.

See, I have an iPhone 6+, and I can tell you there is no way any bolt-on sensor or lens modification will compare to my Nikon Df. The iPhone is incapable of giving me the clarity, light sensitivity, depth of field, or scenery data I need to edit a photo and make it beautiful.

Strapping on Lenses and Sensors on to an iPhone

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The article cites, “for $200 you can add a telephoto and a wide angle lens from Moment.” Then it encourages you to look at the Moment Instagram feed. These are very, very good iPhone pics. In fact, they are as good as most point and click camera shots I see, and it’s clear they are taken by a real photographer.

But I know I can do better on my camera.

Once you mess around with a really good lens like a Zeiss Distagon or the Nikon 14 mm lens, you understand that all glass is not created equally. Great glass paired with a decent sensor interprets light in ways no iPhone in the next five to ten years will ever come close, too. Even the Nikon 1.8 50 mm lens is superior to anything the iPhone/Moment combo can offer (at least based on their Instagram feed).

The idea that you would want to post a photo right after taking it is also the mindset of a true novice. Once you learn Lightroom you never go back. I can’t imagine not futzing with a Raw file to see how I might interpret the scene. The above dawn scene is a direct result of opening the RAW file and processing the image. The camera’s interpretation of the shot (e.g. point and click) sucked, in my opinion.

This is why photography enthusiasts are going to demand more than what a smartphone offers. You simply cannot paint a portrait or a scene the same way with a jack-of-all-trades smartphone that offers basic point-and-click functionality.

Introducing the 365 Full Frame Project

Many people have asked me in recent months how or if I was going to monetize my photos. Some have even asked to buy some (thank you for your interest!).

After thinking on the topic, I have decided not to proactively build a business around my photography. I like the artistic aspects of photography, and want to shoot as I see fit. So I will remain semi-pro, licensing via Getty Images and only selling photos to people who specifically ask me for them.

At the same time, I’ve come up with a cool way to give people access to my photo content and use the images in their own lives or work. I call it the 365 Full Frame project on Indiegogo, a social media experiment, if you would.

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My 365 Full Frame project seeks to fund the acquisition of a full frame camera to take and publish one high resolution image every day that could be used for a whole variety of purposes, from social media shares to print. My Nikon D7100 does a decent job, but with better tools I can deliver even stronger results for my colleagues. To get a full frame camera (D800) and the appropriate lenses, I need a minimum of $5,000. If more money is funded, then I will get a top of the line D4s camera.

This is an opportunity to own some or a whole group of 365 full-frame high quality photographs, taken by me. There are two packages for individuals and content creators alike. Funders will be able to access 365 high quality, full-frame photos published daily over a year.

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Specifically, funders will receive access to the photos on a limited or fully open basis depending on their commitment level. Higher level funders can request subjects so long as it does not require me to travel. All funders will receive recognition on the 365 Full Frame website when it is revealed. General subjects will include:

  • Travel sights as business permits (currently I have Silicon Valley, Big Sur, New York City, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Hawaii planned)
  • Networking events
  • Washington, DC landscapes
  • Sunsets and sunrises
  • Select parent and pet photos

With the 365 Full Frame Project, people that want to buy my photography can do so in a cool way, and content creators can access the high quality photos they need to succeed. Me, I get a new toy to feed my photography hobby without necessitating the launch of a new business.

Please support the 365 Full Frame, a Visual Social Experiment today!

Use Your Smartphone to Train Your Eye

If you want to think more visually, you may want to consider photography. Perhaps you aren’t sure where to start and don’t want to invest quite yet. Good news! You can begin with your smartphone. The exercise is simple: Take a picture every day with your phone for 90 days.

You will automatically train your mind to think about the world from a visual perspective. After 90 days, you will understand what makes a good subject as informed by your interests and tastes.

Here are some suggestions to help get you started:

Rule of Thirds

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Frame your photos by using the rule of thirds (check out Digital Photography School’s primer, also the source for the above image). The rule of thirds creates a basic frame. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines create a tic tac toe box.

Ideally, you want your subject to fit in the middle square. If it is a landscape, you’ll want the sky in the top third, the foreground in the bottom third.

Remember, rules are meant to be broken. You have to interpret scenes as you see fit.

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In this photo the subject is the couple cuddling by the river. But the river’s rapids dominate the scene, a wavey series of white rapids created by a time lapse. While the couple is cute, the real visual treat is the river. I decided to keep the rapids, and leave couple on the right rather than cropping them into the center.

Your framing of a photo is the means to tell a story. That’s true even if you are reaching with a selfie or a pic of your husband’s lousy chili. Use the rule of thirds to inform your thinking.

Post Your Photos on Instagram

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Before Instagram cropping…

You should post your photos on Flickr (here’s my profile) or Picasso so they are found. But you should also post on Instagram to get feedback on your photography — your visual thinking — from your friends.

If you don’t have an Instagram account, get one. Make sure to update your follow list to match your Faceboook and Twitter communities. You can find me at geoffliving on Instagram, and I will follow you back.

Instagram forces you to post a photo that eliminates approximately 1/3 the width of a standard 2×3 photo. In doing so, your subject matter is placed front and center, and the rest of your image context is left behind. That has it’s own issues, but for a budding visual thinker the square crop forces you to consider subjects deeply.


After Instagram.

See how your photos fair. You will come to understand what works for your stakeholders — your friends and colleagues — and then adjust naturally.

Edit and Filter Your Photos

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There is a social media movement towards no filter photos centering on authenticity and journalistic integrity. For the record, I don’t see any of the no filter crowd getting published by National Geographic or licensed by Getty Images.

In the old days, adjustments where made in the dark room to film. But they were made. Today, every professional photographer uses Lightroom or Aperture at a minimum to process their raw files and make small adjustments. Yes, even those National Geographic photographers edit their photos. I know, I’ve attended two National Geographic sessions, and photographers are asked to submit their Lightroom/Aperture adjustments with their photos.

The ones who get that pure capture are also using Nikon D4s or the equivelant, a $7000 camera body. Your smartphone can’t compete with that.

Why do all photographers edit?

Cameras are machines that attempt to capture light as it is animated on a subject area, and record it. They often have a) hidden information about that light that is only revealed through editing and b) misinterpret light scenes.

That’s why most photos don’t turn out like you remember seeing them. Your smartphone is a good pocket camera, but it is very limited compared to a DSLR. Most images come across as flat. Your camera misinterpets tungsten lit (light bulbs) scenes for shade. It can’t figure out which light it should focus on, the sunset or the light on the foreground, on and on. Even a DSLR or 4/3 camera has challenges interpreting light.

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This photo in its edited form is a classic example. It was a slow capture taken at twilight. The sky was not plain white as depicted in the original raw image. The sky and street were not royal blue as it appeared in the tungsten white balance version of the shot. The combination of sun and electric light fried my Nikon white balance sensors. A Lightroom edit restored more of the actual look and feel of Larimer Square during a cloudy dawn.

Use tools and apps to help restore your photo to memory. If you want to go beyond and get artistic with it, go for it. But realize when you do that, you are exceding the conservative journalistic approach to photography. I don’t pay too much attention to those rules, but you have to find your own comfort point.

There are several apps I recommend. The first is Lightroom Mobile. It is fantastic, and will introduce you to a very important concept: Interpreting light in your photos. Lightroom is a Photoshop app, but it is less intrusive than the traditional app.

A simpler app is Google’s Snapseed, which I still use for my smartphone takes. It’s quick and easy, and has nice auto sizing for cropping photos.

Conclusion

Once you finish the 90 day challenge, you will find yourself taking more artistic photos that tell better stories. In doing so, you will be able to better understand some of the visual media trends that are occuring. You may even be ready to use your photography on a select basis with your own communications.

Good luck, and please share your results. Do you have any tips for would-be smartphone photographers?

Going Back to Mirrors

Last weekend at #NatsFest, my Olympus PEN-3 died an honorable death. It served me well through two years of toddler-dom. The photos in this post are the last ones I took with it.

In its stead, I decided to go back to the traditional DSLR camera with mirrors. So my new Nikon D7100 arrives today in the mail at some point. I had owned one of its predecessors, the D90, through 2011.

As much as I liked the compact nature of the Olympus body, and the sharp micro 4/3 picture, it just wasn’t the same. I had a much harder time manipulating light with the manual settings. As a result, while the PEN-3 took sharp photos they just never felt completely natural to me.

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I hear newer editions of the micro 4/3 camera have evolved significantly, but in the end I decided to give the technology some more time to mature.

It was not a cut and dry choice. I almost got a Nikon D610, but elected to hold back on the full frame format for now. If I grow Tenacity5 to ten employees, that will be my reward.

So here’s to a new vessel for wonderful pictures. What do you shoot with?

Social Photography: Thoughts and 4 Tips

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Taken mid-air last night with an iPhone 4s.

You may not love Flickr, Instagram or Pinterest, but you can’t deny the continuing rise of social photography. Photos dominate social media. Even on Facebook, the king of networks, people spend 17 percent of their time perusing photos according to a recent ComScore/BuddyMedia study.

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Whether they are retail pics “pinned” on Pinterest, food shots discussed on any social site (25 percent of foodie photo creators do so as part of a daily food diary), or a happenstance shared on Instagram or via TwitPic, photos are a universal staple of the online social world. As such, social photography should be a part of your communications strategy.

The results have been fantastic for me. While this blog has a decent following, in the four years I have written here regularly (some of the old 2007-8 posts were imported from my now defunct Now Is Gone blog), my photo blog on Flickr has generated roughly 50% more page views.

Continue reading “Social Photography: Thoughts and 4 Tips”