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.

6 Photo Tips Gleaned from the 365 Full Frame Project

It has been five months since I started the 365 Full Frame project. Here are six lessons learned from my immersive photography experience to date:

1) Framing is Everything

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You can edit a photo all you want, but it’s much easier to produce a good photo when your original capture is solid. Find your story and focus on it.

In some settings there can be many eye catching things to include in your photograph, but these can distract the viewer away from your message. Whenever possible try to frame your photo so that it focuses on your subject. Leave out as many distractions as you can. If you cannot frame the photo while capturing it, crop and if necessary (or possible), edit out distractions.

2) Don’t Take the Rule of Thirds Literally

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The rule of thirds is very helpful to new photographers. For those that don’t know, the rule of thirds suggests framing your picture by dividing the frame in thirds vertically and horizontally. You then frame your subject in the middle square and capture the shot.

At the same time if taken literally, the rule of thirds can create formulaic photos with every subject in the dead center of the image. Over the past couple of months I have tried to break away from perfectly centered images. So long as my subject touches the primary center — even if it just grazes the rectangle — then I am good.

3) Edit Your Photos

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There are purists who say photos shouldn’t be “photoshopped” or edited. They are wrong. Some of the most iconic film photos of yesterday were significantly altered in the darkroom. If the no filter crowd likes bad photos then God bless them, but the more time you invest in processing quality shots, the better they will look.

4) A Take-Away from the Minimalist Crowd

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That being said, some photos can be overproduced. And God knows sometimes I intentionally create light intense photos because that’s the look I want. This Capitol Building shot is one where I did that to emphasize the scaffolding and the lighting.

Minimalists like images that are edited as a touch up only, instead focusing on the capture. They edit in LightRoom, but just enough to make clean, crisp photographs. My thoughts are make a great image, and when possible, do so with as little editing as possible.

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This dawn image features very little editing. Per the minimalist link, 80% of the work was in the Basic Light Room panel. I opened the shadows and reduced the highlights. I sharpened the image and punched up the color contrast. Then I enabled lens correction. And that was it. The same is true of the Frosty, the Snowman image that opens this post.

Do only what you think is necessary to create a good image. Follow your heart. Every photo doesn’t have to be an over-wrought 500 Pixels gem.

5) Sunsets and Sunrises are Like Bait

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I stopped taking as many sunset and sunrise shots recently. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I have found them to be less challenging as of late, in large part because I have shot all the local vistas in my immediate neighborhood. While sunrises and sunsets are photo bait for likes and what most people seem to enjoy, it’s not necessarily the most challenging subject.

There are a couple of short trips that may yield an opportunity this month. But I will likely revisit sunrise and sunset pictures in earnest this January when the earth’s tones are muted by the dead of winter. The harshness of the land in this light interests me and presents a challenge. The soft oranges, pinks and reds are less of a challenge these days.

6) People Are Difficult Subjects

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Photographing people is hard. I am not talking abut the smiley pics you see on Facebook. In many ways those are easy, but they don’t strike me as good or sincere. In fact, I see most smiling pics as fake, unless they are in the moment.

Capturing people’s spirit, their true essence, is the challenge, and it’s one that I fail at often. Every month, I rent some studio time and photograph someone, usually a friend who volunteers. There is much to learn with retouching here, but I hope to get better at photographing people over the next seven months.

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What tips would you add? Or, what are your thoughts on the 365 Full Frame Project to date?

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?

A Bigger Problem than Content Shock

There may be a bigger problem than content shock coming down the pike. First, it’s great that industry leaders are addressing the increasing proliferation of bad content populating the interwebs. More spammy content spoils the waters for the rest of us.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that a bigger problem faces the sector.

In the next twenty years our conceptions of literacy will become challenged and evolve. A media world is coming where visual and audio forms will dominate, and text will become a secondary form of communication.

Some conversations touch the tip of this massive iceberg with the current by focusing on visual media’s growing social network strength. But smaller mobile media devices and content glut continue to force a permanent focus on rich visual and audio.

I imagine many writers will writhe as they read this. Let us agree that long form blogs, eBooks and content will continue to engage stakeholders.

But in 20 years will these textual forms will become increasingly marginalized as mass consumption moves to video and imagery? I think so.

In essence, blogs, white papers and eBooks will become niche tools for specific purposes and persons who prefer reading. Further, Generation X and millennials will be the last generations that read content online first. Instead, children and adults will watch, listen, see, and then read.

I know that last paragraph will inspire debate. People are afraid of what the visual era means. When people are fearful they have negative reactions.

We cannot ignore the trends. To run from change is to be passed over by it.

Consider this: People are as likely to seek an answer today on YouTube as they would via Google. They will learn more about a research report from an infographic than a four page executive summary. Some people prefer listening to a podcast during their commute or at the gym rather than reading late at night or during their lunch break. They prefer to have business intelligence delivered via slideshare than a long blog post. The list of trends signalling the movement away from text grows with each passing season.

By the way, I would have made a deck about this trend, but when wrestling with complicated topics, I still think textually and have to write my ideas out. That is a problem for me. It’s a problem that every communicator faces right now. How do I learn how to communicate visually?

The Visual Imperative

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Last week, my company Tenacity5 had the great honor of serving as the social media counsel for Give Local America, an incredible day of giving from Kimbia that raised more than $53 million from more than 300,000 donors for well over 7000 nonprofits. To wrap things up, we created a pinboard of the best stories from the many nonprofits across the country.

The pinboard highlights many passionate stories from nonprofits, stories of beneficiaries who need the programs created by passionate causes.

I am sure there were many, many other stories that are not included in the board.

Because they were not visual and didn’t use the Give Local America social media hashtags and keywords, we did not find them. By my estimate, there were hundreds of thousands of social updates, including pieces of visual content created for the day. The visual tagged pieces of content stood out, and will be memorialized.

This is the problem. We must communicate visually within the Internet context now if we hope to be found.

It’s why AirBnb is going beyond creating unique story paths for SEO. They also contract 3000 freelance photographers to help them communicate these stories visually.

The visual imperative is one of the primary reasons I decided to focus on improving my photography skills this year. Since that time in March, my photography blog on Flickr has increased its traffic by another 50% and is now outpacing this blog 8 to 1 on traffic this month.

Learning to speak through pictures is becoming easier.

Whatever or however communicators decide to evolve their visual skills, evolve they must. Communicators can learn to storyboard, or write video scripts and screenplays, or podcast, or use InDesign, or critique visual arts, or build outlines through visual wireframes, or… There are many options to learn visual thinking well beyond photography.

Stop Making Excuses

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Many people tell me I have a natural eye for photography, that it is a gift or an art. They say that communicators can’t do the same thing.

This is an excuse.

It rankles me when people say they can’t learn or won’t be able to do so. Let me be clear: Six years ago I took crappy photos like everyone else. I learned to think visually through a camera.

Deciding you can’t take photos is an excuse for not wanting or being afraid to learn photography. This is true for any visual discipline. No one wants to find out they really cannot see the world visually. Lack of desire and fear can thwart an effort right out of the gate. Let’s be honest about these very real internal barriers.

It’s also important to be consider the market dynamics. Communicators will see this trend evolve, and they must decide whether or not to embrace visual media. If not, are they prepared for competition from other companies and members of the workforce?

I’ve heard some other interesting excuses since last March, too. Some people think that iPhones make authentic images, and that real cameras don’t.

A camera is a tool. If you want to use dull knife to cut your meat, go for it. Me, I like a sharpened knife. I’ll opt for real cameras every chance I can. They do a better job, and people want good pics. I only need to look at the performance my Nikon captured social photos versus the iPhone shots. This is why every communicator needs a camera, in my opinion.

I hear the same thing about filters and Photoshop, that these editing tools make inauthentic photos.

Look, I don’t like crazy enhanced images that are so over the top they look like something from a science fiction novel. But I do think people should use Lightroom and Photoshop to take the dust specs off your pictures, make them less grainy, and fix the lighting.

We are talking about creating and telling stories through visual means. If you think that’s not a photo, then call it a graphically enhanced image. Who the hell cares?

In my opinion, the filter touch up argument is another excuse for not learning visual media. By the way I learned how to use Lightroom in a two hour Kelby One training session. That’s it.

Sharing How-To Experiences

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It’s one thing to tell people that dynamic change is coming. Most don’t want to deal with it.

But I really believe this trend is happening, and I am doing everything I can to meet the market. If you are of the same mind, expect more blog content about the lessons I am learning, including how-tos.

I cannot compete with the many expert photography blogs out there. But I can share my experiences evolving from a single dimension communicator to a multifaceted one that weaves the visual into larger strategies.

Perhaps this will be helpful. I hope so.

What do you think?