I have a confession to make: this past week I've been playing around with images that I've taken with my cell phone over the last year or so. I went to backup my phone's photos and decided why not try and play with them a bit in Photoshop during some downtime. You know what? I've been having a great time, my creative gears are turning, and I have a new found respect and appreciation for that tiny camera built into my phone.
If we're completely honest with ourselves, I think that many of us as professional photographers are a bit put off or even afraid of the insane popularity and accessibility of cell phone cameras. For good reason too, we've spent thousands of dollars on our gear and our education and the tiny little cameras in phones these days are to the point where they can take some damn impressive images with very little effort. I don't think we need to be afraid though. If this past week has taught me anything, it's that the cell phone camera is just another tool at our disposal. There is a time and a place and the sooner we embrace it the better off we'll be in the long run, we may even have some fun in the meantime.
I am a portrait photographer and the only lens in my bag is an 85mm. I also really love going for hikes, finding bridges or pathways, searching for great textures and scenes. Honestly, I don't really want to purchase a new lens, carry all my gear with me, and try to learn the basics about landscape photography; Insert camera phone here. My phone is the bridge between the professional portrait images I take and the natural outdoor adventure images that I want to shoot while I'm on a hike. My phone lets me experiment and play around in a quick and care-free manner all while giving me some decent photos to remember the adventure. My phone lets me experience (on a very small scale) the creativity of landscape photography. There is no pressure about setting up a tripod and dialing in the settings, I just take my phone out of my pocket or backpack and I'm ready to start shooting.
The icing on the cake is that the photos themselves can end up pretty decent straight out of the phone or I can take a working knowledge of Photoshop and tailor them a bit more to my liking. Are they print ready? Heck no. Do they stand up next to genuine crafted landscape images? No, definitely not. That's not what's important to me though. My phone camera is particularly crappy when compared to some of the cameras on more recent phones from Apple and Samsung but in spite of this I'm still able to take shots that I'm happy with.
So what's the take away from all this? Learning to care a little bit less about the little things and to see the bigger picture (no pun intended) can be a pretty liberating moment. As photographers I think that a lot of times we want perfection and only the highest quality from our images. In doing so, we can sometimes create a stressful moment or situation where there doesn't need to be one. At least for me, the ability to grab a quick shot on a hike without having to set anything up is pretty priceless.
Chime in with your thoughts on camera phones. Don't worry about which is better, the phone or the DSLR. We already know that your DSLR is the better camera, that's not the question. The question is do you find your camera phone freeing sometimes? Events maybe? Or how about walking the streets in a new city? I know that if for some reason I wanted to take a picture of some particularly great looking food at a restaurant, I would rather use my phone than bust out a full-frame DSLR. With phone cameras continuing to get better and better, the quality of images that we can capture on the fly is increasing too, which will always be cool with me.