June 12th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
Are camera phones a game changer? I’m sure that some photographers will argue they are. As image quality improves, camera phones become a better tool. There’s little doubt they are convenient, although there are compact cameras that are just as small.
I suspect that the popularity of camera phones is a passing fashion, but I know some people will disagree. One of them is Al Smith, author of Craft & Vision ebook eyePhone. So I asked him to take part in an interview, to put foward his opinion and talk about the ebook.
How would you describe your creative vision – what themes are you trying to explore in your work?
That’s a really interesting question for me because I think it changes depending on the situation and even on the gear I’m using. When I work for clients using my pro gear I am constantly looking for a way to bring a creative solution to them that matches their goals. Often those goals are story telling and I tend to shoot those with lots of lights and really clean files.
When I’m shooting my iPhone I’m totally into the grunge, something completely different. I would say that overall though I love contrast and simple composition in either case. It’s strange but that’s how it’s developed. I’ve even added a new tool, the Fuji X-Pro1, to the mix and it is taking on a voice of it’s own. I really am finding that my vision or style is born out of each individual tool I use.
Who are your three favourite photographers and why do you like them?
I would say that I have two super heroes and then a couple of people I’d love to be a sidekick for.
Gregory Heisler is probably my biggest photo crush because he’s just plain incredible. His ability to look at a subject differently and build character into his shots is second to none!
Brad Trent would be a close second to that because I love the way he uses light.
Those are my two super heros. As for me being a sidekick it would be Zack Arias because I think I would laugh all the time and he has great vision paired with complete practicality in his gear purchase habits. We also both fell in love with the Fuji X100 at the same time so I feel a bond there.
I would also like to be a sidekick to Joe McNally because he has so much gear I want to play with and the depth of knowledge in his head is super impressive.
In eyePhone you explore the world of camera phone photography. What are the three things you like best about using a camera phone?
I would say my favourite is that it is completely unobtrusive and people are more friendly and tolerant when I use it. They don’t react the same way as they do when I point a D3 in their face.
I also love the immediacy of it all. After I’m done shooting I can sit and edit and share all within minutes of experiencing what I shot.
Lastly I love the way people look at me when I’m really shooting with it. You know directing the subject and getting the light where I want it. I can see their brains going like “what the heck … does that guy think he’s a pro with his iPhone or something!”
And what are the three things you like least?
Well the things I like the least are gear based. I wish it had a longer battery, the screen can be hard to see in bright sunlight, and the lag time is pretty bad.
Aren’t camera phones a difficult device to take photos with? Wouldn’t it be simpler to buy a good quality compact camera and carry that around instead? The image quality of the photos will be better and you have more control over the settings. What are your thoughts on this?
You know it really comes down to what you shoot. I’ve always believed that you need to buy and use gear that supports your creative. I also believe that limiting yourself forces creativity. The iPhone is both for me. It support my grunge style way more than a point and shoot would because I can apply my filters and settings so easily.
With a point and shoot I’d spend hours in Photoshop to get the style that I currently have on my iPhone. I also love that I have little control over the camera because it forces me to focus on the creative part of the picture. I don’t spend time thinking about settings and all my time with composition.
You could argue that if you are going to get a point and shoot why wouldn’t you just get a Micro Four Thirds camera because you have interchangeable lenses and more control? Then you could say why stop there? You may as well get a low end digital SLR so you add faster shutter speeds, better ISO and more options for shooting.
Heck why not blow that bank and jump right to medium format for the huge sensor, picture quality, and shallow depth of field? I think you just have to start and enjoy yourself wherever you are regardless of gear.
You can always upgrade gear but it won’t make you a better photographer. Focusing on composition and the picture is what increases your skill level and and iPhone will force you to do that more than a point and shoot in my opinion. My absolute favourite camera of all time is the Fuji X100. I love how it’s so simple you just have to shoot it.
Can you give three tips to help someone new to photography to get the most out of a camera phone?
The top tip would be make sure you are shooting all the time! It’s less about getting the most out of the camera and more about getting the most out of you. I don’t care if you pictures are horrible and no one ever sees them you just need to shoot all the time and your camera phone pictures will get better.
I would also say that you need to know the limitations of the camera phone you have. Learn it’s challenges and then work around them. They are all horrible at low light so work within that limitation. Forget the gear if you are new.
When you are shooting shoot from all kinds of angles and positions with your phone. By doing that you will find its sweet spot where it sings.
Where did the idea for eyePhone come from? Talk us through the process you went through – from gestation to publication.
Well it went like this. I am pretty active in the social media world in my city. As well as being a photographer I own a company that does Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. We had done an integration with Facebook and Twitter and were launching it to the local social media conference where thousands of bloggers and social media types were there to learn.
After they all saw the pictures I was taking with the iPhone they asked me how I was doing it because they would like be able to do it for their blogs and websites. That turned into me making a really basic course for them which we ended up teaching at the local university and college.
It kind of snowballed from there. Then I was having coffee with David duChemin and was telling him all the little things I learned about shooting with the iphone. It was his idea to put it into a book for the Craft & Vision site. I basically then sat down to the task of paring an all day photo iphone course into an ebook.
With the publication of eyePhone you’ve become a published writer. What are the key lessons you learnt from the process of writing the ebook? What advice would you give someone who would like to write something similar?
I think the best advice I could give anyone in writing an ebook is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Become an expert in something, don’t just write for the sake of writing. There are too many people that don’t really know what they are talking about spreading bad information on the internet and in ebooks.
I can’t even add up the hours I put into learning about shooting with my iPhone before I made that original course and then the book. I also learned that my spelling and grammar is absolutely horrific so make sure you have a good editor!
You have a lot of beautiful photos taken with your iPhone. But if you had to pick one as your favourite, which would it be – and why?
I have two favourite ones. The one of my kids on the swing that started it all. Not because it’s an amazing photo or even a good photo but it’s what started the whole thing for me and a great memory of my kids.
Second is the black and white one with the guy covering his face as he walks past my camera. I just love the spontaneity of that shot. I wasn’t even trying to do a people picture as I was focused on the repeating patterns of the umbrellas and the straight perspective lines in that shot but as soon as I saw him put his hands up I had to take the shot.
Any more ebooks or books planned for the future? If so, can you drop a hint at this stage to the topic?
I’m still recovering from the caffeine overdose from eyePhone so I have not started a new ebook yet. I have been approached to come and teach iPhone photography on a couple cruises and another river tour so I think that will be exciting. I have also been emailed and asked by a few readers to bring my iPhone course to their city so I will also be taking the course on tour for those that asked for it. I love to get people excited about photography and the iPhone is a great place to start for anyone of any skill level.
All of these photos were used to illustrate eyePhone:
All photos copyright Al Smith. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.