The Photography Blog: Rise of the smartphone, but smart photography too?

Alex Hare
  • By
  • Arts
  • Last updated: Saturday, 19 May 2012 at 1:02 pm

smartphones 300x225 The Photography Blog: Rise of the smartphone, but smart photography too?Facebook recently paid $1 Billion for the smartphone app, Instagram. Assuming Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t got his sums wrong, the market for smartphone photography is booming.  So what impact is the smartphone having on our photography and what is it’s role in our photo taking process?

Wikianswers estimates that there are 964 pictures uploaded to Facebook alone every second and research from NPD Group found that last year, smartphone photography grew from 17% to 27% of all the photos and videos we take.  It’s unlikely to start a downward trend anytime soon.

That said, we’re still more likely to use single purpose cameras for important events.  Maybe there’s a perception that you can only take ‘proper’ photographs with a ‘proper’ camera.  Perhaps we’re still not convinced we can get the results we’re after from a smartphone on a one off special occasion.

However, smartphones’ cameras are only going to improve, especially I would argue from the manufacturers that don’t also have to try and maintain sales of a product range of dedicated cameras.

With smartphone photography on the rise, what impact is it having on the rest of us still plugging away with our traditional cameras-compacts and DSLR’s alike?

I see a technical and creative pressure on the other photographers amongst us-and I include professionals and keen amateurs here.  With a smartphone, you can capture, creatively style and publish an image to the rest of the world in a matter of seconds.

In the world of wedding photography where I work, brides are often asking about the availability of photographs before the end of their reception.  It’s obvious to me that this notion stems from the speedy turnaround delivered by the smartphone.  A guest can shoot the bride and groom arriving, apply some fairly stylised effects with their Photoshop app and have a neat looking shot of the bride up on Facebook before the canapés are even finished.

Where does that leave me lugging my big camera around while other people are producing images around me? Well, leaving quality versus quantity issues aside, most couples don’t want a slideshow after dinner-they’ve usually got other plans and in fact look forward to the treat of their professionally taken, carefully edited and retouched photographs on return from honeymoon.   Honeymoon?  But that’s like, two weeks?  We used to say the pics would be ready in a couple of months!

So expectations for the speed we turn even our professional digital photography around in are higher, but what else has the smartphone done to the photography landscape?

The attack of the apps has reshaped how millions of people style and share their photographs.  Effects like retro toning, vignettes and stylistic borders that seemed the preserve of the expert print maker or advanced digital photographer are now a few clicks away from everyone.  Sure, they may not be as sophisticated but they can look great viewed on the phone/ipad/social networking site.

Considering what the end use of our photography is remains the key for me here.  If all we want is some cool looking shots to show people on our smartphone or ipad, or even to have printed off at 6×4, then the smartphone isn’t going to tremble with fear at being exposed (no pun intended…) as being not up to scratch.

Most people print shots at or around this size so will they care if the photographer used a smartphone as long as they love the end result?  I doubt it.  OK, the final thing is a digital mutation of the original photograph, but the effect is popular and some pros have gone for the retro look, for example, completely wholesale.  Whether it will last or not remains to be seen.

Of course the beauty of apps is that they can adapt to new fashions.  If one style loses popularity, someone will introduce a new one for us to download.  Apps are therefore giving people greater creative freedom to present their photos in a style that suits them and their images.  They serve a purpose, they’ve got people shooting more and more photographs and, hopefully, enjoying photography, which is a Good Thing in my book.

Where I am concerned is where this fast paced style of image production becomes the accepted norm and a view is formed that all great photography must be this easy to produce.  As I say to people on my workshops, you can put a great camera in the hands of a fool and a point and shoot in the hands of a master and the best photograph will always be made by the master.

Understanding the principles of good lighting, timing and composition coupled with a solid grounding in technique are the ingredients for great photographs.  No app in the world can replace these.  They help turn the mundane into the interesting, but they can’t make a ‘moment happen’ or capture it for you.

Consider the moment when the wall came down or when that brave guy in Tiananmen Square with his shopping bags stopped an entire column of tanks.  Moments brilliantly captured by the photographer with the camera being nothing more than the tool for recording the moment.

In the future I see no reason why these moment couldn’t be shot on a smartphone.  Viewing the results via the news feed on our ipad, for example, image quality will be fine.  And will we care such a weighty issue was captured on a mere smartphone?  I doubt it.  Ultimately, all that maters is the impact of the image, the story, the moment being captured and presented to us, not the gadget used to record it or process it.

Join us in the debate:

Do you think there’s room for smartphone photography in photojournalism?  Can we trust apps to still deliver an image that isn’t somehow a lie?

What do you see your smartphone for on the photo front?  Do you carry a smartphone and a dedicated camera or is your smartphone your camera of choice for all occasions?

Do you enjoy the various apps that help you style your images or do you think they are gimmicky and a fashion waiting to die?

As smartphone cameras improve, can you see a day when we will no longer need even consumer level SLRs?

Tagged in: , ,
  • Alan Trevor

    I for one don’t use my cannon g10 any more, ( i like most never knew how to use it properly but who cares when point and shoot is good enough) the Samsung smart phone i have produces images that most people would be happy with. Ill take a guess only 5% are professionals and they are never happy with any results anyway.Yup the bulky second camera will be obsolete but i can remember saying that about the analog watch 30 years ago. lol

  • Fool_Brittania

    Camera phones have many advantages. They are compact, ubiquitous and can stream pictures out of range of Plods illegal delete attempts.

    It is also hard to edit a rough bit of footage without tell-tale marks.

    I took pictures in London a few years ago with a 35mm camera and a uniformed idiot told me and a friend the pictures would have to be deleted. We both showed him cables that were connected to GSM data modems and when he learnt there was nothing to delete he just wandered away.

    Even easier now using an Android smartphone.

    Plod censorship is gone.

  • wally876

    In a sense, the terminology is just an accident of history. Suppose instead that the phone had been added to the camera instead of the camera to the phone? Would we worry about people using their camera to make phone calls? I suspect we would not. The implication is that this debate will soon pass. Of course people will use smartphone-cameras to record newsworthy events and this can include professionals as much as amateurs. And, as for the questions about truth and reality, these apply just a much to camera-based photography as they do to phone-based photographs. Photoshop etc. can be applied to any and all digital imagery. Given the evidence that even eye-witness accounts (of a crime, say) can be so far off base — not to mention visual interpretation of film-based imagery — recall the film “Blow-up” — it is the entire question of factual reality that is being called into question. To that I have no answer except to point out that this is not a problem attributable to smartphone-based photography.

  • ebaytkmax

    When I had an upgrade I asked for a high mega pixel camera. I was offered a Nokia N8 12 mp  it is very good but to me it wasn’t as good as my Sony Sure Shot which was 8 mp; but because it was a newer model I accepted & now it has grown on me. I took my sure shot camera on holiday abroad and all the photos were perfect. It was a hot, but poor part of the world, I felt safer with a phone than I would have been with a huge camera around my neck or carrying it in a camera shoulder bag.

    Technology is moving so fast now, I couldn’t imagine going to the shop with my films to be develope. Just like our DS console that too is redundant! Smart phones have lots of games on free and to buy.

    Can’t wait to see what I will be offered for my upgrade next year…. 

  • ebaytkmax

    I have dropped my smart phone so many times!!!! This includes outside on the path & kitchen tiled floor. You could not do that with a camera.

  • ebaytkmax

    …..and unlike a camera you get lots of updates I even have a fab sat nav with mine!

  • millgate


    From the moment I took hold of my Dell Streak 5 (yes … I did say that) I’ve been delighted with the pictures I’ve taken. It has never missed a beat in two years !

    Certainly I’ve thrown away a few, self ruined, duds in my time; and I still use my Fujifilm Finepix S9500 when I’m serious. I’ve never been persuaded to spend more than £200.00 on a camera.

    So … it’s mix n’ match for me … whatever comes to hand, usually.

    What I will say, though … is the sheer delight of taking a whole bunch of pictures on the Dell ‘minitablet’ – and to arrive home to see them all collected and stored – dated and ready to modify – sitting in my Google Picasa file space.

    That’s really something.

    Enjoy !

  • Califa Berks

    Why do smartphone takes every ingenuity on its edge. Surpasses Cell Phone and Smartphones and but this probably would not eliminate professional photography.
    It all comes down with the Lenses. Smartphones cannot provide any good lenses to its small planned structure.

    (Califa Berks)

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter