There’s no doubt that mobile phones have changed quite a lot over a relatively short period of time from what they used to be. When the first camera on a cell phone was introduced back in the early 2000s, nobody could have ever imagined how much that technology would evolve and almost become the focal point of every new smartphone.
This gave rise to what many have called mobile photography. In this article, we’ll look at what it is and what sets it apart from other types of photography.
What is mobile photography?
Mobile photography refers to the art of capturing images using a mobile device, particularly a smartphone. The term ‘mobile photographer’ mostly applies to smartphone photography hobbyists and people who take mobile photography a bit more seriously as an art-form more than the average person does.
Thanks to computational photography and other technological advancements, smartphone cameras are now more than capable of producing images comparable to those of some digital cameras. This has no doubt, increased the popularity of smartphone photography.
But just as owning a DSLR camera and taking family holiday photos doesn’t make one a photographer, simply taking pictures with a smartphone or other mobile device does not necessarily make one a “true” mobile photographer.
The evolution of photography to mobile photography
In order to appreciate mobile photography and what it is today, you need to look at what photography was like in the past and how smartphones and mobile devices have simplified it for the masses.
Looking at the developments in the field of photography, it was inevitable that mobile photography would come into existence.
Back in the day, cameras worked on the basis of exposing chemically treated strips of film to light that passed through the lens of the camera. It was quite an involved process and it was not cheap. If you didn’t know what you were doing, you wouldn’t be able to capture and develop your own photos.
The cameras were also quite big. As a result, not many people owned cameras and/or had dark rooms to develop photos. Cameras and photography were just for the very few who could afford it or had the skills and resources to pursue it.
And even when film camera technology improved and the cameras became smaller and popular among consumers, very few people had the facilities and/or skills to develop their own pictures. You had to pay someone to do that for you.
You’d have to wait for days to get your photos. Also, they’d see all your photos. So, absolutely no privacy there (unless you had a Polaroid camera).
When digital cameras came into the scene, things changed. You no longer had to wait for days to have your pictures developed in a dark room only to discover that your pictures look like utter crap. You could now take pictures and immediately view them on your camera’s LCD screen.
Not only that, but you also were no longer limited to a finite number of pictures you could take by the number of available frames on your film reel. You were only limited by the amount of space you had on your memory card. And if you wanted to, you could delete unwanted pictures on the spot to create more space.
You could then transfer your photographs to a personal computer for storage or some editing if you had the software and the skills to do so.
This was a much easier and user-friendly option for anyone to capture and share their photos than ever before. More and more families had digital cameras although they were usually limited to one or two per family.
And then smartphones came and turned everything on its head. The technology behind smartphones made it possible to do everything all on one device. On traditional cameras, filters had to be physically attached to the camera. Now you could digitally add them with a few simple taps on the screen.
Gone are the days when you had to upload your pictures to a computer and be some sort of Photoshop whizkid to able to touch up and edit your pictures. Now, there are hundreds of apps available for smartphones that make it easy for anybody to manipulate their photographs in any way they wish.
And forget about going to a friend’s house to flip through a photo album of their recent vacation over tea and scones. The rise of social media brought about a platform that allowed people to share and distribute their pictures with friends and family (and strangers, too!) near and far with greater ease.
Mobile cameras have made what was once an expensive art form easily accessible to the masses.
ALSO READ: How Does A Smartphone Camera Work?
Types of mobile photography
As simple and straightforward as the idea of mobile photography is, there are about three categories of mobile photography or types of mobile photographers. They are the hobbyist, the artist, and the professional.
All three of these groups capture images with a mobile phone, but their approaches are quite different.
Mobile photography as a hobby
A lot of people who get into mobile photography start at this stage. The barrier of entry is very low. All you need is a phone with a good camera, a subject that interests you, and you’re good to go. Although some mobile photography hobbyists buy a few accessories for their mobile cameras, some of them aren’t too invested in it to spend any money on it.
The photography skills of smartphone photography hobbyists usually range from absolute amateur to really skilled.
The intention of a hobbyist mobile photographer is not to draw attention to themselves or make money from their photos. They’re just in it for the passion and fun of it. Their subject matter can be focused on one thing or it can be anything and everything that catches their eye.
Mobile photography as an art form
There are some people, particularly in the traditional photography community, that look down on mobile photography and don’t regard it as something to be taken seriously. Some have even gone as far as to say that it’s killing the art-form of photography.
Well, art is very broad and encompasses many disciplines and photography falls within the realm of visual art. These are works that are produced to be appreciated by sight. It doesn’t matter what tool was used to create it.
In the past, an artist would go off into the fields with his paint and brushes and recreate the beauty of the landscape in front of him on a canvas, or have his subject sit perfectly still as he captured their likeness with each stroke of his brush.
That’s basically what photography does as well, only somewhat differently. Did the introduction of photography kill the art of painting? Definitely not! All it did was introduce a different type of canvas (film) and a new type of brush (camera) with a different type of paint (light). What first started as science in imaging evolved into the art of photography.
Mobile photographers can also create stunning works of art just as traditional photographers. The principles of photography remain the same and the techniques of composition are no different. The only difference is the size of the camera, which, in all fairness, does impact the quality of the output but in no way takes away from the fact that a moment in time has been captured.
Shot with Huawei Y7 (2019)
Just as with traditional photography, mobile photographers can use their phone cameras to do street photography, capture portraits, create light paintings, etc. Artists who choose a smartphone camera as their medium of expression are not limited by the camera’s shortcomings, but rather the reaches of their creativity.
Do people exhibit their mobile photography work?
Absolutely! Go to social media and you will find tons of amazing photos taken using smartphones. There are plenty of Facebook groups and Instagram accounts where mobile photographers share their work with a worldwide audience.
There are also online galleries that accept submissions of mobile photos. Some artists go as far as to have their own blog/website where they upload their portfolio of mobile photos. And thanks to technology, it’s possible for artists to create virtual reality exhibitions of their work.
Outside the digital world, some brick and motor art galleries have exhibitions of mobile photography.
Mobile photography as a profession
If you start a photography business today and all you have is a smartphone and perhaps a tripod, you might struggle to find business outside of people who know you personally. That’s because no matter how good a smartphone camera is, a dedicated camera such as a DSLR will always outperform it.
Smartphone cameras are very limited and therefore can’t satisfy a wide variety of clients and their demands.
Another factor to consider is that of a photographer’s professional image. When someone thinks of a professional photographer, they think of someone who knows more about photography than the average person and perhaps has equipment that very few would have.
Because mobile cameras are everywhere and everyone, including toddlers, have access to them and can take pictures using them, the idea of a professional photographer using nothing but a smartphone camera might not inspire confidence in a lot of clients.
Is there a place for mobile cameras in the professional world
Smartphone with Beastgrip professional mobile camera gear
Yes, there is. Photography can be an expensive undertaking for an amateur or a budding photographer who hopes to start a photography business. And expensive equipment in the hands of a novice can be a waste.
It’s like learning to drive in a fast, expensive car. It can be done but the fast car is better appreciated when fully taken advantage of by someone who understands how to operate it.
In the world of professional photography, mobile cameras are the perfect stepping stone to the next level. They can be regarded as the training wheels of photography where you can learn the basics of photography before immersing yourself completely into it as a way to make a living.
Once you’re confident that you know what you’re doing and your photos actually look good, you can then move on to the big guns (dedicated cameras & lenses) and start providing your services to paying clients.
Some professional photographers use their smartphone as a secondary, or backup camera. That’s something I’ve personally done, not only with photos but also with videos as well.
And as long as you have a “proper” camera around you somewhere as the primary camera, some people might not second-guess your professionalism as a photographer when they see you using your smartphone camera.
Phone cameras can also come in handy in the world of photojournalism. Because mobile devices can be discreet, photojournalists can use them to take photos in sensitive areas where big cameras can attract unwanted attention or get them into serious trouble.
Can you make money with mobile photography?
Just because it may be impractical to run a professional photography business using nothing but a mobile camera doesn’t mean you can’t make money with your mobile photos. In fact, there are several ways in which you can do so.
For example, some apps and websites allow you to upload your mobile photos onto their platform where companies can find your images and pay to use them. You can also enter your mobile pictures in contests where you could win some decent amount of cash, up to $2 000 in some cases.
Foap is an example of an app that allows you to sell your smartphone pictures on their market and also has contests with cash prizes attached. It’s free to use and you can learn more about how it works here. For other apps that pay for mobile photos, click here.
It’s not easy
It’s very important to note that, just like with any legitimate hustle, making money online with your mobile photos is not easy at all. Because the internet is so large and almost everybody has a camera of some sort, there is a lot of competition out there.
In order for you to succeed in making some money online with your mobile photos, one of the things you need to do is to make sure that your mobile photos look amazing and that they stand out from the rest.
ALSO READ: How To Take Professional Photos With A Phone
What differentiates the hobbyist from the artist from the professional?
As you may have noticed from the descriptions above, there are some differences and similarities between the three different categories of mobile photography.
- Might not have extra equipment
- Keeps photos private or shares with a close group of people
- Might not always be skilled with the camera
- Does not aim to make any money
- Invests in extra mobile photography equipment
- Knows the camera and its manual settings well
- Works with subjects that interest them and have a personal style
- Exhibits work on various artistic platforms
- Can make some money from the sale of their work
- Invests in top-quality equipment
- Knows the camera and its settings well
- Usually works according to a client’s brief
- Uses smartphone camera as a secondary camera
The pros and cons of mobile photography
As shown in the table above, mobile photography has its advantages and disadvantages. Most of the advantages have to do with how easy and convenient mobile cameras are compared to dedicated cameras that are often bigger and more complex.
The greatest disadvantage is the picture quality mobile cameras produce. Ironically, the advantage of being small and portable is what causes mobile cameras to struggle with issues of picture quality compared to their larger counterparts. Even though high-end flagship mobile cameras can produce excellent mobile photos, they still pale in comparison to those produced by dedicated cameras.
ALSO READ: The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Cameras
What’s my personal take on smartphone photography? I love it! I’ve been a big fan of it for many many years, and will probably still be a fan for many more to come. It’s easy, convenient, and excitingly challenging because of its limitations.
But at the end of the day, a photograph is a photograph no matter what tool was used to capture it.