CLICK ON THE PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM
When people ask me what is the best camera there is? I often reply, the one you have!
When they ask me, what is the best way to become a good photographer? The answer is very simple...Take a lot of pictures.
When they ask, how can you take a lot of pictures, I tell them, carry a camera with you all the time.
Now, if you are in a huge gathering of people and you are allowed to get their undivided attention ask them, how many of you own a cell phone with a camera, blue tooth and/or WI FI capabilities. I am sure, the hands up count will be the highest in the group. To most people it is quite common to have a cellphone with a camera. To us photographers, the question should be: How many of you have camera-phones and some hands will come up, while the rest may remain clueless, not because they do not have the equipment, but because they may not be aware that they are photographers by default.
Photography and videography are sweeping the market like a storm. Today, it is expected for still cameras, in all their categories and shapes, to have video capabilities, and lo and behold, the smartphones will be rendered DUMBPHONES, if they do not meet these requirements. The cameraphone influence is huge, it is so large, that in 2011 the sales of compact cameras fell 30% across the market affecting all the camera brands regardless of their popularity. So, who got the benefits of the 30% pie? Why cell phone making companies. Suddendly, names like Apple, Samsung, Research in Motion, LG, Sony, Nokia and a bunch of other less known brands were taking a bite from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony's compact camera market with their cell-phones. Soon the sensor/megapixel ratio became an issue in camera-phones and the war between the CCD and CMOS sensor went over the camera borders into the cell-phone turf. A new era was in shape, and tough the camera-phone birth was in the 90s, in 2012 the camera-phones are here to stay.
What does this mean for photographers, how does this change our picture taking. There are a lot of "PROS" that look at camera-phones with disdain. In the other hand, there are quite a few that are seen the change in paradigme as a wonderful event. This year, wi-fi enabled cameras are becomeing a trendful thing. Why, because more and more people are opting for cameraphones. Furthermore, the applications developers, are racing to have the next most popular app in a market where millions of users of cameraphones are waiting for the next PHOTOSHOP app for Android or IOS, that will render camera-phones, the must have gadjets in the world. I know some may think I am exagerating, but time will tell what will happen. Specially, when huge companies like TV stations are placing importance in the immideatness of the news. Soon waiting a few hours to get "the pictures" will not be sufficient, and the speed of communications technology and imaging research and development will converge to enable future photographers to do unthinkable feets with gear, that we would think unattainable today.
So camera-phone photography is here to stay. Now, I am a nature photographer at heart, and I was one of the diehards, who looked with disbelieve at camera phones as a need to have thing. However, reality, has the kick of a mule and a hard awakening was in the making to make me do a turn to a new reality. If I preached that the best way to become a good photographer is by training the eye taking as many pictures as time would allow. I would have a total lack of congruence negating the very thing I was preaching. The wonders of camera phones came into my life with one of the top players in the field, an Iphone 4S. And I cannot deny, how happy I have become when I became aware of its full potential. So allow me to hint some of the newly acquired merits that a camera-phones have for the"serious phographer"
The camera-phones have "APPS". These range from GPS, Altimeters, sunrise and sunset/moonrise and moonset times, photographers ephemeris to plan our shoots according to the sun's position anywhere on the earth, panoramic and HDR capabilities, instant access to internet, Wi-Fi wireless connections that enable your camera-phone to become a remote live view trigger for your DSLR, bluetooth connections, tele-banking, well, I could fill pages with photography applications that would make any DSRL wish list look like a dictionary. So what kind of photography justifies the purchase of a cameraphone? Any that meets your hearts desire, as long as you understand its reach and limitations.
FIELD TEST FOR A CAMERA-PHONE
Photographing the tropical cloud forest is a great challenge. High humidity, an ever changing cloud cover, sudden changes of light, steep angles at ground level, very slippery ground, can be some of the things a photographer has to face to make a shoot in of earth's most biodiverse environments. It was in a little mountain flower growers hamlet called Galipan where I put the IPhone and myself to test.
I like to take multiple frames with my DSLR to do composite high resolution mosaics. This requires to work on MANUAL and to take each frame with the same settings. Thus enabling, the photographer, to stich a large number of high resolution images together where the detail of the entire photo surpases that of a single frame wide angle picture. Well, I took three frames of the clouds flying through the forest with the Iphone. This camera-phone works in automatic, jpeg, and it can be difficult to handle, as the thin frame body and small buttons to operate and click the pictures are much smaller than a compact camera or a DSLR. Nevertheless, once one get over these issues the outcome was very pleasing. The jpegs were merged in Photoshop CS4 and the result was the picture above.
It is clear to me that a camera-phone was designed to accomodate the communications end of the device. So one can expect that its ergonomics had to be compensated for the use of the camera. A good deal of design was made to allow the photographer in us make the best out of the device. I most say that the thing that kept me a bit tense was the fact that the front and back of the camera-phone are made aout of glass. I do not want a beautiful devise that can break and be rendered useless if it falls accidentaly to the ground. One thing that Apple did well is to enable the volume + button to work as a shutter. To work around the awkward position of the camera lens, that big handed people have trouble with, as their fingers get in the way, one can reduce the problem by placing the camera-phone uside down to make your pictures, however, this does not work all the time.
Taking in consideration that the camera-phones were no designed for Photography alone, the handdling low light conditions worked well. So, by mid day, I was one happy photographer, so I desided to keep the Canon gear in the backpack and continue with the camera-phone my pictures of the day.
MOLASSES GRASS A BEAUTIFUL INVADER
Nature reporting with the Iphone can be done, especially over the net. Capín Melao / Molasses Grass is an African native that was introduced as pasture for cattle in many tropcal regions of the world. It does so well, that it dominates the landscape where it gets stablished and 60% of the local flora cannot compete with its rapid growth. As it is in bloom, making the huge savanna patches on the mountains look pink, a lot of people love this time of the year and there are many artists that make this time of the year special to place on their canvas the beautiful landscapes that these grasses enhance with their colors. I made a few pictures with the Iphone to document the bloom, and they turned out well.
The mountain hamblet lives of agriculture, so the cloud forest has been cleared to make way for flowering plants that make their way to florists in Caracas. If by any chance, a garden is abandoned, the molasses grass will overcome local pioneering plants and once it takes a hold of an area it becomes a nuisance that has to be treated with chemicals harmful to wild plants as well.
Here is a blue Agapanthus plantation (An introduced ornamental) separated from the molasses grass by some pines. The fog is covering the landscape that used to be one of the most biodiversed of the world and now, it ies devoid of its trees, epiphytes, ferns, mosses and wildlife it use to sustain. This shows that if there is a demand for flowers, the cloud forests in national parks can be cut down to sustain a precarious life of farmers, whose product cannot compete with the cheap imports from the industrial flower growers of Europe and Colombia. This little story has been documented with photos from a camera phone.
A HOUSE WITHIN A GARDEN
To finish the photoshoot I took a walk around the garden. The mix of gum trees, heliconias, bromeliads, cobblestone road and fog coming and going had set the mood. Once again, two for one. I knew the frame I wanted, the Iphone could not deliver because of its screen size. Well, once we can have the digital foresight to plan your photos for pos-production, all one has to do, is to go for it, and let Photoshop or any other stiching program, put your final image together. Once again, the light was even. Overcast days are great for that. So I took two pictures of my host's house and the final result is quite pleasing. All I can say from these two shots is that, in even light, one can push cameraphones to do things DSLR can manage with, and get away with it. However working in a bright tropical day, cameraphones may not do as well.
Back light / Close up
Back Light is a beautiful way to show highlights and shadows. Alternating overexposed, underexposed and well exposed areas in a photo helps to increase the sense of depth in an image. Mastering backlight in natural settings is a very taxing job on its own. This kind of light brings magic to your subject nad helps it stand out in its setting. Seen light and recording it are two different things, and placing what you see in a digital photo will depend on the sensor's capability. Therefore, it is very important to learn your cameraphone's sensor limitations and take your pictures accordingly.
This backlit bromeliad bract is a classical example where shadows and lit places play in a balance where the colors and the composition work well together. The cameraphone worked very well, and its size enabled me to get up and close to the subjectto make the most of the light and the composition. So the Iphone got a few more points.
I've been told, that water, glass, silver and gold are hard objets to photograph well, as rendering their true colors can be very hard. Well, once again a shinny spider web covered by backlit water droplets test the cameraphone's sensor. It did well, and I know that having this new gadget in my pocket will allow me to explore a new dimesion y photography and writing a blog.
As many events may present themselves by pure chance, those who learn how to make the best of their cameraphones will enjoy a new face in digital photography. There is room for new areas of exploration and not adapting to change, will render diehards into oblivion, as change is perpetual, innovation will dictate new paradigmes and chance, and opportunity, will make newcomers grow into different fields of photography.
The slow moving slug, a creature vulnerable to desiccation during the day hours caught my eye, after I took the picture above. The humidity provided by the constant fog in this altitud, allowed it to forage out of harms way during the early hours of the day. Chance enabled me to document the event and having a camera with you all the time, will likely help you come upon things where the ordinary will become the extraordinary, sucha as a nocturnal animal feeding during the day.
So opening new windows of opportunity will brig cameraphone users better photographers, and who knows, cameraphontography me carve its own niche in the world.
For now, I am making the comitment towards CAMERAPHONTOGRAPHY, and Didital Camera Adventures will have a segment dedicated to this subject.
Thanks, and I'll see you in the next article.
Leopoldo "Leo" García