How Does A Smartphone Feature In Your Photography Life?

There’s no getting away from the ubiquity of smartphones these days.

Virtually everyone in the developed world has one, and most of them have a more than usable camera on board.

As I’ve written previously, I’m not ready to rely purely on my smartphone (currently a Sony Xperia Android) for photography.

Nothing against the camera’s capability or convenience, but I just much prefer holding a proper camera with more tactile controls and far superior handling.

Even a cheap digital compact feels so much better to use.

Yet when I started to think about this more deeply, I realised my smartphone is actually pretty deeply embedded in my photography life.

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Here’s how.

Making photographs

Obviously. As I said, I prefer a proper camera, but for family shots on the hoof, and when might spot something out walking and don’t have any other camera with me, the Xperia does an excellent job.

The camera’s active and ready to shoot with a double press of the power button and a simple tap on screen takes the picture.

Add a Snapseed tweak and the automated saving to Google Photos, and it’s a very appealing and slick set up.

Editing photographs

Whilst I generally prefer viewing photos on my iPad or MacBook, I often make an initial sweep through of the photos awaiting editing on my phone.

Most of my photos aren’t made with the phone, but a digital camera with a memory card. I upload the images to my MacBook using a USB card reader, then they sync automatically to Google Photos.

Then I can edit with my phone or iPad, via the Google Photos app.

When I wake my MacBook again, any images deleted from Google Photos are then deleted from the laptop too, so it all stays synced.

The phone has a good enough and large enough screen (better than any camera I have!) to be able to make an assessment on whether a photo is worth keeping.

My first sweep through – to remove any duplicates, missed focused, blurred or otherwise unworthy of keeping photographs – is easy to do with the phone.

Then I usually sweep through again with my iPad or MacBook at a later date for more detailed and decisive editing of those image remaining, on the larger screen.

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Processing photographs

Where possible I like to use cameras that can get me results I love in camera, without any post processing. Cameras like the Pentax Q and Lumix LX3.

Others need a bit of help, which nearly always comes from one of three or four presets in Snapseed.

Again once the original images are in Google Photos, the phone’s screen is good enough to decide which preset to use. And again, any changes are saved in Google Photos.

Simple, fast, not too much fussing or screen time. Goodness to think I used to scan film myself and the hours it took!

Sharing photographs 

This is something I rarely use my phone for, at least for my own deliberate photography.

For family photos though, I use this frequently, to share images with my wife, and our parents and other immediate family.

Once again, using Google Photos, combined with either WhatsApp or GMail, makes this super simple.

Reading about photography

Any extended reading I do with my iPad or MacBook. But to catch up with a post here and there or a few blog comments, I’ll use my phone while I have a spare few minutes.

I try to avoid writing with the phone – aside from a few text/WhatsApp messages – as it just gets too fiddly and frustrating. I even avoid this on the iPad, much preferring a proper keyboard.

I almost entirely avoid viewing other people’s photos on my phone as it does them a disservice. Anyone who shares their images with you surely deserves the chance of you seeing them on a decent screen, not a mere few square inches of smartphone? (Ahem, what’s the main reason I don’t use Instagram again?)

I could certainly do without the phone for reading about photography but it’s handy to have sometimes when the words are the focus, and not images.

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So as you can see, my smartphone actual forms quite a pivotal role in my photography life, even though I don’t use it much at all for my deliberate photography.

I could probably adapt to live without it, but there seems no need when it is very handy in a number of ways.

How about you? How do you use your phone for making, editing, processing, sharing and reading about photographs? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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32 thoughts on “How Does A Smartphone Feature In Your Photography Life?”

  1. Hi. Thanks for an interesting and informative article. Ones smartphone can be an useful tool to help the photographer make initial assessments of shoots and to capture those moments when the main camera is not available at hand. Happy Photography. Have a great day. Goff.

    1. Thanks Goff, glad you got something from it. I think it benefits most of us to spend some time shooting just with a smartphone to get to know what it can do, and set it up how we want it, then on those occasions we do call upon it, we’re not fumbling about, we can just capture what we need to.

  2. I use my iPhone for photos more often than I thought I would. On some occasions I’ll shoot with my canon and take a supplemental shot with my iPhone and find myself leaning towards the latter. With the ability to shoot in RAW on a smartphone now you can do much more than you could before with images, but for overall detail, quality and the best image possible my DSLR will always come first.

    1. Is there a pattern in why you lean towards that iPhone shots when you do? Just wondering what it is about them you prefer on occasion to the DSLR shots.

      1. Hello Dan, it’s convince mostly since my iPhone is on me the majority of the time, and in some instances easier to compose with. It also helps if I don’t have a wide enough lens to get the shot I want.

      2. Yes, whilst I don’t zoom much with my current phone as it quickly gets ugly, most phones these days start wide, at 25-30mm, which is a focal length very convenient for groups of people, and general “scene” shots. I do like too that most phones these days have a bigger and arguably better screen than any digital camera too!

      3. I definitely avoid the zoom but I am a fan of the telephoto lens since it does get a little closer without losing quality. In the right lighting conditions you can get great phone pics.

      4. Ah, do you have one of those phones with two separate lenses? It’s like the manufacturers finally admittedly zooms that tiny are rubbish and went with two primes instead. Think there’s a new one with four lenses!

  3. Dan, just like for you, my smartphone has become quite essential for my photography.

    Making: I haven’t shot much with my phone for a while (currently Samsung), but I have to say that I do miss the “snapshot aesthetics” and freewheeling shooting style of phonecam photography. So I want to pick it up again. Currently experimenting with a different ratio (5:4) and other presets (VSCO’s “instant film” P-series) to give my phone photos a distinctive look compared to my Nikon photos.

    Processing: 100% mobile, since I canceled my expensive Adobe subscription. I “dropbox” my dSLR photos to my phone, and post-process with Snapseed (small adjustments) and VSCO (presets).

    Sharing: I hardly share my photos nowadays, occasionally I post something on VSCO or EyeEm’s Marketplace. Mobile platforms, so that’s also 100% mobile – both sharing and viewing other photos. My old skool laptop is only used for updating my website now and then.

      1. Pavel, I don’t care 🙂 But seriously: the smartphone has several advantages for me. A fast workflow (I can do it in less than five minutes) and perfect for my very limited budget (no expensive editing software, but free Snapseed and $20/year VSCO). And since digital consumption now mainly goes via mobile (more than 80% according to reports), it is also good to be able to immediately see what a photo looks like on a mobile screen.

      2. Robert these all sound very sensible points!

        That statistic does concern me a little though. Why don’t people want to view photographs on larger screens anymore?

      3. In general, I guess people – especially the younger generations – “live” in their phones today. Sharing and receiving are mobile focused, whether it’s news, music, photos, videos or chats. As a natural part of daily activities. Sitting behind a laptop is increasingly felt as an annoying interruption to that daily routine, and perhaps only associated with (office) work.

      4. Guess that makes me old school Robert… : )

        I find phones still a bit fiddly. I don’t want one that so big it doesn’t fit in a pocket, so have avoided those XL sized versions. Might as well carry around an iPad.

        I can’t see me not having some kind of laptop, for the screen (size), and keyboard (so much better than a tiny touchscreen one).

    1. Robert that’s a really good idea to do something a little different with smartphone photos to make them distinctive compared with other photos you make.

      I’ve come along a very similar road to you with processing. For a while I was shooting RAW then importing into LightRoom and exporting after as JPEG. I just didn’t want to do this anymore, plus didn’t like paying over £10 a month for an application I was using about 1% of its features! So I went with Hipstamatic first, then Snapseed when I switched from an iPhone to a Sony Android. I never shoot RAW anymore either, just don’t have the need, JPEGs are fine. Haven’t looked back for a second!

  4. Yesterday you wrote about obsession. Do you think you are obsessed by blogging? And why are you blogging?

    1. Hi Pavel, no I don’t think it’s an obsession. I would class an obsession as something we do over and over with increasingly heightened fervour, but have long forgotten the original reason we started doing (usually because it’s fun and good for us!) We’re just doing for the sake of it, not for those original reasons.

      So no blogging is definitely not in that category for me at all.

      I’ve had a blog in some form since 2004, so it’s been part of my life virtually daily for 15 years. I like thinking and writing about photography and related topics, and getting other people’s input.

      It’s also important I feel to provide a place for other photography enthusiasts to gather and converse, especially if they don’t have a blog platform themselves.

      I love being part of a small network of photography blogs that together build and sustain a friendly and supportive community.

      How about you, why do you blog?

      1. What what you take if you had to choose to take on island. A camera or blog (ability to write). You can choose only one. What would you choose and why?

      2. Pavel, I’d definitely choosing writing over photography. It came first, I do far more of it, and I expect I’ll still be doing it after my eyes can’t manage much (or any) photography.

      3. I thought so!
        Anyway, I don’t know about my blog, it was more for image share and occasional thoughts…

  5. I’ll be the statistical outlier: I don’t have a smart phone. Nor will I. They don’t work for me. Not as a phone, a camera, or a computer. Some may think this odd for a retired engineer, but there it is. I’ll keep my little flip-phone, for the few times I use it. It has a camera I’ve used occasionally with mediocre results (think plastic Brownie). It’s good enough for what I need.

    1. I always like an outlier! I came across a website a few months ago of a photographer who used an old Motorola clamshell phone, something like 1.3 or 3MP. His pictures were fantastic, and the slightly lo-fi look really added to the character of the photographs, especially in b/w.

      Probably the best phone I had in a camera was a Sony Ericsson Elm circa 2010 I think. It was still a small phone with proper keyboard, and had decent handling when on its side used as a camera, as well as a proper shutter button with a half press to lock focus.

      https://35hunter.blog/2018/06/07/beneath-the-old-elm-a-nostalgic-wander-with-an-former-flame/

      After that they got too big and fiddly at the same time.

  6. I always had my iPhone with me when I was out and about and frequently used a light meter app on it for my film photography. I would occasionally take some pictures with the iPhone too. But I recently bought an Apple Watch and have pretty much stopped taking the iPhone when I go out. The result is that I am taking far fewer “opportunity” pictures, and I’m not altogether convinced that’s a bad thing.

    1. Ah yes I forgot I used to use my iPhone as a light meter shooting old film cameras too!

      I think it’s handy having a (phone) camera with you, but without it being out, in your hand, ready to shoot. Otherwise you’re still constantly looking for photographs. It’s good sometimes to just walk and wander without being in photographer mode.

  7. Before I purchased my Fuji X-T2, I. used my iPhone 4/5/6/7 almost as often as I used my Nikon D5100. I even did a 365 photograph project with just an iPhone. I was adept at using tools like ProCam, Snapseed and SlowShutteCam.

    But the limited light sensitivity and image quality of the iPhone is quite apparent when photographing at night. We have modern digital cameras that can capture images from ISO 100 to ISO 12,800 (or higher). Night time images captured on a smartphone can be “noisy.” A tripod becomes necessary to avoid motion blur.

    My ageing eyes (I am 52) struggled with the tiny screen on the phone. Editing on the iPhone was frustrating. I would think I had a keeper, but I would see the image on my computer later and cringe.

    I also have a 35mm film cameras, an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II and a Pentax P3, which I have not used since I switched to digital in 1999. I know it’s fashionable for people to use film cameras and listen to music on vinyl, but I think it’s mostly a fad – manufactured nostalgia – by people born after 1986 (which is when I bought my first film camera).

    If you’ve photographed using a film camera for 20+ years, I get it. For me, the resulting image is more important than the tool used to capture the image.

    I think if I were forced to have just one camera, I would get a Fuji X100F, create some film simulation recipes, and use the Wi-FI feature to transfer images to iPhone for sharing “on the run”.

    1. Khürt, thanks for your thoughts.

      I know what you mean about seeing an image on a phone then it looking different (often worse!) on a laptop or even iPad. Because of this, I assume that an image that doesn’t look good even on a phone, won’t look any better (and again, probably worse!) on a larger screen, so it gives the go ahead to delete.

      Do you really think film is a fad? I think maybe for some, perhaps swayed by the Lomography hipster movement, but I do believe there is a diehard core of film shooters that will continue as long as they can, which could be many years yet.

      I’ve read about the Fuji X100 time and time again, and it’s on the imaginary camera “wishlist” I pretend I don’t have. I’m not interested in the interchangeable lens Fujis, but the fixed lens X100 is appealing in many ways.

      The syncing of my phone with Google Photos makes it very handed to view/edit the same batch of photos on different devices, so a camera with wi-fi would be appealing. But honestly plugging a card reader into my MacBook and importing only takes a minute, so it’s no great hardship. I guess if I didn’t have access to my MacBook for an extended time, and just a phone, it could be more useful.

      1. The film resurgence is a fad with the under 45 crowd. I know many over 45 who have been shooting film for several decades and will continue to do so.

        As for Fuji X100F; wait another 10 years and it will be on your vintage digital camera list.

      2. I’m sure, from what I’ve read, that a number of Fuji X series will be future digital classics. Some possible already are!

  8. Until pretty recently, I used an iPhone SE and the camera was fantastic. Consequently, because it was almost always with me, I used it for about half of my photography. I’ve made some great images with it that I like a lot.

    However, as iPhones are prone to do, it has started playing up. The battery life is taking a nosedive, wireless data connection keeps dropping and the home button is broken. All of these happened within a few weeks on each other int he last couple of months.

    So I’m now using a mid range Samsung smartphone which, while I love it as a phone, has a dreadful camera! I keep my LUMIX FX-150 with pretty much wherever I go now though so that is taking over almost All duty for daily photography.

    I will at some point repair the iPhone, but like you I enjoy the purposeful act (and greater capability) of using an actual camera. For me I can’t see that changing any time soon.

  9. Hi Richard, always good to hear from you.

    My iPhone 5C is similar, it’s fine as an iPod, which is virtually all I use it for now, but even then it’s slow. Funny because my MacBook Pro, even though it has far from the latest OS, functions really well still (it’s a 2008 model).

    The iPhones only seem to last perhaps three years then it’s like there’s no way back. I’m hoping my Sony Xperia last at least three years!

    And being a Sony, of course with their track record it has a very decent camera (I read that Sony make/provide the sensor in the majority of new cameras today, not just Sony cameras).

    But yes, no substitute for a proper phone, even a humble decade old compact!

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