Smartphone photography is growing in popularity. The trend started with the iPhone, which quickly became the most popular camera on Flickr, and has grown steadily with the launch of more powerful smartphone cameras, such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41-megapixel sensor.
Stephen Alvarez is an award-winning photojournalist, travel photographer and filmmaker who has been working for National Geographic magazine since 1995.
Recently National Geographic teamed up with mobile phone maker Nokia and Talenthouse to send Alvarez on a trek across the American West, covering thousands of miles, with the new Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone camera.
Below he shares his best smartphone photography tips and recounts his experience using a smartphone to produce a photo essay for National Geographic.
DC: You’ve used professional cameras your whole career. Can you tell us what it was like using a smartphone.
SA: The Lumia 1020 is surprisingly DLSR like in its results. I shot a 3 page gatefold ad in the October issue of National Geographic magazine with the phone. That fact still astounds me! You can use the phone in total automatic mode and get great results or you can do what I did and use the Nokia Pro Cam app to get great control over the image.
You’ve travelled far and wide; what new techniques did you learn while using a smartphone on your assignment in the American West?
It strikes me that I did not have to learn anything new to use the camera. The interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use. Results of settings changes appear live on the back of the camera before you take the photo so you can see what you are getting.
How does the Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel sensor compare to using a DLSR?
The Lumia 1020 gives me a significantly bigger file than my standard DLSR, and the video is on par with DSLR quality.
What advice would you give a photographer wanting to compose landscape images on a smartphone?
Most smartphones – including the 1020 – have pretty wide lenses, so when you are shooting a landscape look for something to put in your foreground to anchor your frame. I found that the Lumia 1020 provides so much resolution that you can actually zoom into your frame a long way without a loss in quality.
What are some of they key techniques to remember when moving from DSLR to smartphone photography?
First thing to consider is where you are in relation to your subject. Do you need to get closer or further away? Sometimes by moving just a few inches you can make a much better photograph. What does the background look like? If it is distracting try moving so that you have a cleaner one.
In general I shoot with exposure compensation set to -.03 or -.07 in my smartphone photography. Bringing the exposure down just a little increases colour saturation and keeps from having hot spots.
If I am outside I will set the white balance to daylight, inside I almost always keep it on auto.
The manual focus control is great for close up photos; set on manual, the camera will focus within a couple inches of the lens. If I am shooting a landscape where everything is far away –or an aerial- I will turn the focus to infinity.
Flash works really well in that 3-8 foot range where we shoot most of our photos of our friends. But unless I am shooting photos of people inside, I keep it turned off.
While internal stabilizers work well at really slow speeds, whenever I can I brace the camera against something solid like a tree or table to ensure the sharpest images possible.
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