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Photographers can take as narrow a view of things as some lens do. It's a common sight to see in photography groups on social media of someone posting an image and then saying "only a phone camera shot" like it's an excuse for any perceived faults with the shot. Nowhere else would you see a professional showing their work and then saying, "It was only a less advanced tool I used, so you can't judge me for the finished result." No professional musician ever said it was a keyboard instead of a grand piano so it's ok to miss notes or mess-up the timing, so why do photographers have this attitude?
I've just come back from a trip to visit a couple of camera clubs to do a talk about using phone cameras to produce professional level work. The doubting Thomas attitude I had anticipated showed its face but nowhere near as much as expected (but I was stood right in front of them and that does often make people less critical). The usual comments about DSLR's capabilities and adaptability appeared and to be honest, I always agree with them completely. You can't expect a phone camera to match those levels without building a phone that would be the same size as a DSLR and offering the lens changing facility. But the point I was trying to make (and quite successfully, it seems) was that some people don't have the option to have a DSLR or a more expensive DSLR, and even those with DSLRs and a huge range of lenses and kits don't always have them on them or ready to use at a given time. So the question posed to them was: What do you do when you don't have your £3000 of camera and lens ready and something happens you want to take a shot of? A lot of the crowd answered honestly, "miss the shot," and that was the angle I wanted them to consider. It wasn't always going to be about getting the right photo, it was about getting the photo RIGHT then.
Phone cameras have come along way since the first 0.01 mps one back in 2000. Some of the current phone ranges boast 68 mps with triple cameras and software to try to level the playing field with DSLRs. Phone companies have recognised that people use their phones as an alternative to a dedicated camera and tried to tailor their product to offer the best capability for that so why haven't photographers all got that message? A lot of the answer is going to come down to demographics—a lot of photographers are at least middle aged (most of the club members were much older and retired for the most part). They have been using cameras since digital was new or film photography was the only option. This "new" development of mobile photography and social media sharing of photographs isn't their normal operating system and therefore not an easy concept for them to get onboard with. Many clubs still do competitions where the photos must be printed off and mounted to be displayed on a wall, and they have many rules about image age, amount of retouching to appear pristine, reading left to right, and exact size to print off (in inches), so it seems they haven't fully embraced the social media era yet. Even asking how many people had Instagram and posted on it showed a decided lack of focus (no pun intended) on newer industry developments so expecting them to have accepted mobile photography seemed a long shot (pun intended).
Having split the talk into two halves—the first half a history and development of mobile camera development (which seemed a bit dry even to myself), and the second half a tutorial session on how to use mobile cameras and software and apps—I was a bit unsure how well it would go down. I had been used to approaching the subject from the flip side of the case, trying to show younger people they could produce professional work without anything other than a mobile phone to try to encourage people to get into photography and digital art. So I had no idea how a group of extremely experienced photographers would take to a demonstration of the basic (to me, at least) methods of getting the best results from phone cameras.
Surprise... they liked it!
It seems when you make it a technical demonstration and actually show them what can be achieved, they are much more open to it. Within a few seconds of me starting, many of them had their phones out and were trying what I was showing them and making the appropriate, pleasantly surprised noises as they found out new features and abilities. So maybe that is the answer. It's a lack of individual experience and a gentle nudge into the pro-mobile photography camp that is missing.
Without the ability to physically go around and show every DSLR wielding photographer what a mobile can do, it's going to be hard work to adjust this attitude that mobile = amateur photographer (if they even consider them a photographer at all). It is a big leap for the more established members of the photography fraternity to accept that their way isn't the only way anymore and often their way isn't the mainstream way at all in some cases.
With mobile phone-based photography and videography introduced into the media industry it became a cheap and accessible way for many to establish themselves in a more rapidly moving and social media geared environment. Often news agencies and content creators are seen photographing, videoing, podcasting, or even sound recording off a phone rather than the established traditional cameras and recorders. Apps and software addressed this early on in smart phone existence and started producing mobile-based versions of the professional software the DSLR users were working on. The industry embraced the products of these mobile content creators and developed gimbals, lighting, microphones, tripods, lenses and all the other traditional equipment professional photographers/videographers owned. The lines blurred massively. Even full length movies have been filmed on mobiles and they were winning awards for themselves, so why haven't the photographers' attitudes kept up with all the changes?
The Age Old Issue
I have to say it mostly comes down to a demographic issue—it's age simply. The older, more-established generations are the ones that run the clubs, societies, and award bodies and they're the ones that choose what they consider "standards" or "acceptable." Now asking most of these people if they own, use, or totally understand a mobile usually leads to the same answers, either "no," "not really," or "I have a hand me down" (that's my favourite answer as they have even less excuse for doubting mobile's impact). It's like asking a Ford owners club to decide what the standard for displaying a Jaguar is—it's daft! It wouldn't happen anywhere else (outside of politics—Hug a hoodie, anyone??). But it's basically ringing their own death bell.
A lot of these photography clubs are dying out (literally in many cases) because they refuse to accept the new methods of doing the same thing. A professional photographer is someone who earns their major income by the trade—not a set picture output, not a certain type of camera, and certainly not by age or where they show their photographs (apparently 40 thousand people seeing a picture on Instagram is not as good as 100 people seeing a picture in a library display). A professional sells their images. How they took them and where they go isn't really the point. This attitude is why younger members are often put off joining or staying in the clubs and it's why the clubs are struggling to keep the clubs going now.
It's an attitude that needs adjusting but without the option of going around every club and explaining the situation and demonstrating what mobiles can do (not that they'd all listen—I've seen clubs that were beyond help) there's little that can be done. As long as people are still trying to excuse less technically proficient photos being the fault of the mobile and not their inability to use a piece of equipment, it will be seen as an inferior form of the art.
Art is as art does.
I think it's time to stop that excuse being allowed. If you see someone on a photography group saying "only a mobile photo," without sounding harsh you shouldn't let them get away with it! If it's a good photo and they've used a mobile, it shouldn't be seen as somehow dirty to suggest; "I've done a good job but obviously not as good as you DSLR photographers." So tell them to just consider it the same way they would a DSLR photo and embrace the fact they clearly did a great job and used their equipment properly. Likewise, if they're a photographer and they've produced a bad photo (like technically bad—exposure, composition, editing, etc) then tell them it's not the phone's fault. It's them. They should know better than that. Let's see what happens—you may be as surprised as I sometimes was with the talks.
Ultimately as time passes there will be more people who grew up with mobiles than those that didn't in this activity so it'll work its way into the psyche of everyone eventually. It may be too late for many otherwise great clubs and societies if they don't relax their attitude towards it, though. Many amazing, transferable skills and techniques could be lost so let's try and get everyone onboard sooner rather than later. You never know what might develop.