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Camera Phone Photography

A study released last month by the Photo Marketing Association International (PMA) stated that camera phone use has steadily increased since 2006. Over half (53%) of all US households own at least one camera phone, up from 46% in 2007 and 37% in 2006. A Wirefly.com survey from last summer showed higher numbers with over 96% of adults reporting they used a cell phone featuring a camera.

Not surprising was the reason why people use their camera phones. Fifty-seven percent claim they use their camera phones as a stand-in for traditional cameras according to the PMA report. Social networking is also pushing up usage as anybody with a Facebook account can tell you. But an increasing number of camera phone users are turning their cell phone snaps into real art.

The key to creating camera phone art is to embrace its low-fi status. Sure, you could buy a camera phone that will take perfectly acceptable photos on par with any point-and-shoot digital camera, but what makes cell phone photography so unique is that it isn’t traditional photography. A camera phones a DSLR, why treat it like one?

Image taken with Nikon D70

Image taken with Nikon D70

Image taken with iPhone

Image taken with iPhone

The first step in turning your camera phone is remembering the rules are different. There are several websites with tips on taking better camera phone pictures including:

The key to all of these tips is to learn the technical challenges of shooting with a camera phone while remembering basic photography guidelines, such as the rule of thirds.

One of the many fun features of Apple’s iPhone is the selection of applications available for creating truly unique images. Like many camera phones, the iPhone’s pictures can be lackluster in color depth. CameraBag by NeverCenter allows you to take photos or convert existing photos through a series of filters, that replicate old analog techniques. My favorite is their take on the Lomo LC-A, but it is also fun taking camera phone polaroids and crisp black and white photos.

Another great iPhone app is QuadCamera by Art and Mobile. It mimics multilens cameras such as the ActionSampler or the Andy Warhol inspired PopCam. All of these options remind me of those old photo booths that filled malls and rest stops in the days before digital photography. QuadCamera can take a series of 4-8 images and allows you to set timing and change color saturation.

I’ve discussed in the past the debate amongst photo enthusiasts about the value of low-fi photography as an art form. A growing number of camera phone users are turning to their cell phones as a viable form of art as seen in exhibits and through numerous Flickr groups and websites dedicated to the form. A simple Google search will also uncover dozens of cell phone photography contests, such as this one from the Times UK.

The next time you take our your camera phone to snap a shot of a friend or a flower, consider making it more than just an average snapshot. You might just be creating a piece of art.


High Dynamic Range Imaging

One of the primary complaints from photographers unwilling to embrace digital technologies are the lackluster results they achieve from even the most high end of digital cameras. It is hard to argue the point when many cameras do produce flat images, but just as no traditional photographer worth the price of a roll of Reala knows you don’t trust your work to the photolab at Sam’s Club, digital photographers know you their worth isn’t done until they take their files into the digital darkroom.

The human eye is capable of registering extreme light and dark within a scene and can appreciate these contrasts in ways cameras have never been able to do on their own. Gustave Le Gray reconciled this limitation of film in the late 19th century by taking two pictures of a scene and combining the negatives to create a composite image. Charles Wyckoff advanced the technique by creating film that could capture nuclear explosions in te 1940s and 50s. Film and camera technologies advanced and more contrast could be captured on film, but it has always been a challenge to capture with a camera what our eyes take for granted.

Large Wave, Mediterranean Sea, created by Gustave Le Gray in 1857 captured the brightness of the sky and the detail in the ocean in a way not seen before.

Large Wave, Mediterranean Sea, created by Gustave Le Gray in 1857 captured the brightness of the sky and the detail in the ocean in a way not seen before.

Digital photographers began to embrace High Dynamic Range Imagining a few years ago as a way of resolving this limitation with their equipment. Just as Le Gray took two photos and combined the negatives, digital photographers found they could take two digital images and combine the files to create a composite image.

Anybody can create an HDR image with the right tools. You will need camera with the ability to adjust exposure settings and access to photo editing software. There are several types of digital SLRs that can automatically adjust exposure settings, called bracketing, and several types of software that will do the digital editing for you. While these two alternatives make the process easier, they aren’t necessary for the photographer with a lot of creativity, but not a lot of money.

The building of the former Kansa-yhtymä insurance company, Sörnäinen, Helsinki, Finland by Matti Paavonen under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

The building of the former Kansa-yhtymä insurance company, Sörnäinen, Helsinki, Finland by Matti Paavonen under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

Here are some websites you can visit that will walk you through the process of creating HDR images:

HDR101 offers some tutorials, but will also try to sell you their Photomatix software for combining the digital images into a composite HDR.

Stuck in Customs author Trey Ratcliff has some wonderful examples of his HDR work along with his detailed tutorials.

Visual Photo Guide has a few beginner tutorials.

Cambridge in Color has some excellent technical information in its article on HDR and Adobe Photoshop.

The Royal Photographic Society Journal in the UK (link in PDF form) had an excellent history and how-to in its November 2006 issue.

Like any new toy in the toy box, HDR photography takes some work to master. Hopefully these tutorials can help motivate even the most skittish of photographers to try out this exciting new trend in digital imaging.