The freight train the camera manufacturers didn’t see coming plowed away 40% to 50% of the point-and-shoot market—lost forever to smartphones capable of satisfying the desire for a camera always there, always at the ready to take whatever moments, memorable or not, people chose to catch and then quickly share on the spreading web of social media.
Meanwhile, professional photographers, skeptical at first, began to pick up on the camera inside the phone. They saw the potential for fun, creativity, self-promotion, maybe even profit as the quality of the images increased. The pros dedicated sections of their websites to their smartphone fine art. Some published books and sold digital images and prints. Others taught smartphone photography classes and workshops. A handful became gurus.
All the while smartphone apps proliferated and phone suppliers’ R&D went into overdrive. Soon there were TV commercials for Apple, Sony and Samsung phones that promoted only the phones’ cameras. Way cool photos “shot on iPhone” appeared regularly on the back covers of the New Yorker.
On the sidelines, digital imaging retailers did what they could. At first the message to customers was, “You need a real camera.” It was hard, though, to convince customers pleased with their smartphone snaps that they were missing out on anything.
Eventually, dealers promoted Wi-Fi connectivity—the near-instantaneous transmission of images from point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs to smartphones. They pointed out to customers intrigued by smartphone videos that advanced video features and effects are pretty much point-and-shoot easy with a full-featured digital camera. And they promoted prints from smartphone photos; they figured, if you can’t beat ’em, print ’em.
That’s pretty much the story. More and more pictures are being taken, but most are being taken with cameras that imaging retailers don’t sell. Smartphone snapshooters aren’t switching to point-and-shoot, mirrorless or DSLR cameras.
But if you can lure the nascent photo enthusiast into your shop with a “Tips for Better Smartphone Photos” session, or an evening with a pro shooter who uses a smartphone in his work, or a demo of five fantastic smartphone apps . . . well, you could have an interested audience of photo enthusiasts who might be motivated to move up a notch or two.
I know: if, could, maybe, might. But what’ve you got to lose?
The Pro Smartphone Photography Connection
For a little more than a year I’ve been noting how some of the pro photographers I talk with have been using smartphones in their work.
It started when I heard Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly tell a radio show host that his iPhone had made him a better photographer.
When I spoke with him, he explained that because it provides only one point of view, the phone’s camera encourages him to get closer to his subject. And “getting closer is always good.”
He also said the ease of using the iPhone sharpened his judgment about what he was photographing. He was talking about editing: not everything you can easily and quickly shoot should be shot.
Kennerly eventually produced a book: David Hume Kennerly On the iPhone: Secrets and Tips from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer. It’s really about photography and how to make better pictures; the photos are iPhone photos because that’s the camera Kennerly had with him at the time.
I remember thinking, photo dealers should be selling this book in their stores in the hope that a someone or two will step up to the counter to see what could be done with a full-featured camera.
Then I spoke with Giulio Sciorio. Years back, when his commercial photography business started to dry up, he realized it made no sense to keep producing images for magazine spreads when most images were now being viewed on the small screens of smartphones. He began to create cinemagraphs—still images that incorporate video that plays beneath the still frame but is visible only through a limited opening in the still.
Would your customers like to know how to do that? Sciorio thinks so. He feels that smartphones actually create new customers for retailers. “In the photo business everything is integrated now,” he says. “If you’re in the business you have to know what’s going on and how to work toward what people are doing.”
Pro shooter Layne Kennedy had another angle on it. He got into iPhone photography because with an array of apps he could create images that expressed a different side of his personality than the crisp, sharp, realistic photos that marked his professional work.
What especially caught my attention was that some of his fine art iPhone images began as straight shots from his DSLR. He’d take a picture, transfer it to his iPhone and go to work with one or more of his favorite apps. He’s even marketed some of these crossover images.
Do you have customers who might like to do that?
Then I got to talk with Stephen Shore, the legendary photographer known for his color images of everyday America, and for his classic books, Uncommon Places and American Surfaces.
What Shore loves about photography is immediacy (he was a big fan of the Polaroid SX-70) and sharing (he often handed Polaroid prints out to get feedback). Today he captures images with his iPhone, sees them instantly and shares them on Instagram.
He told me a crossover story. As the director of the photography department at Bard College, Shore teaches a view camera class each semester. He told a student who was overwhelmed by the big camera to select an iPhone picture she’d taken, one she really liked, and duplicate it with the 4×5—“to use the iPhone essentially as a sketch pad.”
The exercise freed her. Shore believes that iPhone photography is a different conversation, a different communication, one that can develop a different kind of visual thinking.
Got any art or photography students you’d like to pass that idea on to?
Chris Alvanas’s iPhone photos turned the course of a printing workshop he was attending. When he showed some of his phone photos, his fellow students were amazed at their quality. “The rest of the week turned into a mobile fest,” Alvanas told me. True, the class did little printing. Mostly they took and showed smartphone images. And they came to realize “the smartphone wasn’t necessarily the snapshot environment they thought it was.”
But Alvanas is now printing and exhibiting some of his smartphone photos at sizes up to 20×30 and 30×40.
If you’ve got quality smartphone images, or a customer who has them, how about a display of 20×30 prints? If you can’t beat ’em, print ’em. Where did I hear that before?
Timothy Schenck shoots architectural stories of the never-ending development of New York City. He uses a DSLR and an iPhone. He also teaches iPhone photography.
The iPhone is his visual notebook for things “happening at the speed of the city. Things I might want to revisit.” The phone is also a scouting tool that he’ll use to take pre-shots of what he wants to capture with the big camera.
Schenck will sometimes use it for behind-the-scenes and setup shots so his clients can see what he’s about to shoot. With his DSLR on a tripod, he’ll step back and take an iPhone photo, sometimes with the DSLR’s playback picture on the LCD or the camera on live view.
Postings to Instagram and Flickr keep him current in the industry. They’re casual, keep-in-touch messages to other artists and to potential clients.
In his iPhone photography class, he starts with the truth: iPhones are limited; work within the borders. He moves on to solid tips and ideas. His method helps smartphone enthusiasts get better—and realize there are cameras that offer a lot more potential for creativity and satisfaction.
Maybe there’s a Tim Schenck in your area who could talk to your customers?
What’ve you got to lose?