Can you shoot an event with just a phone?

Recently, I’ve been asked a question that’s been bugging me for days. I was having coffee with a friend one morning when he started asking questions about photography. Among the questions he asked, the one he stood out the most was “Can a professional photographer get away with using a smartphone?” Could I as a professional photographer, shoot an event with just a phone?

I’m a believer in expertise. I think that regardless of the toolset you use if you have a deep understanding of the processes and techniques used in photography, you can still create stunning photos. It’s not about how good the camera and lenses are, but how good the eyes behind the viewfinder are.

But, could I shoot an event with just a phone? I decided to give it a try!

Caught without a camera

One late summer evening, my friend let me know that there was a small classic car show happening nearby. This was a few days after our conversation, and just after a major event. My camera was basically out of commission as none of the batteries were charged and I still needed to offload photos. Then I thought, “Wait, this could be a chance to test what my phone can do!” This was a chance to test my hypothesis. I grabbed my phone and ran out of the door.

My phone of choice is the LG V30. Back in 2017, the V30 featured one of the best (if not the best) built-in cameras in a field that included the iPhone X and the Samsung S8. I decided to get the V30 because of the camera and its ability to shoot in RAW format. I was always curious if I could get away with using just my phone, so I was excited to finally put the phone to the test of capturing a local car show, in less than ideal lighting conditions. 

Leveraging the phone’s ability to shoot in both RAW and JPG, as well as the ability to modify the viewscreen to show professional-style tools (view grids, histograms, white balance, etc.), I got to work. I utilized all of my regular techniques; like dropping close to the floor for close up shots, pulling in really close for macro photography, and then using the view grid for shot composition. I used my phone as if it was a DSLR camera to make sure I can accurately compare the photo quality to using a DSLR rig.

The results were pretty surprising:

Is the best camera is the one you always have with you?

After processing the photos and making my regular tweaks in Lightroom, the quality of the photos was very surprising! While some images weren’t quite as sharp as I wanted, the majority of my photos were almost indistinguishable from photos shot with a professional photography rig. I think my phone performed better under certain conditions than my camera! So, you can professionally shoot an event with your phone.

This, however, begs the question: should I rely more on my phone camera than my rig? I think the answer is both yes and no. While your phone is an extremely powerful tool that not only allows you to take photos, edit them, and upload them to a microblogging platform, it shouldn’t outright replace your camera and lenses, because a phone camera is more limited in its capabilities. I can’t take my phone behind the fences at Laguna Seca and expect the photos to look the same, can I?

I think the best approach is to use both your camera and your phone in tandem. I’ve often used my phone to shoot photos for my Instagram and used the photos from my camera for my blog. The most recent example of this was when I went to Laguna Seca for the 30th Anniversary Miata Reunion; where the photos from driving on the track were from my phone whereas the gallery photos were from the camera.

In conclusion

In the end, I think the question of shooting events with your smartphone boils down to your skill. There is nothing wrong in my opinion with using your phone as a professional camera for Instagram or blogging. There are set limitations for what a phone camera could do. This is where a dedicated camera will outperform a phone camera.

Until someone makes a phone with interchangeable lenses, I’ll continue using both my phone and my camera. Though, It’s nice to know that I can sometimes leave my camera at home!

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I really, really want to go back to college…

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Do you ever get the feeling that you made the wrong decision?

Way back in 2009 I got my Associate of Arts degree from my local Community College. I studied design and computer graphics, thinking I wanted to be an industrial designer or something along those lines. But, tuition for some of the better-known design colleges was out of my budget. I mean, we’re talking about $100k+ Bachelor’s Programs. For a family that had two sons planning on going to college, it was hard to justify. I decided to rethink what I wanted to do and take a look at some of the more affordable options in the DC Metro area.

That’s when I found the game design program at the University of Baltimore. I went in, made some really cool stuff, and then I graduated with honors and a really cool thesis project specializing in Augmented Reality Technology! A year after I graduated, I joined a startup in my field when most of my colleagues were still working at Starbucks! And I did it all debt-free! I was on top of the world!

Me and a team of some other really bright people came up with a concept for an Augmented Reality First Person Shooter years before this technology became mainstream! I was really proud of the work we did.

5 years later, I’m broke, I’m constantly working for scraps, and I’m pretty much homeless. I banked on that “revolutionary start-up” being the catalyst for my success in Silicon Valley, but that ended up not happening. Instead, the start-up failed right around the time I got my first apartment, and interviewing with companies doing similar things was next to impossible because my degree didn’t say “Stanford” on it. I was unemployed for two years messing around with a camera and teaching myself photography because it was the skill I had to fall back on, next to graphic design and website building.

Of course, taking photos is one thing, but getting anyone to buy anything is a completely different ball game. Likes and shares don’t pay my bills! And now here I am, writing in my own personal echo chamber pining for the time where I was sitting in my algebra class doodling cars in my notebook, saying “I’m going to be the next Syd Mead!”

The thing is, I never stopped drawing.

I don’t know if it’s a compulsion or maybe just the subconscious desire to return to a time where things were simple, but I still make designs in my notebooks. Maybe something inside of me is telling me that I still want to be the next Syd Mead, Ken Okuyama, Tom Matano, or Luigi Colani. I would love to be the next Chris Bangle or Daniel Simon! Hell, even at that start-up, for a brief moment, I was working on concept designs for a new product! My ideas even made it into an actual product that we shipped! How many people can say that?

These designs were projects I took on at the start-up, hoping to give our product engineer some ideas. Some of my designs even made it into shipped products! I miss doing this.

I could feel it in my bones. That desire to draw and design and create always drove me. I never felt I was alive unless I was creating something from nothing but a pencil and paper. I feel like I was meant to be a designer, and got distracted along the way.

So, now I have a decision to make. Do I try and make things work with what I have now, hoping for something to happen? Or, do I take out a hundred thousand dollar loan and see if I can make my dreams come true, without a safety net? I’m afraid of reaching another dead end, but I feel like I’m at a dead end now.

I never stopped designing!

No one ever gets ahead without taking a risk. And, I’ll need to take a really, really big risk if I’m going to change the way things are going.

Do-it-Yourself: How I fixed my curb rash!

Originally, I wasn’t planning on taking on another Do-It-Yourself project. But, I was browsing Craigslist one day for parts for my Miata to kill some time. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just like to browse and see what piques my interest. In my search, I found a listing I had to read several times to make sure I didn’t misread:

2003 Miata SE Wheels – $80

$80 for a set of wheels that were offered on the top of the line Special Edition Miata in 2003? These wheels were what I thought a special edition Miata like the Shinsen should have come with! And here they were in a Craigslist ad for $20 a wheel! I messaged the seller that night and mentioned I had a Shinsen Miata that the wheels would look good on.

3 of the 4 wheels had some nasty curb rash.

He agreed, so we made plans to meet that night. An hour later, I had a full set of rare OEM wheels for my Miata! There was one caveat: The wheels were badly curbed. They might have been worse than the wheels that came with my car! But I liked the look, so I figured, “why not try my hand at restoring them?” It was time for another Do-It-Yourself Project!

Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding.

The first step to getting rid of nasty curb rash is sanding. This part is pretty tedious. You either have to put the wheel on a bench and rotate it or move around it while sanding. I ended up using an old stool since it was the perfect size for the rim. Also, it elevated the wheel to waist height, which saved my back. I cleaned the rim with soap and water to get the grease and dirt off. Then after I let it dry, I started sanding down the gouges and scratches with 220 grit sandpaper.

One of the wheels just before sanding. Notice the gouging around the edge of the rim. This wheel was probably the most curbed of the set!

The trick here is to sand down to the bare metal so that the outer edge is uniform all around. I had to take care to sand the outside of the rim as well. This was to make sure I wasn’t leaving any burrs that could shred the tire. I also had to make sure that I didn’t focus on one area too long so I wouldn’t have any flat spots that would show up after painting. After I was done sanding, I cleaned the rim again.

The name’s Bondo‚Ķ

Next, was the fun part. And by fun, I mean tedious. It was time to bring out the Bondo! Fillers like Bondo are great for when you need to quickly fill some spots in a surface. It has a consistency between putty and modeling clay. So if you’ve done sculpting before, then you’ll easily take to using Bondo.

I used a fair amount of Bondo to fill in the gouges and scratches on the surface of the rim. The goal here was to make a uniform surface that could hide the imperfections so that I could lay down some primer. I stuck a few globs of Bondo on the edges and scraped away the excess material with the plastic mixing board. Later, I found that just laying on a lot of filler would be easier to sand off once it hardened, and without the risk of taking too much off from the holes the filler is supposed to fill.

After sanding, I filled in the gouges with some filler and then sanded the excess later.

Even more sanding, then primer!

The next step in the process was sanding off the excess filler from the edge of the rim and making sure that the surface was smooth. I took that same 220 grit sandpaper I used to sand the rim beforehand, and then very lightly sanded the filler. After sanding the surface, I used my hands to feel for any rough patches where I would have to sand some more or use more filler. If I was satisfied with the smoothness, I would move on to laying down some primer!

After cleaning the wheels again with a solution of water and dish soap and letting it dry, I started spraying on a few coats of sandable primer. I chose a sandable primer since it could fill in any imperfections on the surface of the rim. Also, it could fill in any mistakes I made when sanding away the filler. Once the wheel was primed and ready for paint, I washed it off again with dish soap and water.

The Main Event: Painting

This ended up being the most tedious part of the process, but not for what you might think. I had some paint I wanted to use lying around that matched the original finish of the wheels. After spending an entire can experimenting and painting a single wheel, I had to travel to four different stores to try and find the same paint! I eventually found it, but if I had sourced the paint beforehand, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Lesson learned; make sure you have all of your materials!

Anyway, I used Rustoleum’s Custom Shop Wheel Paint to get a cast aluminum finish similar to the OEM finish, and I sprayed at least three coats of paint per wheel. This wheel paint has more sparkle than the original OEM finish, but since the Shinsen Miata has metallic paint, it works! The one thing about the paint though was its finish. Once it dried, the surface of the paint was very rough; not like the original finish at all. I tried to rectify this by polishing the primer before painting with high grit sandpaper, but it made no difference. I ended up color sanding each wheel with 2000 grit sandpaper to get that polished feel.

Better than new!

The result of my “little DIY project” was a set of wheels that not only looked brand new but almost was impossible to tell where the curb rash was from the beginning. In fact, the finish was so good, the technician who fitted the new tires I ordered on the new rims couldn’t tell where the original curb rash was! Not bad for a first-timer!

The finished wheels, painted and color sanded!

The best part about successfully finishing this large project was the fact that I managed to get everything done the day before the 30th Anniversary Miata Reunion! I set about this project with the goal of having something new done to the Miata, and I managed to pull it off!

What’s next?

Now that the wheels and tires are finished, the next step is taking on another Do-It-Yourself project I’ve been putting off: Repainting the front bumper. Since I bought the car, the front bumper’s paint has been peeling in places and there are huge scuff marks under the bumper from the previous owner’s Auto X sessions. It might be worth replacing the front valence altogether with a new one, but who knows? Maybe I could save the whole thing and keep the car as original as possible?

Let’s see what happens!

The new OEM wheels mounted on brand new Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s!