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 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!