Mobile photography is producing a vast new movement of artists and photographers who are embracing smart phone photo technology. As a long time enthusiast, I come from the “underground” age of iPhoneography and started experimenting with iPhone photography when it was first introduced in 2008. As one of the pioneers in iPhone photography, I discovered that this new equipment was especially agile for use in a genre of photography that has been around for over a century; Street Photography.
Now, fast forward five years and we find that iPhones and Androids are wildly popular among both amateur and professional photographers. Technological advances have vastly improved the overall quality of the equipment. Now, many street photographers are leaving their heavy gear behind and opting for the simplicity of their smart phone.
The number one reason? Your camera is always on hand, making your street shots an iPhone click away.
While mobile devices are more discreet and versatile for street shots, they also offer up their own set of unique challenges with the lack of a decent optical zoom topping the list. But, this flaw in the device allows for a greater connection between the photographer and his subject on the streets. Without zoom capabilities, it is up to the photographer to develop creative techniques for getting into close proximity to his subjects. Being discreet while staying respectful of the subject is at the heart of Mobile Street Photography. Keeping this in mind only helps in guiding you to that perfect candid street shot with a mobile device.
Here are seven tips for shooting in the streets with a mobile device.
1. Be ready for the perfect shot
Keep your device in hand, ready to grab and go. Your camera app should already be running. Be prepared to shoot or the perfect moment will pass and you’ll never have it.
2. Turn off the sound
Don’t let the click of your shutter ruin the perfect shot. Turn off the sound on your device before you shoot. It is easier to be inconspicuous if your phone is ready.
3. Use Landscape Mode
When you’re shooting in the streets with a mobile device, shoot in landscape mode. This will allow you to balance your composition to make it more pleasing to the eye. While portrait mode may feel more comfortable and natural, it’s a dead give-away to your subject that you’re taking a picture of them. Your goal is to be inconspicuous. When you are using landscape mode, you could be mistaken for playing a game or involved in an activity not associated with picture taking. Also, I’ve found that this position is less threatening to your subject.
4. Proximity and Shooting Range
Being shy in the streets won’t cut it. For mobile street shooting it’s best to get within 5-6 feet of the subject.
5. Focus and Exposure Locks
While the native camera on an iPhone may be the easiest to launch, it lacks the ability to separate the focus and exposure settings. A better choice is to download a camera replacement app like Camera+ or ProCamera that allows you to adjust the focus and exposure individually. Locking the exposure makes it is easier to manage the random light sources on the streets so your photos are not overexposed or too dark.
6. Try shooting without the on screen shutter.
Many mobile devices allow you to shoot using the volume button. I prefer using this method. It’s usually located conveniently to one side of your mobile device and is convenient for shooting in landscape mode. iPhone users will also love the capability of shooting with their earphones. The volume button on the earphones acts as a shutter release. Also, the earphone method gives you a steady shot while pressing the shutter button without shaking your phone. It gives those around you the illusion that you are listening to music or on a phone call adding to the stealth of mobile street photography.
Remember, this is not your “big boy” camera with complicated settings. The thrill of getting the shot should come from the joy of the process of connecting with the subject as well as sharing your results with others. Your progress as a photographer may change but mobile shooting brings you back to the basics. Have fun with shooting with a mobile device in the streets, embrace its limitations and use them to your advantage to create something beautiful.
Much of what’s mentioned is a result of trial and error using an iPhone over the years but may be applied to any modern mobile device.