PhotoMojo: The Art of the Phone

Jul 24, 2018 View Comments by

PhotoMojo-Art of the phone

I have a closet full of camera gear and used to carry a camera with me wherever I went, but like so many others I now rely on my phone for capturing imagines of day-to-day life. Judging by the photography workshops I’ve given, I’m not alone. Many of you are using your phones to document your motorcycle journeys, which makes sense because the current generation of smartphones are surprisingly good, with high-end features like image stabilization, 4k video, face and smile autofocus, and more. In good light and with a little practice they can produce print-worthy images. That’s because the talent lies with the photographer, not the phone. But having good tools certainly does help.

PhotoMojo: The Art of the Phone

What’s in My App Drawer?
When I’m on the road, I use a handful of apps to help me capture, edit, and share my photos, whether they’re taken with my phone or a camera.
Snapseed is my go-to mobile editing app with easy to use tools and filters for applying quick effects before sharing photos on social media. One neat feature is that you can quickly compare before and after editing with a tap of the screen. But don’t go overboard and get drunk on filter play; you might regret it in the morning.
Google Photos is one of many ways to auto-magically upload your photos to the cloud so they aren’t lost when you … ahem … drop your phone in the toilet. It also allows for organizing photos by location (most phones can record the location a photo was taken), making it easier to find that great shot you took in Montana last year.

Instagram is the social networking site built around photos. There’s an active motorcycle community here that’s easy to find and share with using hashtags. Some of the ones I follow and contribute to are #motorcycletravel, #motorcycletouring, and of course my favorite, #RoadRUNNERMagazine. Not only that, but many of the regular contributors are there too (me @JohnMichaelFlores, Steve Mauk @RedRiderSteve, Brian Shaney @BackRoadsBiker, Bud Miller @ZenMotorcyclist, Luke Swab @lukeswab, Bill Dragoo @dragooadventures, Yuval Naveh @bigman73, @RoadRUNNER_Magazine), and others maintain active profiles.
Camera FV-5 is designed for people who know the ins and outs of their DSLRs and wish that their phones offered more control of exposure and settings. With Camera FV-5, you can control ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus mode, metering mode, exposure compensation, flash mode, and so on. You can even shoot RAW files with the newer phones. Camera FV-5 is for Android only, but there are similar apps for iOS.

PhotoMojo: The Art of the Phone

Your Digital Assistant
Even if you are using a separate camera, your phone can help you in a number of ways. When you buy a phone with enough memory (or one whose memory you can expand via a Micro SD card), you can use a memory card reader to download photos from your camera to your phone for backup and sharing. Also, many newer cameras are equipped with wifi and/or Bluetooth which you can use to connect to your phone and operate your camera remotely (great for selfies) and transfer files.

PhotoMojo: The Art of the Phone

Know Your Phone’s Limits
But as good as smartphones have gotten, they fall short in some situations. It’s hard to see the screen in bright sunlight, which can lead to chopped off heads, motorcycles falling off the edge of the photo, and other compositional no-nos. And in really low light, like romantic restaurant light or “my bike looks really boss under this streetlight” light, even the best phones struggle to produce sharp images. Sometimes you can reduce blur by practicing good technique (hold the phone with both hands, place feet shoulder-width apart, tuck elbows into your ribcage, brace body or hands against a fencepost or wall, etc.) or supplementing with technology (i.e., a gimbal for smooth video, or a mini tripod for sharp night photos) but it doesn’t always work. Tiny flashes rarely flatter, not just because of their cool, harsh light, but also because they are typically placed right next to the lens, sometimes resulting in portraits that look like driver’s license photos. And while some of the newer phones have a second telephoto lens for portraits, they still fall very short of capturing that bird or bison you saw the other day.

If you really enjoy photography and want to enhance your skill, you may someday reach the outer limits of the camera in your smartphone. Is a DSLR the next logical step? We’ll discuss that in the next article.

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About the author

You know that little boy who stares at you, mouth agape, as you ride by? That was me, thirty-plus years ago. I merged two of my passions, motorcycles and photography, when I became a contributor to RoadRUNNER.