For the longest time, many photographers have dismissed their cell phones as true photography tools. Not only is that a mistake, but I believe some are missing the potential to capture great moments with the cameras on their phones. The ‘its just a cell phone shot’ mentality is why most cell phone shots with that type of disclaimer are actually poorly shot and the result is not good pictures or videos. Most phones, especially the newest ones, are more than capable of producing extremely high quality material.

HP Supercell on April 16, 2015 north of McLean, TX. Shot on an iPhone 6.

HP Supercell on April 16, 2015 north of McLean, TX. Shot on an iPhone 6.

The Technical Reasons

Cell phones do not come with full frame sensors, this is true. Most cell phones also come with fixed lenses, which can be limiting in some respects. This means that some cell phones will have a very hard time shooting in some situations without accessories — but all great photographers/videographers can make it work.

Let’s talk about some tech specs:

-12mp camera.
-Up to 63mp panoramic shots.
-f/2.2 aperture.
-4K Video.
-Auto image stabilization.

Now another set:

-12.8mp camera.
-f/1.7 aperture.
-4K video.
-Auto image stabilization.

One of those sets of tech specs is a powerful compact system camera which currently runs around $800, the other is an iPhone 6S. Yes the sensor size in the compact is better (and thus you’ll get better technical results in lower lighting), but you are going to see very little difference in many of the photos you take.

You can’t sell these cameras short.

Supercell near Floydada, TX on April 22, 2015.

Supercell near Floydada, TX on April 22, 2015. Shot on an iPhone 6.

Why Do We Sell Them Short?

Most people look at their cell phone camera and assume it’s nothing more than a novelty or a way to get quick snapshots. That’s fine, but what separates a pro from a novice is how they approach the tools they are given.

No, on a technical level an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy isn’t going to out-detail, out-color, and out-sharpness a $4000 rig for video or photos.

But can you create images which are high quality, are shared much more, and could even be printed on smaller sizes for art shows or your wall?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Think about it this way: would you share an image from your SLR which you just pointed haphazardly at the storm, clicked, and then did no work to to adjust the crop or color?

The answer is no right?

But yet, so many do it with your cell phone all the time.

Just because your equipment isn’t top of the line, doesn’t mean that your imagery you create can’t be. Furthermore, just because you are shooting with ‘just a cell phone’ doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think and approach a shot with the expectation that you are creating an incredible piece of work.

Besides, on a technical level, you are shooting with cameras which make many of the old digital cameras from years ago blush. That’s pretty cool!

Tornado and clear slot near Verden, Oklahoma on May 6, 2015. Shot on an iPhone 6.

Tornado and clear slot near Verden, Oklahoma on May 6, 2015. Shot on an iPhone 6.

How to Ensure Your Cell Phone Imagery Rocks…

  1. First, slow down. Take a couple of extra seconds. Think through your composition and framing. Most cell phones have a fixed lens, but you can work around that with an accessory like the Olloclip Active. Regardless take a few seconds to actually pay attention to your shot.
  2. Realize the Technical Limitations. Some scenes are going to be hard to capture with your phone no matter how creative you are. This means you have to make compromises. When in doubt, expose your subject above all things.
  3. Get an easy to use image editing app. Your base shots out of the camera in an iPhone, Galaxy, etc. are still a hair flat and could have their detail spiced up a bit. On my iPhone I use both Snapseed and Afterlight to give my pics a bit of a boost.
  4. Take advantage of pro level apps for video editing and shooting. They exist and are out there. Some allow you to record in a much higher bitrate and also with different frame rates than the base level of your camera. For video at least, this is a good idea to look into.
  5. Accessorize! Cell phones aren’t professional style solutions out of the gate, but they can be with a few simple accessories. Personally, I don’t leave the house without my Rode smarLav+, Joby Gorillapod, and my Olloclip Active. There are numerous other great accessories for your phone you can find and try out too, the market is huge and continues to grow.
Explosive updraft tower near Anadarko, OK on May 6, 2015.

Explosive updraft tower near Anadarko, OK on May 6, 2015. Shot on an iPhone 6.

Let’s Quit Treating the Cell Phone Like an Ugly Duckling

If you have a newer smartphone, then your cell phone is an imaging powerhouse. There are apps and accessories to turn your phone into a legit b-cam (or even for a budget minded shooter, a legit a-cam). You can shoot quality footage which has plenty of value.

As we’ve talked about in the past, your cell phone imagery has value because if its shot with care and shot well — it’s going to be quality.

Happy shooting!