Is Mobile Phone Photography Acceptable Photography?

Is mobile phone photography acceptable photography? If you believe that photography… and I mean serious photography, is best left in the realms of high end DSLR’s and large format cameras then let me break it to you…you are either on an ego trip or just plain wrong.

In the years since the first camera was built into a mobile phone, around the year 2000, we have jumped from the ‘Sharp J-SH04’ with a 110,000 pixel camera (only available in Japan), to the likes of the iPhone Xs, Google Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus with the quality of a 12+ MP camera (or the Huawei P30 Pro with a combined 68MP) some with multiple lenses and built in software allowing different modes of shooting at the touch of the screen.

Although there isn’t quite the full range of manual flexibility we have with a modern DSLR in the modern camera phone as yet, the quality and ease of use allows clarity and colour reproduction we could only imagine just 7 years ago.

Let’s go back to basics and work through this.

Back To Basics!

What is photography? It’s simply the recording of light (or electromagnetic radiation) on a receiving plane (sensor or light sensitive film) to produce an image.

What makes a good photograph? This is a very hard question to answer definitively and is purely a subjective one, but from my own personal opinion, a good image is one that creates interest, intrigue and/or tells a story.

We could get caught up in the science and philosophy of photography talking about composition, the rule of thirds, depth of field etc. but at the end of the day if only you are happy with the image you shot regardless of the “TOOL” it was shot with, then the photograph was, in my opinion…a success.

The key point here is, regardless of what you captured the image on, the device used to process the result of the captured light is simply a tool or aid to manufacture.

So back to the original question.

“is mobile phone photography acceptable photography?” absolutely yes.

Can an amateur photographer take legitimate photos of landscapes, portraits and street photography using an iPhone (or other camera phone)? Why not? It’s only the capture of light and shadow on a receiving plain that is converted to a digital image…the same process as a high end DSLR camera.

The only difference is flexibility and control, such as focal length, shutter speed and aperture control, some of which is becoming possible now with the newer camera phones. But unfortunately lay only in the realms of higher end photographic equipment.

Therefore can a professional photographer take quality photos with a camera phone? The answer there is a resounding yes in the right circumstance of course.

Which leads me to my next question, is an image from an iPhone acceptable for professional commercial reproduction?

In some cases I would have to say yes, because they have been used for commercial uses and paid for by clients…that’s a fact.

The sticking point here is the quality of the end use. If the image is being viewed at a larger scale than say screen size or smaller print size then you may find noise will become an issue…but not all images are destined for high quality magazine covers or poster prints.

Would I use my iPhone to shoot a commercial project and charge my clients? No I would not because the “TOOL” does not suit my purpose. The camera is not at the standard and quality I require for the kind of commercial photography that my clients and I require it to be. Does the iPhone still take great photos…absolutely, just not the kind required for this commercial photographer and the end use of my clients.

Have Mobile Phones been used for Professional Photography?

iPhones are being used more and more in the area of photojournalism and to great effect with apps such as “Hipstamatic”. A great example is from 2010 where two war photographers, Balazs Gardi and Teru Kuwayama used an iPhone exclusively to photograph US Marines in Afghanistan, settling on the Hipstamatic app due to its retro aesthetic look. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Guardian newspaper written by Patrick Kingsley ‘7th July 2011’.

“…”Before, I would have three cameras hanging off me,” agrees his colleague, Hungarian Balazs Gardi, who was also on his second Afghan mission. “Using just the iPhone allowed me to move much more easily.” The lack of a long lens also helped, Gardi says, because it forced him to get closer to his subjects. As a result, he and Kuwayama have created an unusually intimate series of portraits of both Afghan civilians, and US servicemen.”

It is also worth looking up an amazing photographer by the name of Julian Calverley and his book “#IPHONEONLY”. Here is a professional photographer more accustomed to shooting projects for the likes of Audi and Aston Martin, who turned his love of photography and landscapes to the use of an iPhone and produced not only an exhibition but also a beautiful printed book of landscapes.

Ignore The Ego Shooters!

Bottom line is, ignore those that have a problem with you if you don’t shoot with high end gear…you probably shoot better images because you have more passion, not more kit.

To let you in on a secret, when I’m not shooting commercial projects with my Canon 5D Mark4, 1Dx, 5D Mark2, 5D, Kiss X2, 300D, A80 Powershot, A590 Powershot etc etc…I mainly use my iPhone XS as my go to camera. Although it’s not what I would use when I am shooting a project for a client, there are some shots in my portfolio that I shot on my iPhone.

The idea is it’s all about the image…not the flex. So next time someone asks “Is mobile phone photography acceptable photography?”, answer with confidence.

Thanks for reading.


“The Industrial Photographer”