Smartphones for the Smart Photographer

Hydro-Pruf (f/5 1/800 65 mph)

Camera phones have come a long way in the last few years, from something that wasn’t suited for much beyond Facebook and email to something that, in some cases at least, could rival the quality of a halfway decent point-and-shoot. A lot can be written (and has been) about taking good shots with a camera phone, and at some point I will join that particular fray; for today, though, I’d like to suggest a few uses for  your smartphone (and sometimes its camera) that go above and beyond the usual.

Let’s start with the obvious. If you’ve got another camera that usually acts as your primary (whether an automatic compact or an SLR), your smartphone can be a relatively competent backup. For a variety of reasons (tiny sensor, digital zoom, lousy high-ISO performance), it’s not going to replace your camera of choice any time soon, but if it comes down between getting, or not getting, the shot, use the darn phone. As several people have pointed out, the best camera is the one you’ve got. Since, as I’ve mentioned before, you should always have a camera with you, this is one camera you’re practically guaranteed to have at all times. So no excuses!

Then, of course, there are the apps. Here, I don’t mean applications for making half-assed shots look “artsy” (curse you, Hipstamatic!). I mean apps that allow you to use your phone in tandem with your camera. There are several of these, with new stuff being added constantly. Depending on your phone’s operating system (whether you’ve got a Crackberry, iPhone or Android-based phone), some applications may or may not be available for your smartphone. Read the reviews (they’re often a good indicator of whether an app will work on your particular phone, and how well) and release notes (ditto), and remember that your mileage may vary.

Some of what’s been released up to this point includes various light meter apps (which display values in lumens, or exposure values, or both), blueSLR’s Bluetooth adapter that allows for remote control and geotagging (in some cases at a fraction of the cost of an OEM geotagging dongle), Flashdock’s hotshoe attachment allows you to mount your smartphone to your camera, and controlling WiFi bridge devices. I should note that I haven’t personally tried any of this stuff, so I’m not endorsing any of it; if you’re interested in finding out more, however, check out the supplied links below and do some additional research of your own. If/as I incorporate any of this stuff into my own setup, reviews will appear here.

There are a couple of uses that won’t require any apps to download, and so won’t cost you a penny. For starters, put your camera manual on your smartphone. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner (probably because I didn’t have a smartphone ’til recently). Most manufacturers make their camera manuals available as PDF files, and keeping yours on your phone means not having to have one in your camera bag.

Finally, create shot lists, and store them on your phone. Wedding photographers use shot lists all the time, and I’ve begun to do a bit of it myself. In either case (yours, or the wedding photographer’s), it’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss something you’d wanted to catch. Think of it a bit like a shopping list. Rather than going to the grocery store empty-handed, plunking down $132.50, and getting home only to realize you never picked up eggs, you make a list. Similarly, if you know ahead of time where you’re going and the kinds of shots you’d like to get, make note of them. It can be helpful to have a reminder so you don’t get home and realize that you’d forgotten something you would like to have shot.

If there’s something useful I’ve missed — and in this case, I’m almost certain I have — feel free to comment or email me. In the meantime, here are a few links you may find useful in your research:

B&H Photo has a writeup on the blueSLR controller and app here.
Pocketdemo has a variety of smartphone-related gadgetry here.
NikonRumors has a short piece on a lower-cost way to control higher-priced cameras.
Finally, if it’s apps that you’re after, Google Play has you covered for Android, while the Apple App Store has what you’ll need for the iPhone and iPad.