Going mobile: The future of nature photography?
By Jaymi Heimbuch
Instagram and camera phone photos have inspired a lot of debate in the photography community. Why take a low quality image? You can’t print it large, you can’t sell it for stock, and it doesn’t showcase your skill with a camera. However, none of that is actually true anymore. As the popularity of iPhoneography and mobile phone photography rises alongside the capabilities of camera phones, not only are these points moot, but arguments supporting the use of mobile devices in professional photography are gaining ground. Camera phones and the social media platforms that allow us to quickly and easily share those images provide a greater freedom in story-telling, for bringing viewers along for the ride on a shoot, for engaging in conversation with viewers, and for showing more of the photographer’s personality. And now, all of this can be done without sacrificing much in quality.
In 2012 I took a trip to Midway Atoll and Instagram was a wonderful way to share the experience as it unfolded. My iPhone gave me the freedom to take snapshots on a whim, and uploading them to Instagram let me share what was happening as it happened. It was so easy, relaxing and fun to snap a photo in the moment, edit it and share it all with a single device. Those snapshots became my own diary of the trip and a way to remember the trip in a more personal way. I wouldn’t have had this diary if I’d stayed behind my DSLRs the whole time trying to get only polished, high-quality shots. And I could share what was going on with my followers on social media and generate excitement about the upcoming photo essays I was working on with the deliberate, high quality DSLR photos I was creating. Thus, my iPhone photos and Instagram held both a personal and professional purpose. It was the first time I’d really tried this approach, and it changed the way I have approached every photography trip since.
That was several years ago, when I had an iPhone 4 and used Instagram filters. By today’s standards, this was a fairly junk camera with definitely junk filters. The technology in both hardware and software has improved dramatically, and these photos aren’t even close to the quality of photos I can now take with the newest phones and the latest editing tools. For example, Photoshop and VSCO apps turn your camera into a powerful image editing tool. And cameras in many mobile phones are even better than the point-and-shoot cameras on the market a decade ago. Plus, they all have sharing capabilities across platforms, with simple ways to upload a photo on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and other platforms with just a couple taps of the screen. The technology has improved so much that some photographers — Kevin Russ, for example — have earned celebrity status based entirely on what they’ve published on their iPhones. There is even less room to complain about the prevalence of mobile phone technology, and even more room to see how it fits in to your professional life.
Let’s put aside the all too common argument of, “Yeah, but you can’t turn one of those images into a billboard.” This is a non-issue in today’s society when most images really only need to be large enough to show up nicely on an iPad, and when so many new mobile phones boast cameras that are more than capable of capturing images that can be printed poster-size without a problem. In fact, there are already gallery showings of iPhone photography and companies sprouting up right and left to sell prints of various sizes of iPhone photos. And yes, even savvy nature photographers are keeping up with the times.
Wildlife and nature photographers have built amazing followings on Instagram both through posting portfolio images, as well as a mix of high quality images alongside snapshots taken during their travels and shoots. This second approach allows viewers to feel like they are part of the experience as it happens. National Geographic photographer Cory Richards has an Instagram following of over 150,000 fans, and Paul Nicklen has over 183,000 followers. Both photographers post primarily portfolio images. Meanwhile, other photographers are building up a following by showing not just portfolio images but aspects of life as a photographer. Shannon Wild shows her best images as well as behind-the-scenes shots and some of her non-wildlife photography work, making her fans feel like they know her a little better as a person. David Lloyd, shows both portfolio shots and the work he’s doing in printing or setting up gallery showings, which get you excited about seeing his work hanging on a wall. Gerry Van Der Walt posts hardly any portfolio shots, but tons of fun shots from the adventures in getting those images, all of which make you want to pack your bags and get on a plane with him. The list goes on.
Sharing images on social media has become a fantastic way to build up both a fan base and, more importantly, relationships with viewers who appreciate not only your work, but you and the experiences you share. If you aren’t yet taking advantage of mobile phone photos and uploading them to social media, it’s likely time you give it a shot. Not only can using your mobile phone bring a fresh creativity and relaxed approach to aspects of your adventures, but it can also bring you an entirely new base of fans, people you might not otherwise reach without taking advantage of Instagram, VSCO, or Facebook. How, and the extent to which, you utilize mobile phone photography and social media is entirely up to you and your personality. But I encourage you to give it a try, at least during one short expedition, and see what you think. It just might open up a whole new way of experiencing and marketing your work as a nature photographer.