Ok, so you have an I-phone or Android device, and it takes sharp images. From your phone or tablet, you can upload your photos to Facebook or send them to a friend’s phone. It’s convenient, and it’s fun to share your life with friends and family. The images are high resolution and enlarge to whatever size you want. You’ll never need to hire a professional photographer for family portraits again, right?
A lot of people feel that a good camera is all that’s necessary in order to shoot good photos. I specialize in beach portraits and weddings, and I have seen more and more people shooting their own children’s beach portraits or a friend’s wedding with cell phones or with what I jokingly call “soccer mom” cameras. A “soccer mom” camera is a nice $200-$600 Nikon or Canon digital camera that looks similar to and has a lot of the same bells and whistles as the cameras used by professionals. Those of us who depend on tourists for our livelihood have noticed a slight decrease in business because of this.
I say “slight” because the Mom who took little Jimmy’s and Susie’s beach photos last summer, found that the 16x20 enlargement that she had printed at the big discount store didn’t look nearly as good as she expected. Both kids were squinting. Susie was slumping, and another tourist’s beach umbrella was sticking out of the top of Jimmy’s head. Daddy’s shadow was on Susie’s right side, and there was a bright blue garbage can in the background. None of that was very noticeable when Mom looked at the images on the camera’s small screen. To make matters worse, the colors in the print just didn’t look quite right. The kids looked sunburned, even though they weren’t, and Jimmy’s white shirt looked blue. This summer, Mom made an appointment with me to have professional portraits made of the children and of the whole family.
Smart phone cameras and “soccer mom” cameras are good and should produce great images. They will, if the person behind the camera takes the time to learn how to use them properly, learns about lighting, posing, and composition, and has the prints processed by a good photo lab, not the corner drug store. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to learn the basics of photography. That’s no big deal, if you’re only taking vacation and birthday party snapshots or posting to Facebook. If you plan to shoot your own family portrait and to make a large print to hang over the mantel for the next 5-10 years, you need to know what you’re doing. There are actually a few professionals that have shot entire weddings with a smart phone and had good results. They were limited by not being able to change lenses and by not having a good flash attachment, but by being creative and using their experience, they produced beautiful images. The key word there is “experience.”
Have fun with your camera, but remember your limitations. Owning a big wrench doesn’t make you a plumber, and owning a sharp knife doesn’t make you a surgeon. As with everything else, training and experience make the difference. When you need portrait photography, call a professional. You won’t regret it.
By the way, in addition to my big cameras and multiple lenses, I also own a wrench and a knife, but please don’t call me if your pipes or appendix burst. That, you would regret!