Smartphone camera tech has come a long, long way over the past few years. Most modern smartphones are outfitted with advanced cameras and photo software — to the point that some smartphones may even compete with DSLRs.
However, there’s only so much a smartphone can do. Professional photographers still primarily rely on high-cost cameras, rather than their smartphones. So does it really matter if you use smartphone images in your professional photography portfolio?
You definitely can use smartphone images in your portfolio — so long as you know the advantages and drawbacks of using a smartphone camera for photography. Knowing about these will help you decide if you should use smartphone images in your photography portfolio.
The Advantages of Using Smartphone Images in a Portfolio
This is one of the biggest advantages of smartphone photography. Unlike a bulky DSLR, it is possible to always have your phone at the ready.
The easy transport and minimal setup time of smartphone cameras means that you can use your phone to capture shots that you weren’t planning for. If you spot a great image or perfect moment while taking a break at work or out on a walk, you’ll probably be able to snap a photo with your smartphone.
This is why many professional photographers, even if they’ve invested thousands of dollars into camera equipment, still occasionally use their smartphones to take photos. Even with their drawbacks, the portability they provide makes them a serious competitor to something like a DSLR.
Photo: Matt Bango
2. On-the-Go Editing
Most modern smartphones also come with their own photo editing software. These tools can help you quickly adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation of a photo, adjusting it as needed.
These editing apps won’t be as powerful as a tool like Photoshop or Lightroom, but they are extremely useful if you want to see how a test shot will look with a little post-processing.
Conventional cameras, by contrast, don’t have this kind of on-the-go editing capability, meaning that you’ll have to wait until you’re at a computer to start editing.
3. Easy Sharing and Photo Transfer
Getting photos off of a conventional camera can be tricky. Most don’t have sharing features built-in by default, meaning that you’ll have to remove their SD card or connect them to a laptop or other device if you want to move your photos.
This can be a real hassle, especially if you run out of storage space while out and about. With a smartphone, you can usually share photos from your phone’s gallery app to cloud storage or social media. This allows you to free up more space for photos, create backups and immediately post finished photos to platforms like Instagram or Facebook.
4. Automatic Backups
You can also set your phone to automatically backup your photos to the cloud.
This is a major advantage that phones have over conventional cameras — if your camera is damaged or if you accidentally delete the wrong photo, you’re likely losing images forever.
With a smartphone, you may be able to just use the backups you’ve created instead.
5. Selfie Photography
When it comes to self-portraiture, the smartphone camera offers some serious advantages over conventional cameras.
Just about every modern smartphone comes equipped with a front-facing camera — meaning you can see what a self-portrait will look like as you’re getting ready to take the photo.
The Drawbacks of Using Smartphone Images in a Portfolio
1. Issues With Low-Light
Newer and more advanced smartphones are becoming available all the time — and in 2021, we’ll see the launch of some of the most advanced smartphone cameras yet. There’s only so much you can do with a smartphone camera, however.
Even a cheap DSLR is likely to beat a smartphone camera when it comes to image sharpness. This is especially true if you’re taking photos in unfavorable lighting conditions. Even the best smartphone cameras may struggle with low-light (or high ISO) photography that requires fast shutter speeds.
2. Limited Depth of Field
Another big drawback of a smartphone camera is that it’s much harder to get good-looking shallow depth of field and bokeh — the blurring of the out-of-focus parts of an image — with a smartphone camera.
It is possible to get good bokeh with a smartphone, but it isn’t necessarily easy, especially if you’re dealing with a moving subject. Depending on the situation, you may have to get very close to your subject or invest in peripherals like a tele conversion lens.
Simulating bokeh with post-processing effects is also an option. However, it may look a little uncanny compared to the real thing.
Photo: Kristin Hardwick
3. Less Control Over Camera Settings
Some modern cameras — like the more recent entries in Google’s Pixel line — don’t even provide these features. Because the phone uses advanced, AI-powered software to coordinate the multiple on-board cameras, the user has less control over the finished quality of the shot.
This feature is great for most end-users, but if you want to have fine-grain control over exposure and white balance, you may find it frustrating or limiting instead.
When to Use Smartphone Images in a Photography Portfolio
Your smartphone probably isn’t as powerful as a modern DSLR. It may not be as effective as a conventional camera in certain situations — like a low-light environment.
However, modern smartphone cameras are better than they’ve ever been. Smartphone images can be a great fit for a portfolio if you know the limitations of your phone camera.
The portability of a smartphone and features like on-the-go editing also mean that it’s a good idea to keep your smartphone ready for when you don’t have a conventional camera on hand.