Photoessay: Mobile sketchbook

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On the back of the previous post, I realize I haven’t posted anything from my smartphone in a while – oddly, it isn’t because I haven’t been using it; it’s because its role keeps changing for me, from a curiosity and article of discipline (enforcing seeing and shot discipline completely independently of hardware) to an object of convenience, to a document copier, and now on to a visual sketchbook of sorts. I know I tried this already with the Pen F; that turned out be treated as a more serious photography tool which has since converged around the Z7 or D3500, leaving a hole for something for me to experiment with – and specifically, one with the extended DOF of a smaller sensor. There’s sadly no 100mm+ perspective option, but careful positioning and composition means the 56mm module renders more compressed than you might think. A good photographer should be able to work within and around limitations and not make excuses and all that… MT

Shot with an iPhone XS Max, no processing.

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  1. Jui Hsiang says:

    hi Ming Thein, i wonder whether if weight and size were not a consideration which camera(s) you would be using for your personal photography. i realise that you now favour the Nikon Z7 and prior to that it seemed to be the Olympus Pen F. somehow the dynamic range or colour reproduction of the iPhone photographs does not seem to be in the same category as that your other photographs. if you had to choose something other than the iPhone, what would it be? also, do you still use the Hasselblad X1D or other medium format cameras for photography? if weight and size were not a consideration, would you consider the Fujifilm GFX for larger projects?

    • I’d still be using the same thing. The subjects in this post are high contrast and intentionally so – they’d look almost the same with any other camera since I want the results to appear that way. The composition doesn’t change.

      If I’m not using the iPhone, I’m using the Z7.

      I’ve already covered why in a previous post.

      • Jui Hsiang Tan says:

        hi Ming Thein,

        i admire and respect your sharp mind and insights

        i am uncertain whether you still do photography or whether you would care to reply

        i was wondering whether the answer you gave concerning the choice of the Nikon Z7 over the X1D and GFX because of wider shooting envelope still holds true given that the GFX system now has in body image stabilisation in two of its models.

        Jui Hsiang

        On Fri, Apr 17, 2020 at 8:41 AM Ming Thein | Photographer wrote:

        > Ming Thein commented: “I’d still be using the same thing. The subjects in > this post are high contrast and intentionally so – they’d look almost the > same with any other camera since I want the results to appear that way. If > I’m not using the iPhone, I’m using the Z7. I covere” >

      • Jui Hsiang Tan says:

        hi Ming Thein,

        i am starting to face the limitations of my knowledge of Adobe Lightroom.

        would the Processing + Workflow video A3 still be available for purchase?

        Sincerely, and Season’s Greetings,

        Jui Hsiang

  2. Very nice. I’m curious, you say no post processing. I believe you. Did you play with exposure levels, and did you use the built-in camera app or a third party app? Or are these a result of just raising the phone up and taking the image?

    Thanks! Good stuff as usual.

    • Some minor exposure/ WB adjustments on some using the camera native app, but some not at all. Borders and resizing in PS, of course.

  3. I just love these shots. Maybe the colors and geometry are what grab me even though my first preference is shooting people moments. Now is a good time to shoot non-human subjects. I use an Rx100.6 a lot for every day walk around, but your shots encourage me to experiment more with my iPhone 11 pro Max. Your posts always motivate. Thanks.

  4. amazing! I am in awe. Over the years I’ve enjoyed your work and considered you a master…and then you post these photos…wonderful and inspiring!

  5. Dustin Gilbert says:

    Fantastic. First shot reminds me of 12 monkeys.

    Hope you’re staying sane in this crazy world.

  6. Wow! Love the patterns ..your creativity 🙏🙏

  7. Bill Walter says:

    Very creative stuff Ming and excellent variety as well!

  8. Very revealing, Ming, and shows it is the photographer and not the equipment used. Lovely images, as usual. But it also demonstrates why the market for conventional digital cameras is increasingly at risk from the smartphone. It will never replace cameras, of course, as these still offer capabilities that the smartphone never will, unless it morphs into being a camera!

  9. Paul Broich says:

    I´m follower of Your essays, reviews and inspirations for years now.
    Thank You for this collection, again, again…

  10. Nice set! I particularly like that second picture – the front of the car with the green and blue – and the one shot through the misted-up window. How about “If Saul Leiter had a smartphone” for a title?

    The more I use the camera on my iPhone (I finally bit the upgrade bullet and went for the 11 Pro), the more impressed I am with it. I think you mentioned it yourself in a previous article, but it’s actually pretty hard to blow highlights with this unless you’re intentionally pointing it right at an incredibly bright area which is itself part of a scene with a lot of dynamic range. That being said, I recently procured something really (by digital standards) old school, an Epson R-D1XG – only ever released in Japan to the best of my knowledge – because while I definitely like the results from the iPhone, there’s still something satisfying about operating with far fewer features. On top of that, I used to read your “camerapedia” and I remember you talking about the Nikon D3 as the first camera which made photography feel “almost too easy” (or words to that effect). We could argue that this is also true of the newest smartphones. While they can’t decide what is and is not a good composition, they can do almost everything else! So using the Epson is a deliberate break from doing that.

    In other words, while most photographers, even experienced ones, could likely shoot everything they wanted on a smartphone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would want to. What do you reckon?

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to title it that! 😛

      Actually, I’m embracing the easiness: focus on the seeing, and the experiencing, which in turn leads to more seeing. Less gear wrangling. It’s pretty liberating actually. Not complaining!

  11. Kristian Wannebo says:

    🙂 , 🙂 !
    *Very* interesting, absorbing and inspiring!
    Almost too much to take in in one session…

    And some nice riddles too… 😉

  12. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Extraordinary – but then I’ve come to expect that, from you, Ming! 🙂

  13. Nice sketches. Not questioning, but no processing at all? The images are quite amazing for SOOC (or should I say SOOP).


    • Not in PS except for the borders, but within the limits of what can be done in the phone’s editor…

      • Good to hear. I have come to appreciate your PP skills in Photoshop, but it is nice to know that the iPhone offers a decent set of tools.


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