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February 3rd, 2009

How to compete with iPhone photographers? Become one of them.

Posted by Lou Lesko

Citizen journalist Janis Krums tweeted this photo minutes after a plane crashed into the Hudson River in January.

Citizen journalist Janis Krums tweeted this photo minutes after a plane crashed into the Hudson River in January.

I came upon this story and this one the week the plane crashed into the Hudson River. The pictures are solid. As a professional photographer, I might have done a bit better, but I wasn’t there. Which got me thinking about what I would have done if I was. Typically, I would have used my upscale point-and-shoot camera, and then contacted whomever I could get a hold of at the whatever paper or magazine to transmit the image and get a quick sale. A sale that would probably yield anywhere in the range of a $100 to $1,000 — if I got the sale at all.

The competition would be a phalanx of mobile phone shooters all calling the tip lines of all the same publications as me. The photo editor would choose the first “solid” image to come across his or her computer screen in mad dash to scoop all the other publications and blogs.

Now think about a different set of priorities applied to the same scenario. I shoot a quality image, better than the mobile phone shooters, and upload it up to my photography branded twitter stream or blog. The fact that I call myself a photographer in these two internet mediums will already give me a splash of credibility. The subject matter of the photos will guarantee swift dissemination and trackbacks to my site. The trade off for the exposure to my web site is worth more than the money.

Lastly, think long and hard about being a gear snob. A photographer is defined by his or her ability, not by the gear he or she owns. Ultimately I think I would shoot my first few images with my iPhone and send them to the email account that automatically publishes posts to my blog, or I would send them to my Twitter account. Then I would shoot other images with my point and shoot. I’d start calling editors and point them to my blog or Twitter account.

The resolution required for a reasonable reproduction on the internet requires little more than an iPhone camera. It’s not ideal, and it certainly goes against the quality instinct of every shooter out there, but that’s not the point anymore. The world has changed and in these journalistic situations expediency is king. As skilled photographers that might find ourselves in the right place at the right time, understanding and adapting to the new world rather than complaining about it is the best way to get more notoriety.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What do you think? Is it a good idea for photographers to post newsworthy photos (for free) on their blogs or Twitter feeds in the hope it will drive traffic back to their site? In some situations, does the immediate upload capability of the iPhone make it a better choice than a “nicer” camera?


  1. February 18th, 2009 at 7:45 am

    David Manning

    I think, at least mentally, with this question myself. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do both? Have a capable, compact camera that can upload via cellular technology right to a list of photo desks?

    I think the sweet-spot would be a 4-6 megapixel, short-zoom camera with a nice touch screen and 3G connectivity.

    I think that the more we see these “citizen-journalist” photos show up on news sites or in traditional print media, the more we train our eyes to “accept” them as news photography. Think for a moment about how we (not so long ago) accept grainy, black-and-white shots without hesitation as “real, raw, documentary.” I think the new standard will be noisy, infinite depth-of-field camera phone shots. Everyone’s got one, and the average person has about the same chance of witnessing a newsworthy event as a photojournalist cruising his or her beat with a scanner.

    The legitimizing change will be when a camera-phone image wins the Pulitzer for spot news.

  2. February 18th, 2009 at 7:47 am

    David Manning

    I really wish I didn’t write “I think” so much. But you get the idea about my opinion…

  3. February 18th, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Lou Lesko

    DAVID: Great reply. I’m not sure we’ll see cell phone Pulitzers any time soon, but as the news/current event landscape changes, I think that we will see Canon G9 type cameras with mobile data network capabilities.

    As we transition to this it will be brilliant. But I fear that as everyone and their mother starts submitting to news desks, someone will develop software to weed out bad images based on algorithms. It’s the editors eye that I respect.

  4. February 18th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    David Manning


    I think you’re right…I own a G10 (I love it) as well as dSLRs and lots of glass. The G10 is the only one which has a snowball’s chance to be with me when I go out to dinner, to school with the kids, etc, and my iPhone will ALWAYS be there.

    But the problem, as you well know, will always be access and timing. It will make it hard to compete professionally with a million 3G-enabled “press cameras.” Look what it did to stock. Microstock, then Flickr for crying out loud! AND…as news outlets publish the “trash” they receive from iPhones, Nokias, etc. it legitimizes their use. I’m not predicting that the sky is falling (yet) for PJs, but for breaking news, we’re seeing the Flickr-ization of a whole genre of (previously professional) photography.

    But I eagerly await the G11 with an APS-C sensor and 3G connectivity!

    By the way, I use BlinkBid and love it.


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