A new phone launch, a new way to justify the camera’s skills. Whenever a new phone is launched, a line of professional photographers or notable organisations are ushered in the door by manufacturers to validate its performance.
OnePlus has just announced that it is teaming up with National Geographic to showcase the prowess of the OnePlus 7 Pro camera. “The National Geographic team handpicked three world-renowned photographers Andy Bardon, Carlton Ward Jr. and Krystle Wright for an expedition to capture the rugged beauty of North America through the lens of the OnePlus 7 Pro.”
OnePlus is treading a well-worn path: Google teamed up with Conde Nast to shoot magazine covers; Nokia launched the 9 PureView, its 5-lens phone, with Tuomas Harjumaaskola on stage; Game of Thrones director David Franco talked highly of the LG V30; The Tonight Show got itself filmed on the Samsung Galaxy S10; and these are just the recent endorsements that spring to mind.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams
Such is the profile of having the best smartphone camera that endorsements and partnerships are now par for the course. What was once a novelty – here’s a professional talking about using a phone not a DSLR – has become the commonplace. Endorsements aren’t exciting, they’re predictable.
From high-profile professionals down to micro influencers, the message is the same: these photos are great because this phone is great and here’s a range of beautiful photos to validate that.
Arguably, the most effective photo-based campaign has been Apple’s Shot on iPhone. It has graced billboards globally as Apple takes the opportunity to showcase the amazing photographs taken on its phone. It’s lead to iPhone Photography Awards but it’s also lead to every manufacturer comparing themselves to the iPhone to prove it is technically better.
And the message is always the same: these photos are great because this phone is great and here’s a range of beautiful photos to validate that.
“Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gizmos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams
Giving a professional photographer a phone and sending them to the arctic to photograph seals, or giving a smartphone to an Instagrammer to take pictures in their own inimitable style from a helicopter doesn’t really do justice to what’s actually being celebrated through photography: the moment and the vision that leads to its capture.
OnePlus says that it is using “three world-renowned photographers”, renown they presumably achieved not because of the device in their hands, but because of the vision that led to the photographs that they take for National Geographic.
Think about some of the most influential photographs that have ever been taken. There are two images that have never left my mind since I first saw them. The first is Nick Ut’s 1972 Vietnam napalm photo. It won a Pulitzer Prize, capturing a spectacular moment of human horror. It’s grainy, it’s blurry, it would probably fail in every measure you want to use to validate it in modern terms.
The second is from the start of the same war, Malcolm Browne’s burning monk taken in 1963. For those of my generation it became iconic thanks to a Rage Against the Machine album cover, but the power of this moment captured on film is mind-blowing. You don’t forget pictures like these because they change you, forever.
Arguably, a modern day camera phone could take a better picture and Browne admits he was using a “cheap Japanese camera” – a Petri – on the day. But it’s the moment that the photographer captures rather than the equipment that he captures it on. It’s what we, the viewer, gains from that picture, rather than the mechanism that brought it to our eyes.
“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank
Ultimately, there’s no questioning that modern day smartphone cameras are great. You can be in the right place at the right time with that indispensable sidekick in your pocket and take a great photo.
That’s what professional photographers are so good at; that’s what those big name Instagrammers are so good at: they capture a moment and the only thing that’s really being demonstrated is that it doesn’t matter what device you use to do it. After all, there is no shortage of terrible photos taken by all types of cameras and phones shared online every single day.
Putting your phone into the hands of a great photographer doesn’t demonstrate how great your camera is, it demonstrates how great photographers are, and the more that brands use this approach for marketing the less it ultimately means.
(And thanks to shootdotedit.com for the photography quotes.)