2012 On My Mobile Phone

The United States economy is nine times the size of Africa’s, but Africa has twice as many mobile phones according to Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Visually, Africa’s story is silently being told through these little gadgets. Unfortunately, many will remain as such. Silent.01

I am a perfect example on how good stories are photographed and stashed because they were taken on a mobile phone.

No wonder the only other thing more personal in my possession except my mind is a mobile phone. And that in itself underlines how important this tool is, not just in my personal life but professional one as well.02

Not until 15 months ago, a mobile phone to me was about making calls, texting and storing relevant phone contacts. And yes, playing some games too. That role however has drastically changed as i professionally grew as a photographer.03

Today I see a mobile phone as a very important documentary tool. Perhaps one of the most important tools. I know many of you might not necessarily believe me but here are my reasons.

Professional Camera

Just what is a professional camera? Honestly, I don’t have an answer to this question. This year alone, I have got over a dozen “professional camera advice” request from some of my followers. In return, I have always given a fair recommendation.04

I believe there are no professional cameras but people are. A perfect example is an “iPhone in DR Congo” , a photo project done by Michael Christopher Brown about the effects of minerals on every life of a Congolese.

Personal Moments

The most personal, naughty, moments in life are mostly taken using a mobile phone. These are the pictures that in our memories the longest. They are usually poorly composed with suicidal lighting but rich in terms of reality, originality and honesty. They speak volumes about who we really are. Maybe that’s why many people hold their phones close to their chests because there is a lot we protect beyond the naughty text messages in our inboxes.05


A mobile camera is perhaps the most open, yet secretive camera anyone can have. There is this casualness associated with people taking pictures using a phone. I have many times dropped by heavy camera gear for my Nokia Lumia 800 to record everyday life in Kampala unnoticed. And on every occasion, I haven’t infuriated anyone.010

I remember for example n October this year when I took a picture of the peace sculpture at the Kololo Independence grounds. At the time, there was ongoing preparation at the ground for the celebration of Uganda’s 50th anniversary. The presidents security personal were all over the place. Cameras were not allowed within the vicinity that day, BUT mobile phones were allowed.

Light Weight

On a normal day my backpack usually has, two heavy cameras, two lenses (Wide angle and a zoom), a laptop, an extension, phone chargers, iPod charger, laptop charger, lens cleaners, head phones, face towel, water, etc. Whenever I drop that for a phone, it feels like carrying one piece of a crisp. Very light. Fatigue does not come in as fast as it would have.06

Price Value

I recently met a guy who looked to be genuinely interested in photography. He was telling me how the prices of what he called professional cameras are prohibitive. In the very conversation, he was over the moon, bragging about the eminent arrival of his iPhone 5. I broke it down for him this way.07

One of my favourite cameras is a Canon EOS Rebel T3 on Amazon. It costs a paltry $550. (12.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor, 18-55 EF-S Lens, 100-6400 ISO, 720p HD Movie Mode, 3 fps Continuous Shooting……). An iPhone 5 on the hand costs $784. So which is cheaper?08

A lot of people walk around with “professional cameras”-read Mobile Phones and do not even realize it.

A camera does not have to weigh 5kg to qualify as a professional one. It does not have to make the 20 mega pixel mark to join the professional rank.09

Food for thought; what if this picture of Gaddafi was captured on a fake phone-We call them: Chinese Phones in Uganda. Imagine what your iPhone, Nokia, Samsung or Alcatel could have done!011.jpeg

136 thoughts on “2012 On My Mobile Phone

  1. well I agree to some points: it is true that the mobile phone cameras for private documentations are good and very much in use and the quality is for this use extremely good, but for professional pictures it still doesn’t work at least if we think of printing or further image processing.
    Whereby one has to say that good printing quality is quite young in UG. I remember only few years ago, when I was still working with an NGO in the print- and media design vocational training school, the newvision was famous for really bad bad pictures (different color plates in print where not aligned etc) . We went to their printery to print our own books (since our printing machine was not yet properly set up) and after seeing the work of our students (being in the course for only 1 yr!), some staff asked us, if they could come and learn with us…
    Since maybe 2-3 yrs (when NV got their new printing machine and did some other important changes) the quality has come up. But prints in newspaper is one thing. Think of magazines… there these mobile cameras still wouldn’t work.

    You are very good in playing with distance and focus and colors and contrasts in your pics. Mobile cameras do not have those features to that extend that one can really create pictures, you can just take them.

    Still I agree that taking pics with a mobile camera is far easier and brings less trouble and disturbance than trying to make street pics with a big huge DSLR..


  2. What an interesting point, Edward. To be around unnoticed can be cruicial for å photographer, and the mobile is always there. But i must say my samsung has very poor quality in evenings and nights, and that is usually when I don’t have a proper camera around…

  3. What beautiful, sumptuous imagery Edward! And I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding mobile phones being far more disarming and less threatening than a more conventional camera. We could, of course, argue over post-production and processing quality being inferior to advanced analogue and digital devices but that’s not the point is it? It’s seizing the moment, often best done through this innocuous, handy, lightweight camera ever-available in our pockets. Despite the naysayers, I’m very much with you! Thank you for sharing such a lovely piece.

  4. Pingback: 2012 On My Mobile Phone | iPhoneography-Today | Scoop.it

  5. Fantastic photo’s!
    I have just started using my phone’s camera more often lately. You are right, it is amazing the photographs you can catch with out the burden of bulk. I also found a great APP called “KitCam” that offers a nice variety of lenses, film and frames. I’ve had fun experimenting with all of the options and been very happy with the results. I have a full size digital camera and love that also, but my IPhone camera has proven to be a treasure.

  6. Thanks for taking these photos even if it’s from a mobile phone. Edward, your photos seem to capture every day life for you in Africa. I enjoy looking at each photo and getting a glimpse of something I will never see in person. Thanks again.

  7. The new smartphones are just mind-blowing. Not meaning to draw attention to myself but here’s a case-in-point: I accidentally smeared the lens on my iPhone and just happened to noticed a beautiful array of lights on my Christmas tree through it. I suddenly wondered if the iPhone automatically converted its lens to a filter when it “found” Christmas lights! I snapped away and came up with this.
    I dare anyone to argue the merits of smartphone photography. It’s a new adventure!
    Great post!

  8. What a wonderful blog on the iPhone. I never thought of using the iPhone and it’s limits in your country. I hope things change for you and your country and you can use the iPhone like we do here in the US. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Some wonderful compositions here! Especially love the one with the moving bus. I agree that carrying around professional equipment can be cumbersome and obtrusive. That’s why, in my blog post, ‘Gone Snap-Happy’, I explain how I became obsessed with taking in-the-moment photos with my pocket-size Nikon Coolpix (could have been a mobile phone) vs. my ‘serious’ Nikon D40 and how the results proved to be inventive and beautiful.

  10. À professional camera is one that allows the photographer complete control over the elements of photography. Mobile phones have become quite capable but will fail completely when taking high shutter speed sports or action shots or long exposure nighttime scenic photos. There is a reason $8000 cameras exist.

  11. Even minimal software can clean up minor imperfections in photos from phones. As someone once said, the best camera is the one you have at the moment, or something to that affect. Your photos are amazing, which means its as much your eye as it is your camera. The camera is as it is, we can keep learning and training our eyes, and learning what the camera can do.

  12. I agree that it is not the device, or the cost which make a great photograph. You’ve taken some exceptional photographs here.

    I am aware that not all people will use their devices maliciously, but in reality I’ve come across a few voyeurs that have utterly disgusted me.

    As a photographer you must ask yourself if you are exploiting your subject.

  13. it’s not the camera, it is the brain of the person behind the camera. i have seen brilliant pictures taken on a cheap disposable camera, and really crap ones on cameras costing thousands of $. Remember a bad workman blames his tools. Go for it, you have some beautiful pictures of Africa, makes me quite homesick. Tony

  14. Love this post as I am one who takes snapshots of life with my iphone4s and love the ease of having a camera at my ready..
    So very much enjoyed your words and pictures.. Congrats on the FP..well deserved!!

  15. Awesome pictures and an amazing insight into Africa – something, I suspect, you might not have got with the heavy and intrusive gear. I knew a professional photographer once who carried a pocket snappy along with all his heavy gear. The snappy took the more useful pictures, in the end. I guess mobile phones have entered that niche. Thank you for sharing!

  16. Reblogged this on aesthetic asymmetry and commented:
    2/3 of the worlds 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions are in the developing world. Industry estimates show that over half a billion mobile phone subscribers live in Africa. This is twice the number of subscribers in 2008, which was eight years after the number of mobile phones first exceeded that of land-lines in the continent. Mobile phone usage has evolved incredibly over the past decade (with phone photography running close behind). I get pretty excited to be living in the time that mobile technologies will transform and boost development initiatives (e.g. in health, education and entrepreneurship) to unprecedented outcomes for a better world. But the best times are when pictures like these can make you forget what the fuss is all about..

  17. Congratulations on being FP’d.

    I agree with your observations about ‘Professional’ cameras vs. iPhone cameras. My photography took a turn 20 years ago following a severe Rotator-cuff injury to my right shoulder. I could no longer carry bags of equipment and heavy SLRs. I started using a point-and-shoot Ricoh and transitioned into digital point-and-shoots in 2001.

    I now use my Canon Powershot camera less and less as I have transitioned to the camera in my iPhone. I use the Olloclip lens attachment from time to time and enjoy the photos that result. By respecting the limitations of the iPhone’s ability (no optical zoom) I have been able to re-ignite my passion for photography by using the camera that I carry all the time.

    • Am greatful to note that even with a massive 20 years under your belt, you could still change to mobile photography. Indeed, i own some of the most powerful cameras in the market but in terms comparison with my phone, my shooting is nearly a 50-50.

      • There is a time and a place for everything (50-50) and by adapting to the situation we can make the most of the opportunities that life presents to us.

  18. Wow, beautiful photos- so striking, great colour, great composition- and so engaging. I also agree with what you are saying. Although I am not a professional photographer by any means, I have studied in fine arts and have a good eye for aesthetics. Some of the photos I have taken with my Android phone have been as good quality as taken with my Canon EOS. As well, “good professional quality”, although there are some photo basics, is kind of subjective- it really depends on the person viewing the image and the context for the image as well.

  19. Reblogged this on The Steel Cave and commented:
    I am trying to get my hands on an Iphone camera lens to do a review for you guys. In the mean time check out this blog page. This pictures were all taken off of a mobile phone.. Great read and it really showcases how important these little gadgets are to us.

  20. I have been trying to decide on whether to buy a camera, or stick my my phone. After reading this it has made it so clear that those little moments in life that make a great spontanious photo are usually captured on a blurry mobile phone! Thanks – saved me some money!

  21. When I finally remembered last year that my cell phone is also a camera, I began documenting what I saw and telling my stories. Thank you for the validation of that medium! All the best!

  22. Very cool photos. Thanks for encouraging an amateur photographer who is always snapping pics with his iphone, while longing for a DSLR. Maybe the iphone camera’s not so bad after all. Congrats on being FP! Cheers!

  23. This is an amazing post. Thank you. 🙂 I have just been learning the value of my mobile phone camera. I have a Nikon D80 and yet I take pictures almost every day on my iPhone. The Nikon only comes out on more “professional” occasions… Really makes you think…
    Also, these pictures are awesome…

  24. These are awesome! All taken using a Nokia? My absolute favourite is the KQ plane through the screen! Great photos! What app / apps do you use to tweak the photos?

    • Yes, i took the KQ photo while returning from London at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I use lightroom and a bit of photoshop. The pictures here were lightly touched. Otherwise, most of them retained their original format. I took the photos on a Nokia and a samsung galaxy.

  25. On my recent trip to Germany I used my iphone far more than my camera (a small inexpensive Nikon). I prefer using the iphone in urban settings as it’s quick and less obtrusive; you can easily whip it out of your pocket, and you draw less attention to yourself in an urban setting holding up a phone, which as a “tourist-conscious traveler” I like to be unobtrusive! Love your photos and story!

  26. Wow, your photos are powerful and inspiring. I love the shot of the shadows from the moped. Like you said, there are no professional cameras, just professional eyes, professional guts, professional instincts.

  27. Fantastic captures. The reason why certain parts of the world have high cell phone numbers is simple. It is so far less expensive and so much more practical to install cellular networks. Few wires/fiber optics means low cost.

  28. Reblogged this on greenemj and commented:
    Mobile phone are seeming to offer an increasing amount advantages, making day to day life easier and leaving us more reliant on these pieces of technology. This man was able to take these amazing photographs with just his smart phone. The apps and tools smart phones offer open the doors to amazing advancements and trends. Simple pictures like this emphasize how influential these tools can be when used properly and highlight the continuously evolving tech world making products simpler and better accessible.

  29. Great post!! I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone which has an 8mp camera with a 4x zoom. I am amazed at the photos I have been able to take with it as most of my photography interest is in photographing sunsets. You can see some photos on my blog I started on wordpress recently. All the photos there were taken with my smartphone. I also have a free ebook in pdf format that you can download which is full of beautiful sunset photos I took with my smartphone. Since I got this phone I have started to think that you don’t need an expensive camera to be “professional”…….. I think it’s all about what you do with what you have now more than anything…… but I do think better cameras will expand your ability for taking photos you can’t do with a smartphone…… such as long range zoom shots if your into serious outdoor photography and trying to capture a bluebird from 400 yards away…… I have been thinking about buying a fujifilm superzoom camera this next upcoming summer but I wonder how much I would actually use it because my smartphone is so convenient and is always with me.

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