Sean McCormick Photography

Saving the beauty in this moment for the ones that follow.

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Phoning It In

Skyscape Over Wetlands 01, Ralph Klein Park, Calgary, Alberta, 2022-09-22, Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, 1/516, ƒ/1.8, 5.4mm, ISO 40, 9 overlapping shots stitched in Photoshop.

I went on a photo shoot with a new friend this past fall. He had his classic Fuji X-T1 (one of the best digital cameras released in the past decade) and I had a pair of Canon EOS bodies. One was my R5 mirrorless and the other my 5Ds dSLR. All kinds of lenses, too. So, what camera did I take the most pictures with?

The R5 took first place with 13 out of 17 shots. Second place went to my Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G phone with 4 out of 17 shots. I’m not even sure why I bothered to bring the 5Ds. I had planned to avoid using my phone that evening, but it just creeps into every shoot I go on now.

I admit that I often feel guilty using my “inferior” phone’s camera to capture images when I have my much more expensive gear at hand, however this feeling has been diminishing with time. The phone keeps getting whipped out even when I have my top shelf camera kit with me because:

  1. It’s so darn convenient. I don’t need to fight to change a lens or worry about dialing in settings. I point and I get a usable picture almost every time. No dust spotting after, either.
  2. Canada is more winter than summer. I don’t have to worry about extreme cold hurting my dSLR’s reflex assembly. I don’t have to worry about condensation (or snow) inside a camera body after the shoot. I don’t freeze my hands playing around with a tripod and lenses.
  3. My phone can handle not only heavy rain, but also brief immersion in water. The expensive camera bodies? Not so much!
  4. Some idiot (we’re not going to name names here) forgot to put fresh batteries or flash cards back into the camera bag.
  5. The quality of phone camera images may not rival the ones made by my expensive camera bodies, but they are good enough. I’ve stopped caring if the pixel peepers like my work.

Lac des Arcs on a damn cold day, Panoramic, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta, 2022-11-06, Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, 1/2008, ƒ/1.8, ISO 40, 5.4mm, approximately 8 overlapping images stitched in Photoshop.

Another very good friend and I spent a weekend in Canmore, Alberta. I wasn’t as productive photographically as usual because Ray and I hadn’t seen each other enough in person these past few years and we passed most of our time visiting. I wound up with a total of 14 fine-art images from the trip and 8 of them were shot with my phone. That’s over 50% of my images. If you take my posts to Instagram into account as well, then only 10% of the weekend’s photography was with my high-end camera gear, all of which I had taken with me. 90% came from my phone. The extreme cold was the main reason: Using my phone saved exposing my hands to the elements for longer than necessary.

Tom Sadler Bridge, Storm Coming, Stitched Panorama, 2022-05-18, Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, 1/1967, ƒ/1.8, ISO 40, 5.4mm, 10 overlapping images stitched in Photoshop.

Sometimes when you go to take a photo there simply is no opportunity to round up your kit. For the above image, the storm was coming in so quickly that there wasn’t time to gather gear. Were my batteries charged? Had I remembered to pack my flash cards back in the camera bag? Where was my camera bag? (It seems to move around the house on its own.) My phone was at hand so out the door I went with it. If I had arrived at the walking bridge even a minute later, I would have missed the arch of the storm over the arch of the bridge. Also worth mentioning: I had to balance precariously on some rocks at the edge of the canal for the right vantage point. It indeed proved precarious as my phone and I went into the drink. My phone survived the swim, whereas my Canon EOS R5 would not have.

Gray’s Pond, Fifty Minutes After Sunset, Strathmore, AB, 2022-06-03, Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, 1/4, ƒ/2.2, 2.2mm, ISO 800. Shot hand-held. Six overlapping shots stitched in Photoshop. Noise removal courtesy of Topaz Software’s DeNoise AI.

One evening I had the bright idea of photographing Gray Pond after sunset when the wind had died down. I grabbed a full camera bag, my tripod, and made the 15 minute hike to the pond’s shore. I immediately discovered that the mosquitoes were already out in full force and damn were they hungry. I was trying to set up my tripod and kept dropping it or knocking it over as I had to keep slapping at bugs. I bent over to open my camera bag and felt more bugs biting as my shirt rode up and exposed my back.

“OH @#$% THIS!!!!”

I zipped up the camera bag, kicked my tripod out of the way, and out came the phone. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. I had my panorama image. I picked up my camera junk and hiked it out of there as fast as a person with a bad heart can.

Good Riddance, Departing Storm, North of Strathmore AB, 2022-06-28, Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, 1/148, ƒ/2.2, ISO 50, 2.2mm. Multiple overlapping shots stitched in Photoshop.

We had a wonderful two weeks at the end of June and start of July this year (2022) where impressive storms rolled through every second night. On this evening I was ready. Tripod and camera bag by the door, car fuelled up, and even a can of bug spray. I followed the storm as it headed north of town and found a fantastic vantage point to shoot lightning from. I set up my tripod, mounted the camera and… Nothing.

Some complete @#$%wit had left all the flash cards back home in the drone case (which now has its own flash cards to prevent this from happening again). I grabbed a panoramic of the retreating storm as a consolation prize using my phone – it allowed me to partially salvage the photo outing.

Trail by the Riverbank, Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park., May 12, 2021, Samsung Galaxy S10+, 1/542, ƒ/2.2, ISO 50, 1.8mm.

I like walking outdoors. I really like walking nature trails when outdoors. What I don’t like is carrying heavy stuff that wears me out and steals the pleasure from ambulating outdoors. I have reached the point where I trust my mobile phone enough that it is all the camera I need for doing landscape work when I’m out for a walk. Using my phone’s camera is a perfect compromise between my need to capture pictures of what I see, and to not have to hump half a tonne of gear everywhere I go. It is very freeing.

Gosh Barn It All (Portrait), Barrhead County, July 19, 2020, Samsung Galaxy S10+, 1/1500, ƒ/2.4, 4.3mm, ISO 50.

Do I still love and want to use my higher end camera gear? Yes, absolutely. I already have plans for where I’m going to go with it in the summer of 2023. I also love that I don’t have to slog the heavy camera gear around with me everywhere I go now. I’m definitely enjoying the freedom I get from my mobile phone’s camera. It lets me make more art, more easily, and in more ways than would be possible without it. I’ve stopped regarding my cell cam as inferior, and just as another option available to me. Busting out my phone no longer makes me feel like I’m phoning it in as a fine-art photographer.

Note: You can see a large gallery of my cell phone work on Flickr.


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