I have a general aversion to smartphones when it comes to their cameras. The ergonomics suck; there’s no way around it. There’s nothing I hate more than having to deal with a flat, rectangular, handle-less device to frame a picture, let alone dreading the thought of having to tap on the fucking screen to get the shot. Until something better comes along, it’s apparent to me that for street photography I won’t be using phones for my go-to tools of choice simply because they can’t keep up with the action like SLRs, DSLRs, mirrorless’ and compacts.
That’s why when I bought a cheaper smartphone specifically for street photography I knew I’d have to make one major adjustment in order to make it work. The surprising thing was I didn’t read about this tip from anybody online. Somewhere surely must have mentioned it, but in street photography circles I haven’t seen any of the big names talk about a seemingly obvious solution to half of the equation when it comes to bad ergonomics of smartphones when taking pictures.
The Remote Shutter
In street photography, it’s even challenging for my main camera to keep up with the action sometimes. So packing a phone around gives me less confidence that I’ll be able to capture moments that pop out of nowhere. That’s where the remote shutter comes in handy.
I couldn’t find anyone offering reasonable prices on these Bluetooth-operated remote shutters in India so I bought a selfie stick instead. I tucked that ridiculous thing into my closet and connected my smartphone to the shutter. Voila! I just solved half of my ergonomical issues I have with my smartphone.
First, let me state for the record that I use a mid-range Android model. While by far not the “best” camera on a smartphone, it can stand in the same ring as the latest iPhone offerings as far as camera performance. When you consider that the latest iPhone model costs about five times as much, there’s really no comparison for people like me who wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a phone that is designed to last two years or so. And for people like me who would rather pay that kind of money on a lens with good glass that could last a great many years, certainly a lot longer than the camera they’re shooting on if properly maintained. Anyway, let’s say that I have a decent mid-range quality camera phone that has decent auto focus and enough manual controls to make it street photography-worthy.
How It Works
After connecting via Bluetooth, I carry my phone with me often at chest level, usually on my right side shoulder, where I typically have a backpack slung over it. But I have positioned it in any number of ways too depending on the situation. My smartphone is also in a black case, so when people see me walking they just think the phone is not in use. Meanwhile, the remote shutter is in my left hand clicking away whenever I see an interesting subject. My Android is quick enough to respond to take near-instantaneous shots, making this combination very workable in many candid situations.
There are a few things I must keep in mind using my smartphone camera in this fashion. First off, I check the phone periodically to make sure the camera app hasn’t fallen asleep. Usually, if I’m snapping away it keeps the camera function active and I’m assured that it’s getting the shots as long as I don’t strain the buffer too much. Secondly, I take test shots to make sure the Bluetooth hasn’t disconnected. These actions do take up precious seconds but it’s necessary to ensure smooth, remote shooting. I perform these tests while I’m approaching my subject or whenever the urge strikes me if I’m searching for subjects.
Another strategy I use for landscape style shots primarily is to walk by people on the streets who are either sitting on the ground or seated. I’ll usually walk up to them, pause without making eye contact, take a few shots, and walk on without them being any wiser to what just happened. I merely let my camera hand rest at my side at their eye level and snap. They don’t see my other hand, where I’m pressing the shutter. Of course, make sure in advance to TURN OFF FLASH!
Mind you, using a remote shutter also works well with doing street portraits. In fact, it’s extremely useful because I don’t have to be looking at my phone at all after I frame my shot. I can focus on interacting with my subject while I shoot as many photos as I desire within seconds. This enables me to capture subtle changes and to allow plenty of safety shots to get the eyes in focus.
So there you have it, the most useful smartphone-street photography tip that I make use of myself – that nobody talks about. If you have used this technique then consider sharing your experiences in comments.