The future of photography is computational mobile phones – a case study

Mar 11, 2023

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

The future of photography is computational mobile phones – a case study

Mar 11, 2023

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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Mobile photography has made huge advances in recent years. Time and again, we see great photos shot on mobile phones. We even see images #ShotOniPhone decorating large-scale advertising. The technological developments we see in smartphone cameras blow our minds each and every time. It’s not just about the phone manufacturers. It’s turning into a huge ecosystem. I’m going to break down a photo I shot recently in Lofoten, Norway, of Russell Preston Brown and explain my thoughts on the future.

The Red Dress

The adventure surrounding this photo was all about mobile photography. I was in the Arctic for 80 days as part of my Due North adventure. Russell flew over from California to join me for a week. His creative visions involved a lot of scenes of traditional Norway as well as some juxtaposed views of familiar locations. Russell wanted to defeat the Eiffel Tower Effect, and one of the tools in his arsenal was to shoot some bespoke dresses worn by their designer, Kristina Sidlauskaite. Take a look at this example:

I shot this at the village of Å, tucked away at the end of the Lofoten Islands, on a bridge connecting several of the fishing huts. To create this photo I used my iPhone 13 Pro Max on which I used to Profoto Camera app. The key light was a Profoto A2. Firing a professional off-camera flash from a mobile phone is something new to most of us, and Profoto are certainly leading the way. The Profoto Camera app uses Bluetooth to fire the A10 and B10X, among others. What’s worth knowing beforehand is that the aperture cannot be changed on the iPhone camera, which means we need to manipulate the flash power, shutter speed, and ISO to achieve our desired result. There is a quick BTS here.

After shooting this photo with the Profoto Camera app, I took it into Adobe Lightroom Mobile to make my edits. The output images are Raw, giving maximum control and maximum editing power.

Russells images

To shoot familiar locations with a unique twist, Russell had a lot of ideas. Here’s Hamnøy, perhaps the most iconic scene in Lofoten, if not Norway itself.

The Moment by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

BTS Moment by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

This image shows Kristina modeling her dress whilst standing on her boyfriend, Åsmund‘s back, to get high enough to clear the railings. I’m in the shot holding the Profoto A2 on a pole.

Other Lofoten backdrops were used to create totally original photos, like this one:

dancing on water by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

BTS of Russell Brown Lofoten Norway

In this shot, Kristina is standing on a bench at the edge of Reinefjorden with the famous triangular mountain Olstinden in the background. Russell is using the ShiftCam Pro Grip to hold the phone.

And we also used some internal locations, like these:

the search by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

BTS of Russell Brown Lofoten Norway

The BTS shot from the same session shows Kristina lit by a Profoto A2 and Clic Softbox Octa on a Manfrotto light stand. The light simulates that of the candle in the lantern.

Overall the whole mobile photography adventure was incredible. We were able to create some great photos (BTS), but there’s one in particular that I want to talk about.

the birds by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

In this shot, Kristina is lit with the Profoto A2.

Manor House by Russell Brown iPhone portrait Lofoten Kristina sidlauskaite

BTS of Russell Brown Lofoten Norway

This shot inside the Manor House at Svinøya shows Kristina in spectral form, lit by a Profoto A2 with Clic Softbox Octa on a Manfrotto light stand. The composite of two images creates the ghostly effect.

The fisherman

We had access to a fishing cabin dating back to 1828 at Svinøya Rorbuer. It was an opportunity I could not miss. Russell borrowed a Norwegian sweater and captains hat, immediately becoming a fisherman. The cabin was perfectly laid out, with everything preserved in place for a completely timeless look and feel. I set my iPhone on a Platypod eXtreme and Platyball Elite using the Peak Design Mobile Creator Kit.

Russell profoto Platypod iphone

With the camera at the perfect height and position to give the appearance of sitting opposite Russel, I looked at the rest of my composition.

Russell profoto Platypod

I did like the upright shot, especially how the lines on the table lead straight to the subject, but Russell was a bit too small within the scene. My aim was to immerse him within the cabin and have the viewer presented with Russell in the center of the frame. This would give a timeless photo, so I switched my plan on its side.

I rotated to landscape orientation and cropped in slightly. This opened up the room in the background, so I decided to take control of the light by placing a Profoto C1 Plus on the floor to light the entire room gently. I was pleased with the natural light on Russell’s face from the window. This, combined with the candlelight from the table, was perfect for the ambiance of the shot. His pose and gaze were directed toward the light, and his expression was just perfectly ponderous. I took the raw photo straight into Adobe Lightroom Mobile and made some basic adjustments, including the color and the Texture. Here’s what I got:

Russell Profoto Platypod Svinoya fisherman portrait

The future of photography is computational

It amazes me that our iPhones can do this. This is a demonstration of the power of computational photography. The programming that has gone into the Profoto Camera app and its synchronization via Bluetooth to the flash unit is a testament to the genius of today’s programmers.

I believe the future of photography is computational. We see more and more examples of computational photography rather than ‘analogue’ in our modern world. It’s giving us some amazing tools that we can use to create powerful images. I look back at the chunky pixels on my first phone camera and how impressed I was.

What we have now is leaps and bounds beyond that tech, and still constantly growing and evolving. As a passionate travel photographer, one of the things that speak to me the most is the ability to put so much into such a small package. A camera integrated into my phone, a tripod that’s flat and compact, and a flash the size of a soda can are all things that ultimately fit into my pocket. Bring on the next generation!

Captain Hook Russell Preston Brown Lofoten Norway Adobe

Russell Preston Brown began at Adobe in 1985 and now holds the position of Senior Principal Designer. He has had a hand in almost every development in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. His work can be found on his Instagram. He uses an iPhone 14 Pro Max, Samsung S22, and any other device supplied to him, and edits using Adobe Lightroom Mobile and Adobe Photoshop for iPad. In some of the photos above, he used Profoto lighting.

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David Williams

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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One response to “The future of photography is computational mobile phones – a case study”

  1. Libby Sutherland Avatar
    Libby Sutherland

    Great article. I am going to go through it again and watch your BTS stuff. Love my own iPhone 13 but I haven’t tried the Pf lighting with it. Maybe soon. A friend did a few senior portraits with the iPhone and Pf just for fun and he was pretty blown away with the results. Personally I love Profoto products so the marriage with the iPhone is just perfect.