The Best Camera



Inadequacies in image quality can be masked by converting a cell phone image to B&W. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Inadequacies in image quality can be masked by converting a cell phone image to B&W. Photograph/Raj Lalwani


Raj Lalwani discovers why the humble cell phone can actually be the best camera for a variety of different purposes—simply because it is with you, all the time.

This story was originally published in January 2011.

The world of photography is a strange one indeed. Most of us start shooting because we love pictures, and wish to create something. Along the way though, we get drawn into a web—is this camera better or that one? Should I buy more expensive equipment? We start obsessing over the technicals, and believe that we can make better pictures with more advanced cameras.

Due to this equipment snobbery, a lot of us believe that cell phone photography is frivolous. We almost look down upon it. But then, what if we were to tell you that even an ordinary cell phone is a box of creativity lying in your pocket, just waiting to be discovered?

The Best Camera
How many times have you removed that heavy DSLR of yours, and actually lugged it around with you? Most people carry their DSLR only when they are going out for a dedicated ‘shoot’, which may happen once a week or so. Moreover, even compact cameras can be cumbersome to carry around, as it involves the need to fit in an extra gadget in our jeans pocket or purse.

Compare this to a cell phone, which is more or less ubiquitous in our daily lives—we carry one around everywhere. After all, the best camera is the one that you actually bother to carry with you, everywhere you go!

Your Daily Chronicler
To shoot great pictures, you do not really need to go to a picturesque location like the Taj Mahal or Ladakh, or document a life-changing event. There are great images to be made absolutely everywhere! Even things that we consider mundane otherwise, can make interesting subjects. For instance, your cell phone can capture a curiously shaped lamppost outside your house, or even capture a light-hearted moment during a boring meeting in office.

An Alternate View
Imagine using a DSLR to shoot a particular scene. Now, consider shooting the same scene with a compact camera. The way you see the world through different types of cameras is different—depending on the technical limitations of any equipment and the manner in which it is operated, our mind tends to think in a different way. ‘Seeing’ through a cell phone camera is very different as compared to seeing through a DSLR or compact camera—it helps you explore an alternate perspective.

A Burst of Spontaneity
Cell phone photography has a vibrant, casual vibe that has spontaneity written all over it. While a casual attitude may not always be good, it does help to steer away from the convention sometimes. Avoid thinking of the regular, typical frames and compositions that you know of. Shoot from unusual angles, and even shoot randomly— the wackier you get, the more spontaneous and fresh you can make your images.

An Addictive Tool
It cannot be denied that this spontaneous air that enthralls us when we are holding a cell phone, can be a lot of fun. We may be surprised, considering we are used to shooting on more ‘serious’ cameras, but cell phone imaging is truly addictive. Keep shooting—shoot a lot of pictures on different occasions, and keep experimenting with different subjects, framing and effects. After all, a simple rule to get some great photographs is to shoot a lot of pictures in the first place.

Series of Happy Accidents
Once you have shot a number of photos, do not throw any of them away. The nature and limitations of the cell phone medium may mean that a few pictures either have the subject completely blurred, or are full of noise, light leaks, flare and so on. Do not throw away these images—celebrate these accidents and even include them in a larger set of images like a collage. This will also highlight the whole process of shooting a cell phone photo, and show you the hitsand- misses creatively.

Modern-Day Lomo
Lomography ( refers to an artistic movement that started due to the popularity of certain cameras that were tiny, easy to use and extremely cheap—everyone had one. Cell phone cameras are something similar—we all carry them around, you just have to point and shoot and they cost us practically nothing (as we have bought the cell phone for other functions anyway). Be a part of the Lomo movement, by using your cell phone.

Celebrating Constraints
Most cell phones have tiny sensors that are much smaller than those used in compact cameras. This leads to innumerable problems and limitations, in terms of image quality.

However, the best thing about constraints is that they actually make you think creatively. Can you use the softness and noise levels in an unusual manner? Or can you use the oversaturated colours for a painting-like effect? Think on your feet to overcome constraints, or simply embrace them and use these quirks in your images.

A Stealth Machine
The best thing about cell phone photography is that no one takes you seriously. Not only can you shoot unobtrusively and capture candid moments, but you can also bend the rules. Most places that disallow photography do not stop people from snapping away on their cell phone cameras. So, it might actually be an advantage sometimes to keep that heavy DSLR away!

A Visual Notebook
Throughout the day, we think of a number of exciting ideas—both in terms of photography or creativity. The problem though, is that these ideas strike us subconsciously—while having a bath, or travelling, or listening to music, or when we see an interesting sight. If we even remembered one tenth of the ideas that strike us, we will become much more creative individuals. Use a cell phone, firstly to write down any idea that strikes you. More importantly, you may come across a funny signboard, or an interesting colour scheme, or even a place that you want to shoot again, later. Use your cell phone to create a visual snapshot of the same. It may not be a great picture photographically, but it can be your visual notebook of ideas.

Window to the World
When we shoot with digital compact cameras or DSLRs, our pictures are rarely printed, and are mostly lying away in a hard disk. It is cumbersome to transfer a photo, edit it, downsize it and then upload it for the world to see. Cell phone cameras allow you to share images with a single click—all you need to have is a GPRS connection. Use them as your window to the world, to share exciting sights, moments and information, as it happens.

A Bundle of Fun
Most importantly, cell phone photography is all about having fun. While trying to improve our technique and become a better photographer, we often forget that photography is all about having fun! The charm of cell phone photography is that it ensures that we keep ‘seeing’ all the time. Photography becomes a way of life. It is not always about shooting a perfect picture. The end result is not as important, as the fact that you had fun. In fact, if you make it a habit to use your cell phone camera creatively, you will be able to imbibe that same creativity and freshness while shooting with other equipment as well. So go out there and shoot, and stop only when you get a phone call!

Tags: Shooting Technique, Better Pictures, Raj Lalwani, Composition, January 2011, camera phone, camera photography, lomography