Proof: creativity not determined by price

Kudos to Dan Chung of the UK’s The Guardian for creating fantastic images and the great coverage of 2012 London Olympics, which you can see on website. So what’s so special about his images? He took all those great action photographs on an iPhone. Dan is a professional photographer and photojournalist and uses an iPhone 4S, a Schneider lens, a pair of Canon binoculars and Snapseed for image processing. Certainly he has a terrific eye and great composition. But more amazing to me is the conditions in which he shot these. Who would have thought he could so effectively capture action indoors as well as in low light with a camera phone.

Would he take better technical quality photos with a big professional DSLR? Of course. Did he use special equipment beyond a standard iPhone? Sure. But three things strike me about this experiment in iPhone sports photojournalism.

1. You hear this all the time but it is ultimately the photographer that matters the most and not the equipment. The way he frames the shots, captures the emotions and artistically uses a slow shutter is a mark of a fantastic photographer. You need that eye and skill and using a Canon 1D X or Nikon D4 is not going to help you there.

2. The image quality depends on the intended destination. If you are posting on the web and at smaller sizes, lower quality and grainy images will still look good. There is no doubt that some of Dan’s shots taken indoors are going to look horribly noisy when shown at larger sizes. However, when shrunken down to 460×276 pixels, they look fine. So for all the pixel peepers out there (myself included), think of where and how your images are going to be used. Even at these smaller sizes, these images convey a feeling and tell a story. Has his Olympic coverage suffered because he uses a camera phone? I think not.

3. Using a decidedly non-traditional sports camera has made Dan more creative. By using some external optics and a binocular, he has creatively extended the capabilities of the base hardware. No doubt, the way he took the photographs and the available angles were also done to maximize his equipment. I would argue that his limited equipment forced him to become more creative. I mention this because a couple of posts ago, I talked about a bogus graphic that Canon created positioning their new EOS M camera. On the Canon chart, they basically equated more expensive = more creative. Here is real proof this is untrue.

22 thoughts on “Proof: creativity not determined by price

  1. Yes I saw Dan’s stuff when it first went up. Dan is one of those guys who is usually just good no matter what.

    Even more admirable, David Burnett shooting with his old 4×5 press camera. I used to shoot with one of those.

    Sad that a story writer at Pop Photo did not know who David was. He’s been around since the wheel, and fire 😉 David has been a favorite shooter for a long time and he is a heck if a guy.

    1. Yes, even I am familiar with David Burnett’s work and that fact he shoots with his big Graflex. His images would look great, nice and large.

      On a related note, I am really surprised by the level of coverage these days in the mainstream press. At times the level of discourse between these magazines (or at least their websites) and the small, individual blogs seem about the same.

  2. I agree that he managed to pull out an amazing series of photos but i see it more as an art project than usual sports photography that you see on front pages. And basically he proved that he is a good photographer and not that one can take better pictures with a phone. I can only imagine the pics we could have seen if he had a decent camera on him 😉

  3. Very well put. A remotely triggered iPhone… wow! He had some very interesting access positions – under water, over water, as well as in the stands with the regular spectators. Thanks for telling about Dan’s photography at the Olympics.

  4. Awesome display of talent vs. technology. This is a perfect example to the adage it’s the Indian, not the arrow. I’m still shooting with a DX format camera but loving the quality/captures it produces.

  5. Your post reiterates what I was told by a former teacher when he reviewed my portfolio. Great shots come from someone who has a good eye and knows how to use their equipment, whatever it may be. (I haven’t made it to a DSLR yet.) A good camera only helps if you know how to use it. I’m still going to keep drooling over the Mark III. 🙂

  6. I like the points you bring up, and I think they apply to almost all fields of creation. I was taught that limits can be both good and bad, making it possible to be creative no matter what tools you use. Nice post!

    1. murdett, absolutely. The limits are what ultimately expand us in various endeavors. Though these same limits may be frustrating while we work through them.

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