Cell Phone Photography Through the Eyes of a Photojournalist

Documenting a part of the country with only a smartphone.

By on October 23, 2013

Brian Poulter, a professor of journalism at Eastern Illinois University and an award-winning photographer, has been teaching for 21 years and taking pictures since a camera was first placed in his hands. He is a believer that anyone can be a good photographer with basic equipment and some simple skills, and to prove it, he spent the past few summers documenting part of the country with only a smartphone.

This year, equipped with a Nokia Lumia 928 and an iPhone 5, he explored the oldest highway in his home state of Illinois, Illinois Route 1, which stretches 325 miles. He stayed connected through the Verizon Wireless network, uploading pictures and posting to his blog throughout his journey. During his trip, he met people and took pictures, taking advantage of the high-tech features of the Nokia Lumia 928.

“The phone is very lightweight and really can be carried around comfortably in a pants pocket,” he said. “The bright screen makes it easier to edit photos on the phone as well as compose photographs when shooting.”

Poulter also likes the device’s extra-wide-angle lens. “You can get close and make a great portrait and yet still show the environment in which the photo was taken.”

When it comes to meeting people and approaching them to take their pictures, Poulter finds having a camera in his hand is an excuse to go up and talk to them.

“In more than 30 years of being a photographer, I’ve only had a few people tell me no.”

As a longtime photographer, Poulter fully embraces technology and encourages his students to use what they have to capture interesting and engaging pictures.

“I’m always telling my students it’s the photographer, not the camera in their hands, that builds a good photograph,” said Poulter. “I think of a smartphone as a camera first, then a phone.”

This summer, Poulter took photos on his journeys through Danville, Kankakee, Lawrenceville, Robinson and even Cave-In-Rock at the southern point of the state on the border of Kentucky. There he spent hours going back and forth on the ferry across the Ohio River, meeting people and hearing their stories.

“It’s amazing how nice people are if you just stop to talk and show an interest in what they do,” he said. “On the ferry, I met people from England on bikes and a Brazilian long-haul trucker. You can’t say that every day.”

Poulter enjoys the taking all his pictures on a smartphone during his summer journeys. For his students, his work helps reinforce that photography is about the eye behind the camera, not necessarily the cost of the camera.

“With modest tools, if you develop a skillset, you can create great art,” he said.

To learn more and see photos from Poulter’s journeys, visit his blog “the Long Winding Road."

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Photo Credit: Brian Poulter