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Smartphone portraits: 6 tips from MPA finalist Alfred Pleyer

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 "Waiting in Pushkar, India" by Alfred Pleyer.

This year's Mobile Photography Awards included many outstanding entries, but we were especially impressed by the work of Alfred Pleyer, an Austrian photographer with 30 years of experience who primarily shoots with his Samsung Galaxy S3 these days, but knows his way around a darkroom too.

Pleyer took top spot in two MPA categories, for "Man in Pushkar" in the People/Portraits category and "Smoker" in the Travel category. (You can see both in our recent story about the MPA category award winners.) He was also named as one of the top 10 finalists yesterday; one of these 10 will be named the MPA Photographer/Artist of the Year tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 15 -- watch for our story here on Connect.

"Love in Venice, Italy" by Alfred Pleyer. Pleyer began shooting with his smartphone while traveling in Venice less than a year ago.

We recently asked Pleyer to tell us a bit more about his work, including how he captures such outstanding portraits on camera phone -- a notoriously challenging subject matter when using the fixed wide-angle lens of a mobile device.

"If someone would have told me one year ago I should shoot with a smartphone I would have laughed at him," Pleyer said. 

"Devotee in Jama Masjid Old Delhi; India" by Alfred Pleyer.

But using the S3 while traveling in Italy last year convinced him otherwise. 

"After one day I was so fascinated that I always wanted to use my phone," he explained. "For a few days I was confused --  I walked around with the camera bag [but] always used the smartphone. I could not believe what happened after 30 years with big cameras, and now I use a crappy smartphone."

Today, Pleyer estimates he uses his "crappy" smartphone for 95 percent of his photography, along with ProCapture and Snapseed apps. He's still holding onto his Fujifilm FinePix X100 and his Olympus OM-D EM-5, but that may change soon. At the time of this interview, Pleyer was about to embark on another visit to India, which will be his third trip shooting only with his smartphone. 

"If it works again and I am satisfied with my smartphone, I will probably sell all my gear and use my smartphone for all of my photography," Pleyer told us. 

"Portrait of a Man in Pushkar, India" by Alfred Pleyer.

Much of Pleyer's work is captured during his frequent travels. 

"The country which fascinates me most is India," he said. "I like the people and love to roam the streets of its big cities."

Pleyer's shot some of his favorite portraits using his Samsung Galaxy S3 in India, and had a few tips to share for portraiture using a smartphone.

6 tips for smartphone portraits

1. Keep your lens clean.

This might seem obvious, but using "the camera you have with you" can mean that we sometimes forget it's a camera. Like any camera lens, ensure it is dust- and smear-free before starting.

2. Avoid using digital zoom.

When shooting with the fixed focal length of your smartphone's camera, zoom with your feet. Digital zoom simply can't compare to moving your optics closer to your subject.

3. Try converting your image to black & white.

"I love black and white -- a black and white image let's you concentrate on facial expressions, and composition," Pleyer said. 

4. Connect with your subject. 

"Try to interact with your subject prior to taking their photo and this will make them more comfortable," Pleyer said. "You will bring back a better photo with more personality."

5. Shoot on a cloudy day. 

"Avoid the sun," Pleyer said. "The best type of day for taking portraits is a overcast one."

6. Consider your background. 

"Think about your background, a camera phone isn't able to isolate the subject from the background," Pleyer said. "You have two options: first, make sure your subject is in front of a simple background, or fill the image with your subject."

See more of Pleyer's work on his EyeEmInstagram500px and Google+ feeds. 

"Man reading in Pushkar, India" by Alfred Pleyer.
 "Man smoking a beedi in Pushkar, India" by Alfred Pleyer.

Comments

Total comments: 25
Lee Thatcher

Amazing photography. I can see a real connection with the subjects. Thank you for the great tips.

0 upvotes
Dédéjr

Portrait of a man in pushkar is excellent. Looks like he has one smiling eye and one sad eye. B+w is great for portraits heck any photography. Anway's this i can relate to, great work.

0 upvotes
ConanFuji

Camera360 app has the ability to shut off the sound and take continouse bursts of shots without being obvious. Too bad the shots are low res.

0 upvotes
absentaneous

I am always puzzled when people talk about phone photo cameras as if in the end it wasn't just a photo camera and I find it utterly stupid that this kind of distinction is being made.

a photograph is just a photograph no matter what tool you used to take it. so, lets stop this nonsense about mobile photography as if the photo cameras we've been using for more than 100 years were any less mobile.

a photograph is not more special nor less special just because you used a certain tool to take it.

mobile photography is just as much photography as DSLR photography, mirrorless photography, compact camera photography. tablet photography, web camera photography and so on so no need to point out it's "mobile".

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Daniel K Berman

Thanks for the semantic clarification and for commenting here on "Connect: Mobile Photography Technology and Community"

0 upvotes
Daniel K Berman

Language. Etymology. Categories. Words. Toast. Bread.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Oliver Lang

Thanks for taking the time to clarify this point.

You must also be busy on all the Canon and Nikon forums as well. Not to mention the Lomo and Leica forums, where the previously enthusiastic photographers now shamefully agree with you that there's no need to have any of these distinctions or differences between devices. How dare the device play a role in the process, it's ludicrous.

Yes, even the pinhole camera enthusiasts must be silently nodding while waiting for their exposures to finish. It's all just photography and only photography and not different at all and there's nothing unique.

So thanks for stopping by, because you must be busy. You've got a lot of people to talk to on your noble quest to rid the world of distinction and differences in devices. Good luck.

0 upvotes
absentaneous

thank you both for missing my point and of course not even addressing the issue I tried to put forward. I would really like to hear arguments that would try to explain how taking a photo with camera A is any different from taking a photo with a camera B. Of course there are technical distinction as there is a technical distinction already if you use a wide angle lens instead of a telephoto on a same camera. of course a 40Mpix camera would have a much better resolution that a 3Mpix camera. Of course a pinhole would never produce as sharp images as some advanced camera as that advanced camera could never produce dark edges in a way a pinhole camera does as of course different cameras require different procedures etc., but what is different from the basic photographic perspective? well, nothing at all. I mean how many of you could even make a difference between a picture taken with a 5mpix Iphone camera and a 5mpix compact camera? well, I guess none. so, what's your point again?

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
absentaneous

I mean this is stupidity on the level if one would bother wondering if a writer typed his book on a mac, on a pc, if he did it on a typewriter or with a pencil. like if the story would be different depending which writing tool he'd use.

so, lets start making the distinction between mac literature, pc literature, typewriter literature, laptop literature, freehand literature, mobile literature. LOL

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
absentaneous

I guess you guys if one uses filters you call that filter photography? then you have flash and no flash photography, hand held photography, tripod photography, monopod photography, one hand held photography, horizontally held photography, vertically held photography, viewfinder photography, glasses photography, lcd screen photography, mirrorless photography, mirror photography, small camera, big camera photography, sitting down, lying down photography, randomly pressed photography, S, A, M, P, scenes, high, low ISO photography, etc. why not but it's simply ridiculous because it's still just photography and not painting or shoe making. the point is always to take a good picture with the appropriate tool and not to just use a tool so that you can boast around that you did just that. even if there are people who feel they are cool just because they snapped a photo with an ipad. I mean sorry to disappoint you guys but that's just photography and it's been around for 150 years already.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Oliver Lang

I don't think your literature analogy makes sense.

The rest of your argument is confusing also, yes, this is photography. The appropriate tool depends on the purpose, your purpose is to take a photo. The point here is to shoot, edit and share from the one device, connecting you to your audience.

Your device of choice camera device can't do that, so your arguments are irrelevant.

0 upvotes
Daniel K Berman

TV shows and movies are the same too right? It's all just motion pictures. And NASCAR and Formula 1 are just car racing - no need for distinction. A Lada is a BMW. White bread is rye bread. Pepsi is coke. Chinese food is a hamburger. It's all the same. Everything is the same. We are all one. There is no subjectivity or objectivity just the buzzing of the eternal oneness.

0 upvotes
JohnMatrix

Great images, but tip number 7:

Avoid taking any photos indoors or in low light

3 upvotes
Oliver Lang

Suitable advice for any photography, but better advice is to look for and use good light. That way you're not simply relying on your camera, you're thinking like a photographer.

0 upvotes
Sammy Yousef

Wonderful photos at web resolution, but I'll keep my DSLR for it's versatility. I can shoot action, low light, long zoom, extreme wide, extreme macro, and astrophotography. You can pry it out of my cold dead hands.

2 upvotes
Mishobaranovic

Wonderful photos full stop. It's ok Sammy, nobody's taking your DSLR away.

Comment edited 11 seconds after posting
6 upvotes
Daniel K Berman

I love shooting with my 5D MKII - I love shooting with my Fuji XE1 and I love shooting with my iPhone5! A smart photographer knows which tool to use and when to use it - I strive to be a smart photographer.

1 upvote
Lng0004

Great stuff but... going fully B&W means you're relying too much on texture and details. But I guess there's no helping it since color reproduction on phones still suck butt.

Comment edited 9 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Mishobaranovic

Shame you can't just enjoy the great pictures.

3 upvotes
Alfred Pleyer

The reason why i am going B&W means i love B&W...

2 upvotes
Nakeva

Fabulous to see an Android user in the MPA top ten with quality images. It shouldn't be about platform/OS, however, we are still "stuck" with the idea that mobile photography is ONLY synonymous to iPhone.

Excellent images, Alfred! Congratulations on being nominated to the top 10 of MPA finalists. Thank you for the mobile portrait tips! I agree about the overcast day and black and white suggestions.

2 upvotes
Alfred Pleyer

Thank you...

0 upvotes
RoelHendrickx

Excellent samples that illustrate obvious guidelines.

2 upvotes
Daniel K Berman

Alfred is brilliant and his work is a big reason why people need to start taking the mobile photography medium more seriously. There *is* something different about shooting with a phone. Alfred gets it. Bravo!

4 upvotes
Alfred Pleyer

Thank you...

0 upvotes
Total comments: 25
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