You can upload your mobile photos to major stock photography companies. But how can a smartphone photo be competitive with images taken with professional DSLR cameras? What makes your mobile images saleable?
DSLR vs. mobile stock photos
Many articles have been written about the assumption that smartphone cameras have developped to such an extent that it is almost possible to take better quality images with them than with older DSLR (SLR) cameras. Two rival parties have formed. The conservatives with their highly customizable DSLRs, and the ones who fell in love with the simplicity of their smartphones.
Until recently, I agreed with those who celebrated the superiority of (D)SLRs over mobile phones.
Then I realized something. There is some sort of analogy between these two devices and two musical styles, e.g. baroque music and progressive rock. This way, you can see the big rivals quite differently.
The DSLR represents the traditional, classic, mature, rule-following Baroque style, while your smartphone represents the fast-changing, modern, youngster rock. The two should live side by side, you don't have to get rid of either.
One day I listen to Baroque music, another day to rock music. The two complement each other, as many photographers use their DSLR and mobile phones in turn.
As soon as I understood this, I was happy to take photos with my mobile phone, of course in a very different way than with my DSLR machine.
The physical limitations of your mobile phone's camera
The basic difference between a DSLR and a cell phone's camera is that while a DSLR can do everything optically, your phone uses its hardware performance to help overcome its optical weakness. The end result may be similar under optimal lighting conditions, but you should never forget that your mobile phone produces a good quality photo from a relatively poor quality image sequence in a fraction of a second, while a DSLR produces a good quality image out of the box.
The quality of the details that appear in a photo depends on the size of the sensor. A smartphone can only hold a tiny sensor, and the lens is also small, so its capabilities are limited. Because of the small size, much less light reaches the phone's sensor, therefore the aperture value cannot usually be modified to let the most light possible in (aperture is also responsible for depth of field, i.e., background blur).
Your smartphone compensates its physical limitations with software solutions. Thus, the quality of photos increases in parallel with the performance of devices and the development of software solutions.
If your cell phone is capable of saving lossless RAW format, use it! It has a big advantage over the compressed .jpg format when it comes to editing.
When is your mobile phone better than a DSLR for stock photography?
Returning to my musical analogy, comparing the DSLR cameras and smartphones is inherently meaningless. Both have advantages over the other that we can take advantage of as a stock photographer if we understand the essence of the two approaches.
As a stock photographer, taking quality photos is always the most important goal. Depending on the subject and the situation, use either your DSLR or your mobile camera to make the most out of that shot.
I understood the difference based on the attitude of the stock photo company Alamy. They manage photos taken with a DSLR and a mobile phone on two completely separate platforms. Why? Mainly, of course, because of the difference in quality. However, there is another consideration why mobile photos are given special treatment.
We’re used to seeing passers-by photographing with cell phones everywhere, therefore a stock photographer with a mobile phone remains 'hidden' on the street or in a place where a large DSLR would surely catch the eye. With a mobile phone, it’s much easier to take lifelike, natural pictures of people, which is an essential subject in stock photography.
The DSLR vs. mobile question is not really about the difference in quality, but about the practicality. In what situation, which device works better?
Where can you sell your mobile photos?
You can upload your mobile images to any of the larger stock photo sites, with the exception of Alamy. As I mentioned above, Alamy has separated the DSLR and mobile photo upload platforms. Your pictures taken with an iPhone can be uploaded in the Stockimo application. Here you can read my detailed guide to Stockimo.
Although the photos in your portfolio will appear on the Alamy website (with an ID beginning with S), the images are managed and sold within the Stockimo application.
As a stock photographer, it is advisable to take photos with a mobile phone in addition to the DSLR device. On the one hand, because you can sell your images at nearly every stock photo agency, on the other hand, new opportunities open up for you. However, never forget that your mobile phone's camera has optical limitations (small size) that will never vanish even when image processing softwares are evolving rapidly.
If you want to take a detailed, high-quality photo, be sure to use your DSLR. This is especially true in low light conditions, where most mobiles certainly don’t perform well (enough).
Use your smartphone for stock photography if
- you don’t want to cause sensation on the street or at an event,
- you want to depict a mood where needle sharpness and richness of detail are not the point,
- you don't have any other device with you,
- you don’t have time to take your DSLR to capture a sudden act.
Never use your smartphone
- 's digital zoom function,
- in weak light conditions (i.e. at night, at dusk, in a room lit by a lamp),
- if the subject of the photo is too far away,
- for studio photography in front of white background.