Sunday, May 1, 2016

Will Whalen and Cell Phone Photography--An Interview

As some of you may know and most assuredly many of you do not, I am a photographer. It is sometimes hard for me to say that because I feel like I am still learning and there is always more I could be doing differently, and better! One of those things is cell phone photography. Why? Because I always have my cell phone! Even in the bathroom (TMI? yea, probably...) If I were better at taking photos with my cell phone I might be inclined to use it more often and it is something I'm always working on. I have a dear friend, Wil Whalen, who lives in Maine who is doing just that. He has already had a photography show and sells his photos and they are predominantly taken with his cell phone and any others with a simple point and shoot. He has a show coming up this weekend in Maine and another next summer in Ventura, California!

I spoke to Wil recently about his photography and what it's like being a cell phone photographer. 

How long have you been interested in photography and how did you get started?

I was 8 years old when I bought my first roll of film for my mom's 110 camera. As a kid, I would take pictures of random stuff from weird angels.  I thought they were pretty cool, but no one else seemed to get what I was going for.  I also took pictures of the desert, the cacti, old buildings and stuff.  There was a freight train that ran behind our house and I used to love to take pictures of the trains as they went by.  I remember the engine car said, "Santa Fe" on it.  I always like when the train was partially blurry, but my mother would tell me I needed to try and get it in focus.  Like that was possible with a 110 camera in 1978.  One time I laid down between the tracks and took a photo of the tracks leading down to the bridge.  My mother caught me and I got in trouble for playing on the train tracks.  She took the camera away from me and we never got that roll developed.  At about 11 years old my love of music pretty much took over and all I wanted to do was sit in my room and listen to music.  However, I would stare at the record covers and wish I could take those photos.  But I was a little kid in a very small town, the idea of doing that was a dream to big for even me.

Why did you decide to focus on cell phone photography?

I've never owned a professional camera.  They intimidate the hell out of me.  I've never taken a class either.  I just want to take good pictures, not re-invent the wheel.  Every now and then, I'd buy a really nice camera and then get so intimidated by it that I would sell it.  And during that time period I'd stop taking pictures.  Then I'd get back into it with whatever point and shoot camera we had kicking around or my phone.  I liked my photos a lot and then other people started liking them. Thanks to social media I started selling photos I took with cheap cameras, as well as my phone. I pretty much switched to only using my cell phone because I hate lugging a camera around.  I like my photography to be spontaneous and that's hard to accomplish when you have to fish a camera out of back pack.  Often the moment passes too quickly for even that.  Case in point, I have a stunning photo of smoke stack in West Virginia.  I took it with my phone from the passenger seat of a moving car.  If I had to fish out a camera, I would have missed it.

Does anyone ever question you as "a photographer" since your focus is cell phone photography?

I usually wait until after someone views my photography to fess up to using my phone.  It saves for any preconceived notions about my work, if you know what I mean.  But yeah, I have definitely dealt with some judgment and eye rolls.  I get it though, they spend a lot of money on equipment and are trying to make their living doing this and I show up and sell awesome photos I took with my phone.  It's not about the equipment though.  It's about how the photographer sees the world.  It's why I rarely photograph people because you have to have a subject that is cooperative with your vision.  I photograph nature, architecture, landscape, texture and even animals.  And I get to photograph my vision.  I've met some great photographers who, like me, use what ever camera they have kicking around.  I've met some really mediocre photographers who have thousands of dollars invested in equipment.  With photography, it starts with a good eye, a great eye, a unique eye, and then you can build on that with whatever medium works best for you.  I love when I see someone out taking photos with a vintage film camera or a Polaroid.  

Do know, that I am actually basing this show on the fact that these photos were taken with a cell phone and some with a cheap point and shoot camera.

Do you have an advice for people regarding using their phones for photography?

Just do it.  Don't be intimidated by it at all.  A lot of phones these days are built around the cameras they house.  So if you want to use a phone, pick a phone with the best camera.  Also, don't let others make you feel bad because you take better photos with your phone then they do with their $5,000 camera.  Be very careful how you save your photos as well, because saving them the wrong way can result in not being able to print large copies.

Can you tell us what your favorite editing apps are?

The main reason I even use editing software is to make the photo look like it did in real life.  I also really like playing with contrast and color and focal points.  And because of all that Snapseed is my app of choice.  It's simple, but has a lot of features for editing.  They tweak it all the time as well to keep up with what their customers want.  Also, I use on my computer from time to time.  It's a great site for editing.  So many cool tools and filters.  But again, you have to be careful with editing because it can affect the overall printability of your photos.  I do plan to work my way into the Adobe world and see how I do with some of the more professional editing programs.  I believe this is the route I need to go if I ever want to have really oversized prints done.  I have a show coming in Ventura California in the summer of 2017 and I want show my best work ever.  In order to accomplish a show of that scale, I'm going to have to learn to use  the Adobe programs.

And lastly, which phone do you use for your photography?

I have  Droid Turbo.  It has a 21 megapixel camera.  I like it a lot.  Most of the cell phone photos in my show were taken with this phone.  There are a few that were taken with my last phone the Samsung Galaxy SIII.  Not sure which phone I'll go to next, but most likely an LG.  They are one of the companies that build their phones around their cameras.  I do know that iPhones are said to be great, but I've never used one.

Wishing Wil all the best at his show coming up and the one next summer! To see more of his work, check him out at From Away Photography on Facebook.

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