The LG V30 has an amazing camera, but it won't make you a great photographer

Five years ago, I was flown to Seoul to cover the launch of a brand new smartphone line. Business class, on Korean Air. In my gear bag was a brand new, full-frame DSLR. It cost well over $1,000 and was a pretty big step up from the prosumer model I'd been using pretty well until then.

Taking smartphone pictures isn't the same as being a photographer. At all.

It was my first trip to Asia, I was riding in style (though 14-hour flights are 14-hour flights no matter which end of the airplane you're in), and I had some hot new (to me) gear in the bag to work with.

I then proceeded to take some of the worst pictures of my career while on deadline. Blurry. Dark. Dark and blurry. Or blurry and blown out. I had no idea what happened. So I went back and took more pictures. They were slightly less horrible.

My better, more expensive camera let me down. Or, rather, I'd let it down.

We've seen plenty of headlines the past few years — and especially the past few weeks with the LG V30 and now the iPhone 8 — about how you can take "professional" photos with a smartphone. It wasn't true years ago, and not still not true now, and for one simple reason:

You can fly 7,000 miles with a fancy $2,000 camera and still take shitty pictures. I proved it.

I was reminded of this by my Verge pal Dan Seifert as a tangent to a pretty good tweet storm.

It's that simple.

Smartphone cameras have gotten exponentially better over the years. My first child was born in 2006. The second in 2010. And looking back at those pictures versus what I can take today, well, you'll see the difference.

Larger sensors let in more light. Better lenses and optical image stabilization help make things look better, too. The algorithms companies use to process photos have gotten better and better — and we're just at the cusp of letting artificial intelligence do a lot of the heavy lifting, which is going to open up a whole new world of features and improvements.

But that absolutely does not mean that the person on the other end of the camera doesn't matter. Far from it.

Take a photography class. Even your most basic phone pic will be better for it.

For one, a lot of the hot new features — such as the "Cine Log" styles — are left to the "manual" mode in the camera. Maybe you're the type of mobile photographer who'll stop what you're doing to hop into manual mode and set up everything just so. And in that case, you're a better mobile photographer than I — and I'm willing to bet better than most folks out there.

But as Dan explains in that tweetstorm, it's about more than automatic settings and filters. It's about composition. And lighting. (It's almost always about lighting.) And so much more.

You can have all the tools in the world at your disposal. And they definitely can help you take better pictures on a daily basis.

But there's absolutely no substitute for having some basic knowledge of photography, whether you're using a smartphone or full-frame DSLR.

That's a lesson I wish I'd known back in 2012 in Korea.

Phil Nickinson
  • Absolutely. Composition is key to taking a breathtaking photo. Don’t just settle for the old “keep it in the center” shot. Use the Rule-of-Thirds. Try something new. Maybe use nature to act as some sort of frame. Computational photography can help you get a good shot when challenges are working against you like uneven lighting or a busy time, but not even the world’s most advanced AI can save you from a poorly composed shot. Speaking of V30, when in the world can we actually buy one? It feels that this phone was announced ages ago and there’s still no word on when it will be released outside of South Korea.
  • Rule of thirds?
  • Your smartphone camera app (well, Google Camera in my case) and some DSLR's have a "rule-of-thirds" viewfinder.
  • A third of your shots will always be too dark.
    A third of your shots will always be out of focus.
    A third of your shots will always blow. It's more of a cosmic law really.
  • The best thing about smartphone photography is that there's enough storage these days that you can just mess around with abandon. I've never taken a photography class, but I've gotten much better at getting good photos because I've just screwed around and tried different things with each shot. I don't have to take just one or two pictures of something. I can take fifty, pay attention to which look the best after the fact, delete the crappy ones, and learn from the experience.
  • Yup, it was smart phones that got me taking pictures. Than I began to learn about sensors, lenses, shooting techniques, manual controls and other things reading online while experimenting with a point and shoot I bought. Now I use a DSLR, never would have learned without being able to take countless photos on my phone first.
  • Exactly. Digital photography allows us to take many shots and delete the ones that don't look good. Even the professional photographer at my daughter's wedding took several versions of the same photograph as inevitably there was someone with their eyes closed on some of the photos.
  • It’s not just smartphone photography but digital photography in general. It allows you to experiment as much as possible without fear of losing precious film. That said, some professionals actually recommend playing around with a film camera as according to them, knowing that you can’t get that strip of film back will force you to think very hard about how you compose your shot. That being said, on every photography event I go to, I always take 2-3 shots of the same thing. There’s always that one guy who has his eyes closed.
  • YES! My friends with Iphones and Galaxy S8's were always telling me how good they wish their cameras were after seeing pictures taken with my ONE PLUS 3. Every year I remind them that it's not the camera that takes good pictures, and every year they don't listen. COMPOSITION AND EXPOSURE are key!
  • They did the same thing with the V20 last year. They announced it in august touting first phone to run nougat but did not come out until mid october after the google pixel was announced and i think they released same time in US. they could have really capitalized on the note 7 fiasco last year but royally screwed that shot.
  • "Larger sensors let in more light" No, photography noob, larger sensors are larger. Larger apertures let in more light. Ironic that the thrust of the article is learn about photography and the author shows he needs to LEARN ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY!
  • Larger sensors do gather much more light, maybe he didn't word it the best, but he is right. Maybe you should learn about photography before telling others to.
  • Actually, larger sensors usually have larger pixels. The combo allows more light to be sensed by the sensor. The benefits are obvious; Lower ISO/shutter speed for a similar exposure, better dynamic range and so forth. When paired with a good fast lens, you’ve got a killer combo
  • Technically a larger aperture, as in the physical size, but if you don't explain that it's correlated to a smaller f-stop it gets lost on most when comparing a 1.8 to a 2.0 etc etc. Most specifications state aperture size like this and not the physical size. Maybe try to be less condescending and offer some sort of explanation as others have.
  • This is why to me, how well the camera works in auto mode is far more important than what manual features it has. I know a tiny bit about composition, the rule of 3rds, etc, but I don't know, nor do I particularly care, to learn about all the manual settings and we what happens when I change the apperture, etc. I just want to frame the photo in decent light and have it come out reasonably good. Samsung's cameras allow me to do that very well.
  • Wow did you ever get called out on those bad shots! But that was the charm of android back then, things moved so quickly, it was raw untapped potential. Now I feel so meh, losing the enthusiasm and joy I once felt.
  • This is true for pros, but not for consumers. Most of us just want to point and shoot.
  • I learned about photographie because the auto mode is not that good ( focus etc) on my V20 . But if you know little bit about the manual mode on this beast you get nice pictures !
  • I used to develop photos in a darkroom when I was a kid, but even if you got everything right, bad composition and lighting could not be corrected. I moved to one of the first Polaroid cameras after that, and I loved being able to see results within a few minutes. It was a big aluminum and leather monstrosity that weighed about 5 pounds, but I sure learned a lot about composition with it. They did have color film for it, but I prefered black and white back then. Someone decided to give me a Kodak instamatic for a trip through the mountains, which I thought I would try (never used one before) , and I found the other side of the coin: No matter how good the lighting and composition, a bad camera is a bad camera. Every shot was a grainy mess, and looked like it had been shot on an old 0.5 MP flip phone camera. My dad went back to the Sears store to complain, and they offered him a real camera as compensation, and I was thinking "Yes! Do it! Just do it!", but my dad turned the offer down. I went 35mm after that. But we have moved on and smartphone cameras have gotten very good, and even so-so cameras can yeild good results at time. Heck, I even snuck a few shots from an M8 to a wedding package, and the people liked them, lol.
  • I love Phil but this title is terrible, no camera cell phone or otherwise will make you a great photographer.
  • I think those who have managed to take stunning shots with one owing to their experience in the field would likely disagree.
  • If lg ever releases the darn thing.
  • Do cameras like the LG V30 let you automatically take bracketed shots and RAW+JPEG like most digital standalone cameras?
  • I use a large pro body full frame dSLR camera and shoot in RAW format when doing paid shoots. Having a great camera in my Pixel XL allows me to leave the dSLR home when I know there will be photo ops, but don't want to lug my pro body around all day. It would be nice if Pixel phones had a RAW format option.
  • There is, but you need a third party app for it
  • 100% agree. Photography is mostly scene composition. If the scene isn't set up properly, you are going to have poor photos no matter what sensor you are using. Now a great sensor allows you to take better shots overall, you need to make sure the only things you want in the picture are in the picture. Back when I had a Galaxy S4, which had a mediocre sensor, I took some amazing photos with that phone. When I was in Germany, I took a photo of one of the buildings in the Black Forest, and the sun had set behind the building, so the sky had amazing colors. No one was around, so it was just me, the building, sunset, and the trees. It looks like it could be on a postcard. But if the sun wasn't behind the building, or someone was hanging out of the window, etc, the picture would have turned out poor.
  • One of the best shots I've ever taken was just a spur of the moment shot in 2013. I turned around at the harbor by the lake I live close to, and saw the way the sun was setting and these sets of lampposts, and raised my Olympus E-PM1 up and snapped a shot. No flash, no time for adjustments or anything else, and it was an awesome shot. I'm just a novice (and even more of one back then) and it came out great. I just sharpened it slightly and added a touch of contrast in Lightroom and that's it. The trees and other areas are so dark they look almost drawn in, but the overall shot is one I really like (you can see it here- ). Scene setting is crucial, and just seeing something that already looks a certain way, and snapping a photo is sometimes better than taking the time to adjust all the settings, frame the shot just right, light it properly, etc. I find that my best shots are ones where I see how something looks and just grab the shot. I don't use the Olympus anymore and just use a fixed lens camera now (Sony RX100 V) and I get great shots without too much setup. It's also a heck of lot easier to carry around than a camera and separate lenses.
  • Dslr's are a joke, nothing easy about them, in af mode mine is useless, I don't understand why it just can't take a good picture, I had no idea I had to become a photographer to get it to take a good picture, had a Nikon d5200, took about 200 bad pics, boxed it up and sold it, I wouldn't want 1 for free, very frustrating to use.
  • And I thought using my Sony a6000 was easy
  • Spending money on equipment will never make for a better photographer. I took some lousy photos on my first SLR and it wasn't until I wound up with a fixed-focus Olympus point & shoot that I learned how to take decent shots. Because I had to! No gimmicks, just point and shoot. Here are the top keys to a good photo.
    1. Light. Number one. If this isn't right, nothing is. It's why you want the lens to be able to absorb as much as possible.
    2. Composition. The "rule of thirds" is a good place to start. Where you stand, sit or position yourself is another. Diane Arbus never asked a subject to move. She moved.
    3. Location, location, location. My smartphone in the front row beats your DSLR in the back.
    4. Equipment. It's gotten so much better. My LG V20 takes better shots than the old SLR.
    5. Age. The older a photo gets, the less the above matters!!