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National Geographic Photographer Stephen Alvarez on Using the Nokia Lumia 1020

by G Servo on 09/20/2013

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All photos by photographer Stephen Alvarez. Used with permission

Since last year, the day that many photographers have dreaded has come. Photojournalists are using phones to document their stories–but these aren’t just average Joes or Uncle Bobs with a camera. The important thing to note is that these are creatives first. National Geographic Photographer Stephen Alvarez has been using the new Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone lately. This is part of a campaign that Nokia, Alvarez, and TalentHouse are doing where a competition is being held and where the grand prize is an all expenses paid tour of Puerto Rico with the Nokia Lumia 1020.

But with the competition aside, we really wanted to talk to Stephen about using the smartphone for his work.

Phoblographer: For years and years you’ve been a photographer shooting with “Real Cameras.” What’s it like moving to a phone?

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Stephen: The transition to the Nokia 1020 was surprisingly straight forward. The interface is pretty intuitive for me. And the control over exposure that the pro cam app gives is very DSLR like.

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Phoblographer: Last year during Hurricane Sandy we saw lots of photographers make the move to Instagram and other tools to tell a story. How do you feel the Nokia Lumia 1020 can help people tell theirs?

Stephen: I think the coverage of Sandy represented an exciting embrace of instant publishing by some major media outlets. I also bet that most of those photographers who published instantly also had a DSLR with them so that they could make images that would stand the test of time. The 1020 give you DSLR like resolution from your phone so the amount of information you are gathering is on par with a “normal” camera.

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Phoblographer: The camera has full manual control: when you go about capturing scenes do you shoot in manual, auto, or some sort of other priority? Why?

Stephen: My shooting mode varies with the situation. In general I was shooting on auto but setting the white balance to daylight and adjusting exposure compensation to -.3 or -.7 For my aesthetic the pictures looked best there. However, if I was shooting on a tripod I would usually use full manual control as I’d have more time to compose.

Phoblographer: If you could list the top 5 places that you’ve travelled to and photographed, what would they be and why?

Stephen:  Wow, there are so many favorites:

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- The 4 corners area of the US around the Grand Canyon has incredible landscape.

- The Guatemala highlands near Lago Attitlan has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The people are interesting and I love Maya Culture.

- South Africa is a favorite of mine. There is a tremendous variety of landscape and culture.

- I am from the Southern Appalachia and find photographing near home both rewarding and challenging.

- And of course Paris because it is Paris and all photographers love it.

Phoblographer: Approaching people on assignment when working with a full camera and a phone is totally different. What’s it like encountering and working with people when you work with a phone? Does anyone ever question your legitimacy since you’re not looking the part necessarily?

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Stephen: Mobile phone photography is so ubiquitous that few people question the phone camera legitimacy. I credit the explosion of social media photo sharing with legitimizing it. Everyone does it all the time it has become an accepted form of expression. What did raise eyebrows was when I told people that we were publishing a 3 page photo in National Geographic Magazine shot on the phone.

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