Cell phone photography. Meet Larry Kelly

Panama City Beach, FL.  Looking east towards Pier Park. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

Panama City Beach, FL.  Looking east towards Pier Park. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

Two photographers walk into a bar...

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it?  That is exactly how I met Larry. We met at the on-site restaurant/bar of Tidewater Beach Resort after a long day.* Introductions led to a conversation about photography. It was obvious from the first Larry is a man passionate about the beauty around him.  Larry posts his pictures daily on Facebook. Hundreds of folks view his pictures as a journal of the daily beauty, weather, and environment that is Panama City Beach, FL. He is the most humble example of a true Southern Gentleman.  And he enjoys SEC football. 

I asked Larry to share his experiences as a cell phone photographer.  I am grateful he agreed.

1.  Larry, what prompted you to start taking cell phone photos?

I started taking photos several years ago when I first visited Tidewater, and the Emerald Coast here on Panama City Beach.  I have never owned a camera and was 58 years old with a cheap cell phone when I made my first visit. I was so amazed at the natural beauty I was seeing, I just started taking some shots with the cell phone and sharing with friends. I have been taking pictures here now on and off for two and half years.

2. You specialize in sunrise/sunset photos. What is it about the Tidewater Resort area that attracts you and your camera?

I have a home here. I find the location right on the Gulf (of Mexico), and the views that I am so blessed to see here to be just awesome.  The pier,  just to the east of me, in my mind, makes for a beautiful setting, and for the remainder of 180 degrees, there is nothing but open Gulf and skies.  Most all of my shots are just "spur of the moment". Nothing pre-planned, I just see something and take a shot.  From time to time, I do take a tripod that holds my cell phone, down to the beach. I take so many shots there because it is easy to do and because the beauty is right in front of me. There are so many opportunities to photograph to the east/west of where I am located.

Fog off the water during a stormy day on the Gulf. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

Fog off the water during a stormy day on the Gulf. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

3. A social network has developed around your photos, why do you think that is?

Well, I was not aware there was a social network, but thank you very much. I really don't know why. Like I said, I started out just sharing some pictures with friends of what I was seeing and it has just grown. I am sure part of it has to be the height from which I am taking some of my shots. There are many, many shots of the beach, the Emerald Coast and the Gulf to be found, no doubt. However, there are not many taken from almost three hundred feet up.  These angles, views, reflections, etc., are not sights that people see very often, or at all, I think.  Other than that, some people tell me that my shots make them feel like they are right there with me.  Besides that, I honestly have no idea why. I have been told by some really talented photographers that we never really know why people like our shots.

The Golden Gulf. One of Larry's glorious sunset photos. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

The Golden Gulf. One of Larry's glorious sunset photos. (c) Larry Kelly, 2015

4. What are your dreams for the future of your photography?

My first dream would have to be getting a real camera with several lenses. Then, taking the time to learn everything I can about that camera, and how to use it without being in the auto mode. Secondly, my dream would be to continue to learn. I have discovered that photography to me, is an ever learning experience. I feel I have so much more to learn, especially about post processing. Eventually my dream is to be good enough to sell some of my work.

5. What equipment do you use? Do you use any post-processing programs or apps?

The only equipment I use is a Samsung Galaxy S4 cell phone, and on some occasions, a tripod. When I bought this cell phone, I told the people at the store that I take a lot of photos and get really tired of having to email each shot to myself.  The sales people set the phone so that when I take a photo, the phone automatically sends it to Google+ on my laptop. From my laptop I can see the shot much better, larger, and to do anything I feel the shot might need - right there on Google+. Mainly I am looking at horizon lines, shadows, structure, and sometimes an adjustment in saturation.  Another thing, I take most of my shots in the mode Samsung calls "rich tone HDR" (HDR = high dynamic resolution). I like the richer look of the shot much better than just a shot in the auto mode.  I don't have Photoshop or Lightroom yet, nor would I have any idea how they work at this point.

6. Any additional points you would like to add?

People tell me their cell phones will not take pictures like mine. Well, naturally, their cell phone will not take any pictures until they pick it up and use it. After a very short conversation, I find most people have no idea what the camera on their cell phone will do. They have the phone, it has a camera, it has an auto setting, and they take pictures every now and then.  Little do they know how many thousands of pictures I have taken and tried to learn from.  You have to want to take the time to learn everything the cell phone camera will do.

One of Larry's  HDR photos. (c) Larry Kelly, 2014

One of Larry's  HDR photos. (c) Larry Kelly, 2014

Many times when I am taking shots on the beach, especially with my cell phone attached to the tripod, people will approach me with questions, comments, or ask me to take their picture at sunset. When I ask them if they edit their photos, I hear "Oh no way. We want the picture to be just like it is."  While I understand and appreciate their feelings, I am sure the shot is nowhere as good as they would like it to be.  I am sure I felt the same way when I first started taking pictures along the coast.

However, after taking thousands of shots, my thoughts began to change. I have learned, no matter what I do, the "eye" in the camera on this cell phone can not capture what I am seeing in my mind. Now, I try to share what I saw in my mind when I took that picture. No camera, no matter how expensive, can do that.  So, I have learned how to bring what comes out of the camera closer to the picture in my mind.

Thank you so much Larry!  My best wishes for a joyful and productive career with your photography.

Bottom Line: Start from where you are and use what you have. It is the eye of the photographer not the equipment that makes the picture. Let your photography be a source of joy for yourself and, maybe, others. Be willing to learn and to practice. And how about that awesome customer service from the Samsung seller?

* The intention is to describe where/how Larry and I met, not advertise. In order to stay transparent and honest, I am part owner of a rental condo at Tidewater.