Viva Lucha Libre!

As more and more images proliferate our culture, so do more and more image-making devices. Where photography has long been hailed as the everyman art form, the sheer multitude of cameras present in an area at any given moment is unprecedented. With the advent of cameras integrated into mobile devices, suddenly we’ve reached an era of relentless recording.

For celebrities, there’s no safe place where cell phones won’t be whipped out, interceding between fan and hero. For private venues, the challenge of preventing mobile device recording is insurmountable. So many people raise their multifunctioning gadgets in lieu of even point-and-shoot cameras that our cultural history is being written with apps.

Where this technology simply provides convenience for most people, it has created new opportunities for professional photographers. More professional photographers are turning to their smartphones and tablets to create less constrained imagery. Where the native software available on mobile devices is certainly competent, it doesn’t have much pizazz and relies on additional postproduction. So the photo industry responded to the need with a range of mobile platform applications for consumers. Initially, there were fun apps that created specific looks or mimicked old films, but more recently, professional-grade touch-screen apps have risen to the forefront of in-device photo manipulation.

The potential for mobile device and app photography was so intriguing to photographer Douglas Sonders that he approached Nik Software about working with them on a professional project that would take advantage of the functionality of Snapseed. Sonders, a well-established, very controlled photographer, wanted to simplify his photography. He wanted to pursue something that no one had done and push the boundaries of creating professional images with only mobile technology.

The subject that he chose to photograph aligned with his approach. He wanted to go behind the scenes of the anonymous, hero-of-the-everyman lucha libre fighters who are sweeping the world. Their insistence on maintaining their mystique and hiding their identities makes them difficult subjects. Although his contacts knew that Sonders was a professional photographer, he didn’t exactly look like one entering the venues only with an iPad in hand.

"People were actually more curious about it and let me in because I wasn’t carrying a big camera," Sonders explains. "They were more receptive when I wanted to photograph something."

Sonders, a well-established, very controlled photographer, wanted to simplify his photography. He wanted to pursue something that no one had done and push the boundaries of creating professional images with only mobile technology.

Where the fighters of the lucha libre world are colorful and vibrant characters in the ring, behind the scenes they’re reverent of traditions and refuse to be photographed when unmasked. It was something that Sonders was very aware of, and he worked to ensure he respected their boundaries. But approaching fighters and events with only his iPad garnered curiosity instead of avoidance, and he was able to go places that would have been blocked to a standard photographer.

But with that access came some specific challenges. "It restructured the way I shot," explains Sonders. "I was sensitive to the preset shutter speeds, and I had to be very close to my lighting and my timing. I focused on trying to anticipate timing, framing and lighting. All the other things that I would worry about if I had a DSLR camera with me just kind of went out the window. I had to face the challenge that the iPad wasn’t inherently made for low light. But I knew if I shot a certain way, I could make it pop using Snapseed."

Sonders admits that he enjoyed the iPad session more than a standard photo shoot because he was able to simplify the process. There was no need to change lenses, no missed moments, no concerns for the specific control of lighting—all of which are considerations he normally makes on a commercial photo shoot.

"I like the whole aspect of focusing on the framing and the environment and detaching yourself from the constraints of choosing lenses and equipment and just going back to the simplicity of photography," says Sonders. "I continue to shoot a lot of mobile photography because I think it refines my vision as a commercial shooter with my bigger equipment by pulling back and thinking about the frame and emotion."

As a professional photographer, there are elements of his process that don’t change. Sonders instinctively knew the images that he wanted to adjust as he shot them. The benefit of using a mobile device is that he didn’t have to wait to create the images he saw in his mind.

Says Sonders, "In the middle of the shoot, when there would be an intermission, I knew there were a few shots that I thought were awesome and I immediately was looking forward to pulling them into Snapseed so I could do some selective brightness and sharpen the images up and maybe even do some drama and structure settings to kind of bring out some of the texture—the sweat and the excitement."

While Sonders isn’t certain if mobile photography is yet at the point where it can easily move into the commercial realm, he’s confident it’s on the horizon. But whether or not you intend to use your mobile device for professional jobs, it’s important to note that you have options for control and precision on the go. Just because mobile device photography is still in its infancy, the more that the industry supports mobile app and device photography, the better images you’ll be able to make.

Sonders believes that going back to the basics will make you a better photographer, no matter your final goal. Your equipment shouldn’t determine how good of a photographer you are, and tablets or smartphones aren’t replacing a DSLR and lenses just yet. What this project showed, however, was that in the hands of a visual communicator with a vision, the best camera is definitely the one you have with you.

As Sonders explains, "For those who think they need to get the most fancy and the most expensive, while that might be nice to have, if you maintain a creative vision and problem-solving, and you really think about your shots, sometimes all you need is a mobile device and the right onboard software, and you can get some really amazing photos."

You can see more of Douglas Sonders’ work at www.sondersphotography.com.

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