Mobile pic critique: Here’s what photographer Chase Jarvis thinks about your best smartphone shots

Chase Jarvis

Chase Jarvis

When we asked you to submit mobile photos for a live critique by renowned photographer Chase Jarvis, hundreds of you responded, sending us great photos from around the world.

We showed eight of them to Jarvis at the end of a discussion about the future of creativity at the GeekWire Summit. Jarvis, founder of online classroom creativeLIVE, had plenty to say about the disruption of traditional education and why “creativity is the new literacy,” as he put it. When it was time to talk pictures (25:10 in the video above), his raw reaction gave everyone something to think about next time they hold their phone up for a pic.

People sent us work they were most proud of, so I looked for variety in our selection — a variety of subjects, settings, stylization and perspectives.

The photos were presented anonymously for a candid critique. I name those photographers below who have given us permission to use their names. I’ll add more names as they come…

Photo info

Photo by Victoria Wright (@veekster) of Seattle. Taken with an iPhone 5 in Skagit Valley April 2013. “I used Snapseed to adjust the contrast, white balance, and brightness. Brought up the shadows just a touch in VSCO, and then cropped in Squaready.”

“Subject matter — traditional, shall we say?” Jarvis said about this first pic. “Compositionally, beautiful. There’s a nice line for the eye.”

He commended the photographer on the use of the Rule of Thirds, a well known geometric principle in photography, and called the photo “nice, overall.”


Photo info

Photo by Brooke Warren. Taken with an iPhone 4S at her friend’s house in Bellingham, Wash. “I edited it in Instagram using possibly the Sutro or Brannan filter, but I’m not completely sure.”

The subject matter of the next pic interested him much more.

“I want to be there,” Jarvis said of this pic. “This is weird.

“Any image, like a good story written, should tell a story. And what our minds do when we look at something like this is try and find out what the story is. To me, these two guys might be having a thing. They’re gay, and their roommate might not know it. And he’s coming in from the ultimate match, and these guys are having a beer and talking it out.”

Jarvis offered a “B” in composition but an “A,” he said, in creativity.


Photo info

Photo by Andrew Bohan of Hayward, Calif. Taken with an iPhone5 from Glacier Point lookout in Yosemite National Park in August, 2013. “It’s cropped but the colors are real (caused by the smoke from the Rim Fire).”

This photo struck Jarvis as “technically sound,” following the Rule of Thirds particularly well in the placement of its subject, the man on the cliff. Knowing its subject matter (I couldn’t help but say it was of the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park, a timely natural event) gave him an appreciation for its somber mood, highlighted by the smoky haze and the man’s downward glance.


Photo info

Photo by TeeJay Delacruz of San Diego, Calif. Taken with an iPhone 5 using VSCOcam app in downtown San Francisco. “I added fade to the photo and brought down the exposure a bit.”

The ubiquity of mobile phones has unlocked new subjects for photography. Jarvis reflected on a mobile photo mantra — “The best camera is the one that’s with you” — when considering this pic.

“This is a great example of that photograph that you wouldn’t have taken if you didn’t have these little devices in our pocket,” Jarvis said. “I have an emotional connection to this being of the moment, walking by, looking up, seeing this and taking the picture.”

He commended the composition but thought more editing would have resulted in a stronger effect.


Photo info

Photo by Josh Cease (@liveinframes) of Orlando, Fla. Taken with an iPhone 5 using Snapseed and the phone’s panorama feature in Santorini, Greece, June 2013. “Boosted ambiance, crushed the blacks, added saturation.”

The colors in this pic are what struck Jarvis. They’ve been enhanced, but to an acceptable degree.

“You can tell it’s been put through some sort of a filter,” he said. “Not overly so; I can’t stand looking at these over HDR’d images. They make me want to vomit.”

Like the tulips, the subject in this photo struck him as traditional — in his word, “safe.”


Photo info

Photo by Kurt Clark of Bellevue, Wash. Taken with a Samsung Captivate/Galaxy S in Bellevue March 2013. “Light touch of contrast and warmth added, with a mild high pass filter to sharpen. All done in Photoshop Elements.”

What’s a photo critique without a funny picture of a cat? This one is clearly more fun than technical. Jarvis’ and the audience’s reaction reflected that.

The picture stood out form the rest in another way. It’s the only selected mobile photo that was not taken with an iPhone.

Jarvis went back to the ubiquity of mobile phones.

“How many more pictures of your kids do you have than you would have had otherwise?” he said.

As for the picture, he liked the composition, but there’s no upstaging the star: “This picture’s all about the cat, right?” Jarvis said. “It’s a portrait of a cat looking funny, and that’s about where we end up.”


Photo info

Photo by GT (@zehak) of Bordeaux, France. Taken with an iPhone 4S at Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France, in 2011. “Not too much editing, just added Earlybird filter on Instagram and turned upside-down.”

Jarvis took a moment to look at this photo. “Would you guys agree that visually this is stunning?” he said.

“I call it raw stopping power. Like when you’re turning through a magazine, a picture that just goes, whoa. That should be the goal of all of your photographs. And even if it’s a portrait of your kid, then your kid’s blue eyes need to be starting right at the camera like lasers for that picture to really be elevated.”

Jarvis gave the photo high marks, “minus the goofy round corners.”


Photo info

Photo by BP (@bradpuet) of Seattle. Taken with an iPhone 4 over Washington’s Puget Sound in 2011. “Snapseed; converted to BW and added a bit of ambiance.”

We all know the Washington State Ferry when we see it. We know the gloomy skies over Puget Sound, too. Jarvis threw in a few jokes at its expense, then got to the technicals: a solid composition that has a little “imbalance” and asymmetry, and the beauty of the bird, which is a tough subject to get right mid-flight.

“It’s a solid picture,” he said. “The color palette? It’s Seattle.”

Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.