Peter Lik has spent over 30 years pushing the boundaries of fine art. A self-taught pioneer in the field of landscape photography, he has become synonymous with pristine images of cascading waterfalls, ethereal mountain peaks and peaceful desert canyons. Peter sat down with Samsung Newsroom to discuss the latest trends in digital photography and the emergence of the smartphone as a key tool and growing influence for photographers everywhere.
How did you first get into photography?
Peter Lik: When I was 8 years old, my amazing parents bought me the gift of my very first camera – a Kodak Brownie. It was such a special present, considering how humbly we lived in those days. My first image was of a spider web, glistening with morning dew in the family garden. In a single instant, my connection to Mother Nature was solidified. It was a moment that was burned into my brain, my heart, and my soul. I kept that feeling with me until I was old enough to work for my own gear and go after the most beautiful images on the planet. I still hold onto that feeling to this day, and I have never looked back.
What types of cameras have you typically used over the years?
Peter Lik: I have never stuck to one single brand. For me, it’s all about using the best tool for the job. Over the years, I have shot with Linhof, Phase One, Hasselblad, Polaroid, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Fuji, Pentax and of course my Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+!
How has the emergence of digital cameras changed your approach to photography?
Peter Lik: Well, I love that they give me instant feedback! When I captured all 50 of the United States for my 1989 book, Spirit of America, everything was shot on film. Each roll would need to sit tight in its canister until I could retuveloping. At that time in camera technology, you had only your gut to tell you: “You got the shot!” Sometimes it felt like a roll of the dice, not knowing what I was going to get – truly the ultimate game of chance. These days, with their high-quality sensors, powerful shooting modes and multitude of camera settings, smartphones have taken over from point-and-shoot cameras as the de facto go-to pocket camera?
Roughly how often do you use your smartphone to take photographs?
Peter Lik: My smartphone is always with me, 24 hours a day, right in my pocket. The incredible convenience makes it impossible not to love. I have captured some amazing moments over the years that I would have completely missed out on, had I taken time to break out all my professional gear. It’s a real time-saver and a great way to record the world around me.
Are there any specific types of pictures or settings you think are better served by a smartphone?
Peter Lik: Having the ability to shoot High Dynamic Range (HDR) from a smartphone camera is amazing! Usually, I need to shoot upwards of 15 frames or more with my pro gear in order to capture panoramic scenes in their entirety. With my smartphone, it is all in a single click. When I am out on the road capturing photos for my gallery walls, I will often use my smartphone to assist in determining the best angles and framing, especially when dealing with difficult terrain that might not be so agreeable to a tripod.
From the perspective of a professional photographer, how advanced do you feel smartphone cameras have become over the past few years.
Peter Lik: It feels like it has been an overnight evolution – jumping from 2MP to 16+MP quality at lightning speed, and it just keeps moving forward! With every upgrade, the smartphone industry has completely captivated the professional world with its ability to produce powerful processing technology. Innovation is accelerating many areas of smartphone camera technology that traditionally fell short of the mark. Capturing great shots in low light environments, for example, has advanced by leaps and bounds. I would not be surprised if, in the near future, you find a shot in my galleries captured on a smartphone!
What features do you think smartphone cameras currently excel at?
Peter Lik: They are completely user friendly. Anybody can just pick one up and start shooting right away. Smartphone cameras are also packed full of useful user settings that can really help amateur photographers capture shots that can be quite complicated with more advanced cameras and lenses. Macro shots or panoramic shots? Want to take a great wide-angle shot or a selfie? There’s usually a dedicated setting for that. Don’t be fooled, though. If it were that easy to get professional shots, I would probably be doing something else for a living. It is mind-blowing that at any given time over 1.8 billion photos are being uploaded and shared. Everyone is so connected and there are seemingly no boundaries. Smartphones are changing how the world sees itself. So powerful!
Where do smartphone cameras still fall short, compared with dedicated point-and-shoot models?
Peter Lik: They are catching up, for sure. But, point-and-shoot cameras are built to be one thing only: a camera. This still gives them an edge (for now). Professional cameras have larger sensors, digital and optical zoom features, and the lenses are larger and typically better than the ones found on today’s smartphones. Low light photography is still a huge challenge for most smartphones. They struggle to take good photos in low light conditions because their cameras feature smaller sensors, packing a high number of pixels into a tiny area. DSLR cameras – with their massive sensors – are still the best choice if you really want high-quality photos day and night. Smartphones are getting better, however, and through a combination of hardware and software engineering are no longer restricted by lighting conditions.
Are there any challenges that you have shooting with a DSLR that have been solved by smartphone cameras?
Peter Lik: Autofocus can be a massive advantage. It gives you the ability to automatically and accurately focus on a subject, especially subjects in motion like animals or kids. When I’m shooting something moving, like a waterfall or a tree blowing in the wind, a camera with a fast autofocus can make all the difference. It certainly improves on fixed-focus cameras, allowing for better zoom shots and closer macro shots. It can be perfect when something unexpected happens and you want to capture a shot quickly before the moment is gone. Smartphones are also incredibly easy to use, and extremely portable. As I mentioned earlier, mine is with me 24 hours a day. It is the camera I use most to capture my everyday moments. To put it in perspective, my camera bag weighs over 30 pounds and my tripod is another eight pounds. Try carrying that all day every day!
What additional camera features would you like to see introduced into smartphones?
Peter Lik: A high quality zoom function, for starters – one that doesn’t lose image integrity as you pull in for a close shot. Features like brighter lenses and superfast autofocus speeds for phase detection are important, too. Also, for me, bigger is better. I’d like to see bigger sensors for low light capture, along with a larger drive capacity. Plus, the ability to shoot in RAW format would definitely be a feature aimed at professional photographers, offering ultimate control during the post-production phase.
What are the current obstacles you feel smartphone cameras need to overcome to be able to compete with more advanced cameras?
Peter Lik: Right now, it’s all about size and lens quality. These are important for super bright and clear photos, great pictures in low light settings and better autofocus speed for faster image capture. When you are asking one device to do so many things, there is usually a compromise somewhere in there. However, looking at how far things have come in the last nine years, I only feel excitement about where the technology is headed.
*The views expressed in this editorial are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Samsung Electronics.