Urban photography with a smartphone: using the Huawei P20

Every time a new smartphone is released it is inevitable there is going to be some sort of hullaballoo about the quality of camera attached to it.  I recently bought the new Huawei P20, not the top of the range three lensed P20 Pro but it’s slightly cheaper, two lensed sibling.

We’ve all seen the marketing, the inevitable iPhone shot cover – funnily enough forgetting to mention the highly skilled photographer, the impeccable studio space, assistants and the thousand pounds of lighting – apparently it’s just the phone that does the work, but there you go.

All that being said, I wanted to try out the Huawei P20 for myself and see how it measured up for use for me scouting some urban / architectural style shots.  So I thought I would give it a try on one of many aimless ambles.  Maybe this will be better option for me than a dslr with a 50mm Inormally use when scouting locations? 

It is amazing how different the experience is using a smartphone compared to using my traditional styled cameras.  There is no denying the convenience factor but  I still handling a bit fiddly when photography with a smartphone.

Shoot raw if you like but if I have to be honest I'm not entirely sure if I really need this in a smartphone... Time will tell.  


On the plus side smartphone design but default nudge you towards framing vertically instead of horizontally, so it is good to see things a bit differently.  It can be all too easy to fall in to habit of landscape framing when using a dslr or mirrorless camera.  

Good enough for social media

Leica lens

Smartphones still a bit fiddly

not all that stable

HDR use a lot

Good points





Why imposing limits can boost your photography

As a photographer it is all too easy to fill up the camera bag with every single piece of kit we can physically carry and head off crooked backed spending endless hours in one spot waiting on the perfect light for one single shot.  This can be fantastic but sometimes we need to mix it up and get our minds doing something different.

 I like this composition and plan to return soon.  I will probably shoot it a little wider and more than likely during sunset or the blue hour

I like this composition and plan to return soon.  I will probably shoot it a little wider and more than likely during sunset or the blue hour

I like to do this by imposing limits on myself.  So I made a quick trip to Stirling city centre with only one lens (Nikkor 50mm 1.8G) and two hours to make some photographs.  I like making quick trips like these; it’s a neat little exercise.  I find it is similar to how an artist would use a sketchbook – I am making quick visual notes, saving ideas on shape, compositions and possible locations which can be returned to and examined later, hopefully to create a finished photograph.  Luckily, Stirling has a very small city centre and can be easily walked around in two hours.  Also, it is a medieval city and therefore any modern architecture stands out a mile.

Abstract Forthside Bridge, Stirling Station

The Forthside Bridge became my main interest to photograph.  It is located only a minute from Stirling train station and is a stark contrast to pretty much all other architecture in the area.  It is modern and sleek and highly photographable.  I spotted the bridge as I approached the station on my train from Glasgow but decided to photograph all around the city and focus on the bridge upon my return from the station.

it is similar to how an artist would use a sketchbook ... making quick visual notes, saving ideas on shape, compositions and possible locations...

What I love most about photographing modern structures like this is that they offer great opportunities to go abstract and focus on elements with the structure as well as the structure as a whole.

Abstract shapes: look up at Forthside Bridge, Stirling Station

In any creative pursuit imposing limits makes us think differently in order to find solutions.  As photographers it can be all too easy to just slip on a different to get the ‘perfect’ composition, but sticking to one focal length we are forced to seek out new compositions and ‘work’ a scene to get something new.

Book Review: New Architecture London

New Architecture London (Prestel)

Richard Schulman (Author), Agnese Sanvito (Author), Edwin Heathcote (Introduction)

New Architecture London Fast Book Review

Any good?

Yes it is actually.  The hardback book is about 180 pages and contains images that span the length and breadth of London.  As the name suggests the focus is strictly on modern architecture here so do not expect any images of Buckingham Palace or The Tower or the likes.

But is the photography good?

Well, yes and no.  There are no poor images as such but I can’t honestly say there are any stunning shots either.  A lot are taken in harsh sun and some pretty nasty shadows and reflections can be seen... but shooting in the city is hard going and access can be limited.

Should I buy it then?

You can pick the hardback for under £18 which is pretty cheap for anything to do with photography - a rocket blower can cost more than that!  If, like me, you have an interest in urban and architectural photography then this book is choc full of inspiring locations to shoot when in London - I can genuinely say I would not have found had I not purchased this book, so for me, it was definitely a worthwhile buy.

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

How to take good photographs in the harsh midday sun

Sunny days are generally not great for photography.  The harsh light can make it very difficult to create good photographs but we should learn to use whatever conditions are available to our best use.  There are lots of techniques and ideas you can do to help in these conditions.

Galloway Tyre Distributors Gl;asgow Buildings

1 - Use a prime lens - the lack of zoom just gives one less variable to worry about when composing your shots... to be honest I prefer primes at the best of times but when the conditions are not ideal (for my needs) a prime is a definite.

2 - Bung on a polarizer - this will kill a lot of the reflections that ruin shots.

3 - Lower expectations - accept the conditions are not your friend here - I'm hardly going to get beautiful soft light at 2pm when the sun is blazing... this can take an unusually long time for us photographers to accept!

4 - Experiment! - I try and use the conditions to my advantage; try out unusal compositions, or including shadows and reflections.  Strong graphical elements can really stand out if you utilise strong sunlight

5 - Plan for later - It's a lovely day, so if I can't get the shot I want now... I make a note and come back later.  The Tyre Distributor image above is a prime example of this.  I like this shot but I know I can work it better on a cloudier day.  I have a 'Locations' folder in Lightroom where I squirrel away ideas I have to return to at a later date

 The harsh midday light is ideal for shots like this where strength of the light adds of contrasts and accentuates the strong graphical elements of the lines.

The harsh midday light is ideal for shots like this where strength of the light adds of contrasts and accentuates the strong graphical elements of the lines.

City of Glasgow College, Riverside Campus

Situated on the southern banks of the Clyde the City of Glasgow College (Riverside Campus) was opened in August 2015.  It is home to Scotland’s leading maritime and engineering campus and is the most modern, most technologically advanced maritime campus in the world.

I have been meaning to photograph this part of the city for a long time and eventually made it down this week.  I decided on a bit of long exposure photography for a change – I rarely do long exposures, not because I do not like them but because I generally lack the patience to to spend so long on one shot.

Long Exposure of Glasgow College Riverside Campus
Long Exposure of Glasgow College Riverside Campus

As you can see from the images, the sunset was obscured a little by clouds on the horizon.  The colours are nice but not fantastic and the sun set directly behind the building means that in order to get a useable exposure I had to really boost the shadows as the building was not too far from being a silhouette.  Lesson learned.  I will return in a month or so when the sun has set a little further east in the hope of getting a sense of colour and light.

You can get more information about the Riverside Campus here.  You can also see my final image from this shoot here

Visiting Govan Graving Docks

Closed in 1988, Govan's Graving Docks are well worth checking out.  The area itself is huge and you could easily spend an entire day photographing the rusting shipbuilding remnants, decaying woodwork, and vast open docks basins.  Because of this the area is full of potential hazards so anyone who decides to visit should be very careful when walking around, it would be all too easy injury oneself.  I personally did not walk over any wooden areas for fear of collapse.  The docks decaying look provide a lovely contrast when photographing Glasgow's more modern buildings; views of Glasgow’s Science Centre, Museum of Transport are easily gettable.

View of Glasgow Science Centre fropm Govan Docks
View from Govan Graving Docks, Glasgow

If you want to find out more about the Govan Graving Docks and the work being to done to preserve them check out here and here.