Welcome to our very exciting interview column on theappwhisperer.com. This section entitled “A Day in the Life of…” is where we take a look at some hugely influential, interesting and accomplished individuals in the mobile photography and art world… people that we think you will love to learn more about. This is our one hundredth and one installment of the series. If you have missed our previous interviews, please go here.
Today we are featuring Amadou Diallo a lifelong East Coaster (except for a brief stint in the Emerald City) who moved to New York City at the age of 20 and immediately learned that nobody cares where you’re from, what school you went to, or what your father did for a living; the only thing that matters is, “Can you handle the gig?” As a musician (tenor and alto saxophone) Amadou had the opportunity to tour, perform and record with jazz greats like Illinois Jacquet and Lionel Hampton, Latin legends like Eddie Palmieri, ska revival acts and underground Haitian bands. As a composer he has written music for Big Bands, classical piano trios, orchestra, and a film score.
Amadou’s creative life is now devoted to photography and writing. His fine art work documenting landscapes of North America, Europe, Asia and Africa has been exhibited at several galleries in the United States. He is currently a faculty member at New York’s International Center of Photography and leads seminars and workshops on digital photography throughout the country. Amadou has written about photography gear and software for several magazines and web sites, and currently writes about technology for sites like Forbes and The Wirecutter, which means he’s usually surrounded by more gadgets than he knows what to do with.
Amadou says he’s the lucky husband of a woman who has dedicated her life to fighting against injustice and inequality and he’s also the very proud father of two children whose insatiable curiosity about the world around them is a constant source of inspiration.
We couldn’t wait to find out more about Amadou and invited him to take part in this interview. We think you will all enjoy this a lot, it’s full of fabulous images and wonderful words.
All the links to the apps used or mentioned will be published at the end of this article, very soon. (If you would like to be interviewed for our new ‘A Day in the Life of…’ section, send an email to Joanne@theappwhisperer.com, and we’ll get back to you.)
‘Beach Maui 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Let’s start at the beginning of the day, how does your day start?
One of my gigs is working as a freelance tech journalist, so mornings start (usually before sunrise) with a browse through my Feedly stream for tech news and events that happened after hours. I’ll then take stock of images that I need to shoot later in the day. I may need demo images for a class I’m teaching, to illustrate an article I’m writing, or simply have an idea for something cool I’d like to try and shoot.
If I have a batch images from a shoot waiting for me to sort through and make selects, I like to do that early as well. I find it easier to follow to my instincts in the morning before my head gets clouded with other tasks.
‘Bed-Stuy, NY, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
How did the transition from traditional photographer to mobile photographer develop? (Pardon the pun).
It hasn’t been a transition in the sense that I became a different kind of photographer or gave up one type of camera for another. Photography is fundamentally about developing and trusting your eye and your instinct. The camera is just a tool and you use the one that’s most appropriate for the task at hand.
Having said that, I was a late adopter to mobile shooting. In fact, I only started using a phone for “serious photography” when, as a staff writer for dpreview I was asked to review the HTC One X in 2012. Shooting with the HTC and other contemporary phones, I was impressed with how far they had come in image quality. At that point they were as good as, if not better than, compact point and shoot cameras.
‘Boerum Hill, NY, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you like to download new mobile photography apps regularly?
For personal use, I’m pretty old school. At the beginning, I’ll devote a bunch of time to finding an app that works for me. But once I’ve found it, I’d rather spend my time shooting as opposed to chasing after new apps. The bulk of the camera and editing apps I do have on my phone and tablet are ones that I’ve needed to write reviews for on various sites. But there are probably only three that I use regularly for my personal work.
‘Coney Island, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
What is your preferred platform, Apple iOS, Android, Windows?
I bought an iPhone largely because I wanted the widest possible selection of apps to choose from for both shooting and editing.
‘Downtown Seattle, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Would you consider changing platforms and why?
I’d have no problem with switching to an Android device. There are several features on that platform – the back button, for example – that I wish were on iOS. Why Apple doesn’t offer access to specific shutter speeds and exposure comp is simply baffling. My two-year contract will be up around the time the iPhone 6 is expected to be available. So I’ll be comparing whatever that offers against Android options. Changing platforms would really be the result of a compelling camera feature or improved performance. Windows Phone 8 is a bridge too far for me, though. I want to be part of a larger ecosystem for apps and devices.
‘Ghost Brooklyn, 2013 – ©Amadou Diallo
How often do you update your existing apps?
I’m never in a rush to update, unless there’s a must-have feature. I usually just hit the Update All button in the App store every couple of months.
‘Lake Washington, Seattle, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
What are your favourite photography apps and why, what features do you look for in a new photo app?
Snapseed is probably my all-time favorite app. It’s intuitive, has a clean interface, and most importantly, gives excellent results. My only real complaint is the damn image straighten UI! It needs a slider with granular control that makes subtle rotations much easier. For me, Oggl is a nice blend of Hipstamic’s whimsy with post-capture flexibility. But lately, VSCO Cam has been my go-to shooting app. It’s got a nice, clean interface and I like the ability to frame the shot as a square image and re-adjust the crop later, if I need to.
‘Locals San Miguel de Allende, 2012’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Where’s your favourite place to shoot and why?
Aside from a couple of years I spent in Seattle, I’ve lived in New York City since I was 20. Put me anywhere in the five boroughs with a camera and I’m happy. The city has a non-stop energy and buzz, with so many cultures represented and stories that can be told. But I’m also a big landscape guy, and I love exploring remote terrain with an ocean coastline.
‘Madrona, Seattle, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
What are your favorite photographic subjects and why?
Shape and form have always appealed to me (much more than color) and I’ve always liked shooting landscapes and architecture. Why? Who knows? Recently, I’ve become more interested in street photography, which the iPhone’s focal length is really well-suited for.
‘Mexico City outskirts, 2012’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Where do you like to upload your photographs to – Flickr, Instagram etc?
I’m a big fan of Instagram, solely because I love square format images. One of the first cameras I started using when I got into photography was a 6 x 6 format Bronica SQAi, so I’m partial to the square image.
‘Millerton, NY, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you use your mobile phone everyday to take images?
I recently completed a project where I posted a photo a day for exactly one year. Going out and finding something interesting to shoot every day definitely sharpened my eye. And now, even if I don’t pull out the phone or camera to take a shot, I’m constantly framing shots in my head, which is just another form of photographic practice or maintenance.
‘Milwaukee Art Museum, 2012’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you like to use external hardware products with your mobile device for image and video capturing, such as lenses, tripods, external storage and battery packs? Please elaborate as much as possible.
I like to keep things really basic. Once I start adding on accessories that no longer allow the phone to slip into my jeans pocket, I figure I might as well bring one of my traditional cameras.
‘Palm Trees, Maui, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you edit images on your mobile devices or do you prefer to use a desktop or laptop computer?
I’m a big fan of editing mobile photos on my phone. Because that’s how most people will be viewing them – on a small, 4-5 inch screen. I do have some good editing apps on my iPad that come in handy when I’m out of the office, but I use those for images captured with my mirrorless camera or DSLR that I want to send out. But for final versions of my fine art work, I edit all of those on my desktop machine.
‘Playground, Brooklyn, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Where do you envisage your mobile photography passion will take you? Have you been involved with exhibitions etc? Please elaborate if you can.
All of the shows I’ve had to date have featured work shot with 35mm and large format cameras. My first collection of iPhone-based work will probably come in a book. I’m still in early stages of putting the proposal together and going through images to make selects.
‘Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you also enjoy shooting videos with your mobile phone? If so, what do you do with them? Have you considered uploading them to our Mobile Movies Flickr group?
I don’t have any interest in video, at this point. That’s such a different narrative process than still photography. People often think that if they can take a great photo they can be a great videographer. It’s just not true. Video has its own vocabulary and obviously, rhythm. It takes a huge commitment to master it.
‘Reflections, Indianola, Washington, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Where do you see the future of mobile photography?
Certainly image quality will continue to improve. We’ll see greater dynamic range and better low light performance. Looking further down the road, with wearable tech and full-blown computers that fit on an SD card, we’ll probably see high quality cameras migrate from phones into other devices that don’t need a link to your phone for sharing over a cellular network.
‘SanMiguel de Allende, 2012’ – ©Amadou Diallo
What do you think is the most popular area of mobile photography?
If you look at social media sites, clearly travel photography is huge. That’s really the sweet spot of a camera-phone’s features. It’s already with you, easy to use, and you can share pictures instantly.
‘Seattle Community College, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
Do you think it’s country specific, are some nations more clued up?
Smartphones are obviously luxury items, so it’s only in developed countries that you’re seeing the explosion in mobile photography. But taking that into account, the desire to capture images is universal, so I don’t see a big geographic distinction in the rise of still photography on mobile devices. Now countries with fast cellular speeds, or that make public broadband widely available, will probably have an edge in video sharing, as that takes up much more bandwidth.
‘Seattle Public Library, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
If you could select a specification for a mobile smartphone, what features would you select, photographically speaking?
I’d like to see the trend of larger sensors continue, with an emphasis on light-gathering ability rather than pixel count. Even 5MP is plenty, for what most people do with their images. There’s plenty of room, however, for better dynamic range and color accuracy.
‘Seattle Skyline, 2013’ – ©Amadou Diallo
What do you think of Joanne and theappwhisperer.com?
I think your site strikes a great balance between the tech equation, with new apps, etc and the creative aspirations of mobile photographers. The apps (and hardware) are all supposed to be for making images in the first place.