Eric Mueller Q&A

February 12, 2019
On the art of taking amazing photographs with your phone.

Eric Mueller is a Minneapolis-based artist, photographer, and teacher. Known for his graphic style and strength in composition, his photographs have been exhibited in dozens of group shows, including the Plains Art Museum, the Devos Art Museum, the Midwest Center for Photography, and more. He has been recognized with awards by La Grande Photo, the Minnesota State Fair, and the IPhone Photography Awards. We caught up with him for advice on how we can learn how to take phone images that aren’t blurry and weird.

What is the hardest thing for people to grasp when it comes to digital photography?

The hardest thing for people to grasp, not only photography but in life, is that it is really all about simplicity. People always think it’s about more, but it’s really about less. You just need to have the right things in it.

And it doesn’t have to include a lot of things?

Exactly. Mobile photos need to have simple graphic composition, a single subject, and a clarity of purpose.

What’s the importance of telling a story?

Whatever our reason is for taking a photo, we are usually trying to tell a story. Photos can be a powerful communicator of a message, whether we are reading an ad in a magazine, or reading a story online or looking at a friend’s insta feed. We are drawn to the story first. Often, we don’t even read the text.

But they can also just be for fun?

True. They can just be pretty things. They can just be a pattern with shadows on the floor or a white barn in front of a field. But they are strongest when they do tell stories.

What do you tell people looking to develop their skills?

The number one thing is to shoot a lot. And don’t use the flash, unless you absolutely have it. You end up getting flat, washed-up images where people look like a photocopy of themselves.

How do you encourage people to see the unexpected in their daily routine?

Homework is the key thing. Having a goal or an assignment or a focus is the thing that makes you see the world in a new way. I am a firm believer that we are the most creative when we have the greatest number of restrictions. For example, challenge yourself. You have to take a picture of this 2×4, you have five minutes to do it, you get one light and you get this yellow sheet of paper. Basically, that’s how I do it, I give myself assignments and I force myself to do something. You have to be able to hold yourself accountable.

What percentage of photography do you shoot on your iPhone vs the camera?

It depends on what I have with me at that moment or what I am doing. If I had a choice and had all the time in the world, I’ll shoot with my Sony camera. It’s got a bigger sensor and different kinds of lenses but with my iPhone I just have the lenses-built in. Sometimes the iPhone is better at some things, like when you are shooting close to a glass. Just like the saying the best camera is whatever you have with you at the moment. The tool doesn’t matter all that much. It does to some degree but if you can capture that moment, people aren’t going to care what it was shot on.

Do you prefer to shoot horizontal or vertical?

It depends on the subject. I tend to be a horizontal guy, I started as a filmmaker, so I tend to think sort of things using wide lenses.

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