National Geographic photographer Keith Ladzinski talks about his time with the Oppo Find X3 Pro in the Mojave Desert

With this week’s launch of the new Find X3 series of phones, Oppo gave the roving photographer a Find X3 Pro and then caught up with him after to ask how he got on with it.

Keith, what was your first reaction when Oppo and National Geographic approached you with the idea of ​​documenting the Out of This World Colour project in the desert, with nothing but a smartphone?

My first thought was “let’s give this a go!” I was excited to rise to the challenge. The Mojave Desert is a very big place and getting on location is often the biggest challenge. The second was finding compositions that told this story. There’s no shortage of compositional options so narrowing down what you’re visually trying to convey was what most of my attention went in to. The trip was a new way for me to explore the desert and change my perspective by exclusively using the Find X3 Pro.

This seems like it was a very special assignment. Have you ever been to the Mojave Desert before?

Yes, several times! The Mojave is a place that is wide open for as far as the eye can see, with dramatic erosion and a colour pallet all of its own. I find it really peaceful, it’s a place where you can truly get away from crowds and clear your mind. It can be a very polarising place, especially in the winter. When you’re in the sun it’s scorching hot, but as soon as you hit the shade or the sun goes down you need a jacket. It’s a dry, harsh and gritty ecosystem, home to hidden canyons, steep cliffs, big mountains and eroded valleys that would take multiple lifetimes to discover. It’s an endless place of exploring and adventure and for me, that’s a really enticing draw.

You normally work with a professional camera and large telephoto lenses. Can a smartphone come anywhere near in terms of quality? 

I generally bring a lot of equipment with me into the field, on any shoot, or even if I’m out to simply exercise a little creativity and enjoy the outdoors. My usual kit includes mirrorless cameras and an array of lenses, stabilisers, filters, etc. Being able to hike around with such a small device in my pocket that produced such high quality imagery was really exciting. I really enjoyed that I could take full control in manual mode, that means a lot, especially when trying to achieve the perfect exposure. This phone put out the highest quality image compared with other smartphones I’ve worked with, it was incredibly impressive how much the Find X3 Pro packs into a small compact package – I was able to capture a lot of great possibilities that I can usually only get with my larger setup.

What else do you like about the smartphone functions?

I loved the ease of being able to simply pack light and pull the X3 Pro out of my pocket for quality capture, was a really great draw. I worked almost exclusively in manual mode, which is how I generally work. I really enjoyed filming in 20:9 as well, it allows you to see the world in a very specific way. The quality of the RAW photos and 10-bit video files is incredibly impressive and the phone itself offers a lot of great options, I particularly enjoyed the wide angle, Super-Raw and Night Shot. This smartphone has something for any scenario you could hope to shoot.

How did you approach the project in such a harsh environment?  

I always try to get the best lay of the land as I can, as much as I can in advance through research and scouting on arrival. I allow myself to be flexible when moments present themselves and when working with people, do my best to get to know them, I believe it helps the photographs.

If you look back on your trip to the Mojave Desert with Oppo and National Geographic, what are your favourite memories? What have you learnt from the expedition?

Without a doubt, the best thing about my work is the people I get to meet and the places and experiences I get to have. With our trip to Mojave, we set a new benchmark in the world of photography. It was outstanding teamwork from start to finish, with everyone playing a role in the success of the project. This unique environment has so many different facets, from the wide open expanses to the steep cliffs and eroded valleys – it truly is like being on another planet and I’m proud to share our work with the world.

  • Keith Ladzinski captures the Earth in all its glory, from natural history and climate change to extreme sports. When it comes to far-off adventures, National Geographic photographer Keith Ladzinski has been to the furthest reaches of the seven continents multiple times over.
  • This content of this interview was supplied by Oppo.

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