OnePlus Photography Awards 2024: ‘People underestimate how amazing photographs taken with mobile phones can be’

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Now in its fourth year, the international competition champions smartphone photography. Judge Mati Machner reflects on how the practice has democratised image-making

Like many photographers starting out during the late 1990s, Mati Machner’s introduction to the medium came via an analogue point-and-shoot camera. At the time, he found the comparatively small, simple device to be something of a mystery. Yet to master ISO, aperture or shutter speed, a young Machner began snapping away in the hopes of understanding more about the world around him – often taking images twice, just in case.

As Machner’s interest and skills in photography evolved, so too did the technology available to him. His first digital camera, a Nikon D40X, offered far more settings – not to mention pixels – than its analogue predecessors. Now a Hasselblad Master and globetrotting wedding photographer, he shoots with some of the most advanced kit on the market – and yet is still drawn to a camera he can hold with one hand.

“The gap between FE compact digital cameras and smartphones is shrinking every year,” the photographer explains. “In fact, it’s become so small that most people probably wouldn’t even notice a difference in the results between the two systems. It’s incredibly satisfying to see that smartphones can now produce such high-quality and serious images, creating memories for oneself, family, or friends that are worthy of printing and displaying on the wall or in a beautiful photo album.”

Machner’s interest in smartphone photography, and his belief in its ability to democratise access to image-making, has led him to become a judge in this year’s OnePlus Photography Awards (OPA). The annual photography contest, launched in 2021 in partnership with the International Photography Awards (IPA), is a key part of OnePlus’ commitment to the development of mobile technology that empowers users to unlock new possibilities in photography. This year’s edition of the awards is now open for entries under the theme Make the Moment until 30 June.

“I’m thrilled to be on board this year as a jury member for the OPA 2024 and to see all the potential from all the applicants,” says Machner, who is joined in his role by Hasselblad Master, alongside IPA jury members and OnePlus imaging product experts. “I think a lot of people underestimate just how amazing photographs taken with mobile phones can be. This is a chance to really showcase that.”

Regardless of social status, many people can now ensure that they preserve everything important, fun, emotional and relevant for the present and future generations


In some ways, it is easy to see why smartphone photography has traditionally been overlooked by the photography industry. Image-making is a skill that takes years to develop, and competition for work in the field has perhaps never been higher. When some spend years saving to purchase a new lens, a level of suspicion towards those working with a device carried in their pocket is understandable. Machner and the team behind OPA, however, see things rather differently. 

“I believe that everyone on this planet should have the right to create memories,” he says, “and with the rapid development of smartphones, this is becoming increasingly possible. Regardless of social status, many people can now ensure that they preserve everything important, fun, emotional and relevant for the present and future generations.” It is this question of social status that is perhaps the most important.

Crowded Metro Station ©Hhesher Sun. 3rd Prize , 'City Voices' Category, OPA 2023 (shot on OnePlus 8T)

Over the last 20 years, smartphones have made photographers of millions of people across the world, and the rise of social media has allowed their images to be shared with unprecedented speed and reach. Though imperfect, these technological advances have offered people the chance to tell their stories through images, and to capture the important moments of their lives in ways once reserved for those with the necessary financial or social capital. According to Machner, this democratisation of image-making is not a cause for concern over increased competition, but an opportunity to be inspired by the many different ways people see the world.

In fact, the photographer is so confident in the importance of smartphone photography that he is now considering introducing OnePlus’ newest phone, the OnePlus 12, into the workshops he teaches regularly across Europe. He hopes to demonstrate to participants that with the OnePlus 12 – developed in collaboration with Hasselblad and featuring a “professional-grade” camera system – they can “achieve remarkable results without needing a €10,000 camera setup”. “Give me a smartphone, and I’ll confidently shoot the next portrait session with it,” he says.

He is similarly confident about the quality of images he expects to see from this year’s OPA, winners of which will receive a prize of $10,000 (£7,800) alongside a 2024 OnePlus device and the opportunity to collaborate with OnePlus in the future. In the past the awards have drawn over 50,000 entries and announced 55 winners, whose images have been displayed in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, as well as at IPA events in New York.

The Hangrang Valley ©Samyak Jain. 1st Prize , 'Infinite Nature' Social Media Group Category, OPA 2023 (Shot on OnePlus 9 Pro)

In 2023, winning images included an enchanting moment of celebration captured during Chinese New Year festivities, a compelling and tranquil image of an ice cave taken at Tibet’s Xiangla Glacier, and a landscape of India’s Hangrang Valley, which delicately portrays the vastness of the region’s mountains. This year entries are welcomed from anywhere in the world, from both OnePlus users and users of any other smartphone, and should be submitted in one or more of three categories: Light and Shadow: Optical Game; Colours: Magic Palette; and Faces: Emotional Mirrors.

Reflecting on his and OnePlus’ hopes for the 2024 awards, Machner asks: Who would have thought a few years ago that truly serious portraits or landscape photos would be possible with a smartphone?” He goes on to discuss the experiences of smartphone users today, who have simplified ISO settings and shutter speeds at their fingertips – a stark contrast to his own early experiences with image-making. “Since then, I’ve watched as digital cameras have evolved, with each year bringing more megapixels and better autofocus systems,” he says.

Yet for Machner, and for OnePlus, image-making is about more than technology – it’s about telling stories and expressing emotions. This year’s OPA theme, Make the Moment, speaks closely to this, with the aim of encouraging everyone to capture and elevate the unique experiences of their daily lives. Through this, both parties hope that smartphones will help more people to access and enjoy photography. “Photography has taken me to places I probably would never have been,” Machner says, “and it has allowed me to look into the souls of many people, which is priceless.”

The 2024 OnePlus Photography Awards is open until 30 June. Entries can be submitted here.