On Assignment With Stephen Alvarez And Lumia

National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez was asked to capture images of the Great Barrier Reef for his 7 Wonders of the World project but there was just one catch: it had to be shot on a Lumia smartphone.

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World renowned photographer Stephen Alvarez recently took the Lumia 950 and 950 XL on an amazing journey to the Great Barrier Reef* to capture images for the highly-acclaimed National Geographic.

Now, some of you may be wondering about the tools he was asked to use but Alvarez, who's been pretty much capturing photos non-stop since graduating from University of the South in 1987, has actually shot on assignment before with just a pair of Lumia smartphones and the essentials you need for a trek up Mount Everest. Yes. This guy has climbed Mount Everest to capture images with a smartphone so when National Geographic asked him to photograph the Seven Natural Wonders of the World using only Microsoft smartphones, the tools he would be using didn't really phase him. In fact, in a recent interview, Stephen reminded us how heavy and cumbersome a 'big' DSLR can be in comparison to the kit he now regularly uses for capturing his images with. 

“Now, when I have to go back to the big DSLRs for work, I sometimes forget how huge they are. I mean, just how gargantuan is a pro DSLR with a lens on it? They're great imaging devices, but at the cost of an awful lot of weight and an awful lot of money.”

The much lighter and smaller Lumia 950 and 950 XL Stephen used on assignment feature a rear-facing PureView camera with a 20-megapixel advanced BSI sensor, f/1.9 Zeiss optics, triple-LED natural flash, fifth-generation optical image stabilization, ISO12800, 4K video, and a 5-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera. You can read more about the imaging capabilities of the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL here but first, let's take a closer look at Stephen's journey to the Great Barrier Reef.

"I’m a lifelong photographer”

I shot my first picture with a brownie camera when I was three years old. The picture is hanging in my office so photography has always been part of my life. The last 20 years I’ve spent documenting the world for National Geographic Magazine. The stories are long and wonderful but you have to be passionate about both the subject and photography going into them.


Lumia in-hand

You recently did a shoot at the Great Barrier Reef?

I did. In many ways, the Great Barrier Reef is the most daunting of the Natural Wonders. It’s just so vast that trying to cover it in less than the two weeks we had was a real challenge. There is such natural diversity there. Simply amazing to see.

Join Stephen on his journey



Lumia in-hand

"It all syncs so easily"

It's great to know that with my Lumia 950 XL, I’ve always got a camera on me that will take great photos. Windows 10 also gives me the best email client I’ve ever seen in a phone, plus the ability to work on PowerPoint, Word and Excel documents on the fly when I’m on deadline. And my Band 2 recently replaced my watch. It tracks my sleep, wakes me in the morning and even reminds me to put on sunscreen.

Learn more about Office on Lumia


Stephen's favourite Lumia apps:** 


"My favorite Microsoft app is OneNote. I use it every day for both my personal journal and for my work.”


“Most of the images on my Instagram feed in recent weeks have been taken with my 950 XL.”


"The synchronisation of images that I shoot on my phone that then show up on OneDrive is a lifesaver.”


Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef - Watch the video: 


Stephen's on location with the Lumia: 

In the moment with a beautiful view

In the moment with a beautiful view



Fantastic image quality


Taking a protected Lumia 950 XL down under

Taking a protected Lumia 950 XL down under


Just a normal day chasing fish with Lumia

Just a normal day chasing fish with Lumia


On the seaplane to get a different perspective

On the seaplane to get a different perspective


Reviewing the brilliant Lumia photos from Surface

Reviewing the brilliant Lumia photos from Surface


Even though it's the lightest Stephen has ever boarded an airplane for a photographic assignment, all he took into the field was the Lumia smartphones and a Surface Pro, Stephen successfully created a visual account of his expedition that's not only beautiful, but shows that the most important thing for a photographer to remember is that how he/she 'sees' is really what makes a great picture. 

"I tackled my most enormous Natural Wonder with the least equipment ever- hard to believe the great things this technology lets me do," Stephen Alvarez. 


Learn more about Stephen:

National Geographic 

See Stephen's ongoing Seven Natural Wonders of the World project


Follow Stephen on Instagram


See Stephen's Twitter feed


* We were truly inspired by the work of Stephen and National Geographic and were happy to provide them with a free trial of Microsoft products and services to use as featured in this story.

** Available apps may vary by device and market.

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