How Shooting an iPhone has made me a Better Photographer

I’ll admit it, when iPhoneography started to really take hold it drove me crazy.  I hated all the photos being published of some terrible composition or some boring subject covered up with a 60s filter and some quote below like “OMG, I’m like an artist!!!

iPhoneography, Bamako

All the photos in this post were taken with an iPhone 4

However, as time rolled on I realized a couple things:

  1. Photographers are JealousWe’ve been training in the skills of photography for years.  We work hard to perfect our art, and spent loads of cash on the equipment to do so.  Then, here comes the masses with cameras that fit in their pockets and are capable of capturing many of the same moments.  It’s like when digital photography came out and film photographers all said “it’s cheating.”
  2. Photography is NOT about technical skill:  I think when you’re trained to achieve the highest technical quality, you start to forget the fact that an image isn’t about sharpness, noise, or depth of field; photography is about capturing a special moment in time.  Some of the most powerful images of our time are out of focus and noisy, but they capture an important story; and that’s what important.  Moreover, photography is about a connection between the viewer and the photographer.  iPhoneography has created the possibility for someone to take a photo and share it with their friends, family, and the world instantly, and that’s a beautiful thing in itself.

Thus, partly out of curiosity and partly noticing the rise of Instagram, I decided to pick up a used iPhone 4 while in Europe if for nothing else but to give it a chance and perhaps use it as a backup camera when I didn’t want to pull out my big DSLR while in Africa.

iPhoneography, Madrid

Shot in Madrid, Spain

To my surprise, not only did I learn to enjoy shooting the iPhone, but it has actually helped to make me a better photographer.  Here’s how:

Composition

With a DSLR you can use depth of field and low light tricks to make a photo look really great.  However, with an iPhone you really need to concentrate on taking a photo with a nice composition.  With my DSLR I would shoot a bunch of quick shots and then toss the camera over my shoulder.  However, with an iPhone, since the processing time is so slow and there are few “tricks” you can take advantage of, you really want to make sure that you’ve got the shot just the way you want it before you pull the trigger.  Shooting the iPhone has taught me to take more time with the composition while shooting my DSLR camera now.  I noticed almost immediately that the composition to my DSLR photos was stronger since shooting an iPhone.

iPhoneography, Mauritania

The perfect light for a desperate looking self-portrait in Mauritania

Lighting

With a DSLR camera you can essentially set all the values manually and then plop your machine on a tripod and get to some extent get the shot you hoped, regardless of the light.  However, an iPhone really only takes quality photos if the light is perfect.  Now, with the DSLR, I had never really been good at creating light or searching out the really nice light, but the iPhone forces you to seek out the right light whether you like it or not.  With the iPhone, I’ve really learned the value of creating my own light, bouncing light, and seeking out the really soft light.  These days, I’m much better at using light on my DSLR camera because of it.

Back to the Basics

While holding the iPhone in my hand I was forced to ask myself “what is photography about to me”.  For me, photography is about capturing a moment in time.  The tricks of photography fool us into thinking that photography isn’t about the story the photo tells but about how cool the image looks.  With the iPhone, I’m not concerned about trying to capture a National Geographic winner, I’m only looking to record a moment from the world around me.  It’s actually a refreshing feeling not worrying about the technical and instead concentrating on what really matters to me; like bacon.

Importance of Editing

I think I was starting to get a little bit lazy with my photo editing.  I wasn’t concerned with making the image really jump out, since I felt my DSLR photos were strong enough already.  However, the editing process on the iPhone photos is really important (and I’m not talking about choosing filters, but actual editing through programs like snapseed).  You don’t have to edit iPhone photos, but by making the minor adjustments you really are creating a more powerful image.

Competition is Good

This is perhaps the most important thing for me.  I’ve always been a competitive person, and while many other photographers find the fact that thousands of people are wowed by images taken on iPhones quite frustrating, it pushes me to take my skills to an extra level.  iPhoneography is a direct challenge to SLR photography because it proves one thing: a great photo has NOTHING to do with the type of camera you use.  No matter how expensive your camera is, a great photo is all about the emotion the image portrays and the story it conveys to the viewer.  Reminding me of that point, iPhoneography has challenged me to stress the meaning of my photos, and that challenge is the most important thing that this iPhone photography movement has taught me.

iPhoneography

Shot on the beach in Grand Bassam, Cote d’Ivoire. I didn’t have my big camera with me, but the iPhone is always at hand!

Camera Phones are Good for the World

My concluding statement really has nothing to do with me, or iPhones for that matter.  The rise of camera phones on basically all edges of the earth is great for human kind.  Now, a story can be told be just about anyone.  From an Egyptian showing images of a protest in Cairo to someone showing a traditional dance in the Polynesian Islands, camera phones bring the world closer together.  They let ordinary people show the world how it really is.  Camera phones offer just about anyone the ability to describe the world around them, not just those who can afford the expensive cameras or training.

What do you think?

So, what do you think of the iPhoneography movement?  Let me know in the comments below!


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

Share This Post On

12 Comments

  1. Hey Brandon,

    Couldn’t agree more. The whole reason I bought an iphone was for the camera and immediate capability to edit and share them. Too many times I’ve taken a boat load of photos with my SLR and never tough them again becasue of time contraints or just sheer laziness. With the iphone you can sit and edit and be creative anytime anywhere, its awesome.

    It still takes photographic skill to compose an image and capture a subject in a way that interests the viewer, whether your using a $4000 slr or an ipoone. And yes, Snapseed is awesome too.

    Post a Reply
  2. Interesting perspective on iPhones. I have had an Android for less than a year and while I don’t use a DSLR, I do have a 4/3 camera. Recently, I’ve become a bit more focused on photography so light, composition, and photo editing have been important. However, I also use Instagram a lot more now. And the photos off my phone turn out great. Good reminder to tell a story and capture a moment rather than create the perfect photo.

    Post a Reply
  3. Well, for decades I’m a real enthusiast for small cameras. I travelled for years with a small Minox 35GT, the smallest film camera. This fitted neatly into a small belt pouch. Funny thing was, that people didn’t take this tiny camera seriously, so I could snap away in situations where others got into trouble for taking photos. With a good skylight and/or polarization filter I got some amazing shots, despite fixed focal length.
    Next I made the mistake and bought a Nikon SLR; half the time I found the camera too heavy or bulky to carry around, so the best photos of that period are in my head, because I didn’t have a camera at hand…
    During our last trip I consciously decided to go for small again, and the Nikon S10 with a swivel lens fitted my needs perfectly: light weight, small enough to carry in belt pouch, good image quality except for noise in very dark conditions, some manual settings, good zoom, and thanks to the swivel lens I can frame a shot over my shoulder, above my head, at ground level, around the corner of a building = excellent if you don’t want to draw attention with your camera.
    Now that the electronics of my Nikon are becoming less reliable I think the next camera will be a top of the range small Panasonic Lumix.

    Post a Reply
  4. Glad you embraced the way of the iPhone! I rarely use my DSLR when travelling anymore (well, actually, I didn’t really use it on trips before I had an iPhone because it’s not the most portable during adventures). My iPhone is my “go to” for capturing memories! Love your shots from all devices!

    Post a Reply
  5. What you said in #2 sadly applies to most forms of art. Whether it’s photography, writing, or classical music. Artist get caught up in trying to perfect technique and frankly… they worry more about impressing their peers than their audience.

    It’s for this reason that some of the most revered (by experts) classical piano is hard to listen to, while something so much more simple and melodic is actually more beautiful

    Post a Reply
  6. While I agree with the post, I can’t help but cringe every time the word iPhoneography is mentioned. It’s Mobilography, because some of us happen to be on Android or Windows phones. It’s as if instead of saying “when digital photography came out and film photographers all said ‘it’s cheating'” you were to write instead “When Canon came out, film photographers said….”. And a big question mark gets raised among Nikon using readers. You get my point. The medium isn’t an OS

    Post a Reply
  7. What a great post to read from a photographer. As a writer with only a point-and-shoot and basic photography skills, I go to great lengths to make my shots look presentable. I do have the lazy mindset, though, that photos taken with my phone are meant for quick sharing – so I only throw on filters and post them on Facebook/Instagram. I need to try editing them properly and see what comes out!

    Post a Reply
  8. For me, being a photographer is all about communication, and the most successful photographs are the ones where the viewer gets a sense of a (I am not saying ‘the’ intentionally, as interpretation differs) story from the photographer.

    So whether you are using a 10×8 camera, a digital SLR set on auto, or an iPhone using apps, if you aren’t telling the viewer ‘there’s a story here!’, then you aren’t creating effective photographs. Like you, I have found the constraints of using a camera phone challenges me to be more creative in order to produce photographs I like.

    Saying that, I have always believed in choosing the right camera for the job. Cameras (and light) are the photographer’s tool. So if I am intending to create large exhibition prints, I might not use the iPhone, unless I was using the loss of detail creatively. However, I find if I am shooting with another camera, I usually make an iPhone version as well. If using a studio camera is like writing a letter, using the iPhone camera is like writing a postcard, one you send instantly with a ‘Wish you were here’ on the other side.

    As for filters, I feel some people cross the line from ‘Photographer’ to ‘Digital Artist’, and question whether some images would still be good photos if you removed the filters. Is it a good photo or is it good art?

    Thanks for your very interesting article and opening up the debate!

    Post a Reply
  9. I really enjoyed this article. It drives home a very clear message about how camera phones have benefited the art of photography and reminds us that we are in the midst of a photographic revolution. I’m one of those who enjoy using both SLRs and iPhones and because of that I am better off as a photographer in the ways you described.

    Post a Reply
  10. Le’s make a goup of people who love shooting the world with idevices.
    And then make some competition out of it.
    I think it will be great

    Post a Reply
  11. Smartphones are alright for casual photography for facebook or instagram. But the quality still isn’t good enough for people interested in photography as a hobby. If the DSLR is too big to bring along then by all means use your phone.

    Post a Reply
  12. nice article…………..

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real Time Analytics
Shares
Want to improve your photography? Subscribe to my Travel Photography YouTube Channel! You will not regret it!

Get a Free Copy of Vagabundo Magazine

Sign up for my newsletter and get a free copy of Vagabundo Magazine. You'll also get information regarding future travel photography workshops. Right now, we're booking for PERU!