A day of iPhoneography in London
“The best camera is the one with you” – Chase Jarvis
I recently spent the day photographing the streets in London with just my iPhone 13, and I have to say that it was a journey of mixed feelings and results. Obviously, I loved the portability and the size and the added benefit of blending in with all the other tourists walking around. That said, in today’s social media addicted world, no one seems to notice what type of camera you use in urban or street photography. We’re all used to being photographed in public places nowadays, aren’t we?
The purpose of this iPhoneography exercise was twofold. Firstly, I wanted to see what it was like to only photograph with my phone. This was driven by the tremendous leaps in phone technology over the past ten years. Secondly, I wanted to shake up my photography a little, especially when it came to my creative journey.
My assessment of the day
The strongest feature for me was video and not still photography. Videos for Instagram and other social media were so easy to shoot, edit and share straight from the phone – I get that appeal. The photos that I took (ones I would usually have taken with my camera) were underwhelming in quality when I got home and had a look at them on the computer. You may argue that I’m missing the point by doing that, but I’m not an iPhoneographer, so I wanted to see what they would look like from my traditional photographer’s viewpoint. Again you may argue that they’re two different formats, but my goal was to see if there’s anything here to make me sit up and want to switch formats.
Composing and framing were the same as with a camera, so there was no difference there. Personally, I do like the darkness that the camera viewfinder throws around the frame when you have the camera up to your eye. A plus for the phone is having the editing tools right there on the phone if I need to edit them on the go (I use the Adobe Lightroom app occasionally).
I’ve taken many social photos with my phone, but this was the first concerted effort to try and mimic a day on London streets. A day I would typically shoot with a mirrorless camera and a couple of lenses. Now, I am aware that my technical skill levels with the phone are nowhere near that of an iPhoneographer, and they would naturally improve if I were to shoot more regularly.
I know there are other, better smartphones with better cameras out there, but I carry an iPhone, not several others. So, no point in comparing phones here.
- As I have said before – this is super handy for documenting my walks.
- Lightweight and slim in structure for slipping into pockets
- Always “on” the internet through my mobile provider or coffee shop Wi-Fi. My mirrorless (Canon EOS R) does support connection from its phone app to my camera via Bluetooth – but it’s a bit clunky.
- A basic suite of photo editing software is provided. I also have the Lightroom app on there.
- I shot a few wider urbanscape photos with people in their surroundings as I would usually do, and I was bitterly disappointed with the quality when I zoomed in a little on the phone or PC. I knew the quality would not be the same, but I was shocked at the difference between the digital zoom and optical zoom of my photographic equipment.
- On a personal note. I am short-sighted, so I wear spectacles, which means I have to remove them each time I want to take a photo. This was incredibly irritating for me, and for that reason alone, I won’t use my phone for anything other than the occasional social photo/video. My cameras have an eye diopter at the side of their viewfinders, so I can dial that in to see perfectly with my specs on. I hardly chimp on the back screen because I get it all correct in camera when I shoot (or as near to correct as possible). I may occasionally check the histogram or see if I got the focus right when I shoot wedding candids etc.
- In bright sunlight, I struggled to make out what was on the screen while I shot, and so I overexposed a lot of the photos as I dialled in more light. This would not happen on my old DSLR, and certainly not with my mirrorless because I look through the darkened viewfinder.
- I have large hands, and the phone feels so small, thin, and fragile. I can’t get a good stabilising grip on them while I tap and slide settings. This is very different to a good camera technique, where your left hand is holding the base of the camera and the barrel of the lens. It just feels better (and weightier) to have a camera. I’m aware that I would get used to working with it over time – it still seems too fragile for my hands though.
- After 35 years, I can set in all my manual exposure settings on my camera without removing my eye from the viewfinder. No such functionality exists with the phone, as I had to tap the back of the phone to change things.
Having a camera in your pocket is an incredible innovation, but it is still just a phone with a small camera. Maybe someday they’ll add a phone technology to my camera – that would do nicely.
If you want to be a photographer, get a camera with a detachable lens. I don’t know a single amateur/professional who is going to sell their kit to shoot solely with a phone. Conversely, I still get so many questions from those wanting to buy their first camera.
Smartphones have a fantastic place in our lives, and we certainly couldn’t function or work without them. They’ve all but become extensions of our arms nowadays. However, I don’t know many paying clients who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if you arrived for a studio or location shoot with just a phone. It will take a lot of time for those clients to change their minds, which is not to say it won’t change over time.
There are, without a doubt, serious iPhoneographers (who make money from their phone) who’ll disagree with me or have workarounds for many of the points I mention. Top of their list would be to tell me to spend more time photographing out there, which is valid. Some of the issues I had may be down to a newness to this process.
Some might point to my age or hesitancy to change, which may have an element of truth to it. As an urban and street photographer, I always have a camera with me anyway and can get the photos I want just as quickly as I would with a phone. There is just nothing about the iPhoneography space that screams out to me – Wayne, you are missing this or that by having a camera.
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice we’re privileged to discuss and wrestle with when some will never own a camera of any sort. It’s about the camera you have on you at the time or use the most that matter as a creator. Find what works for you and get out there and make your art.
If you’re new to photography, or an amateur who needs a little help on your journey, you can get a free copy of my book when you subscribe to my newsletter.