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Can the iPhone be used by “Real” photographers?

The Curtis Hotel lobby in Denver

NOTE: Guest post and images by

I hear the angry lynch mob rallying together already. Their faces are getting red, they spew words like “megapixels”, “sharpness”, “depth of field”, “lens choice”, “noise levels”, “grub-n-ale”. Purists surely will argue that the iPhone is not sophisticated enough to be taken seriously as a “real” camera. Surely you can’t do professional work with it! Or can you? Years ago, I heard of a professional wedding photographer who decided she was going to use disposable cameras as her sole tool of choice at events. She took amazing images and commanded a very nice fee for her services. It inspired me to think about, and accept, that it is our vision and our creativity that ultimately determines the value of an image – and not the megapixel count or any other technical detail. In fact, I think the best way to judge an image is without knowing the technical details at all. Just look at it and see how it makes you feel. I’ve noticed that when I’m in a gallery and admiring an image, I habitually look at the technical details to see what camera it was captured with – and occasionally I’m surprised to see that it was taken with a less-than-top-of-the-line camera. I have to admit, my sub-conscious devalues the image slightly. Why do we do that?

The Colosseum in Rome

I think that working within the confines of a limited ability camera actually makes you think a little harder. It pushes you to be more creative. It challenges you – and that is what creative growth is all about, constantly challenging yourself to see things a little differently or take a new approach. A few months ago I was in Japan and stumbled upon this amazing little point-n-shoot camera, the Ricoh GR Digital III. It’s a fixed lens, 28mm (35mm equivalent) f1.9. It feels amazing in your hand – solid and precise. The feature list is mind-boggling, yet intuitive. The image quality is outstanding – comparable to some digital SLRs. It wasn’t cheap, especially for a fixed lens point-n-shoot, but I had to have it. I couldn’t put it down and I realized that it challenged me to find ways to make that 28mm work in whatever situation I came upon. It is still one of my favorite cameras and it goes with me everywhere.

As much as I love that Ricoh, my iPhone is my mistress. I talk to it, depend on it, share secrets with it, and it sees more of what I see than anyone else. I never go ANYWHERE without it. Ahh, and didn’t some wise sage say, “the best camera is the one that’s with you.”?

So, just some food for thought, how can we take better images or become better photographers with our iPhones? Scott posted his top 10 iPhone camera apps a little while back, and I’ve got a few more to add. He focused more on the post-processing side of apps, where here are a couple of my favs that help take the images: Pano and ProCamera. Pano is just amazing. It’s a panoramic stitching app that walks you through creating a panoramic scene. It stitches any number of shots together automatically and outputs a high-ish resolution image that is a combination of all the lower resolution images you took. The results are quite remarkable – especially considering the source. I’ve found that the stitching works best when the scene is a distant landscape without a lot of near-far objects. However, it does a great job, even it tight quarters, of stitching together heavily distorted objects on the outer edges. I find that even though the scene is not perfectly stitched, it gives a great overview of the area that could not be conveyed any other way – or so quickly and conveniently.

Lanikai beach in Hawaii

ProCamera, on the other hand, is just a more advanced interface for the basic iPhone camera, but it adds very nice features like: bubble leveler, grid lines, touch anywhere to shoot, anti-shake, self-timer, compass, and full-res zooming (albeit still a digital zoom with interpolation of the pixels). It’s also the only camera replacement app that also accesses the 3Gs video camera – so you can switch quickly from snaps to video. It shoots quickly too.

iPhone quick tips:
1) Keep it really steady. We have a tendency to stab at the shutter button, which creates a bit of camera shake. The best way to take a shot is to hold your finger on the button until you are ready to shoot, then lift it. This snaps the image. ProCamera is great for this too as it has an “anti-shake” mode that will automatically detect when the camera is held steady and then fire the shot.

2) On the 3Gs, use your finger to set the focus point. It also sets the exposure for this area. Great for dealing with backlight or when you want to purposely over-expose for effect.

3) When taking panoramas, take chances on scenes that may not come out perfectly stitched. It’s still great to see the “big picture” of a scene, even when it’s not seamed perfectly. Use the camera vertically for less distortion and more field of view in the final image.

4) As with photography in general, especially when you have a wide-ish angle lens, think about foreground and background objects and use them to create depth and interest in your images.

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