The point-and-shoot market officially died on November 15, 2011. That’s when anchor Brian Williams played an outtake from his interview with Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz on the NBC Nightly News. In the clip, Williams asked the celebrity photographer which camera she recommended. Leibovitz didn’t hesitate. She flashed her new iPhone and proclaimed it the “snapshot camera of the day.” Then, as if spouting ad copy, she gushed, “It’s the wallet with my family pictures in it.” The segment closed with — what else? — Leibovitz snapping a picture of Williams with her iPhone. It is unsolicited endorsements like this upon which empires are built.
Today, the iPhone is the world’s most popular camera, with 250 million units shipped. Most of these are used by Flickr and Instagram addicts to photograph their cats. Increasingly, though, professionals are experimenting with “iphoneography.” The body of work is diverse, ranging from fashion to portrait to landscape shoots. But the most impressive images have come from photojournalists who appreciate the iPhone’s stealth factor and instant-upload convenience. As proof of this phenomenon we present Benjamin Lowy, the man at the forefront of this revolution. His war zone iPhotos have been exhibited in museums and won awards. He also knows how to shoot a hurricane, as evidenced by this Time magazine cover. Heed his advice and you too can capture iconic images of killing fields and acts of God. Of course, if you just want to know how to take better cat photos with an iPhone, no worries. The same rules apply.
Don’t stay shackled to the preloaded iOS camera software. The aftermarket apps are far better. But with over 200 iPhone photography apps available, selecting a suite of tools can be daunting. Relax. Lowy has experimented with all the decent ones and narrowed the field down to just three: Hipstamatic (for pros as well as hipsters, this app emulates analogue photography by swapping lenses, flash, and film); Snapseed (for powerful and sophisticated editing); and KitCam (15 lenses, 32 films, 20 frames, and all those exposure and shooting modes are nice, but it’s the “non-destructive editing” feature that seals the deal; indulge in crazy image manipulation for days without ever losing the original raw file).
Light It Right
It’s the hoariest cliché in photography: painting with light. Still, there’s no disputing its validity. If something isn’t lighted properly, the resulting photo is destined for the “delete” bin. Know the basics, like not to shoot portraits on sunny days at noon. The bright light will pocket the eye sockets, acceptable for zombies, but not for a family portrait. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security with all this magical post-production technology. Don’t. Remember: you can change almost anything in Photoshop except for the way light and shadows hit the subject. The cardinal rule for all photography is to create the best base image possible before any fancy software touches the pixels. “If the lighting is right, a pile of dog shit can look beautiful,” explains Lowy. “Study Edward Weston’s bell peppers. That’s good lighting.” It would also help to pick up the definitive book on the subject: Light Science and Magic, better known among lensmen as the “lighting bible.”
Bag of Tricks
When Lowy ventures in-country, he packs two workhorse DSLRs (Canon 5D Mark IIs) and a full complement of prime lenses. But it’s his two iPhones — one carried in his flak jacket, the other stashed in a camera bag as backup — that have become his signature cameras. What about accessories? Although there’s enough iPhone camera paraphernalia on Amazon for the gizmodo crowd to geek out on, Lowy advises iPhoners to keep it simple. His two go-to goodies are: a small Manfrotto LED light to counteract the iPhones Achilles heel: low-light situations (it came in handy at the last Republican and Democratic National Conventions he covered for the New Yorker); and two Mophie Juice Packs in the event of power outages.
Producing crisp images with the iPhone depends largely on how steady your hands are. But even if you do have a surgeon’s touch, the phone’s lack of heft and ergonomics can lead to photo blur, especially when taking pictures with long exposures. For these situations, a tripod is the best option. You could Velcro the iPhone to a tripod faceplate like this guy. It works, but it’s not exactly elegant. It’s also an accident waiting to happen — an accident, by the way, that isn’t covered by AppleCare. Instead, use the Glif Tripod Mount. This $20 piece of plastic is heartily endorsed by the finicky Cult of Mac. Benjamin Lowy gives it a thumbs-up, too. He used the Glif to take this ethereal seascape shot (multiexposure app at 128 frames). Spectacular, right? Now, close your eyes and imagine six fluffy white Persian kittens shot with that same “ghost” effect. Now that’s spectacular. Bonus: the Glif also stabilizes an iPhone for hands-free video watching and FaceTiming.
* To further explore the fabulous world of “iphoneography” go directly to the place that coined the word: iphoneography.com. Instagramers.com also keeps abreast of the latest iPhone camera apps, news, and events. How-to literature includes iPhone Artistry and iPhone Obsessed. Once you’ve mastered the Cupertino camera, news and entertainment outlets will beat a path to your door. Don’t waste precious time haggling over publishing rights. Two new mobile photo agencies will do the dirty work for you. Foap shills iSight portfolios for a flat $10 fee, and pays $5 for each usage. Scoopshot lets iPhoneographers set their own price and charges a nominal commission on each sale. Go easy on the Hipstamatic filters. Both agencies favor minimally processed shots.