Thursday, March 8, 2012

iPhone photos- Can they be creative?

When a leaky zip lock bag proved to be the undoing of my cell phone in August 2011, I made the leap from a very basic cell phone to an iPhone.  I was wading in a river with my camera on an inner tube float and my cell safely protected by a zip lock bag, or so I thought. It got very wet.  So, I went from saying "it is just a phone" to saying it was my link for checking weather radar and getting birder updates on where to find the best birding. I had not included the camera in the iPhone as part of my decision.  That would change.

The change in my opinion began one afternoon when I was wandering through the herb garden at Cornell Plantations. The light was good, and I had been lazy.  My DSLR was not with me.  I decided to "play" with the iPhone camera just as when I experimented with a Holga toy camera. It had a single element, uncoated plastic lens. There were  two aperture settings, one shutter speed and no meter.  Basic.  Very basic.

Now, the iPhone is a bit like the Holga  too.  There is one aperture, f/2.8.  Since the lens is very wide angle, there is a large depth of field.  Correct exposure is dependent on the automatic metering to set shutter speed.  This makes for a good test of the photographer's basic skill set and understanding of wide angle photography.

My first images surprised me.  Was this capable of more than snapshots?  I immediately saw the first challenge, namely holding the iPhone so my fingers did not get into the image.  In addition, I was so close to the subject that it was easy to shade the subjects.   Those are good basic skills to keep in mind.

A next question to me was about the wider landscape image.  Could I use the wide angle to show a perspective of flower beds and their surroundings? 

I found the size of the iPhone made it easy to hold it in unusual positions and see the result on the image screen.

This image would have been better if I had a short stool to stand on, but I loved the color, and the instant review of the photo. The colors were looking pretty good too. This  image was at 1/125 second and ISO 100, naturally at f/2.8.  The previous image was at 1/120 second, ISO 80. I was surprised that the sensor ISO speed went down to 80.

So, I went looking for some more images.  If you are photographer, you know how a few good images inspires a burst of creativity with no apparent sense of time passing.

 The images kept coming as I awakened to the possibility of a creative camera that is so small and as ever present as a cell phone.

Parallel to this discovery was the delight I felt when I could pull the image I just made into a photo editing application, and make some simple adjustments.  If you can remember shooting a roll of slide film, mailing it to a processor and waiting for the return mail some week later, then this is revolutionary beyond the initial digital revolution when you could download a memory card to your computer the same day and edit.  Now you can do edit and email it to someone within minutes, and it can be a  pretty good image.

Here is a good example of how the iPhone can capture an unexpected creative image. We were visiting our daughter in Washington, DC this autumn and with some unexpected time, headed across the Mall to see the new monument to Martin Luther King Jr.

 In the interest of  honesty, this is a digital composite. The sky was a dull and uniform grey, so the sky  is added.  My point is that I was able to capture the critical image data and create an artistic and reasonable image to express the feelings I had at this sculpture.

Just this past week, I was feeling cabin fever after a day of pouring rain, and went in search of images with both my iPhone and Canon G9 point and shoot.  I wanted to compare the two cameras critically.

I think this is a pretty good image.  It was made with the camera very low to the pavement in order to correctly position the reflections. Which camera would you expect to have created this landscape image?

So, after deciding on the   source of the landscape image, decide which camera likely made the portrait image at that follows. It is in the same light.

Well, the first image is from the iPhone.  The tipping of the Corning clock tower and the bank building suggest a wide angle shot with the lens tipped upward. This causes keystoning.  The second image uses a longer focal length to limit the portion of the scene in the image.  There is less keystoning. The colors are pretty good in both with a slight edge on my screen to the G9, a very slight edge.

I asked the question whether the iPhone is capable of creative photograph, and I think the answer is a qualified yes.  It works where wide angle distortions are not a problem.    (Note that the  one common complaint is that people's faces are distorted to look bloated and warped. That is to be expected from a wide angle lens.) I do think it is important to get close to a foreground element that can fill the image.  Objects in the distance become very small and are lost to the viewer.

The simple truth is that the camera you have with you is better than the one you left at home.  Another lesson is that a simple camera can yield creative results if you have learned how to use it to its potential.  The iPhone camera is fully capable of creative images within its limits, and it is fun.

I have begun a gallery of iPhonography in my website and hope you will visit it at:

Natural World Photography by Paul Schmitt

Here is my final image from when I was leaving clock tower area.  Can you tell what it is?

Paul Schmitt

1 comment:

  1. I'll take a guess.....a tree's bark in stages of shedding/peeling?

    I'm going 'backwards' on your posts, but still am amazed at the quality of the i-phone images. Thanks for sharing, I'm actually in need of a new call phone, I just might have to get me an i-phone for that 'extra ease' in using & carrying. :-)