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

How Using 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:

Photographers are Jealous

We’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.”

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
Photo from 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:


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


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.

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!