You might’ve seen a number of iPhone photography-based articles here on SLRL, various magazines, even in rather high-brow publications like the New York Times, or in the commercial slots between scenes of BBC’s Planet Earth II. And you may have thought this was about as appropriate as advertising an all-you-can-eat buffet at a foodbank in Yemen. You, after all, are astute. You are watching a documentary on the enviable mating habits of an obscure and polygamous lizard, marveling at the camera work, or reading about the Inverse Square Law and why it matters. The only time you’re interested in using a phone camera is when you haven’t got a ‘proper’ one at hand.
Take something like the iPhone 7+ with its dual cameras, 12MP sensor, and ‘Portrait Mode’ – a computerized bokeh simulation tool that Apple says gives that ‘DSLR’ look but you know doesn’t hold mustard to your 105mm 1.4; something you’re quick to tell everyone within earshot. All of it sounds like electronic, computerized e-speak and e-cheating by the e-generation, and you’re more evolved, a seasoned vet. You’ve been, like, shooting film since ‘before it was cool’…man.
Speaking a bit as someone who can identify with being an analog guy in a digital world, one sympathizes. But no one cares. This is how it always is when there’s a generational shift. It’s always been the place of the new trends and tech to absolutely flummox and irritate the users of the last, and the generations that go with it. All this said, there is a reason publications and channels like the ones you frequent bring you this material (those ad dollars don’t get spent off the cuff): It’s because it’s relevant and stuff you may actually like if given the chance, and it’s just the way things are going.
Billboard Magazine recently blessed the cover of their last issue with a ‘dreamy’ photo of singer Camila Cabello, and for all intents and purposes, it works. It’s a picture of a pretty girl holding gaze, and those who know her or like her will notice it, think it’s a pretty picture, and thumb the pages. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the shot that appears just a backlit outdoor portrait with a reflector up front. Except, there is.
It was shot on an iPhone 7+, using Portrait Mode, and photographers the internet-wide lost their minds at worst, and muttered the same tired commentary at best. “If I were to use this on a paid job, I would never expect to be paid,” (why?) or, “Try shooting a wedding with an iPhone…” (no one said to), and my personal favorite, “So now everyone with an iPhone is a photographer like the noob who shot this“. That last one is particularly interesting considering it was shot by Miller Mobley, who is a ridiculously noteworthy photographer with a client list you just can’t buy, and a body of work that will keep you clicking through as the minutes roll by, and your coffee goes cold, and the cat gets the goldfish.
Sure the iPhone isn’t as sharp, doesn’t have the dynamic range and all other things, but frankly, unless you looked for it, you wouldn’t glance at that shot and think it wasn’t taken with a dedicated camera, and no one else, none of the consuming audience gives a damn if it was.
But that’s just it, that there’s still this prevalent idea that you are what you shoot; to equate one’s camera description as self-description, and it’s good for no one. It tends to produce photographers who focus on the product and not the produce; technical pixel peepers who lose the forest for the trees, whose work is a camera showcase rather than a subject showcase. But the creative restrictions forced upon creatives that are working with shorter deadlines, who share frequently, and who are doing things on the run with less capable cameras is shifting this, because when you’re working with less you’ve got to be more creative and you don’t have the camera tricks to rely on – your work has to say something, or at least get the viewer to feel something.
2017 will be a year when that attention to detail, to the subject, to telling a story, to creating a narrative, to emoting, and bringing out the personality of a subject will become ever-more critical if you want your image to give pause in this noisy world, and if you are or aren’t accomplishing this will not depend strictly on your equipment. If you succeed no one will care what you shot it on because they just like what you’ve shot, and if you fail no one will care what you shot it on because they’d have already moved on to something else…