Using the iPhone as a camera

camera iconIt’s a terrible camera. The lens is tiny, the resolution stinks, you have no creative control over shutter speed, sensitivity, aperture, and it’s ergonomically a nightmare, not to mention, sometimes it’s a really bad phone too. But it’s always there. I’ve always got it handy when I see something I would really like to photograph and don’t have my DSLR on hand. As a result, I have a lot of photos taken with my iPhone that I wished I had a better camera for. But having taken so many photos with it, I’ve discovered something about the iCamera, or maybe I’ve discovered something about myself, because I’ve started to like the images I can create with it.

Not in the same way I like the images I create with my DSLR, with its large sensor, collection of heavy pristine glass, and controls and options so deep you need to take classes (plural) to truly understand what it all does, but in a more nostalgic way. Sometimes I look at the images I take with my phone and see a distant relative to a Kodak Ektachrome slide, or the bulbous grain of poorly handled Tri-X film. Sometimes I catch glimpses of the creamy images I used to capture in 16mm on my Bolex with its ancient Swiss glass.

It’s not a camera for photographers because, like everything Apple, they want it to do all the thinking for you. From their own literature:

What makes the iSight camera so remarkable is how beautiful photos look without your having to do anything at all.Apple Website

Comic by Aaron Johnson

I get it. Apple’s market is not focused toward professional photographers, and for a while I never considered using my iPhone for anything serious, until I looked at it from a different point of view.

The Right Tool For The Job

My Dad spent 35 years of his life working as an airline mechanic in addition to the years he spent in the air Force fixing planes, and in his free time he spent many hours maintaining and fixing the family cars. Naturally I spent a lot of my time watching him and learning from him until I had enough knowledge and ability to do it myself. Knowing his craft so well, my Dad was a great teacher and one of the fundamental things he taught me was to always use the right tool for the job. It’s a core idea that would span across almost every career I found myself in throughout my life, from working in a machine shop, and as a draftsman to becoming a writer, editor, camera technician and film maker, right down to volunteering to help clean up the local beaches.

Using the right tool for the job generally makes the job easier, but in photography, whether it be still or motion, choosing the right tool is critical in controlling your vision of the image. And the choices can be vast, from choosing a film stock or digital capture device, to lenses, filters, workflow and post processing all the way though to exhibition. But what if you have no choice? No options except for the one device in your pocket.

Where I used to think of my iPhone camera as simply a convenient device to document things, I am now looking at it as yet another tool in my toolbox. An instrument that will allow me to make images that look different than the ones I make using some of the other tools at my disposal. But if in the moment it is the only choice… They say that the best camera for the job is the one you have with you, and just because that handy camera happens to be my iPhone, doesn’t mean I will stop thinking about the quality of light, or getting a unique angle or perspective. Is it the right tool? Yeah, in some instances it is.

Author: Jeff Gatesman

I am a Cinematographer and still photographer. My favorite places are behind a camera or in front of a big screen.

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