Photography, not iPhoneography

Triptych, Flow No. 3

Triptych, Flow No. 3

The image in this post was captured with an iPhone.  If that makes you yawn, I don’t blame you.  Not so long ago, using a smartphone to produce a fine art photograph was something of a novelty, and images made in this manner had a bit of a “wow” factor.  Now, smartphones are so ubiquitous that juried exhibitions of nothing but images captured with mobile devices are commonplace.  There’s certainly nothing particularly noteworthy about using smartphones for fine art photography anymore.

What is noteworthy, though, is how infrequently smartphones are used for “straight” fine art photography.  Most fine art photographs captured with smartphones that I come across look like they have been highly digitally processed.  The goal seems to be to create images having certain “looks” – vintage, painterly, selectively focused, over- or under-saturated, whatever the case may be.  These kinds of photographs have been called “iPhoneography,” and while sometimes the results can be worthwhile, the whole thing seems to rely on digital gimmickry to get to the end result.  Few people seem to be pointing their smartphones to make straight captures of their subjects in the way that, say, Edward Weston or Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed their film cameras to make straight captures of their subjects.  It’s as if no one believes or take seriously the possibility of creating works with a smartphone that can stand on their own, without the aid of some kind of digital processing crutch.

That’s a shame.  Smartphones are perfectly capable of producing fine captures, worthy of being made into fine photographs.  Sure, smartphones have their limitations.  The pixel count on my iPhone is dwarfed by that of my Canon 5D Mark ii, its fixed lens limits the kinds of subjects I can capture, and the 8-bit jpgs it captures limits how much the digital file can be worked over.

Still, the files are robust enough to produce a good print.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this image by one of my favorite photographers, Cole Thompson.  He was able to print it to 15 inches wide – I’ve seen it in person, and it looks great!  Still don’t believe me?  I’ve had several images captured with my iPhone exhibited in juried exhibitions of straight photography.  I didn’t disclose that they were captured with an iPhone (nothing sneaky or underhanded, mind you, the capture mode was irrelevant to the exhibitions), and the image quality was good enough that they fit right in.

Plus, smartphones bring certain advantages to the table that other cameras don’t.  There’s the obvious fact that they are with you all the time.  There’s the further fact that as small, handheld devices, you can really move them around to get angles and points of view that you might not make the effort for with larger cameras.  Both of these attributes were key in producing the image in this post, since I came across this subject at a place where I never would have had my big camera, and I was able to wave my iPhone around a lot to get some interesting perspectives.

My process in making the image, though, was the same as if I had used my Canon 5D Mark ii to get the captures.  No fancy filters or effects.  I knew what I wanted the final image to look like even before I started capturing the subject, and my workflow was the same as it would have been for any other black and white print.  That’s why when I use my iPhone’s camera, I think of it as “photography,” not “iPhoneography.”

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  1. Chris Prakoso April 23, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    iPhoneography is a term that was coined for Photography that uses iPhone as the capturing tool, regardless whether it is straight capture or post-processed. You are free to call your mobile captured photos as Photography of course. It is ‘still’ Photography, just not taken with a traditional SLR.

    Btwy, do you know that with certain apps you can get 20mb TIFF image from your iPhone. This image is a pseudo raw picture before iOS do its edits to create the final JPEG.

  2. Chris Prakoso April 23, 2014 at 4:09 am #
    • admin April 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      Hi Chris. Yes, I think you’re probably right about the coining of the term “iPhoneography.” For me personally, it comes with connotations of extensively post-processed images. That may be just my perception, since I just don’t see mobile phones being used as much for straight photography, even though they can be very capably used this way. I was not aware of the app you mentioned, I’ll check it out since having raw-like captures would be very useful, thanks for the tip!

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