The impromptu photo shoot (Richard Gray)
Article 28 January

Photography tips: images with an iPhone

Compact, discreet and packed with editing opportunities – is the Apple iPhone the ultimate travel camera? Richard Gray explains how he was converted

Don’t you have enough to take on holiday without lugging a DSLR and lenses with you? After all, when you’re packing over £1,000-worth of kit, you’ll want to heft it on board as hand luggage, and then you’ll spend the rest of the trip worrying about leaving it on a café table – as I did a couple of years ago. Of course, as a serious photographer, I replaced that camera – but on my last few holidays, I haven’t taken a DLSR at all. Instead, I’ve taken my iPhone.

With my ‘proper’ camera, I take photos of music events, sport and portraits. For these three subjects, I need a powerful zoom to capture details at a distance, a high ISO and fast lens for low lighting, fast shutter speeds for action shots and high resolution for top quality prints. I need none of these things to take a picture of my wife standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

But that’s to trivialise my own photography – or iPhoneography as it’s called when using an iPhone. Of course I take more interesting photos than my wife standing in front of famous landmarks, but in most cases, the iPhone is good enough to produce the quality I need. The iPhone 4S produces 8MP photos, and while that won’t compare with an 8MP DSLR, the results are still impressive. In fact, in some ways, an iPhone is actually a better travel camera than a DSLR:

1. It’s small You always have it with you, so when you go out for dinner and your waitress starts belly-dancing on your table, you’ll get the shot.

2. It doesn’t look like a camera This means you can get closer to that grizzled old man at his market stall before he reaches for his stick to ward you off.

3. You can edit your photos on the phone itself Which means endless entertainment when you’re back at the hotel while your wife is in the bath.

4. You can show all your friends your photos before you get home Posting to Flickr, Facebook or other photo sharing sites is a breeze.

iPhoneography in action

With an iPhone, a world of new photo opportunities opens up – above are some examples from a recent trip to Dubrovnik…

The impromptu photo shoot

My wife and I had headed off for a weekend in Croatia, and I’d decided to leave my DSLR at home. We had a lovely dinner at a dockside restaurant one evening, even though we were the only people in the restaurant. Although the waitress didn’t start belly-dancing on our table, she was absolutely charming, and before we left I decided it would be nice to take a photo of her behind her counter. Even if I had brought my DSLR on the trip, I don’t think I would have brought it to dinner – so this is a shot that only got taken thanks to my iPhone.

The mash up

It rained a lot while we were in Dubrovnik, so there were plenty of opportunities to review the day’s photos and play around with them. One morning, my wife opened up her umbrella and sent a flock of pigeons into flight – and I started snapping. That evening I cut and pasted the best pigeons into a single image, and then used an app called Decim8 (69p from the App Store) which mashes up and pixellates images to create a digital artwork.

Blending multiple images

I generally avoid taking photos of nuns – they’re a bit of a cliché – but I made an exception in order to try out an app I’d recently acquired: Fast Camera (£1.49). This is actually an app for taking photos, rather than editing them – the editing came later. This app allows you to take around 15 frames a second and I took about 30 of a nun with an umbrella walking in the rain against the backdrop of the old city walls. I merged four or five of the frames using an app called Image Blender (£1.99) and then applied a vintage filter from an app called Picture Show (£1.49), for a pleasingly ghostly effect.

Capturing candids

One of my favourite class sayings is “App to the max!”. With the iPhone, taking the photos is only the start. There is such an array of editing apps that if you have a vision for an image, there is almost always an app (or various apps) that will allow you to achieve it. One handy app is SneakyPix (69p) which, as the name suggests, allows you to take photos without your subjects realising so you can get up really close. It takes shots automatically while you put the camera up to your ear and pretend to be making a phone call (the iPhone makes phone calls too, you know) while standing sideways-on to your subject. There’s no way I could have taken this candid photo of a mother and son if I’d had a recognisable camera in my hand.

Pick of the apps

One of the objectives with the classes I teach is to guide people through the maze of photography apps that are available. All of the following are available for iPhones to download from the App Store. There are also versions available for the iPad, and some are on Google Play for Android smartphones.

Snapseed (free; coming soon for Android)

The generic editing app that I recommend to everyone: easy to use, and does all the basics. The iPad edition was voted App of the Year 2011.

Photo Wizard (£0.69)

For more advanced editing and powerful masking and blending functions.

FX Photo Studio (£0.69)

This app has a huge range of preset visual effects, and it’s very user-friendly.

Touch Retouch (69p; 61p for Android phones)

I use this app with almost half the photos I publish. If a white van is spoiling an otherwise perfect shot, this app will remove it and fill in the gap so you wouldn’t know.

Shockmypic (69p)

There are various amazing apps that give images a painterly look. Some of them even purport, with greater or lesser credibility, to recreate images in the styles of particular painters. My favourite is Shockmypic, which converts photos into other-worldly Van Goghian images. Another really good one is ToonPaint (£1.49).

Pro HDR (£1.49; £1.24 for Android)

If you’re just looking to deliver a really true and clear image this is one of several High Dynamic Range (HDR) apps that merge the highlights and lowlights of highly contrasted photos to create balanced images.

SlowShutter (£1.49)

This is an app I’m having great fun with at the moment but haven’t quite mastered. As the name suggests, it takes long exposures in various different formats, which allow for a lot of creative possibilities. 

In the bag: miniature lenses

You can now buy tiny bolt-on lenses for the iPhone: a detachable magnetic ring sticks to your phone, providing a sturdy grip between the lens and your phone. In Dubrovnik, I had a fish-eye, a 2x zoom, a wide-angle and a macro, all dangling from a string around my neck. I paid around £50 for this set of lenses (from www.photojojo.com).

I also have a 16x zoom, the length of a cigarette and width of a cigar. They’re quite rudimentary pieces but they serve their purposes. The image of the crucifix above was taken with the fish-eye lens, and the image on the top right on the previous page, showing the island church, was taken with the 16x zoom.

Richard Gray teaches an introductory five-week evening class in iPhoneography at Kensington & Chelsea College, London (www.kcc.ac.uk). He blogs about  iPhoneography at www.iphoggy.com. He is @rugfoot on Instagram, flickr and Twitter and his music photography site is www.rugfoot.net.