Here’s a quick question for you. Considering we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing cameras and uber lenses that are able to render the hair follicles and yet unborn zits on supermodels at 50 paces why would you even think about using a mobile phone for anything other than a casual snap of that coffee and cake you had for morning tea.
Serious photos with an iPhone, are you serious, that just sounds totally contradictory!
Well if you disregard the differences with Depth of Field and the iPhones’ wide angle lens perspective you soon realize that when shooting iPhone DNG the dynamic range, sharpness and color are not too bad at all for many needs.
And here’s the thing, not all serious photos are taken by serious people with serious gear. These days lots of people who are not photographers are given orders from on high…”go and get me some pics of that event, make it snappy, and when ya done get it posted to our Instagram account…….. oh, and I want it on Facebook before you leave the office tonight or you’re fired”
Fact is, and I know this will hurt the ears, feelings, and egos of many of the sensitive photographic souls reading this. I get lots, and I mean “lots” of people who turn up in my workshops on Lightroom, Photoshop, Photo Composition, iPhoneography etc who’ve been made “Chief Executive of Multi-Media, Instagram and Facebook, Resident Communications Dynamo, iPhone Wielding Guru” for their business or organization.
Often these folks don’t actually edit the pics, others further down or up the stream might do that, but sometimes they’re expected to also be the resident “Photoshop genius”, with all the impossible expectations that infers.
These people are not actually photographers, heck they never intended to be photographers but that’s what they’re now expected to do, and damn it, those pics better be good!
So here we are 2017, the iPhone has DNG and all the extra goodness that it infers upon one’s image options and we have an increasing number of non-photographers and indeed even some professional photographers who now use the tool for serious work.
When I was planning my new Ultimate iPhoneography series of eBooks it soon became obvious that one of those books should look at what photographers and non-photographers with serious needs could do with their iPhones. There’s definitely a strong demand for some wholesome but easily digestible information on how you might actually get the job done and importantly how to avoid the myriad of potential pitfalls.
Well that particular book’s still a way off, I’ve six planned for the whole series, the first book “Ultimate iPhone DNG” is already up on the iBooks store and the others are all well into the production phase but I thought it could be fun to show one of the sets of pics I’ve created in the preparation phase for upcoming “Ultimate Professional iPhoneography” book.
Lets just come back to the question of “why shoot serious (work) stuff with the iPhone”. I reckon there are several solid reasons.
The iPhone may be the only camera you or your workplace owns, maybe you or the workplace have decided that using a DSLR is just too complex. (I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that but I well understand the way many feel about this situation).
An obvious one is the need for rapid turnaround and the benefits of instant sharing and no doubt for a great many such uses the quality deficits are less relevant. You can easily crop the images severely and still have enough pixels for social media needs and honestly, regardless of how much traditional photographers protest, the fact remains only a very small proportion of images shot for promotional purposes find their way into print at anything larger than say 5 by 7 inches. Now even allowing for reproduction at 300 PPI, that 5 by 7-inch print only equates to around 3 mega pixels.
But I think you can make a case for iPhone shooting that transcends the traditional convenience and resolution sufficiency arguments, a case where sometimes the iPhone might technically be a great choice. (ASSUMING we are shooting in DNG)
Yep I know, right about now there are virtual knives and spears being thrust forth into computer monitors in the hope of impaling me or at least banishing my presence for the outer reaches of the inter-web, but please humor me, I’m just a country lad from a place that no-one much knows about.
So what might those technical benefits of the iPhone be?
Well, Depth of Field is enormous, it’s pretty easy to get everything in focus and sometimes that’s just what you need. This fact might seem a little surprising to many who have come to the photography table since the advent of digital but once upon a time getting deep depth of field was a challenge and something professional photographers went to all sorts of lengths and contortions to achieve.
Related to the depth of field rendering, the iPhone can easily get really close up photos nicely sharp and yet still have quite nice separation between the subject and background elements.
Going further the lens is wide-angle, but it’s actually sharp right out to the corners, which is not a given with many regular wide angle lenses on DSLRs and Mirrorless cams.
Better yet, the lens/sensor size combination enables you to have some interesting perspective renderings that are impossible with larger sensor sizes without image stacking.
Now yes the iPhone is potentially a noisy little blighter but actually, the luminance noise, when shot in the DNG format at slightly elevated ISOs, is rather filmic and has a certain artistic appeal that actually works nicely for some types of images and especially monochrome.
Another aspect that few people will have considered is that it’s relatively easy to get total deep focus rendering from very near to distant objects by using focus shift techniques with only 2 or 3 frames.
So that’s not a bad list and for the working photographer and a tool only needs to excel in one specific aspect to make it viable for some selected shooting needs, no-one’s claiming the iPhone is the perfect portrait device, the ideal copy camera, the most powerful landscape tool, the last word or even the first word in the world of sport photography shooting, but then it doesn’t need to be either.
On the other hand, let’s face it, most DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras are still pretty hopeless when it comes to social media duties and many are very difficult to use for close-up work unless you have lots of other macro bits to go with them.
So onto the pics, our subject is Mick McCarthy from MJM Vehicle Trimming in my hometown of Goulburn NSW. Mick is well-known for making the best custom motorcycle seats around for people who really want to be able to plant their butts on something more comfortable than the average plastic board with inverted nails that seems to pass for a motorcycle seat these days. He still does some regular motor trimming for folks with special cars but basically motorbike seats are his gig, he also happens to be my neighbor and a friend.
I’ve gotta say it amazes me that all of the bike manufactures can produce machines which are brilliant in every way, yet they still can’t make a seat that soothes the average butt for more than 20 kilometers. Maybe we’re not actually meant to ride modern bikes, maybe we’re supposed to take them to the coffee shop, park them and then proceed to talk all kinds of BS about how great my bike is compared to your bike. Anyhow Mick does great seats, the one he did for me totally changed the way I felt about my bike, that’s for sure.
Mick is a bit of “bike n car nut” and has a nice little collection of his own, and he really is a terrific bloke who loves to shoot the breeze on all those mechanical things that we fellas get excited about.
I wanted to create a set of images that gave a good account of the man and his craft, something that his family might treasure, but also something that told the story of MJM.
I think that shooting DNG files on the iPhone worked treat. I was able to get a tight close-up shot, super deep depth of field renderings (which I then dialed back to taste), a lovely filmic look and with appropriate editing some terrific shallow DOF stuff all with more than passable quality for most regular usages. And I have to say I love the fact you can get into tight confines with the iPhone, it really is easy peasy with the iPhone on a selfie stick.
Lots of people get really hung up on the issue of noise but the honestly the noise when you shoot in iPhone DNG isn’t too bad and importantly it can be fine-tuned and even used creatively. The key is not to shoot at high ISOs and before someone starts furiously typing a “full and well-expressed rebuttal on the folly of only having a low ISO option” think about it for a moment or two. The iPhone lens is fixed at f2.2 or f1.8 and you don’t need to stop down to say f5.6 or 8 to get some clarity or depth of field, meaning you don’t need high ISOs all that often, provided of course you have the camera properly supported. Some of the shots I took in his shed were at 1/5 sec or so but it all worked out fine.
And if the light is MIA and you need to bring in some artificial light via LEDs or tungsten then you don’t need near as much of it to lift the brightness levels to something workable when using f2.2 at say 100 ISO. If you needed to use f5.6 – 8 @100 ISO with a DSLR you’d need about 8 to 16 times as much lighting power, meaning either more lights or more expensive lights or a non-continuous light source, in other words, flash.
Yes, of course you could shoot your DSLR at a longer shutter speed, but then you’d risk subject movement or you could raise the ISO to 800 or 1600 ISO but then the difference between the quality of the two devices (when shooting in iPhone DNG) would not be near as wide as you might expect. In any case, this article is aimed at those who are shooting with the iPhone and really don’t want to use a DSLR.
And just so you know, yep of course these shots have been lit, but in keeping with the concept of making it practical for those who need to use the iPhone for work stuff I kept it simple, just a couple of LED work lights on a pair of cheap stands with a couple of bits of foam core board. All up the lighting stands and other bits represent about a $200.00 investment, which most businesses would pay for out of petty change.
Of course, if you want to compare JPEG outputs then all bets are off, those iPhone JPEGs are variable at best and the attainable quality level is nothing like that offered by the DNGs, so please don’t send me any arguments based on the JPEGs, I’d just be nodding my head in full agreement.
The big advantage of the DNGs over JPEGs is the pushability of the files, you can dodge and burn, sharpen and blur, crop and blow up in ways that the brittle JPEGs never allow.
I find the idea of shooting with the iPhone then working out the Depth of Field rendering in post quite appealing, I’d normally choose to use a different camera if I want the shallow DOF look, but the approach can work pretty well.
Sure it takes a bit of work but then with practice, you get pretty quick at it, more importantly, it allows me to create DOF renderings that would be difficult or impossible if shot with regular DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras. In some ways, and I know this will prove a challenging statement, but sorting the DOF out in post is close in terms of flexibility to what you could do by using a view camera with tilts, shifts, rise and fall, except without all the chemical and scanning stuff arounds. Yes, Yes I know it will not be as detailed etc, but we are not producing full-page spreads and billboards, basically most stuff goes straight to the web these days and honestly this approach looks fine for social media stuff and I reckon looks quite a bit better than the effects you get using the iPhone 7S plus portrait mode.
Going further on the Depth of Field simulation option, you can create looks that would not be possible with regular lenses, it’s easy for example to simulate the look of lens with significant field curvature or tilted focal planes such as with a tilt/shift lens, bokeh can be whatever you want and importantly you can create sharpness fall off characteristics that would be impossible with almost any regular camera. Ultimately if you start with an image that has overall sharpness, in other words, deep depth of field, you can blur it to anything your heart desires (given enough time/skill), on the other hand you can’t start with a shallow DOF image and then find clarity that was not recorded in the first place.
Sure this is a different way of working and it won’t suit everyone but like most techniques in photography, it’s just another option that might suit some specific needs. I imagine that those photographers who are fixed on the idea of photography being “what comes out of the camera” and with a strong belief that “editing is the devils work” will choke on the DOF simulation concept, but…. there are a great many of us who just accept and embrace editing as an integral part of the whole process.
I chose to go with a sepia monochrome look for this shoot but the colour versions are fine despite the basic light sources used, I’ve also added a little noise to give a more filmic feel.
iPhone DNGs can give quite different looks depending on how they are extracted and in this case, I used Iridient Developer with the noise reduction turned off. As you might expect that makes the files a little noisier but means they also look more film-like and more importantly they work really nicely with DOF simulation processes in Photoshop when you’re including added noise in the blurring process.
You might think, well sure the pics look OK on the WEB but surely the prints would be poor. Not so, 11 by 14s prints look rather nice and long ago worked out that if you make a good 11 by 14 you can pretty much print a file any size you want when you take into account the increased viewing distance.
I’ve put together a nice layout for Mick that he can frame and put up on his wall and despite the 36 by 34-inch size, the resolution is absolutely perfect.
Anyhow thanks for reading and I hope it has provided a little inspiration, Oh and if you want to know how to really shoot and deal with those iPhone DNGs check out my book “Ultimate iPhone DNG” on the iBooks store and you can also have a look at some other pics on my dedicated iPhoneography instagram site.
Just look for.. zerooneimaging or iphoneraw01 on instagram
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