I spent this last week trying to photograph as much as possible in camp with only my iPhone.
iPhone photography has become somewhat of a trend; there are many hashtags to be searched on Instagram and other social platforms. #shotoniphone is a great one or #iphoneography.
The Apple Instagram account features pictures taken by iPhone users, and the results after a bit of editing are actually quite impressive. I therefore decided to test some settings on my phone to see what worked for me and what didn’t…
Lets start with the difficulties I had…
For one, being in camp forces one to think about your subjects carefully. Being used to shooting wildlife on a DSLR, I had to change my way of thinking, and capture my shots either based on texture and form, rather than having incredible subjects like a majestic leopard on a termite mound lying in beautiful golden light. I found myself looking for places I could find depth or interesting detail, trying to make something interesting out of something ordinary or slightly abstract.
Correct Exposure was an aspect I had to work around.
By tapping your screen in the camera app, the phone will adjust the exposure accordingly i.e. if the area you tapped is underexposed (dark) the phone will adjust the exposure to compensate for the rest of the image, and vice versa for overexposed (light) areas when tapping. This way you can adjust the lighting accordingly to your desired exposure.
Then, zoom… Zoom on an iPhone is a no-go! As great as the phone cameras can be, they are just not made for zooming. Because it’s a digital zoom on a small camera, the results are poor; I noticed I lost all detail and colour, an the image ends up pixelated and flat with no depth at all. Even after editing the image can’t be improved enough, in actual fact it makes it worse, since there is not enough stored information in the phones’ format.
Here is a photo of a Birmingham male from a zoomed iPhone camera and one from a camera in the Londolozi Photographic Studio; The differences are pretty clear to see:
With all that being said, I did enjoy the challenge of trying to get some shots with just an iPhone; it was fun and helped me think from a different perspective. Getting to know what the phone is capable of what its limits were allowed me to get a better understanding of which modes are good for what…
iPhone offers four photo modes: Photo, Portrait, Square and Panoramic, each one of these is different with Photo and Square being the most similar and Portrait mode only being found on iPhone models with the dual camera.
The simplest mode, and best for establishing shots. It’s great for capturing a whole scene, close or wide. You don’t get a shallow depth of field when using this mode but I found that adding settings like Grid assisted in composition.
I turned off “Smart HDR” which gave me slightly more versatility in editing, especially when adjusting colours. To reiterate, the zoom is not a great idea. Try keeping it to established shots or abstract settings when using this mode, with minimal zoom or none if possible.
Probably the best mode that iPhone has to offer; they nailed it!
I’ve shot with other phones that have similar modes, but Apple takes the cake on this one. With the dual lens system you get not only a very sharp subject, but also a shallow depth of field in your back ground, which you can adjust, similar to adjusting your aperture on a DSLR. Portrait mode has opened new doors for iPhoneography since its release and is a game changer if you own an iPhone. I found it works great when photographing people, products, food or abstract subjects.
This is similar to the Photo mode. The only real difference I found here was the aspect ratio.
There’s nothing really to add here; square mode would be handy if you were going for a specific aesthetic on social platforms.
Great for capturing really wide scenes, mostly landscapes, it is activated by panning across your scene almost 180 degrees, which compiles multiple images and merges them.
I found that when using the full length of the Pano, it has a tendency to warp the scene. I then started to play around and found that if you do only a half Pano, it seems to not warp and still give you a nice wide idea of the scene; not as wide as the full pano obviously, but wide enough and a much better result as there is no warping on the top and bottom. You can also have fun with the Pano mode by moving your subject as you pan, to make the subject appear multiple times in one picture.
Being limited to only my iPhone made me think differently. Its something I’d like to do more often, I also urge you to try it and see what you can come up with. The reality is that phone cameras these days are amazing, but serve their own purpose.
They are great for everyday use when it comes to creating memories, but I found them not so great when out on safari.
The loss in picture quality when zooming was the deal-breaker for me. But other than that, it’s a great tool for capturing everyday moments.