mobile photography technology, culture and community

A smartphone, a DSLR and 40 weddings photographed in one day

Kevin Kuster takes a photo of a newlywed couple on Ilin Island in the Philippines. Image provided by Kevin Kuster.

Veteran photographer Kevin Kuster has accomplished what may be a mobile photography first by photographing 40 weddings in a single day with a smartphone. He also captured each bride and groom in a portrait using his DSLR. 

A professional photographer for more than 20 years, Kuster recently reinvigorated his passion for the medium when he began shooting with his iPhone 4S. So it felt serendipitous when the charity Watts of Love approached him with a unique documentary photography project that seemed to perfectly "marry" Kuster's photographic abilities and his newfound mobile photography skills. 

In mid-February Kuster accompanied Watts of Love volunteers as they carried out their mission to bring safe and sustainable solar-powered lighting to Ilin Island in the Philippines. In addition to documenting the charity's efforts, Kuster arrived to the island along with visiting Catholic priests. The first clergy visit to the island in years meant that there were dozens of couples awaiting a proper marriage ceremony. Kuster saw an opportunity well-suited to a more mobile camera, as we shared in our preview story earlier this month

Kuster described his boat ride to Ilin island: "Everything up to that moment was familiar, but when I saw the first boat, I was like: 'OK. Now this is an adventure.'" All photos by Kevin Kuster.

Two cameras are better than one

Kuster’s mission with was to tell the story of the people of Ilin Island the best way he could—regardless of his photographic equipment.

Our last article about Kuster generated quite a few comments and spurred much debate over Kuster's hardware choices. In addition to his iPhone, the longtime photographer also brought along his DSLR, a Canon EOS 7D. 

“It was never my intention to not bring my DSLR,” he said. “My intention was to push my limitations of mobile photography. If I couldn’t shoot the whole thing with my phone, I was going to switch.

“But, for 90% of it, the best way was to use the iPhone.”

With more than 8,000 followers on Instagram, Kuster wanted to post photos to the social network every day so he could share his journey with as many people as he could. While it is certainly possible to post images remotely from a DSLR to Instagram, Kuster wanted to keep things more mobile.

However, Kuster did end up using his DSLR to capture the wedding portraits of each of the 40 couples who were wed. Originally, Kuster had hoped to use the Canon Pixma's Air Print capabilities to send photos directly from his iPhone to the printer. Once on the island, he discovered that printer model that had been donated could not accept images from his iPhone. This, combined with the quickness of using multiple SD cards that were sent to the printer, made his DSLR the best choice for the portraits.

A great adventure

Kuster’s 36-hour journey started with a cab ride from his Chicago home and then a series of planes, automobiles and a boat brought him to Ilin Island, 47 square kilometres of land in the Philippines.

“Saying I didn’t know what to expect would be an understatement,” said Kuster, who after working all day taking photographs, would then stay up late chasing a cell phone signal in order to upload photos to his Instagram feed (@kevinkuster). 

The spotty cellular service made posting photos a huge effort, but it forced Kuster to self-edit and choose only his favorite shots to upload. For Kuster -- a photographer who loves to shoot, edit and post photos on the spot -- the effort of fighting for a signal alone in the dark with nothing to look at but his images was very emotional.

Kuster snapped this photo on his iPhone during an hour and a half long hike one night from where the charity was working to where volunteers where staying.

Let there be light

By giving the islanders a clean, free lighting source, Watts of Love hopes to reduce their dependence on expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps.

“I have never in my life experienced darkness like I did there,” described Kuster.

Low-light situations are a huge problem for mobile photography—the iPhone’s smaller sensor can’t accomplish the same the clean, high ISO images of large-sensor DSLRs in low-light situations. Overall, Kuster said he had few problems shooting with his smartphone at night and in one case, his iPhone saved him in the dark.

After dropping off a solar light at a home far away from where they were staying that night, the Watts of Love team ended up walking back as the sun went down. With only a couple of flashlights available, Kuster used his iPhone’s LED flash to light his way for an hour and a half.

“It got so hot, I was afraid I was going to destroy my phone,” he said.

Kuster took environmental portraits of a few couples before the wedding.
The wedding was during a Catholic mass; all 40 couples were married in one ceremony.
Kuster was granted as much access as he needed during the ceremony.
Kuster gave the brides and grooms a printed and framed photo of themselves after the wedding.

Going to the chapel

The first visit by Catholic clergy to Ilin Island in years meant that there were dozens of couples awaiting a proper marriage.

For many islanders, marriage is too expensive: most do not have the money to travel to a priest, pay the license fee, buy the traditional marriage clothing or provide the culturally expected feast. When Kuster left for Ilin, he was expecting 50 couples to be married but due to travel and paperwork issues, only 40 couples ended up getting hitched.

Watts of Love partners, the Missionaries of Mother Mary of the Poor, bought each bride a dress and veil, and each groom a shirt, slacks, shoes, belts and socks. They also gave each couple their wedding rings.

During the ceremony, Kuster was granted access to shoot wherever he wanted. Because he was able to get as close as he needed, his iPhone’s zoom limitations were irrelevant. With help from Watts of Love and Missionaries of Mother Mary of the Poor, Kuster took and printed portraits of the newlyweds while they waited.

Kuster believes that using a smartphone instead of a DSLR helps puts his subjects at ease.

The benefits of mobile photography

Kuster had many expectations of how shooting with mobile would define his experience with Watts of Love, but he encountered some surprises.

“One thing I didn’t anticipate going around to these really poor people was that I was self conscious with my DSLR because everyone knew it was of value,” said Kuster.

Things were different when he was using his iPhone: “It made me feel more comfortable because I wasn’t holding this big, expensive piece of equipment in front of people who have nothing.”

Another perk of using an iPhone is that it challenged Kuster photographically, forcing him to walk in and get close to his subjects instead of just using a telephoto.

Kuster’s previous experience with mobile photography in the U.S. was that subjects were more relaxed and less posed in front of a smartphone instead of a DSLR. The same was true on the other side of the globe.

“People let their guard down,” Kuster said. “They were all used to seeing phones. Some had one even if they couldn’t charge it in their homes.”

Because of the limitations of printing from his iPhone, Kuster ended up using a DSLR to take the wedding portraits. 

The limitations of mobile photography

Not every photographic situation on the island allowed for iPhone photography. One of the biggest components of Kuster’s photographic mission ended up having to be shot on his DSLR: the wedding portraits.

Even though Kuster took environmental portraits of the couples before the wedding as well as candid shots during the ceremony, when it came to taking formal portraits of each couple and printing them as soon as possible, it ended up making the most sense to capture the photos on his DSLR and run the SD card to the Canon Pixma Printer he brought with him, alternating cards so one was always printing and shooting simultaneously.

Kuster also ran into major issues with lens flare. He was constantly trying to find new ways to block the sun from his shot.

The biggest disadvantage to mobile photography in a place without consistent electricity was the iPhone’s limited battery life.

“I had battery in shirt pocket, and used Camera+,” Kuster said. “I would use the volume trigger to fire with my left had. And with my right hand, I focused, exposed and shielded the lens flare.”

Despite the iPhone’s limitations, Kuster is firm in his commitment to mobile photography.

“Going back, I would have no hesitation just bringing an iPhone,” he said. “I would just want a second iPhone as well. And a wrist strap. I wanted a wrist strap so bad!”

In total, 40 couples were married on Ilin Island during Kuster's visit. Each of them received a framed portrait after the ceremony.

Next time

Kuster hopes that this was just the first of many trips with Watts of Love. Next time, he probably won’t have a massive wedding to shoot, but he will be taking mobile photos no matter what.

“With mobile photography, I am never bored,” said Kuster. “I always have the opportunity to shoot, create, edit and post. The power of mobile of photography is that it always has me keep looking, creating and sharing."

If any photographers or videographers (mobile or not) want to volunteer with Watts of Love, you can contact Kuster on his website.


Total comments: 45

"Because of the limitations of ***printing*** from his iPhone, Kuster ended up using a DSLR to take the wedding portraits. "

Ha! Lolz! Yeah, sure... (headbang)


“Going back, I would have no hesitation just bringing an iPhone,” he said. “I would just want a second iPhone as well. And a wrist strap. I wanted a wrist strap so bad!”

LO and behold, the wrist strap is already available for sometime, its called the Loop. It comes with the IPOD, yup, since Ipod Touch already have a 5mp camera that best the iphone4, one could have used the IPOD instead of iphone to such event .

But we call it Ipod photography or would that still be mobile photography? ipod dont make calls the last time i check...


continued from below:
... heck, I do it all the time, tying my pro-bono work for publicity generated by the goodwill, not to mention attracting potential clients. It's a win-win situation (instead of a tax break, I get good vibes and free publicity) but I don't go around with a halo on my head (okay, perhaps other people are installing the hallo around you) and saying it's all for the poor people, because using an iPhone to shoot a wedding is a huge disservice to any client, paying or otherwise.
Look, the perception may be, may be not, different from the reality, and as long as the poor people are happy, where's the problem? But we know, the Connect readers know, and sometimes, the intent is everything. And misrepresenting it is everything.

Kevin Kuster

Sorry but we just see if differently. I am glad I used my mobile phone and happy to use my DSLR when it was needed. Does the mobile phone have it's limitations, yes I readily admit it does. However, it also has it's benefits. If you haven't shot a lot with your mobile phone I really want to encourage you to try it more often. Push it's limitations. Not because I said to do it but, because I really believe you will see it's possibilities and benefits in certain applications.


It would have been a different story if you had done it this way:
"Out of the goodness of my heart, and my desire to share my talent and expertise with others less fortunate, I will undertake this project, using the best affordable equipment (read: anything other than a any smartphone) to do justice to the significance o this event. In addition, just like so many other nameless people and organizations, I will do this without publicizing it, keeping in mind that this good deed is a reward in itself."
Instead, you go ahead and use equipment totally not suited for a wedding, any wedding, and while you profess helplessness in the uncontrollable publicity machine, you can't be really seen as putting a stop to it. Your passive-aggressive, sanctimonious holier-than-thou attitude is what is generating this firestorm. It is not the event itself that is drawing criticism.
Look, I admire what you do, warts and all, and I most likely would do the same thing be continued


Well done Kevin. Such a great cause. Amazing that people dive into issues such as equipment when naturally this is the least important issue of the article. Happy this subject got coverage and also raised awareness (including mine of course) to this wonderful project.
I will keep enjoying your feed on IG and keep concentrating on the content and the man behind it!!

Kevin Kuster

Thank you for your encouraging comments and say you enjoy my IG feed. Overall the support for the IG community was truly amazing and very heart felt.


He shared images during his stay there via Instagram. I'd say signal enough ;) Great article!


Is there cell service there? If not, why carry around a $500 phone?

As far as the locals seeing the DSLR as an item of value, I'd think they're just as interested, if not more, in an iphone.


Isn't this what life is all about? Reaching out to others to make a difference...these photos are a good reminder that not all of us have enough-and some of us- nothing. I loved all the photos in particular, the photo of "grandmama". Raw emotion penetrated through that picture.
How wonderful that you all took time out of your busy lives to reach out to make a difference for these sweet souls. 💖

Kevin Kuster

Thanks you. I can honestly say I received more from them then. I appreciate the kind words.

Kevin Kuster

Thank you. The picture of Grandmama really, really reminds me of why I was there. Such a broken soul she was by her hard life. She has nothing yet despite that, she tried to find small nuts to feed US when we arrived. Amazing!

0 upvotes are a tremendous photographer and human being. Thank you so much for sharing this.

1 upvote
Kevin Kuster

Thanks for reading it and commenting.


Still no word about how much Apple paid.
And who paid for the trip.

Kevin Kuster

I paid for all of my travel and expense and received no compensation from Watts of Love or Apple. Some really generous folks from Instagram and specifically the #jj community donated a small portion of funds to help pay for the printed images and frames as wedding gifts. Watts of Love raised money for the light by individual donators. However, if you known someone at Apple please tell them I would love to have them sponsor and donate to help the Watts if Love cause to bringing solar LED lights ato people that have almost nothing. Thanks


“It was never my intention to not bring my DSLR,”
“Going back, I would have no hesitation just bringing an iPhone,”


These iphone articles don't make any sense. Yeah, it has a good camera for a phone, but at $650 it isn't cheap. My LX7 is so much better a camera for half the price, and you can even buy extra batteries for it.


Show your work on the LX7 and let us all decide which pics are better.

Kevin Kuster

Regrettably I don't own a LX7. If you want to donate your time, talent, skills and images on the next trip Watts of Love and I would love to see the results and your work to help those less fortunate.


Jeez. Your reply comes of a little self-righteous. If you're going to do a publicity stunt then expect some unwanted criticism.

Kevin Kuster

JDThomas. If my comment came off as self-righteous could I please ask you to read the response again as that was not my intention. My answer is an honest reply and I am sincere in wanting any assistance we can get regardless of the equipment. None of this is or was a publicity stunt. This is not a project to make money, it was a humanitarian project to bring a little comfort to those in need. I don't mind difference of opinions at all and am completely open to being taught new skill and ideas by other photographers. I would love to learn the capabilities of the suggested camera.

1 upvote

What you did was very magnanimous, no doubt about it. But what I see as an outsider looking in is this:

I'm going to do this good deed and I'm going to use an iPHONE! Yes that's right I'm using an iPHONE to do this nice deed. Did I mention I'm using an iPHONE?!? I'm going to help these people and only by using an iPHONE!!!

To me that screams "look at me!". It comes off as a publicity stunt. On the other hand the story could have been portrayed like this:

I'm going to donate my talent to bring these people the gift of a wedding photograph. I'm printing them onsite and giving them away. I'm doing this all on my own.

No need to make a big deal out of the iPhone aspect. The fact that the story made a bigger deal out of the iPhone than the actual project itself is what makes it so off-putting. I believe THAT is why people are coming down so hard on you.

Kevin Kuster

I didn't write the article Lauren Crabbe did. Personally, I am so thankful she and Connect were so professional and interested in the project. She mentioned a lot about the iphone because that was the mobile phone I own and wanted to explore using. Perhaps it have been better for you had it been an Android mobile phone I mentioned using. I do have one question for you; did you know about Watts of Love or the people's living conditions on Ilian Island before you read either of the features? Thanks and look forward to your reply.


There you go. Getting all high and mighty again. Personally, I don't care what KIND of phone was used. I get you didn't write it, but you used it as a publicity stunt.

No, I didn't know about Watts of Love or the living conditions of he people of Ilian Island. You did a great job of bringing attention to it.

You know what you DIDN'T do a great job at? Being a good ambassador for Watts of Love. If you want to be in the public eye you need to be able to take criticism in stride and not lash out at people when they try to explain something to you. Drop the ego trip.

Because of the way you responded it's highly unlikely that I'd donate money or recommend Watts of Love. I'd likely look for other causes that have more pleasant people promoting them.

1 upvote
Kevin Kuster

I regret to say that we see my responses to you through an entirely different filter. What you see as a "publicity stunt", I see it as being a great opportunity to bring a new charity and world problem to the attention of people. What you see as me being "high and mighty" I see it as a good and honest discussion between two people with different life experiences. I guess this is why there is chocolate AND vanilla in the world. Please let me know the cause or charity you choose to donate, as I would enjoy seeing where your passion to help takes you. All the best and thanks for reading the article and my responses.

1 upvote

I also couldn't help but notice that just about everyone that posted anything encouraging on this discussion has a brand new account or an account created when the last article came out AND these seem to be the ONLY articles they are interested in. Odd coincidence.

In any case I hope your passive-aggressiveness works for you in other areas of your life because it's failing miserably here.

Good luck!

PS: I volunteer my services to many local causes including teaching film photography classes to underprivileged children. It never occurred to me to use it as a marketing tool.

Kevin Kuster

It is not a coincidence. I am the Chief Editor for a community on Instagram that has 285,000 members (@joshjohnson, the #jj community) and I encouraged all of the members to go to to read what I was doing and learn more about Watts of Love. Lauren Crabbe wrote a great article and I wanted to share it with the largest audience possible. I am not being passive-aggressive, I am just trying to have an open dialogue with you. Additionally, I am not upset at your accusatory responses or any of the comments. I am just trying to provide you and others with real sincere answers to their questions.


I for one could care less what Kevin used, but more so appreciate this article for bringing awareness to what seems to be an amazing charity. It's relevant because of the tools that he used, but obviously brings light to what we do have to be thankful for and how we who have such frivolous 'problems' can spend a few minutes (and spare some money) to lighten the load of those who get by with not much at all, but do so with a bright smile on their face. Thank you @kevinkuster for introducing me to Ilin Island, which though I was born in the Philippines and came to the US as a infant, and then went to high school in the Quezon province, I probably would never have heard of it. With more than 7,000 islands, it's not uncommon- but through IG and your diligence and passion, I was able to watch your journey and feel like I was there- and it was heartwarming to witness the same from reading such positive comments on your posts. So again, salamat po!

Kevin Kuster

So glad you followed the journey and felt like you were there. I really didn't expect that but, several folks had the same comment and then REALLY encouraged me. Some nights it too me 1 hour to get a long enough data stream to post. Had to sit on the highest point of the island and wait for the wind to stop. Really frustrating but worth it in the end to share with people like you.


Wow guys..."The last pic - the group indoors - is of terrible quality.
I think it is a shame to waste such an opportunity by using improper equipment." lets keep things in perspective It was shot with an iPhone in a location with no control over the bright daylight streaming in from all sides.

And..."I think the real reason is, he is afraid the portrait pictures will become horrible if he will use the iPhone."
I don't think they would have been "horrible" but kudos for acknowledging the issue and moving forward. Shooting 40 couples and printing all in a short time frame you made the right choice. Oh and lets compare their wedding portrait quality to any other portrait they have had, Oh wait they have never had their portrait taken before and have nothing to compare it to. I am sure they will cherish their portrait regardless of what it was taken on or the quality for the rest of their lives together. My 2 cents.


Thom, you're right. Looking at the whole context my comment is very narrow minded.
But coming from the dpreview mainpage, the headline for this article sounded so much like a marketing stunt for Apple that I simply reduced my statement to the "gear level".
Fortunately our discussion broadened after that - largely due to Kevin's professional reaction.

Edited 35 seconds after posting
Kevin Kuster

Michael_13 Man this is a truly professional response on your part. Thank for this response. I can assure you this was not a marketing stunt by Apple or anyone else. I just wanted to help Watts of Love, the people getting married and push the limits of my mobile photography. Thanks again.


Another fantastic article!!! Such great work Kev, loved watching it all happen via instagram. What a powerful new way to reach more people than ever. Your shots were absolutely breathtaking.

1 upvote

Kevin, love the work you've done with this project!! Amazing! And the photos are fantastic!!

Kevin Kuster

Thanks MY Italian Brother. Come on the next project.


The last pic - the group indoors - is of terrible quality.
I think it is a shame to waste such an opportunity by using improper equipment.

My ten year old Oly compact would have given a better result.


You may want to re-read the article.


The picture is even blurred from not holding still :-)

The faces are mostly unrecognisable.

What would explain this let-down, Emily ?

1 upvote

@emily: A re-read neither will change my opinion, nor will it improve the images. :-)

I respect Kevin's courage to try this out, but cannot agree to his conclusion: "Going back, I would have no hesitation just bringing an iPhone."

I totally agree to his point that a phone is less intimidating than an SLR, but so is very likely a good compact camera. At the same time it would offer much better image quality and better control of exposure.

Maybe, next time Kevin will try this with a little compact.

I am absolutely sure that these people will still be very happy about the pictures and am totally supportive of Kevin's generosity.

Edited 9 minutes after posting
Kevin Kuster

Thanks for your comments. The great news is that each bride and groom that received their first printed photo ever was ecstatic with gift. Regrettably, I don't have a good compact camera but, would love to have suggestions. I am very realistic about the results, limitations and benefits of the iPhone, however, I am always trying to learn so fire your compact camera suggestions at me that you have field tested... Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you.


Yes, your pics convey a great deal of these people's happiness!

Currently, I use an Olympus XZ-1. Excellent lens with outstanding sharpness & contrast, rivaling the best SLR lenses available (F1.8-2.5/28-112mm equ.). Quite fast even with RAW files, reliable exposure and focus. Hot shoe for fixed flash, but also remote flash.
Currently available at a bargain price, because XZ-2 came out a few months ago.

If you want to read a detailed review:

A quick impression of a hand-held pic in low light:

I also know and can recommend Panasonic's LX7 (F1.4-2.3/24-90mm).

And then there are Nikon P7700, Canon G15 and Sony RX100.

All of them are highly capable compact systems with different strengths and weaknesses.

I am sure that they would serve your talent very well.



"Because of the limitations of printing from his iPhone, Kuster ended up using a DSLR to take the wedding portraits."

I think the real reason is, he is afraid the portrait pictures will become horrible if he will use the iPhone. All you need to do is copy the pictures to laptop.and print from there. =D

1 upvote
Kevin Kuster

jcmarfilph, Thanks for reading the article. Regrettably, most of the married couples traveled long distances by foot and need to return home so then wouldn't be caught in the dark so time was an issue. I wasn't afraid to use the iPhone, just chose the fastest way to print for the project.


Kevin, don't get wrong coz I appreciate your voluntary work for those poor families. But what is an hour of waiting to get a printed quality picture? The wedding could have been done in the morning and it will last only an hour. Picture taking for another hour, printing all the pictures in 15 mins and distributing them in less than an hour. They still have sunshine at 12 noon. I can walk back and forth 10 miles in a day, these people can walk even farther. All these wasted minutes you've done covering the flares and repeating blurred shots could have been done in 1 shot if you had used the DSLR or any premium compact alone. Again, thanks for you generous work.

Edited 2 times; latest 7 minutes since posting
1 upvote
Total comments: 45
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