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Book review: The Art of iPhone Photography

41

"The Art of iPhone Photography" functions as both a gallery and an instructive work, though it is only partially successful on both counts. An in-depth look at the processes of dozens of artists that shows how the raw shot or shots became a finished and often impressive work, the book certainly does not want for material. Unfortunately, that's also its primary flaw.

After a largely vestigial introduction, in which platitudes are served to the revolution in photography ostensibly offered by iPhones (and, the authors generously admit, Android phones), the instruction begins. The first section, focused on emulating the results of a DSLR + desktop OS method of photography, has some really great shots and some truly helpful tips.

Each featured photo starts with a list of apps used and the original shot. The screen and settings after or during adjusting the shot in-app are shown and referenced helpfully by number in the text. It's a breeze to follow along with a photographer's process for, say, darkening just the background, or bringing in a blending layer to add texture.

There are also genuine little nuggets to keep in mind. Right away I found a great, punchy list of tips every portrait photographer should keep in mind: Expose for skin tones; Bracket; Minimize the background; Desaturate; Make eye contact. Great! But it was only a square inch or so of a six-page spread describing which filters he'd used.

Again on page 83, a great tip for creating a sparkling bokeh for blending modes (attach a macro lens and aim at something bright) is buried. And later, "hacking" the Photostitch app by feeding it two very similar but subtly different images is likewise hidden among the dross. At over 300 pages long and with no shortage of text, it isn't easy to come across these gems.

That's partly because the narration is very uneven in quality. Allowing the photographers to write their own sections makes for a nice personal voice (and less copy to produce), but the style of instruction varies widely. One writer repeatedly and pointlessly narrates such trivial steps as "I tapped the arrow to apply the effect," while another dismisses in a few words the relatively complex process of painting out some unwanted figures.

Others bloviate on their creative drive, explaining at length how they arrived at the shots pictured, some of which are quite underwhelming (one in particular, describing a series of highly ordinary yet slightly creepy street shots, was particularly overbearing). 

Indeed, much of the photography is not to be admired. I loved a few of the shots and marveled at some of the creators' processes (one guy used 10 different apps) in making works both traditional and abstract. But some of the shots resembled the stuff we all made when we tried Photoshop for the first time. I mean really tacky stuff — zoom blurs, superfluous light rays, '90s-style compositing. The book could have lost half the shots in it, easy, and been better for it.

That, in the end, is the real problem. The book is simply too long and requires too much parsing on the reader's part to find the bits that really matter. With a more standardized format — say, one full bleed page for the final image (so the effect of various processes on noise and sharpness can be evaluated), with the two following pages used for explanation by the photographer and then a fourth page for general tips or to highlight an app or accessory. Such a format would be way more practical as a guide and still successful as a gallery for the photographers involved.

With that said, the book is laid out and printed in extremely high quality and the pictorial instructions are excellent. There's a glossary of apps in the back as well, something useful for anyone just getting into mobile shooting and looking for a few to try out. It has a lot of good info for the reader, if they're willing to do a little reading (not everyone is), but would do better as a $20, 100-page book than a $45, 320-page one. Maybe they'll release a condensed edition.

Comments

Total comments: 41
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (8 months ago)

why do so many people claim that you only use this apps to retouche bad snapshots??

didnt it come to your mind that a small camera with a reduced photoshop could be used to take good photos and make them better or unique?^^

0 upvotes
noonecantellimadog
By noonecantellimadog (8 months ago)

Yawn. If you want to use an phone or a tablet, great. Want to use a P&S, bridge, mirrorless, or DSLR, great. Film? Perfect.

This just goes on an on people. Same argument. And arguing about it is senseless.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KAV215hjuPU

Comment edited 46 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
LichtFan
By LichtFan (9 months ago)

Can't believe there is so much hate from "serious photographer". Sounds like they feel threatened. Otherwise there would just be ignorance of the "toy-pictures".

Yes the times they are changing.

To me photography is about capturing emotions. And the tools are secondary. If a photo has "it", then it is good. Of course nobody wants to go out and shoot sport or BIF with a smartphone. But seeing only the technical aspects in a photo is very shallow and will just be laughed at in the future.

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
magneto shot
By magneto shot (9 months ago)

its hard to replace the iphone for casual shots. i bring around my ep5, have a d4 and i would use the exact tool for the types of shoot i want. Portraits outdoor would be d4 with the 85 and 24 1.4 lens. General high quality photos for tours would be the Ep5. But often the iphone is used for many candid and fast shots , love the new 5s multi shots.

The quality image from the iphone 5(s) is very usable for facebooks and such. The small sensor makes it crap for isolating portraits except for macro stuffs. The ease of use, IOS 7 photo streams sharing and non laggy response makes its my choice of "with me" for any non assignment. imho, android..(flame!) has a long way to go, no matter what spec they put out, the general ease of use and package just dont cut it.

0 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

I recall the comment of this rupestre artist some thousands of years ago: "They are painting on canvasses now...There goes art".

A slight exaggeration here canvass technology in painting dates back to the 14th/15th century and I find it hard to believe that papa natas's memory stretches back thousands of years

0 upvotes
rdscibilia
By rdscibilia (9 months ago)

People like Ben Lowy and Annie Liebowitz are just fine with the iPhone. No, they don't use it for everything, but they use it. Face the fact that it is one more useful tool that can produce real photographs.

The smart phone by the way is not just a point-and-shoot. It is far better. Why? Form factor and apps and connectivity.

1 upvote
massimogori
By massimogori (9 months ago)

Form factor of a smartphone is plainly wrong. It's an amplifier of camera shake and misses any tactile feedback.

Apps are something you need to recover a muddy picture and by stressing this point you are just admitting how smartphone photography is close to lomography. A good camera can produce wonderful JPGs that need no retouch unless you want to go that step further.

Connectivity is where you actually made a point. Mind you, you cannot expect less from a phone and it has nothing to do with the ease of taking pictures or the quality of the pictures themselves.

Happy shooting.

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
1 upvote
LWW
By LWW (9 months ago)

The Kodak 'Instamatic' of the new age, will look just like the 126 format in years to come and be just as disappointing.

0 upvotes
papa natas
By papa natas (9 months ago)

One of the great properties of ART is that it is ALWAYS evolving, whether we accept it, understand it or at least see the vector of its evolution. Of course it irks me, at times, to see burgeoning GWACS everywhere trumpeting themselves as photographers. These guys with no studio, ignorants of the most rudimentary notion of lighting ratios and the basic rules of composition, are dangling and swinging between the latest digital camera technology and editing apps to show us their "Art", and, in all fairness, they sometimes surprise me with a great caption here & there. I guess we'll have to redefine the concept of what is a photographer, instead of redefining the concept of ART.
Ansel once said that his work ended at the precise moment when he clicked, the rest of the work will be handled in the editing room.
I recall the comment of this rupestre artist some thousands of years ago: "They are painting on canvasses now...There goes art".

0 upvotes
rdscibilia
By rdscibilia (9 months ago)

One uses a smartphone because there are certain photos you can only get with a smartphone. Anyone who thinks you cannot make a good photograph with an iPhone not only has been asleep the last few years but is likely to remain asleep. The Revolution is here whether you like it or not. It is not whether the iPhone offers the best absolute quality, it is that you choose the right tool for the circumstances. The reality is that the iPhone can do the job more times than you may think. Do not dismiss this tool to quickly.

2 upvotes
electrophoto
By electrophoto (9 months ago)

If you care to elaborate:
"there are certain photos you can only get with a smartphone"
? That does puzzle me a bit.
I am not against mobile photography... even though it's clearly lacking in a few departments.
But how do you assume, that certain photographs could ONLY be taken with what by the end of the day, remains a glorified point and shoot camera?

No smartphone offers any photographic feature that couldn't be found on 99% of all other digital cameras, even low end ones.

0 upvotes
massimogori
By massimogori (9 months ago)

rdscibilia, I totally agree with you. My Hello Kitty camera keeps making miracles even if ( or maybe because) the subjects keep laughing at me.

0 upvotes
dual12
By dual12 (9 months ago)

"There are certain photos you can only get with a smartphone."

Are you talking about really crappy photos? If so, I might agree with you. If not, I can't imagine which photos you're talking about.

0 upvotes
rdscibilia
By rdscibilia (9 months ago)

Go on being dismissive, even venomous. I realize you think you are defending quality photography, but in fact you do not understand that a lot of traditional cameras are just obtrusive.

2 upvotes
rdscibilia
By rdscibilia (9 months ago)

Hello Kitty? See, this is what I mean. Just arrogant ignorance. If you think only really crappy photos are being shot with an iPhone you are truly out of it. I see a lot of threatened, frightened photographers here. And too many guys in love with tech. Good photography is not about tech.

2 upvotes
rdscibilia
By rdscibilia (9 months ago)

As soon as you lift a traditional camera to your eye it changes the whole context of the photograph. That should be obvious to everybody here. I never said that smart phones were the right tool for every photographic circumstance, but for some they are all but essential.

0 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (9 months ago)

How many years have we had cameras? Since at least the early 1900s in fact. You mean to tell me that all of this time a camera was obtrusive? And it's only been since the invention of a fruit phone barely better than a Hello Kitty toy camera that we've now broken some previously impenetrable barrier? We couldn't have done it years ago with live-view digital models? Oh please. Photographers have been using 35mm SLRs or twin-lens-reflex or Leicas etc for decades, apparently the "obtrusiveness" didn't stop them. No reason it should stop anyone now either.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
electrophoto
By electrophoto (9 months ago)

@rdscibilia
maybe time to learn HOW to photograph?

Don't want to sound rude - but what you state about the unobtrusive character of the iphone is simply not true. People these days are just as aware of phone-cameras as of cameras, they know it takes pictures.
In all the years of streetphotography I've enjoyed, I yet have to find that the camera is the hinderance of my photography. most of the time, it's about how you approach your subjects - and I'm NOT in favor of stealth-photography anyhow... if I photograph people, they have a right to know, to say no, to step away or whatever or continue doing what they were doing and be photographed... nothing to do with the type of camera.

0 upvotes
massimogori
By massimogori (9 months ago)

Seriously, rdscibilia, looks like you are the one in love with a gadget, here. Many of us have an iPhone: you do not have to explain what is capable of. As far as I am concerned, for example, I always travel with a smartphone and a CAMERA. Guess for what I use each of them.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

Photographers have been using 35mm SLRs or twin-lens-reflex or Leicas etc for decades, apparently the "obtrusiveness" didn't stop them. No reason it should stop anyone now either.............
Sure but Western societies' attitude has changed towards cameras, all one has to do is take it down the beach, take shots of kids or semi naked bathers and people get wary. There are a heap of no go situations now and it is not only the open shooting style that suffers stealth-photography is in the firing line as well. CCTV cameras are permitted of course

Tourist spots are still a go zone................ tourists taking shots of tourists
ps there are a lot of people who use a smartphone camera for almost all their work. But there are those who want the myth of photography to remain in tact, they will oppose the smartphone until such time as there is a thin blurred line between the two

0 upvotes
jcmarfilph
By jcmarfilph (9 months ago)

Lol what a joke. Anyone who thinks his iPhone can be used on anything other than on a static subject in a bright sunny day is hallucinating. You can do your so-called art of salvaging out of focus shot, blurred, smeared shot by PPing it to death and call it a photo if that is what you want.

Oh I remember from my recent trip, one lady is saying "damn phone, can't see a thing". She is trying to shoot a cute monkey inside a glass enclosure which has enough light on it.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
dual12
By dual12 (9 months ago)

So, some of you think that all other cameras have to be brought to your eye?? Wake up/1 There are infinitely better "stealth" alternatives than that camera phone junk.

0 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

relics of the past still shoeing your horses I see

1 upvote
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (8 months ago)

@rdscibillia: i hink youre right, and iam sick of people trying to defend "serious" photos and "serious" cameras.

and there are a lot of photos you can only take with your phone, its the photos where, if you brought it, you have to take the camera out of your bag, and that alone makes people suspecious.

why is the rest of you so ignorant not seeing that its sometimes not possible to get your cam out of the bag without beeing noticed?

ever saw a policeman hit someones face when on the ground? i have, and i know i would be the second guy on the ground when touching my bag or my cam. if i would have a cellphone at that moment, things would have changed dramaticly for me the policeofficer and the guy on the floor

it doesnt matter which cam, the photographer takes the picture, why dont you get that, i cant understand it hehe

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
absentaneous
By absentaneous (9 months ago)

a book that tries to teach you how to make a photograph instead of how to just take one is missing the whole point of photography.

Comment edited 14 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

The point of photography being.....???

1 upvote
dual12
By dual12 (9 months ago)

Photography is about MAKING photographs, whether in camera or not. TAKING photographs is just snapshooting. Any idiot can point a camera and press the shutter.

1 upvote
absentaneous
By absentaneous (9 months ago)

@udris, the point is the "view". great photographs are always taken by those people who can "see" something more than the rest.

0 upvotes
absentaneous
By absentaneous (9 months ago)

@dual12, you don't make a photograph but you make an image. you take a photograph not make it. by your logic any idiot can open an app and apply an effect on a photo by just clicking on a button. in both cases is not about what you do but how you do it. you can take a photo in a way like any cow could or like an artist would. if you need to apply 10 effects on your photograph then you can still create great and meaningful images but that's not what makes you a great photographer. great photographers take pictures not make images. the art of photography is exactly in the ability to create art just by taking a picture and not by creating images which can still be art but that's not photography as such.

0 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

absentaneous .......... photographers with a bit of ticker have always gone beyond the simplistic way that you advocate

Comment edited 34 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Karroly
By Karroly (9 months ago)

What is the right tool ?
- a good and versatile camera ? or
- a mediocre camera phone, tons of apps, books and a lot of time spent in post-processing ?
IMHO, a pinhole camera makes better-looking photographs than an a..hole iPhone...

1 upvote
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

Devin why buy the book when the e-book version is cheaper and more accessible as a learning device. In addition all you have presented us in your ramble is your inability to cope with post processing. How many tutorials did you complete?

0 upvotes
J One
By J One (9 months ago)

Three comments from people completely missing the point and without any understanding of the art (yes - ART) that can be produced with a camera phone. Are there better options to shoot with, of course; stop worrying about the device and go shoot some interesting images. Check out some of the iPhone images by http://richardkocihernandez.com and realise that you have not shot anything as interesting - though feel free to give us a link to your amazing images.

0 upvotes
jcmarfilph
By jcmarfilph (9 months ago)

He could have done it 10 times better with any decent compact and not worry about the "Art of manipulation " just to hide the mediocre quality of an iPhone.

5 upvotes
J One
By J One (9 months ago)

"He could have done it 10 times better..." hahaha. Ignoring your childish statement, your argument is absolutely futile, flawed and irrelevant. A compact may have a better sensor than the phone but where does that argument stop - MFT, APS-C, 35mm, and then on to the various medium and large format sensor cameras. Please stop embarrassing yourself.

0 upvotes
JWilkinson Studios
By JWilkinson Studios (9 months ago)

You're the one embarrassing yourself, sorry. EVERY single photo I looked at on that sight was out of focus, excessively grainy, or had bad motion blur.

Its a nice tool, sometimes.

2 upvotes
Tonkotsu Ramen
By Tonkotsu Ramen (9 months ago)

I thought we were going digital.. now we're going back to books?

0 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (9 months ago)

"Art" and "iPhone" should NEVER be in the same sentence. I just saw someone selling a Nikon D3100 kit for $199 shipped. You could get a Sony NEX-F3 kit for like $240 or so. There are far better options, & many are well compact enough to be "always with you."

0 upvotes
jcmarfilph
By jcmarfilph (9 months ago)

Why would somebody waste time and resource in using a mediocre camera phone and a book just to get half-decent shot at best? I'd rather spend my money on a decent compact and don't even need to buy book on how to make decent shot from it.

3 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (9 months ago)

Because it's always with you, unlike even the smallest compact?

While I'm certainly aware of the problems of the iPhone, in those moments it's still good to have it around.

1 upvote
jcmarfilph
By jcmarfilph (9 months ago)

Given the tremendous amount of so-called art or "manipulation" these artists are doing with the smartphone photos especially from the trying hard ones, I'd carry my pocketable decent compact anytime of the day and upload the SOOC pictures when I get the chance to connect to WIFI or upload pictures to my computer.

1 upvote
Total comments: 41
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