Inside the Revolution

In keeping with the conversation about smartphone imagery (Engaging Notions: Aurora’s Groundbreaking myPhone Collection), the kind folks at Evolve Images let us repost Lewis Blackwell’s thoughts from their blog:

There has been a wave of humorous call-outs for Apple’s claim that on the iPhone5 “The ocean looks bluer … Kids look happier and the world is a more beautiful place.”

The world’s largest company would seem to be set on re-engineering our perception rather than just our tools. However,  that description suggests it is perfect as a tool for commercial photography. It’s the job of a great advertising image to move our perception a bit from the norm. We want pictures that pop.

Evolve accepts iPhone (and other smartphone) pictures as a matter of course – after all, great pictures can be taken on a pinhole camera. But the rapid pace of updates around the iPhone, and related photo apps, is pointing up a real challenge to professional photographic practice.

© Inti St.Clair/

A small bomb went off in my head when I saw a recent Time magazine feature on mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A range of atmospheric images were used in print and online, some extending over two-thirds of a spread. All shot on iPhone by Michael Christopher Brown.

As he explained, the phone-camera had several advantages. For one thing, the DRC is a dangerous place and you don’t want to draw attention as a photographer with expensive kit and overtly nosy behaviour. But more generally, he just liked how it freed up his way of working and engaging with the subjects: “Instead of concentrating on camera settings and a large piece of equipment, I am better able to focus on the situation before more. It becomes more about how I feel and what I see.”

It is easy to think that this is the mindset of a photojournalist and has little application to commercial work, where being unobtrusive and moving lightly is less important than getting a highly polished image. Well, think again. Get out from behind the kit and think more about what is in front of the lens. Even noted technician and super-shooter Albert Watson recently lamented in Photomedia that photographers – particularly male – were in love with the equipment more than they were obsessed with making images. Expect to see rising acceptance of the iPhone in pro photography commissions. Expect to see apps and accessories that further minaiturise and lighten the pro process.

At Evolve Images we have been in the forefront of questioning these standards having seen highly saleable work sitting in the iPhone archive of our photographers. While these images may struggle to work on the largest usages, the fact is most stock licenses are for smaller usage. And as the author of a series of photo-books that have had a 12 x 12 inch format, I know that if I saw the right content in a iPhone image I would find a way of putting it on the page at a size that worked. I am also sure file size issues will disappear within a few upgrades, while sensor and lens quality will become a point of heightened competition.

As we focus on the content of the image rather than obsess about technical qualities, we get closer to the essence of the photograph. Back when grainy black and white imagery was our expectation for everything from great sporting moments to searing war documentary, we knew the priority was to have the right idea and the right content in front of the lens. The immediacy of the iPhone gets us back to that.

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