iPhoneography: where photography, art and technology truly meet

Photographers are increasingly embracing smartphones, and Apple’s iPhone in particular, as valid alternatives to their SLRs. Adopting the philosophy that ‘the best camera is the one that’s with you’, photographers find with iPhones that they can simply point and shoot in situations where photography would not be an option with a larger camera. For many, this embodies the true essence of photography, in which making a timely visual capture of a particular moment is more important than painstakingly changing lenses and altering aperture settings. More and more photographers are questioning the assumption that bulky, costly photographic equipment is necessary for taking worthwhile photographs. Instead, they are realising that you can never tell when inspiration is going to strike, and being able to take photographs instantly at any time is incredibly advantageous.

As well as making it possible to take photographs at any time, the iPhone’s operating system, iOS, provides the photographer with a portable processing lab in the form of third party ‘apps’ downloaded from the App Store. Other smartphones have photo apps too, but the range available on iOS is far superior to what’s available on Android or other platforms. Quite a few people are now familiar with the popular Hipstamatic app, but this is only one of many. The first iPhone photography apps tended to offer simulations of Lomography cameras and were often quite ‘lo-fi’, which was perhaps natural given the relatively poor quality of the cameras on the first iPhones. However, the camera has been improved on each new iPhone model, and the iPhone 4 has a camera which is on a par with some compact cameras. At the same time, the photography apps available have gone beyond just lo-fi effects and into much more professional territory, offering advanced editing features, layering and masking, a huge range of filters and textures, and other facilities such as HDR. The range of editing possibilities for iPhone photography is now quite incredible.

In addition to the camera itself and the software, there are increasing numbers of hardware accessories for iPhoneography, such as the Owle Bubo mount and stabiliser, and the Rollei telephoto lens for the iPhone 4. The fact that hardware manufacturers such as Rollei are taking the iPhone so seriously is a very good sign for the future of the medium. Another very good sign is that the iPhone 4 has just overtaken the Nikon D90 as the most popular camera in the Flickr community. Many people are now finding that the sheer power of a good camera that’s always available, combined with the advanced editing features offered by the huge range of apps, makes for photographs which are both spontaneous and highly artistic. This has led to a new photographic and artistic subgenre referred to by some as ‘iPhoneography’, which is seen in many ways as highly representative of the current zeitgeist of art meeting technology. iPhone photographs can encompass all photographic genres from street photography to landscapes, but their spontaneity and artistic processing gives them a style of their own. The influence of iPhoneography can be seen increasingly on more traditional photography, as well as on film and TV, where iPhoneography-style processing such as blurring, tilt-shift effects, vignettes and colour filtering is increasingly in vogue.

There is a vibrant community of incredibly talented iPhoneographers on the Internet who are pushing the boundaries of this medium and sharing their results with each other and the rest of the world, and this even includes some professional photographers such as Chase Jarvis who have embraced the iPhone as a valid and exciting part of their toolkit. Many of these iPhoneographers use Flickr to share photos and to give feedback. This makes sense because Flickr has been the most popular photo-sharing site for some time. However, some iPhoneographers use other sites in addition to, or instead of, Flickr. Tumblr has been popular due to its simple microblogging format which is ideal for posting photos and getting feedback on them, although recent technical glitches have made it a less attractive proposition. Some maintain photo blogs using WordPress or Blogger. Twitter is also very popular with iPhoneographers because it enables them to share thoughts and tips, as well as to link to new photos no matter where they are hosted.

In addition to these generic sharing sites, however, there are sites which are specific to mobile photography. Taking the iPhoneography world by storm currently is the mobile photo-sharing phenomenon known as Instagram. Despite its low-resolution square-format restrictions, it enables mobile photographers to share photos and get feedback in a very simple and streamlined way which makes it very addictive for many. Other sites dedicated to mobile photography are EYE’EM and MobiTog. Instagram, EYE’EM and MobiTog cater to all mobile photographers, not just iPhone photographers, so those using Android phones and Blackberrys can also join in the fun.

A rather different approach to photo sharing is taken by P1XELS. This is a curated site which takes the form of a blog, and at P1XELS they are keen to emphasise the importance of iPhoneography as an art form rather than just as a method for taking ‘snaps’. Only photographs taken on iPhones are welcome here, which is probably indicative of how much more advanced the iOS platform is for photography in comparison to other mobile platforms. Anyone remaining cynical about the worth of iPhoneography only has to browse the beautiful images on this site to find out what incredible works of art can be created from photographs taken on the iPhone.

There are various other blogs devoted to showcasing talented iPhoneographers and which also provide news and information about the iPhoneography scene. Glyn Evans’ iPhoneography blog, founded back in 2008 when Glyn coined the term ‘iPhoneography’, is usually the first port of call for information about what’s happening in the iPhoneography world. Other excellent iPhoneography blogs include Marty Yawnick’s Life in LoFi, Edgar Cuevas’ iPhoneogenic, and the bickr blog. As well as these blogs, there is also the very worthwhile iPhoneArt site which has a thriving community and is growing and getting even better all the time, and also the extremely useful iphoneographyCentral site, recently set up by Nicki Fitz-Gerald, which provides iPhoneography tutorials and other handy resources.

iPhoneography exhibitions and events are occurring around the world. Some of these have been arranged by P1XELS, but there have been quite a few others too, including several at various Apple Stores worldwide. More are appearing all the time, such as the HIPSTAMATICS exhibition in London earlier this year, and also the London iPhoneographers: Street Photography event which I’ve helped to organise at the Apple Store on Regent Street in London. As mobile photography becomes ever more prevalent, no doubt we will see even more of these events and exhibitions appearing in the future.

A similar scenario is occurring with books about iPhoneography, which are increasing in number all the time. Current examples of traditionally-published books are The Art of iPhoneography by Stephanie Roberts, Create Great iPhone Photos by Allan Hoffman, iPhone Photography & Video for Dummies by Angelo Micheletti, and iPhone Obsessed: Photo Editing Experiments with Apps by Dan Marcolina. There are also now many self-published books by iPhoneographers on Blurb, including my own iPhoneography.

After reading this article, I hope those skeptical about the future of mobile photography, and iPhoneography in particular, are a bit less cynical. I also hope that those who are already pursuing an interest in this type of photography have found some useful information and have been encouraged to take their interest further. There is much fun to be had, and many great images to be created. My own interest in iPhoneography began in August 2009 (when I wrote a blog post about my new-found enthusiasm for it), and since then, as already mentioned, I’ve helped to organise an iPhoneography event and have published a book of my iPhone photos. I’ve also been showcased and reviewed in various places, been successful in photo contests, been featured on Flickr Explore, and been approached to have one of my photos used for the cover of a novel (though unfortunately this didn’t happen in the end, but it was nice to be considered). Additionally, I run the London iPhoneography Group which I formed in September 2010. You can find me on Flickr as matt_brock, you can check out my Tumblr-based iPhoneography site or look at my work on P1XELS should you wish to do so, and you can find me on Twitter as _mattbrock. My interest in iPhoneography continues to grow, and given the exciting nature of the medium I’m quite sure it will do so for some time to come.