It’s been a year FULL of photography. All the shots I’m sharing here were taken with my iPhone but I’ve actually taken far more photos with my DSLR and Polaroid 195 this year. I spent six months shooting the London book and even though it was tiring at times (a lot of times!) the project has developed my eye in a way I wasn’t expecting. My shooting style is looser, somehow. More spontaneous. I guess running around a city will do that to you :)
I often get asked how I create images with my iPhone so I thought it was about time I put together a post. The short answer is: I don’t actually do much at all. When I first started taking pictures with my phone I’d go through phases of using a particular app or filter that took my fancy, and, of course, whenever a new bells ’n’ whistles app is released I still download and give it a try. But these days I find myself shooting and editing in pretty much the same way every time.
Whatever camera you use to take photos, whether it’s film, toy, a DSLR or a phone, I believe it’s the strength of your composition that makes your photo work (or not). Doesn’t matter if you’ve used the most expensive camera on the market or the cheapest — it’s not the camera that creates the image, it’s your eye. One of the reasons I love shooting with film cameras so much is because it takes me back to photography basics: you set the exposure, compose the shot, focus and shoot. I don’t have to fanny around with white balance and the other buttons on my DSLR I haven’t bothered to figure out. Likewise, I use my iPhone in an equally simple way. I’ve tried plenty of camera apps but they all have too many gizmos — I just want to compose my shot and take it. So here’s my very simple (updated) method…
I shoot all my photos with the basic camera app that comes with the phone (an iPhone 5S), alternating between the rectangle and square format, depending on how I want to frame the shot.
When taking the picture I hold the phone up keeping my arms close to my body — for crisp shots you need to keep the phone as steady as possible. When shooting Polaroids I always hold my breath as I take the shot and it’s the same with the iPhone. I only ever take one or two shots of a particular scene, a habit from shooting with film and not having many shots to spare — I also don’t want to use up all the memory on the phone with duplicate images. I take my time, compose thoughtfully, touch the screen to adjust the exposure and then take the picture.
For editing I mainly use the VSCO cam app — I brighten the shot, maybe up the contrast a smidge and then apply a filter dialled down to about 60%. My current filter faves are M6, S2 and C2, with B3 and X1 used occasionally for B&W.
I occasionally put words on my pictures using Over or Word Swag. If I need to straighten or crop an image I’ll do it in VSCO; the SKRWT app is useful for correcting distortion in buildings. I use Snapseed for dodging & burning and TouchRetouch to remove stray cranes on skylines.
For self portraits I use the basic camera app reversed (the lower resolution of the reversed camera helps smudge wrinkles ;-) and edit as usual with VSCO cam. In a moment of vanity I downloaded the Facetune app to test the skin-smoothing function and I can report that, yes, it works but I’ve yet to share a Facetuned photo anywhere as it looks so fake.
When it comes to selfies I’m not very adventurous — I think I got it out of my system at art college. Good hair days, feet shots and hand shots are all I feel the need for these days, so for some self portrait inspiration, check out my mates Amy Palko, Susan Tuttle and Vivienne McMaster.
Once in a blue moon I’ll use Hipstamatic just because I see it on my phone and think ‘oh, yeah, that app was always fun to use.” But in all honesty, I’m over it.
When sharing on Instagram I never geo-tag my photos purely because I switched off that function when it geo-tagged my home. If was travelling the world maybe geo-tagging would be fun, but usually I’m in London or with family — I don’t think people need to know exactly where I am. Privacy first and all that.
Shooting with my iPhone hasn’t changed the way I take pictures so much as facilitated my desire to shoot every day. I see photos everywhere and like to record my days, just for the sheer pleasure of capturing colour, light and shape. When I leave the house I always have my phone with me, though at this stage I really do view it more as a camera than a phone. For a while I was worried that using my iPhone more than my Polaroid cameras or even DSLR meant I was ‘cheating’. How could I call myself a photographer if I shot predominently with a phone? But I’ve always believed that being a photographer simply means you express yourself using the photographic image — the tools you use don’t matter so much anymore (did anyone ever critique Picasso on his choice of brushes? No.) A writer writes, a painter paints and a photographer photographs. Simple as that.
I actually love that digital photography and now smart phones have made photography so accessible to everyone. These days photographs aren’t just taken on birthdays and holidays — we’re now recording and sharing our daily lives. We pay attention more. We’re exercising our creative muscles. Our eyes open wider every day.
It’s a beautiful thing.
The book creation adventure continues, with new-to-me parts of London getting added to my favourites list. I lived here for ten years the first time and I can’t believe I never ventured out to Kew Gardens — it’s absolutely magical! I only had time to see a fraction of the place, but what I did see was enough to persuade me to buy a season ticket. If you only have a couple of days in London there are other places you should check out first (and I’ll be doing a Things to See in London post soon), but if you’re here for a week or more, plan to spend a day there. It’s worth it, trust me.
Creating this book has been an invitation to submerge myself in photography — I snap photos with my iPhone every day, but breaking out the big cameras is a whole other game. Still, I really do believe it’s our eyes that take photos. It doesn’t matter what camera you use, it’s more about the intention behind the picture you take. Recording a memory… creating art… sharing a peek into your world… taking a portrait to treasure. To my mind, photography is magical.
The autumn session of Photo Meditations is currently enrolling, so if you’d like to take your photography up a notch with me (smart phones are more than welcome, by the way!) head over here to read more and sign up. This is the last time the class will run this year xo