iPhonetography: Yeah, There’s an App for That


Since the first camera phone, the Sharp J-SH04, was released back in 2000, new cell phones have continued to raise the bar by delivering an ever increasing number of pixels and functionality into the waiting hands of mobile photographers. With the arrival of the iPhone App Store and the new iPhone 3GS, the bar has been set higher than ever and emerging iPhonetographers are taking full advantage.

Obviously there are some limitations to the type of images you can produce with an iPhone. It’s not going to replace your DSLR anytime soon, as Duncan Davidson makes plainly clear. But it’s got huge potential as a tool for making great images anytime or anywhere precisely because it’s a tool you’ve always got with you wherever you go. It’s a niche part of the photography market for sure, but serving a niche market is what Apple (s aapl) does best.

With popular services to facilitate image sharing, and with image quality steadily increasing, one can only imagine that this niche will continue to grow while the gap between the camera phone and the dedicated camera continues to close. If Flickr usage is any indicator, it would seem that the iPhone is far and away the most popular camera phone out there. All this despite the fact that its closest mobile competitors offer things it doesn’t, like more megapixels and a built in flash. What accounts for this discrepancy?

Popular Cameraphones on flickr
Popular Cameraphones on Flickr

It’s the apps!

The three megapixel camera and new touch interaction that came with the 3GS were a clear step forward for iPhonetography. With an intuitive way to quickly adjust the color temperature, focus, and exposure of the image users now have more freedom to capture scenes that will work well within the iPhones limitations. The real power of the iPhone as an imaging device though comes from the amazing applications available for it in the iTunes App Store.

  • AutoStitch is an application for creating panoramas by stitching together multiple images taken from the phone. It does an amazing job at connecting the individual photos together and creating a seamless shot. I’m a total amateur, but I took a couple of quick shots from my balcony and had AutoStitch combine them with the result you see below.
    An AutoStitch panorama
  • Photogene provides a full suite of editing options for your photographs, with features including cropping and rotating, effects filters, and fine tune adjustment of the photos color and exposure. I actually used Photogene to crop the raw panorama image produced by AutoStitch that you see above.
    Photo editing with Photogene
  • Vint Shift will let you have some fun with the “tilt-shift” effect. If your not familiar with this style of photography, it’s all about simulating a smaller depth of field in the photograph to create the illusion that the scene your looking at is taking place on a much smaller scale. Again, as a total amateur I used Vint Shift to snap the photo you see below.
    A tilt-shift photo
  • CameraBag lets you apply a set of filters to your photos so you can recreate historic camera styles. CameraBag provides 11 styles in all including:
    • Helga: A square-format tory camera with washed-out highlights and old-school vignetting.
    • 1974: This is your father’s camera. Faded, tinted, and hip.
    • 1962: Dynamic black and whites from the photojournalists of a bygone era.
    • Mono: Smooth gradation from black to white.

    A photo using the 1974 filter

These are just a few of the over 1000 photography related applications available in the iTunes App Store, with more showing up everyday. It’s not all about the tools, though. Taking great photos takes talent and creativity, but perhaps more importantly, it takes practice, and I also wouldn’t underestimate the role of serendipity and being in the right place at the right time. Which is why I’m so optimistic for the potential of the iPhone as a great photography platform. It has often been said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and if that’s true then I like the iPhone’s chances.

Some great examples of iPhonetography in action

As I said above, I’m a total amateur when it comes to photography, so I wanted to include some links to people who are truly taking advantage of all that the iPhone has to offer when it comes to mobile photography.

If you’re aware of others who are pushing the envelope of iPhonetography, or if you have a favorite photography app you’d like to share, please add it to the comments.