I was going to start this by telling you a story about how I got off work on Friday, went home and grabbed my camera gear, and headed out excited to go shoot some photos. I drove out to Inks Lake State Park, which is about 45 minutes drive for me. I had a place picked out in my mind where I wanted to capture some sunset pictures; the sky looked promising. I got to my location, and saw beautiful rays of sunlight pouring through the gaps in the clouds. I grabbed my camera bag, rushed over to where I was going to take pictures, turned on the camera and found that it was unwilling to take photos. What!?!? There’s no memory card in the camera; it’s still sitting in my computer back home.
But, I don’t think that anyone would believe such a farcical tale, so here’s what really happened. I decided that I should try going out and shooting photos with nothing but my iPhone. Maybe that DSLR, with it’s large sensor, interchangeable lenses, hundreds of features and controls, was acting as a crutch for me; maybe it was limiting my photographic creativity. Maybe just being constrained to shooting with a phone camera would force me to more carefully consider the scene and be more creative. Yeah, that’s the real narrative of what happened Friday evening.
So every photo you see in this post was shot with an iPhone 8 Plus. Including this photo below, which shows the rays of sun, filtered by the clouds with Inks Lake in the foreground. This photo was shot using the ‘wide’ camera and ‘HDR’ mode, meaning that it computationally makes an HDR photo, I suppose.
Now, just because I was shooting with a phone camera didn’t mean than I couldn’t complicate things quite a bit. Instead of just using the camera app on the phone, I used the Lightroom app on the phone to take pictures. This allowed me some control of the camera settings and it allowed me to capture raw .DNG files that upload to Adobe’s cloud and let you later download them to your computer for editing. The raw file gives you a lot more ability to edit than a .JPG out of the camera would.
Below is a photo I took in ‘Pro’ mode rather than ‘HDR’ mode. I later imported this into Lightroom on my computer and edited it. There was a bright and colorful prickly pear that I wanted to include in the foreground with the sun and clouds in the distance. One difficulty was that this part of the park is now a construction zone for a new boat ramp and I was shooting around a lot of debris.
When I got the file in Lightroom, the foreground was quite dark and I found the colors with the standard camera profile to be kind of dull. So, I applied the Adobe landscape profile, which I like to start with, and I put grad filters over the sky and foreground to adjust exposure and contrast. To bring the exposure up in the foreground, I found that I also had to warm up the white balance in the foreground to keep it matching the rest of the scene. I also did a lot of noise reduction.
The next two photos where both shot from the Lightroom app using the ‘HDR’ mode. In the first one I used a boulder for a foreground and to cover up some crap in the water. There was construction equipment and materials all around me at this place. I do kind of like the boulder anyway and I am glad that the state park is getting so many nice renovations.
And some wild flowers growing through the granite with yellow rays of sun in the background.
I found that HDR mode makes the sky a lot more saturated yellow than I would like. The software may have a difficult time picking white balance in this scene or it may just be me. But, I reduced the saturation in the sky in both of these images to make them look more like what I saw.
One thing that I would have done with my DSLR and tripod is shoot some long exposures with an ND filter to smooth out the lake a little. And maybe stick around for blue hour and get some nice lake reflections. But all I had was a Homo Sapiens brand bi-pod with limited stability and leveling capability.
The sun was getting lower and the clouds were bunching up on the horizon. I went to check out a fishing pier that was recently rebuilt. I thought that the pier and the people fishing would make a nice silhouette against the water, so I got up to a high area and framed it in using sneaker-zoom and waited until all three people were fishing.
I did edit in Lightroom to bring the foreground blacks and shadows down to enhance the silhouette of the pier against the lake. This also kind of hides the concrete damn in the far background. I might have liked a longer exposure here to cut down some of the chop in the water. People fishing tend to hold very still until they hook something, so it might have worked.
It was a very peaceful evening with a nice breeze. It wasn’t too hot as summer has begun to lose some of its ferocity. I almost wished that I was there to fish. I’ll have to come back to this pier some time with my DSLR and re-shoot this at blue hour and maybe at 35mm focal length.
Walking around with nothing but a phone that gives you two focal lengths (28mm and 56mm full-frame equivalent), kind of forces you to start looking at a scene in terms of what the camera can do. This is kind of like walking around with a fixed aperture prime lens or two. You think more about where you are standing as you can’t just turn the zoom ring. You also can’t really think about what you could do with filters and a tripod or get tricky with apertures and shutter speeds.
If comparing the iPhone 8 Plus to a Nikon D750, I think that the pictures turned out OK, especially the last one. But if you look closely at the images, you will see that they are quite a bit noisier than the photos I take with my DSLR as the phone camera sensor is tiny. And there is not nearly as much image available for cropping (4032×3024[iPhone8] vs. 6016×4016[D750]). I would certainly miss all the sensor resolution, available lenses, settings, and opportunity to spend money with the DSLR, but I think that most people are probably happy with the picture quality from today’s phones.
Thanks for reading, and check your camera for memory cards and batteries before you leave the house.
P.S. Just after I wrote this, I saw this interesting article posted to PhotographyLife about the modern smart phone and the camera. Worth a read if you are interested in such things.