Why the iPhone is my go-to backup camera for creative travel photography
I’ve owned an Apple iPhone since the original was released in 2007. Back then, the quality of camera phones was still rudimentary, and I didn’t consider using it for creative photography. Thirteen years later, my iPhone is a critical part of my photography kit and iPhone photography is here to stay. In fact, I often refer to my phone as my “backup camera.” Last fall, I upgraded to the iPhone 11 Pro, and I have to say that it offers an incredible array of built-in features that are just amazing. Whether you have the newest iPhone or an earlier model, here are some of my go-to tips for iPhone photography.
Your iPhone can help you capture unique angles, perspectives, and locations
A great thing about any smartphone is that it’s very compact. For this reason, I’m often able to use my iPhone in places where it might be awkward to use my interchangeable lens Nikons. Smartphone photography is often perceived as less obtrusive while traveling, and I can sometimes use my phone in places that wouldn’t otherwise permit photography.
Another advantage of your phone is that because it is small and light, it’s easy to put it in places to get angles and perspectives that might be difficult to capture with a regular camera. Try shooting low angles, or over your head, including straight up. You can also easily press your iPhone against a window to reduce reflections from glass surfaces.
Use Location Services to Geo-Tag Your iPhone photography
An oft-overlooked feature of the iPhone is that the built-in GPS can geo-tag all of your photos. I use this feature all the time, especially when I’m scouting locations. That way, when I come home I can pinpoint my location on my computer maps. In your iPhone Privacy Settings, make sure Location Services is enabled for your Camera App. GPS data will then be automatically embedded into your photos. To view the maps location on your phone, simply swipe up on the photo You can then view your photos on a map, either in Apple Photos, Photo Mechanic, or Lightroom Classic.
One of the best new features on the iPhone 11 Pro is the addition of a third, dedicated wide-angle camera. This new camera offers an angle of view equivalent to a 13mm lens in 35mm format. That’s wider than any lens I own for my Nikons, other than my fisheye lens!
If you don’t have the new iPhone 11 Pro, you can use the built-in Panorama mode to capture wide-angle scenes. Panorama mode uses the video capture system in your iPhone, and as such might not do well in low-light environments. Panoramic images can be uploaded to social media sites like Facebook to let your friends “look around” the scene.
Long Exposure iPhone Photography
Did you know you can capture long-exposure images with your iPhone? It works incredibly well, and you can use this feature to blur moving water and other objects from a hand-held shot. To make a long exposure with your iPhone, you’ll need to enable Live Photos in the camera app. With Live Photos, the camera captures about 3 seconds of video, allowing you to merge video with a still. Just hold your phone still while you capture a Live Photo, then swipe up on the image to reveal the Live Photo options and select “Long Exposure.” Your iPhone photography just got really cool!
Don’t be afraid of the dark: Night Mode on the iPhone 11
If you do have the new iPhone 11 (any model), it supports a new feature called “Night Mode.” Night mode is enabled automatically in dim/dark conditions and captures a 1-3 second exposure. (Update: you can extend that to 10 seconds via manual override.) Hold the camera steady, and the built-in image stabilization system does the rest. I was astonished at how well Night Mode really works. It’s perfect for dimly-lit museums where you can’t use a tripod with your regular camera.
Create Time-Lapse Videos
I love adding time-lapse video clips to my travelogues, and the iPhone has a built-in time-lapse video function right in the camera. The trick to a good time-lapse video is to hold the camera very still when possible. If I have a tripod, I’ll use a MeFoto Sidekick camera holder that fits in the Arca-Swiss clamp on my ball-head.
Get Creative With Post Processing
In iOS 13, the image editing features have been vastly improved. You can adjust images quite easily and add a variety of filter effects. However, if you really want to have fun with your iPhone photography, I recommend using the Snapseed App from Google. Originally developed by Nik Software, Snapseed lets you adjust images powerfully and mix and match many different effects, including pseudo-HDR tone-mapping.
Conclusion: Don’t be afraid of your iPhone
Recent technological advances make using a camera phone, like the iPhone 11 Pro, an indispensable tool for the traveling photographer. When I travel, it has become my de-facto “backup” camera, as well as a point and shoot camera for times when using my larger cameras can be cumbersome. iPhone photography is here to stay, so embrace it!