As Billboard Magazine Unveil iPhone Cover, We Ask What It Means For Our Changing Industry

As Billboard Magazine Unveil iPhone Cover, We Ask What It Means For Our Changing Industry

One of Billboard magazine’s latest covers – featuring former Fifth Harmony babe Camila Cabello – was recently shot quite infamously using the portrait mode on an iPhone 7. The spread itself was shot using both the iPhone and a DSLR. What does all of this mean for our ever-changing industry? Should we be worried? I chatted to commercial photographer Jay Mawson, who has shot campaigns for Nike and Adidas, to gather his perspective on all of this.

Our industry operates around fickle trends and advancing technologies. If you don’t embrace the changes, you can expect to be left behind – and let’s be honest, it’s hard to keep up sometimes. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to hear of Billboard’s recent cover being shot on an iPhone. It was inevitable, right?

Chatting to Mawson – a commercial photographer whose work I highly rate – I was keen to get his thoughts firstly on the importance of social media for the modern photographer. Me, personally? I go through a love/hate relationship with it. Some weeks I’ll post every day, whilst others I’ll leave my phone upstairs so I can crack on with some work without the hassle of picking a potentially-popular photo to upload, or posting at the “best” time, and all the other pressures that come with attempting to run a successful social media page. Thankfully, I’m not alone, as Mawson tells me it’s something he “struggles with daily.” He brings my attention specifically to this new generation that Instagram has birthed: those who mostly indulge in test shoots with agency models. Most of these photographers have a following of, say, 25/50/100k – as do the models. Mawson notes that the shooting style of many of these photographers is the same – natural light, similar backgrounds… something he describes as the “California style.” Funny, as I can envision exactly what he means, as he describes it to me.

The rise of this style of photography has had a knock-on effect on commercial photographers such as Mawson, who notes that brands like Boohoo and Missguided now cater to the “Instagram generation” in their editorial campaigns; troublesome, somewhat, as many working commercial photographers are just “guys with 300 followers and no interest in social media,” he says. It makes for a potentially confusing clash of two very different worlds.

Photo credit: Jay Mawson

The Importance of Having an Online Presence

I feel I’m pretty savvy when it comes to social media. But one aspect that for years has remained a big question mark is the extent to which I should be putting MYSELF out there. I’m happy to share my work, and am open to criticism, but what about me, my face, and my personality? How much do people want to know about the person behind the photos they consistently “like” on Instagram? Don’t they just want to see pictures of pretty girls on a sunny day? Because I certainly am quite far from that ideal!

Mawson reckons it’s showcasing yourself and your personality that makes the difference and takes you to the next level. “People can see your work on your website,” he says. “What people really want to see [on social media] is what goes on behind-the-scenes. Photographers excel when they’re happy to share more and market themselves as a brand,” he adds, citing a greater response on his own socials since he decided to begin including images of himself. It all boils down to the notion, he says, that “people buy from people.” He hints that it can also help to showcase skills that may not be immediately obvious from looking at your work. Instagram stories, for example, are a great way to demonstrate to potential clients that you can operate your way around a bunch of equipment that, from looking at the final image result - it’s perhaps not so obvious was used.

Photo credit: Jay Mawson

Billboard's iPhone 7 Magazine Cover

So what about this Billboard iPhone 7 cover?

“When you look at [photographer Miller Mobley’s] work, there’s no way he’d have done that if it wasn’t a big PR stunt. He didn’t select an iPhone 7 thinking it was the best tool for the job”

Back in 2013 in an interview with Fstoppers, Mobley was shooting digital medium format, specifically using a Phase One 645DF – a far cry from an iPhone.

Mawson laughs that the only occasion he’d shoot with an iPhone 7 would be if he had managed to forget his camera (which, for the record, is a Nikon D800 with Nikkor 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8, 35mm 1.4G, and 85mm 1.8 lenses respectively). We agree that the entire iPhone 7 Billboard cover is nothing but a publicity stunt. Sure, it’s one that’s garnered much attention and press – I wouldn’t even have seen their latest cover had it not been for the furor amongst the photo community. But a publicity stunt no less.

"Shot on iPhone 7"

The conversation reminds me of adverts I’ve seen on the London Underground. The “Shot on iPhone 7” campaign, where images are blown up much larger than any magazine cover. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, the fact remains that this campaign bridges the gap between the professional photographer and the everyday iPhone-ography enthusiast. After all, seeing that someone else has used the same model of phone to take an image suitable for the tube adverts can only leave your average Joe wondering if they could produce similar results.

Mawson agrees many of the iPhone campaign pictures are engaging. But as far as he’s concerned, it ends at recreational fun. “[There’s an issue with] The whole infrastructure around it – if you turn up to a studio, how are you going to treat your lights? Metre? Tethering? The industry isn’t built around an iPhone, and never will be.” He rightly remarks that shooting with the iPhone largely limits all your creative choices to post-production – in which you simply slap a filter over the selected image(s). “There’s no creativity in-camera. The iPhone makes so many decisions for you; it will suit certain situations, but that’s going to be one in a thousand.”

Anyone can take pic with an iPhone, you have to have some understanding of what you’re shooting in order to use a DSLR. Being a photographer is about having the right tools and mindset and having been in those situations before to be able to produce a shoot/brief in any circumstance.

See more of Billboard’s iPhone cover here. You can check out more of Jay’s work over on his website

With the release of the iPhone 7, it's dual camera, and the subsequent portrait mode, is iPhone-ography likely to become a more prominent feature of the photographic world? Let us know where you think we're headed.

All images used with permission.

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31 Comments

Scott Hays's picture

In the past photographers used to get somewhat upset when the topic of "that is such an incredible image; what kind of camera did you use". The thought process behind it was that the photographer created the image, not the camera. As far as the technology is concerned, technology is not what photography is about. If the photographer does not understand the basics behind photography, the image is still going to turn out like crap no matter what type of camera he/she uses.

In this case, it was a great advertisement for the iPhone 7. It kind of took away from the art of the photographer... Just what every photographer wants.

Yes, I just love when people tell me "your camera takes great pictures."

How is this different than a photo in a DSLR ad taken by someone hanging off a cliff at 5000 feet? This is the essence of advertising.

Paolo Veglio's picture

If a professional photographer is not able to get better results than an average Joe with an iPhone, the problem is not the iPhone. We keep repeating that is not the camera that makes the photo, but this article seems to imply otherwise

Richard Berry's picture

When the average Joe looks at these images, they aren't thinking, "What kind of post processing did they do?" or "Was this shot by a professional?" In their mind they think that their images will look just a good so why should they waste their time and money buying a professional camera or going to photography school.

the same kind of things were said when 135 film was allowed in magazines, vs 120. Then similar things were said when digital was introduced. It means not much has changed. It means a good moment captured is still more important than image quality.

Michael Kormos's picture

I think it's another PR stunt by a fading print publication looking to reconnect with its dwindling readership.

Billboard is an industry magazine read by professionals in an industry that is shrinking. Its circulation corresponds to the number of people working in the business, not to whatever they do with their cover, and it is extremely unlikely that they think an iPhone cover is going to attract people who are not in the business.

Spy Black's picture

It's actually just another PR stunt by a fading technology corporation.

Apple has some issues it should address but they are hardly a fading technology corporation. There are still in fact the leading technology corporation.

Spy Black's picture

Only in the mind of Apple lovers.

I gave you my fair and objective point of view. Only in the mind of Apple lovers doesn't qualify as fair and objective.

Spy Black's picture

No, you gave me YOUR point of view, and I gave you mine. Just because you think your point of view is "fair and objective" doesn't mean that it is, and just because you think my comment doesn't qualify as such doesn't mean that it isn't.

Christian Santiago's picture

Apple has more cash on hand than the US govt. while they may be having somewhat of an identity crisis lately, they are far from "fading".

@Spy Black

Your comment was not logical. Because someone is a fan of Apple doesn't mean that they are blindly loyal.

Meanwhile I said Apple has some problems it needs to iron out but that it is still the leading technology company.

Your previous "fading technology corporation" is also not supported by any facts. If you were to say that sales and profits overall have leveled out then you would be correct, but that's the case throughout the smartphone market for the leading players. Meanwhile Apple's profits continue to dwarf every other technology company.

Spy Black's picture

"Your comment was not logical."
To you.

Logic is not subjective.

It is not logical for you to accuse Apple fans of not being able to be objective. Recent Mac articles on this site are proof of that. Former Apple users are proof of that.

michael andrew's picture

Those images looked plastic and grainy to anyone else? I don't like the look of them at all.

Plastic and grainy at the same time? Never heard someone say that before. It's either one or the other.

I'm viewing them on an iPad mini 4 (300 ppi display) and they are simply to low a resolution to see what you are describing. From what I can see, they look fine, and great coming from a phone.

michael andrew's picture

Well they look both to me. The image quality seems ok, but not stellar. Why would you shoot with a phone?

It is not like they are cheap? A used Fuji x100t is the same size and much cheaper with leagues better image quality.

Why would I shoot with a phone? Because it's the ultimate in portability.

A smart phone clearly does more than a traditional camera.

Sure the image quality is better on the dedicated camera with a big sensor, but the lesser quality of the phone can still generate attractive, and even impressive, looking images, while being much easier to carry.

Who cares that it was shot with an iPhone? If you are a "talented" photographer, the system you use will only make the capture easier and give your ability to edit more flexibility. Given the right conditions, light, talent, hair, make-up, etc. using an iPhone v full frame v 4/3 v 1inch v medium format v larger format should only matter to the creative making use of the same. Have we all forgotten the lengthy discussions about "real photographers" don't use digital or crop sensors or ... whatever. Real photographers can take any equipment and make lovely images, because of their talent and their vision. The iPhone is just another sensor and lens combination. And if I may extend the argument to another, is [insert name of celebrity] a Real photographer? If they create compelling images, why not? Similar, if not the same argument. Like all art, it's subjective, you may like it, you may not. I think the only question here is given that a camera attached to your phone now has similar power to DSLRs of 15 years ago (or there about), I can't imagine where technology will be in another 20 years? What a time to be a photographer!

Mr Hogwallop's picture

The photo industry is ending because a job was shot with: smaller than 8x10, with a 4x5 Graphlex, with color film, with 35mm, with negative film, with reversal film, with strobes, with natural light, with digital, by a woman, by a man, by a celebrities's child, by a celebrities's spouse, with a drone, with a gopro, with a Iphone 5 6 or 7, by a craigslist photographer....nope it's just changing same as it always has.

If any of these things are affecting your business you need to take another look at your business....

I am not a professional, but I've been using an SLR since 1980. I like control; I want to be able to focus fast. Smartphones, to me, are frustrating with the time that it takes to focus. While I started out when there was no auto-focus, I now own a DSLR; but I find myself changing the lens from AF to MF to get the photo that I want.
If a smartphone brings in the bacon, then go for it if they are comfortable using it.

I don't know, my wife's iPhone 7+ focuses fast enough for me. It's certainly more than fast enough for her, which is what I care about.

Spy Black's picture

It's only a matter of time before apps are available (if they aren't already) that let you tether your iPhone to your system and sync your strobes to fully control lighting. Despite that, iPhone photography will be a fad gadget that blows over and, while not necessarily disappearing altogether, will simply be another way to photographically get from point A to point B, especially by cash-strapped photographers. Once everyone says "me too", it'll be over and we move on.

Except it's been "me too" for while now.

Spy Black's picture

How many magazine covers have been shot on an iPhone?

Beats me, but I know this isn't the first time an iPhone has been used in a professional capacity, and that didn't start just recently.

This should concern camera manufacturers more than photographers.