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.
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.
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.
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.