[Editorial] The Hottest Point of Photographer Contention: iPhones

In reading comments and listening to other photographers, there are nearly no other subjects in the photography universe that bring up more contention than the subject of iPhonography. It’s the most polarizing topic in our field. There are photographers that are steadfastly against the “Instagramers” or the “fauxtagraphers” who post their moody and brooding black and white overly contrasted shots of sunlight through trees to Facebook and get the adoring love of all their friends. Then there are those who realize that you need to crawl through miles of crap before you get to the fresh water on the other side (think Shawshank Redemption).

Sure, there is going to be garbage out there, but won’t there always be? The fact that iPhones allow us all to instantly post process and upload every image we snap just bombards us with the images we normally wouldn’t waste the effort to import to our home computers. With a situation like that, we are obviously going to get hit with a wave of sub par results. But there are good photographers who use the iPhone and accept it for what it is. There are even those who sought to prove that the camera doesn’t make the photographer, it’s the other way around (yes, I’m again referring to Lee Morris).


"The most amazing iPhone yet." A lot of this claim hangs on camera in the iPhone 4s.


So before we go on, can we agree to some things?

1) iPhonography (or cell phone photography) isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much we may or may not like it. It’s popular, it keeps growing, and people love it. So deal with it.
2) Apps like Instagram are naturally going to be popular. You don’t have to use it, but a vast number of consumers will.
3) Professional photographers have nothing to fear from iPhonographers. You can’t show up to a pro shoot with an iPhone. Period.


"I waited in line for three weeks to be the first to get the 4S, but it looks just like the iPhone 4. How will people know I'm better than them?"


With those three points covered, why are there STILL so many haters? Being the contest operator, I get to see the furious comments of those who, for example, don’t think we should be having a point and shoot camera contest. I have to sift through the piles of comments in the Facebook Group where users spout their hatred for anything related to iPhonography.

For a moment take the stance that all these outspoken photographers are indeed professional photographers. That means that they must make a certain portion of their income (I like to say 50%) by being a photographer. So if they are professional photographers, why are they so angry at the hobbyists? Are they afraid? I don’t think they should be, or are.No, I don’t think this is the case at all.


"I'm so hip! My iPhone makes me look sooo cute! I tell all my friends I'm basically a pro. Want to see my tubmlr? I even have a blog."


Let’s look at this another way. Let’s say all these angry folks aren’t pros, but they own pro gear. They spent the six to ten grand on the cameras, lenses, tripods, lighting, training seminars and how-to DVDs as well as various other piles photographic gear, but they can only truthfully call themselves amateurs. They have done some shooting and in all reality are probably quite good. But in their minds, they took the dive. They bought the gear. They have walked their 1000 miles. They feel entitled to something because they share in the struggle of many a professional photographer. Then suddenly they see some photos, most of them total crap but a few of them really darn good, that came out of an iPhone. Maybe even some of these photos rival or are better than their own.

They are hit with a wave of confusion and anger.

How is this possible? What gives these iPhonographers the right? They did not walk their 1000 miles. They did not invest in the gear, the training, the DVDs! They do not deserve to take photos like this! iPhonographers suck! They should all meet a fiery death in the pit of a volcano! Anger anger anger rant rant explative rant!

I sympathize with these guys, I really do. It doesn’t seem fair that photographs of exceptional quality are being generated by high school dropouts with the artistic training of an epileptic aphid.

But the fact of the matter is, if you fire a shotgun into a forest, a few pieces of shrapnel are bound to hit a couple trees.

Now that we have addressed this somewhat justified but unnecessary anger against the iPhone, maybe we should look at what we as photographers can really do with this thing and how serious we should take the iPhone as a part of the camera industry. Let’s face it, the iPhone is the single most popular camera on the planet right now. That counts for something.


The new Schneider iPro System was unveiled last week at iWorld/MacWorld in California.


Last week Schneider Lenses (you may have heard of them) unveiled what is the first attempt by a major lens manufacturer to enter the iPhone market: the iPro series. Just read how they describe their own hardware:

“The idea behind the iPro is not to offer you another camera, but enhance the one you already have. Your iPhone… Suddenly your iPhone's even cooler than you thought it was.”

Schneider backs this up by showing the system right next to its heralded professional series of lenses. They are attempting to draw the line of trust between their well known and successful lenses and this new consumer brand.

Schneider has done two major things to the photographic industry with the release of this product and that statement of it’s purpose:

1) We, Schneider lenses, admit that the iPhone is a viable camera option.
2) We, Schneider lenses, admit that the iPhone is such a huge success as a camera that we should stake our name and reputation on a product to enhance this new aforementioned viable camera option.

The way this camera is described- with words like “pro” and “professional-grade”- is likely a major reason why iPhone haters hate. The idea of using your iPhone to make professional images is sickening to them. And you know what? I totally agree. This is not a professional camera, so why in the heck should you try and turn it into one? Sure, a pro can use it to make great images. There is no denying that. We as Fstoppers have all seen it. However, buying this equipment for your iPhone does not make you a professional. I believe this statement gets to the core of what fuels the iPhone hate.

Marketing. Just keep reminding yourself that it is marketing. Is it really professional grade? No, it isn’t. The kit costs under $100. Of COURSE it isn’t professional grade. Will it make the photos you take on the iPhone better? Probably. Will you see a gaggle of ditsy teenage girls giggling over their overly Instagramed results from using the iPro system? Most definitely. Will it have any effect on the real professional market as a whole?

No. It won’t. Again, you can’t show up to a professional shoot wielding an iPhone- even if you come equipped with a tiny fisheye lens.

What we as photographers need to reconcile is that iPhonography is a real thing. It’s popular, it’s growing, and it will not go away. The real nail in that coffin is seeing a very respected brand put a concerted, driven effort at this market. The first of the major brands to do this, it is a mistake to believe they will be the last.

So what do you think? Will you begin to take iPhonography seriously, or at least see the iPhone as a serious camera? If Schneider believes it to be a serious subject, should you? Or is Schneider on the edge and is this their last ditch effort to remain current and stage a comeback? Sound off in the comments section below.

From Jaron:
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Mike Kelley's picture

It's not the medium that matters. It's the message. Photographers tend to forget this. When you point out the fact that it's possible to take better pictures on an iPhone than a 5d Mark 7, people get angry.

Sure, there's a time and a place for the absolute, utmost, end-all, be-all of quality. But most of the time, and for most of the photographers in the world who aren't doing commercial work with a 6-figure budget, it isn't that time.

As Hugh McCleod pointed out in his book, Ignore Everybody:

"Meeting someone who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a Deli menu would not surprise me. Meeting someone who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier pen on an antique writing table in an airy Soho
loft would seriously surprise me."

Ryan Moore's picture

Great article.  I think at the end of the day, hating on something that most of your clients probably love will rarely, if ever, increase your business or personal happiness.  It is what it is.  Find a way to make it a positive and stay ahead of the game. I'm making 100% of my income as a photographer, and I love instagram and iphoneography.  To hold them up in the same light is naive and unnecessary.  

Jeremy Aronhalt's picture

I'm working on a solo show of industrial B&W's and 50% are from my phone (HTC Incredible not Iphone) because it's what I have at that moment. There is nothing wrong with putting light to a sensor in a phone. 

The irritating thing isnt Iphonographers so much as it is hipsters that think any image of their cat, cup of coffee, bangsy black haired girlfriend, or whatever look amazing with a polaroid filter and shallow depth of field, despite shitty composition or exposure...

"The right tool for the job .... "

I think that the rage comes from the fact that hipsters are trying to make out that the iPhone is more than it really is, for no real reason other than to stroke their own ego (because that's what hipsters do). Yes, it's a very impressive camera ... for a cell phone ... but that's it. 

进's picture

This sounds very much like the debate people have decades ago: "digital photography vs film photography". Replace every word "iphone" with "digital photography" and this editorial will look like it was written in the 90s.

Technology improves, that's a fact.

I don't think the hate comes from the iPhone. I personally don't know of anyone who pretends that an iPhone is comparable to a DSLR in terms of image quality. In many situations it's good enough. Out with your friends, whip out the iPhone and you captured the moment. Heck, I don't think a lot of people would hate on a shot that's well composed, well lit and of a decent subject even if it was taken on a phone. If you're a photography fan, it only makes sense to use the camera that you keep in your pocket all day when you don't have your camera with you. If anything, people take more photos and are probably inclined to appreciate good photography, right?

I think that's where the shit hits the fan, it seems that for some people photography is all about gear. To some, owning a DSLR with a kit lens and a pirated copy of Photoshop is probably what makes you a photographer. I think that's where the hate is. The instant nature of photography seems to make it hard for an outsider to see the craft required. 
Bottom line, I don't think there's hate for the iPhone as a camera, who cares what you shoot with, as long as you value photography as a craft and don't think the gear is what makes you a photographer.

Mark's picture

For me it's not the iPhone or people using the camera on a phone, after all the best camera is the one you have with you at the time. No what gets my goat is the totally made up word iPhoneography WTF? It's making it out that pictures from other, and arguably better, camera phones some how don't qualify. Like it some sort of exclusive iPhone only club.

Another thing, I was really pissed of when the great Creative Live had a course and called it iPhoneography, which to me alienated a huge potential audience. If they called if capture great picture using you cell phone they would have a bigger pull.

Just watch out though before Apple claim it patented the word.


I also wanted to facepalm hard when I saw the Iphonegraphy course... :(

Jens Marklund's picture

The camera companies need to make more sharing-friendly DSLRs. When I'm out traveling with my D700, I need a card reader, and go to an internet café to show the people at home what I'm doing. If I only shoot RAW, which I do - I have to convert the photos I want to upload, into jpegs in camera - which takes a while to do - one by one. It also takes a while to learn how to do this without adding effects. (I edit it by changing color balance, and then just not changing it, and save the jpeg).

If I bring my iPhone. I can upload the photos to whatever place (facebook, flickr etc.) using WIFI, which is common in most main land hostels.

Love or Hate it...
Its a great tool, when you arent lugging your DSLR about, take pics on your phone.
I find it a great way to improve on your composistion.

Practice Practice Practice and you will learn and improve..

photographers are like guitar players...they have different instruments for different songs/scenes...sometimes you want a cheapo danelectro, others? a custom shop, handmade fender strat...it's a tool/toy, depending on who is holding it, what they are pointing it at and the image they capture...

A friend of mine was recently asked by a Bride to use a photo of the wedding cake that her mother took with her iPhone because she absolutely loved the photo.  Mom happened to be in the right place at the right time, a beam of sunlight happened to be shining through a curtain and it backlit the figurines on top perfectly and beautifully.

Mom actually went and got my friend, but by the time he got there, the sun had moved.  There was no way to know this would happen, and no way to recreate it, but Mom caught it with her iPhone.  He had her email it to him, and added it to their wedding album.  I commented it was my favorite photo in the album.  How did you set that up?  He took a lot of heat from other photographer friends for adding it to the album.

This whole craze of Photographers genuinely being upset is silly.  Get over yourselves.  Every phone-ographer gets lucky sometimes.  If you are worried about competing with an iPhone, you have no business being in business.

Anthony Martinez's picture

As technology evolves, it bleeds into other mediums, but that in no way will replace a dedicated piece of technology.  Some technologies stay put because they have reached the peak of performance  and will only be imitated, packaged and marketed as "more convenient".  iPod docks will never replace a good amplifier and pair of tower speakers.  Improvements will be made within said technology, but the basis has been set.  I am still waiting for the hovercraft to replace the automobile.  
High levels of performance can be achieved with these offspring technologies, but in no way can you get the level of performance a dedicated piece of equipment will produce.  It might get close, but is close good enough?

Lest we forget...content is king.

I have never felt threatened by an iPhone or any other phone.  I think that it is awesome that people have taken such an interest in photography with the emergence of "the camera phone".  The compact camera market may suffer but if you know what you're doing, there is no way that the quality compares.  This is not a digital vs. film debate or a canon vs nikon vs mf debate.  This is more of gripe with the idea that anyone joe schme can take a photo with any medium.  I feel that it should be a welcomed genre.  This will only push professionals to truly become creative and set themselves apart from the rest.  I take exception with people that buy a d700/d800, 5dmk2 and make a vista print business card and shop out mediocrity.  It is more about the actual expression of your artistic passion than what you use to express it.  I use an rz67, a 5dmk2, a d700 and an iPhone 4s in my studio and they all have a specific purpous.  My mk2 is not in any danger of being replaced by the 4s.  Welcome it and let it be the impetus to make your photography stand apart, I say.   

You know what I hate about all those cameras - how they all try to simulate shutter sound. You remove that and those things just seem normal. But fake sound - uuugh - shut that deal offfffff

If anything this is a good thing that iPhoneography is rising. I mean, when DSLRs became affordable, everyone from your newly born cousin to your grandmother owns one and everyone thinks they are a professional because they have a "professional" camera. I know that there is a trend for customers to say things like, "I have a friend who has a SDLR Camera but she wasn't available today." Well, maybe people will stop pouring all their money into DSLRs when they see the awesome results you get from your iPhone, and you won't have that point of view that Good Camera = Good Photographer. Only Professionals will continue to pour their money into those kinds of cameras, and I guess it would be easier to distinguish between a fauxtographer and a photographer.

Blk Pxls's picture

This is why the market is filled with "professionals" . So what your mom gave you 10k to drop on gear, doesn't make you a pro. Pros with no creative talent are the only ones worrying about iphones.  Those guy's should stick to the JC Penny's family photos.  Stop comparing a photographers skill level with gear....you come of sound like a punk privileged snob prick.

This is a pointless debate. Most smart pro photographers use the proper tool for a job and the same goes for the talented hobbyist. Any pro wasting thier time kvetching about iphoneography likely isn't entirely comfortable with their own talent or they'd embrace the technology. I use a 5D for portraits when I need to sync off-camera flash, I keep an X100 and a GF1 around my neck when I need to be quick and unobtrusive - and yes, I use my iPhone constantly to take everyday shots, process them and share all in one device. Some hipster thinks his girlfriend looks cool with a 1970's filter? So? What's the problem? Get over it.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Said in more blunt terms than me, but basically my sentiments haha

I don't know anyone who gives two flying F's about other people shooting with iPhones. 

HDR... now there's a worthwhile topic... hah.

sooooo... is it the iPhone (images, stylized or otherwise) that the haters hate or is it the iPhonographers? is there a contingency of videographers that hate on the point and shoots or iPhones that now take 1080 HD? seems like it would be more profitable to understand the limitations of each and work in your chosen medium with the tool that you prefer.

For staters, I am not a photographer, I'm a designer. U absolutely can't compare phone cameras with dslr cameras. They are like apples and apple pie. If you are a real photographer and you are threatened by a "shooter" that should raise a lot of questions about yourself. I use a lot of phone photos for my mockups but the real thing for real work. The camera does matter to a certain degree but if someone has a great photo done with a phone than i think its pure luck. If they have 10 great photos than they should go an get some equipment and take some photos. In my circle of friends we have a saying: "If you have 1 photo from 100 pictures thats great." Phones takes only pictures, dslr take better pictures, photographers take photos. 

I have to agree with most of this article. I however see things slightly differently. In photography it doesn't always matter what you are shooting with, but how you are shooting. An interestingly composed, well lit shot taken with an iPhone will always be better than a blurry point-&-shoot type shot done with an dslr. Recently on F Stoppers you've mentioned the common gripe “That’s a nice camera. You must be a good photographer,” and the rebuttal response which is similar is saying "Wow, that meal was delicious, you must have good pots and pans?" So true. But then isn't this the SAME THING? Who cares what kitchen equipment was used to make the delicious meal, all that matters is it looks great and tastes amazing. Isn't the same true for photography? It doesn't matter what camera you used to get that amazing shot, its the actual photo that matters. 

Every medium of camera has it's purpose and most photographers have many different types of cameras and lenses for different situations. Imagine trying to shoot a press photo of a soccer player close-up during a game from the stands with an iPhone, impossible! 
I have Instagram which I love and post mainly fun things I'm doing or seeing on it, happy snaps. For my serious landscapes, macro and portraits shot with my Canon 7D  posted to flickr is the only place for that. That said, the thought of buying one of those stick on Schneider iPro System lenses is such a joke. It's a total waste of money. I don't think any teenagers would bother either, it looks dumb, and nerdy. 

An iPhone will never be an slr. It is what it is. Fun in your pocket. 

Jaron Schneider's picture

Hey Eloise, I think you may have misunderstood, because what you are arguing her is exactly what I was saying. I contend that many just hate on the iPhone for certain reasons, but it totally has its place in the market. I love mine and I have a Canon DSLR. :)

Hey Jaron! I was agreeing with you. I should have started my comment with 'yes I agree with you (but not the critics) the use of iPhones is sometimes ok but I have a few other points to add and discuss.' Interesting article.

For the last time... it is not about the camera. It is about subject, composition and light. End of discussion. Just look at the results from new Iphone 4S...
This attached image was shot at Marina Bay sands in Singapore with Iphone4 and sharpened in CS5.

Mars Alexandre's picture

Yes brother , no argument there. BUT... let´s suppose that your pic is good for an ad ... cool , right? Problem: You need to print it the size of a 2 story building... Hummm... see what I am talking about? It is NOT about how cool or romantic look , it is very much about the size of the sensor and the format your camera can shoot.

I´ve seen iphone pics that MUST recognize they are hell good! sadly they are no printable larger than an A2 size. That is the only one thing , the rest... Let´s go have fun and that is it!

Smart article to write to get attention.  Nothing more, nothing less.  This argument (pro gear vs phone gear) deserves all the scrutiny and deliberation akin to a topic such as, how much pressure should you apply when brushing your teeth.  Yawn.