The New iPhone Fashion Shoot: Bikinis, Foam Core, and Flashlights

Five years ago I filmed the iPhone Fashion Shoot, a 10-minute video in which I take professional looking images with the iPhone 3GS. That video was supposed to inspire photographers who assumed that their work was suffering because their gear wasn't ultra expensive. The video became extremely popular and became very polarizing. The majority of people thought my images looked good because I used fancy lights.

For the last five years people have been asking me when I was going to revisit the iPhone Fashion Shoot. I had already proven that you can take a great picture with any camera, but when was I going to prove that expensive lights and modifiers aren't what make images look good? At first I said I never wanted to do another professional photoshoot with my phone because I didn't want to become "that iPhone photographer" but as time went on I thought, ahhh who cares. When I heard the iPhone 6s was coming out on September 25, I decided now was the best time to create a new video to prove once and for all that quality photography can be taken with any budget.

The Concept

Like the first video, I wanted to take professional looking images but this time I was going to make it so simple that absolutely anyone would be able to recreate my shots. Instead of using a fancy studio (which was actually just my garage in the last video) I decided to do the shoot around my house and then outside at the beach. Instead of seamless paper I decided to use backgrounds that anyone could easily find. Most importantly, I limited my lighting budget to about $40 maximum per shot.

Gear Used

  1. iPhone 6s 128 GB (literally any other camera would work as well so I'm not interested in hearing that an iPhone isn't a cheap camera)
  2. Black foam core
  3. White foam core
  4. LED flashlight (I can't find the exact brand)
  5. LED panel

Shot 1

The Beauty Shot 

For the first shot we set up on my porch. One thing that I didn't make obvious in the video was that we were standing under a roof. That is very important when it comes to getting this look. All humans, but especially women, do not look flattering with light coming from above them (the sky). Lighting from above creates long shadows under the nose and chin and dark bags under the eyes. By placing ourselves outside under a roof we were able to get directional lighting from the front and we then used black foamcore to create more dramatic shadows on the side of Mela's face. We then finished the image with a white piece of foam core to get white behind Mela's hair. After about 20 minutes of Photoshop we created our final look.

Shot 2

Harsh Fashion Lighting 

For the second shot we bought a piece of fabric from Walmart for around $5 and taped it to my wall. I then used an LED flashlight positioned right above to phone to create a flat, harsh-looking fashion image. We tested the iPhones "flash" and it looked much worse than the flashlight positioned just a few inches higher. The iPhone's flash is so close to the lens that it didn't create any shadows on Mela's face at all. By using the flashlight I was able to get a slight shadow under her chin which added to the aesthetic. We weren't paying attention during the shoot and the shadows on the background were a huge pain to fix in post. We spent the most time in Photoshop on this image and it still has issues. If this was a "real" shoot, we would have been much more careful.

Shot 3

Laying On Hardwood Floor

We tried a few complex lighting scenarios for this shot but ended up sticking with something super simple. Mela simply laid on the floor, I stood over her, and my assistant and I worked on getting a flattering angle with our flashlight. Simple is usually best. We did very little in editing for this final image.

Shot 4

Sitting On The Sand

I actually got a lot of great images in this location that look very different but to keep the video concise I only edited one shot for the video. I positioned myself and the model so that she was being lit by the brightest part of the sky so that I could capture detail in the sky behind her. We then added a LED panel on the left and a piece of white foam core on the right to brighten her up allowing me to darken the scene even more. In Photoshop I darkened the scene even more to make it a bit more dramatic.

Shot 5

Laying In the Dunes

This shot was totally natural light. I almost didn't put it in the video but I liked the final shot so much I decided to keep it in. In Photoshop we did some basic blemish removal and dodging and burning to make her pop off the scene a bit more.

Shot 6

Sitting In The Water

The final shot was very similar to the fourth. We used the LED panel as our key light in conjunction with our ambient light and a white piece of foam core to the right. In post we decided to remove the bridge and distracting parts of her hair.

About The Model

Patrick found Mela on Instagram last week and we convinced her to drive down from Wilmington, N.C. (to Charleston, S.C.) for this shoot. She is an incredible model who is capable of completely changing her look from shot to shot. She also did all of her own hair, makeup, and styling. She will be moving to Miami, Fla. in the near future and I have no doubt she is going to blow up in the near future. Follow her on Instagram here.


When I released the last iPhone Fashion Shoot video I was shocked at the response. Photographers were actually angry with me and many of them tried to argue with me that a cell phone isn't as good as a professional DSLR. OF COURSE IT ISN'T. That isn't the point. Yes, the iPhone, a flashlight, and foam core is enough to create a professional looking image online but a $6,000 camera will always be better. 

The point is that today, with this amazing technology at each of our fingertips, you can no longer blame your equipment for your body of work. A talented photographer can create compelling images with any set of tools just like a talented musician can create beautiful music with a cheap instrument. The most expensive guitar in the world will not be able to create music if the person holding it doesn't know how to play. 

Your gear isn't holding you back, stop worrying about what you don't have and get back to mastering your craft.

Log in or register to post comments


Kyle Ford's picture

This is awesome! I hope it ends the " my gear" isn't good enough complaint once and for all. Light is all that matters! Nice work Lee.

Chris Adval's picture

I personally still think it depends on your vision. I'm sure you can do anything with assistants or grips holding a bunch of foam cores everywhere, as well the power of editing can make it look like you have $20k+ in equipment too. But some people prefer less editing and fake looking photos and using the best possible images they can produce in camera than on a computer.

Austin Rogers's picture

$hit is about to get so real in the comments.

Kyle Ford's picture


Simon V's picture

I think you even can reduce/drop on the retouching, those pictures look great in before already. For my personal taste most of the retouching is a bit too much, some personality gets lost. But yes, the afters look like it could be from a magazine.

Chris Cheek's picture

Everything is your fault Obama:)

Ryan Barnes's picture

You guys complained that I used a professional model last time, so this time I'm just going to use my neighbor. You know, your typical, average, plain-Jane, girl next door...(WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE EXTREMELY SMOKING BEAUTIFUL) (Oh, and no complaints here!)

Savi You's picture

she just happens to be a professional model actually

Savi You's picture

Geez Lee, it's been friggin 5 years since I began following you and you still haven't accepted my FB friend request. I'm hurt man, hurt.

Lee Morris's picture

Haha I'm sorry, I've reached the 5k limit!

Adam Sparkes's picture

You honestly believe Lee Morris is real?!

Savi You's picture

Well he looks very lifelike.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Ha, I remember the conversation where you said you didn't want to be "that iPhone photographer." This is just as good as I always though it could be. Well done dude!

Tam Nguyen's picture

Pat Black with the leaf blower was epic.

Andrew Griswold's picture

That kid is such a dumb shit, in all the right ways!

Pat Black's picture

ohh you wait till you see the video i am working on now, it has even more shenanigans

Joakim Drake's picture

I thought the point of all these iPhone-is-the-shiznit articles/videos where you use light modifiers and whatnot is to take a good picture in camera. What exactly is the point of photoshopping them so they look good? The first pic looks horrendous with that light setup, and then it's photoshopped like crazy.

Andrew Richardson's picture

I think (and Lee can correct me if I'm wrong) that the point of this was to show that the actual camera you are using has far less impact on your final image than your knowledge of posing, lighting, and editing. I think the biggest issue with the first image is the white balance, which was clearly easily correctable. All of these images appear to have the same amount of editing I would expect from shooting with a DSLR. The video isn't an argument for ditching your DSLR and switching to an iPhone, and it's not a "Here's How to Take Great Selfies!" tutorial, it's emphasizing the importance of understanding light.

Joakim Drake's picture

At no point in my post am I referring to the DSLR vs iPhone argument. I am referring to lighting and the use of photoshop. But no matter, I have read the original article from 2010 and I see now that photoshop is part of Lee's argument.

Jonathan Acierto's picture

This isn't photojournalism, it's a commercial style fashion shoot. I assume most of those include Photoshop/retouching. Back in the 35mm film days, there were photographers using point and shoots to do fashion work and I'm sure the same types of arguments were being had. My take is that you use the right tools for the right job, but don't over rely on them. I'm a musician too and true, great musicians like Eric Clapton can make any guitar and amp sound great because he's a musicians first, then a guitar player. But he knows what sound he wants, so he uses the tools (Fender strats and amps) that he feels helps him get it.

Tomash Masojc's picture

I didn't get it. If not photoshopped, those photos looks like all my instagram hot girls/models posted photos. And when retouched kinda pro, they don't have details like images done by good pro photographers. You are cool photographer, but this article is just "empty". :) sorry for not the best english

Pratik Naik's picture

When I first got on board with the retouching of the first iPhone photoshoot we did (gosh how long ago has that been already), it was a catalyst to a lot that came my way and a part of where I am now. Thanks for that!

Patrick Hall's picture

I actually retouched most of these....I really really hope the same thing doesn't happen to me :-0

Trying to fix the reflective fabric was a nightmare. Lee did most of the work on that one but goodness that was a tough one. I'd love to know how a real retoucher would tackle that problem.

Henry Louey's picture

Patrick, I have shot with the same fabric in the past and had no issues with the background. However i was using a 65watt ring-light so while "cheap" it isn't as cheap as a flashlight

I'm at work currently but will try to drag up some old images to show you how that backdrop looks when shot with a ring-light

Patrick Hall's picture

The problem has to do with the sequins and how they reflect light. If the angle is straight on then you get a highlight otherwise you get a dark gold/brown color. I'd imagine if you used a ringflash you would get a more even pattern around the model but it would still reflect weird as you moved away from the middle.

Patrick Hall's picture

Thanks. I used a frequency separation technique I learned from Julia Kuzmenko (look her articles up on Fstoppers). Basically I used a mix of burning in the color layer and also painting in tones back into the color layer to bring back detail that was burned out.

More comments