Stop Learning About Photography, Just Buy the New iPhone

Did you catch the big news coming out of Apple this week?  I’m not talking about the new phone announcements. I’m talking about Phil Schiller, Senior VP Marketing for Apple claiming that you no longer need to learn about photography to take better pictures, you just have to buy the new iPhone because (apparently) it does it all for us.

During his key note last week, Schiller said

 “It used to be the way you take better pictures is you learn to be a better photographer. You get bigger cameras, bigger lenses, you learn about all the techniques of light meters and gels and filters, and you can spend your lifetime learning how to take advantage of this and make it work for you. For the people who want do that, that’s great. For most of us, we just want to take a picture, and have the iPhone take a better picture for us.”

For those that want to check it out, jump to 46mins in to the key note video.

While it's certainly true that the new camera technology in smart phones is helping us create better quality images than ever before (the iPhone fashion shoot that Lee Morris did several years back proved that pretty effectively), there is still no substitute for knowledge and experience.

I'd argue stronger image making is actually the result of the opposite of what Schiller said. With every technological move forward, the more reliant we become on understanding the fundamentals of what goes into making a strong image, on how to guide the eye around the frame and how to bring out emotion in the images we create.

Gear and technology advances give us greater opportunity to express ourselves in new ways. Greater ways and means to express ourselves will require even more knowledge on the fundamentals, the rules (and how you might break them). We all know that a bigger megapixel count or a sharper lens doesn’t equate to a stronger image and, as Zack Arias is quick to say, cameras still don't come with a Decisive Moment Indicator.

Schiller’s statement is strange not only because it’s not true, but also because it’s not the direction of the photographic education industry is headed. At every level from consumer to pro, there has never been more of an interest (and demand) for people to learn about photography, to find ways to improve their image making and better understand the business of photography.

What do you think of Apple’s statement? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.



Log in or register to post comments


Jacob delaRosa's picture

Marketing drivel. The classic siren song of easier, cheaper, faster.

Michael Turcotte's picture

There is a certain newspaper in Chicago that was happy to hear this. Between Apple, flickr, and Facebook "businesses" is it any wonder people don't value photography?

David Geffin's picture

Yup; so aren't the key question(s) then, 'how do you provide greater value through the images you create', or 'how do i use these tools to create greater value imagery'?

That's rhetorical btw, i certainly don't have all the answers to those questions but very interested in hearing the thoughts of others.

Sugando Pulando's picture

He also said "For the people who want to spend their lifetime learning, that’s great".

Josh R.'s picture

exactly. He is saying that if you care to be a great photographer then you need to buy a bigger camera and learn to light… and it used to be that this was the only way to take better pictures. Thanks to apple though if just want to take better snapshots you can go buy a 5S. He isn't equating the two paths.

Emmanuel Moka's picture

I just think it's ridiculous how people are so quick to under value photography as an actual craft. I mean seriously does anybody go up to Kobe and say "you know what I own a basketball so Kobe I got this game"? People can downplay photography as much as they want but it won't change the fact that the person using the instrument is the reason why it even works in the first place.

David Geffin's picture

Exactly. I don't necessarily begrudge where the industry is going because that would be like a kid spitting his pacifier out of the stroller as we say - it might be frustrating but what's the point, it won't get us anywhere. I'm far more interested in how we can utilize this tech to develop a sharper eye and great visual literacy. In isolation - as Schiller is implying - there is no way it can do that, but through application, i definitely think it can.

Trevor Schneider's picture

I just finished shooting an event with Scott Disick from Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We only allowed pictures with my camera because everyone's Iphone takes garbage pictures in low light.

Peter Diakonikolis's picture

Well written. Some people will just always be of the mindset "gee your camera takes nice photos"

David Geffin's picture

thanks Pete. It's certainly where the industry is going, which is why i'm interested in seeing how we can develop ourselves to develop stronger imagery, or utilize tech to do so, because new tech by itself certainly won't do it for us.

Matt Malyan's picture

Although I understand your core mentality, I have to suggest you have twisted Phil's speech to meet your point. Yes there will always be individuals (including me) who realise that technology can only do so much, however a lot of people aren't interested in learning the exposure triangle, hyper focal distance etc etc, they just want to point & shoot. Clearly this camera will aid them to produce better pictures which is only a bad thing if you have a 'Luddite' mentality. Photographers will always require a DSLR (or a derivative of) to practice their art, but to empower Joe Bloggs to achieve better results using their Iphone 5S can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

DeathNTexas's picture

"It used to be the way you take better pictures is you learn to be a better photographer."

While what he is saying is technically true (better point and shoot cameras take better point and shoot pictures), as soon as he uses the word "photographer", he implies something entirely different. He equates technicality and being a 'photographer'. Only a fool would deny that technicality makes no difference, but the difference between technicality and being a photographer is vastly different. That difference is called proficiency.

Proficiency (or the knowledge and skill to use that technicality) is also what makes the difference between being a consumer who takes pictures and a photographer (including casual or amateur photographers), just as it is the difference between a writer and someone who writes, or a chef and someone who cooks.

I know it seems pedantic to quibble over a single term, but the equivocation he implies is perpetuating a myth that is hurting many relationships between photographers and clients (or newspapers), and ultimately an entire industry.

David Geffin's picture

you have struck the nail on the head DnT. Proficiency, style, experience, design concepts - whatever you want to call the sharpening of our 'photographic eye', it is not going to be done via a new piece of tech. It doesn't matter if you are a pro or hobbyist, better images don't come from new kit. That was the first point i'm trying to make.

The second more useful one is that actually, as more and more people do substitute tech (hardware, filters, software) for experience / 'proficiency' etc, there is going to be an ever increasing need for those who can produce better images with more resonance to be heard. So the question then is, how do we produce better images and get them out there and noticed?

I don't have all the answers to that, but i know 100% it's not from a new phone.

David Silverman's picture

I beg to qubble. A photographer is anyone who takes photographs. There are good photographers, great photographers and then there are the great majority of people in the world who take quick low-quality pictures with their iPhone (my mom falls in this group). They are all quite literally and by definition photographers. He is not conflating what Avedon did with what my mom does as you seem to think. He's not interested in nor is he talking to aspiring Avedons; he is pitching his product to my mom. This semantic distinction you make between "photographers" and "non-photographers" is your own and begs the question: why is a bad photographer who has no interested in becoming a better photographer therefor not a photographer?

DeathNTexas's picture

You are technically correct. However, it is a matter of semantics and identity.

I am honestly not being a snob. I am just not sure that the average consumer who takes photos would seriously identify themselves as a "photographer", just like my other examples. I think it has a different meaning to most people including the average picture taker. There is nothing wrong with consumer photography, but I think that most people would identify a "photographer" as someone with higher aspirations and/or skill than the average picture taker.

In that sense, implying one can achieve those aspirations or have the equivalence of a "photographer's" skill by buying a new phone, is false.

David Silverman's picture

Still don't think that is what he was saying. I got a completely different message.

RUSS T.'s picture

people will flock to this thing. :) And claim their photos are awesome, because apple aid using it will make their pics awesome. hehehehe :)

RUSS T.'s picture

How do apple photos look when they are printed huge? say, 20in X 30in? Anyone do a side by side real world print and compare? That might be a neat thing to show online?

Ralph Hightower's picture

I don't drink the Apple Koolaid.

Malcolm Debono's picture

The key phrase in what Schiller said is "for most of us". I'm sure that the big photographers cannot be placed under this category :-)

Spy Black's picture

Just think, if Jobs had said it, every Apple lemming would be repeating it ad nauseum...

Mansgame's picture

I already couldn't stand Apple. This is just another reason. Android 4-Ever!

David Geffin's picture

It's not even about Apple VS Android (i'm an Android user FYI).

It's about how the tech industry - hardware or software side - seems to think the latest hardware or software helps you to see better or gives you an improved visual literacy. I don't think it does.

HUYA™'s picture

There were some huge innovations in the new iPhone 5S camera, many of which may never come to other companies because they don't have the expertise necessary to implement them. The biggest is the 64bit processor, as stated in the keynote this is a "desktop class" processor. The sheer raw power to process images is a game changer. The dual tone flash will be copied quickly, but is still a first. Yes, everyone's photos will look better, but in the hands of a "pro" the iPhone 5S will be a welcome tool in the kit. The end result is faster work flow because of less time needed in post-production. How can this NOT be a good thing?

David Geffin's picture

It is a good thing - but it's a welcome tool in the kit as you say, not a substitute for learning how to actually take a better photograph in the first place.

That book in his keynote presentation (about Mastering Light) on the slide he shows with all the 'extraneous' DSLR gear that the new iPhone does away with (apparently) is guaranteed to help you take a better photo than buying a 5S.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Apple does the DCMA on YouTube! The video has been removed.

Jeffrey Sullivan's picture

Nokia became the world's leading camera manufacturer in 2006. As camera manufacturers feel pressure from mobile phones, they'll continue to pack features into DSLRs (and we'll perhaps feel less need to replace Canon firmware with Magic Lantern's). So DSLRs now follow iPhones and many have HDR (fine, but if I try it, let me keep the original RAW files). Do we really still have to slave over dozens of overlapping images in Photoshop to make a panorama? I'm usually shooting with my DLSR, so why can't I make a photosphere on the fly with my "real" camera, connect via wi-fi to my phone and post a small copy to Twitter or Instagram/Facebook?

The major camera companies are limited in imagination and innovation, so until they become application platforms and can tap into a far greater pool of development resources, mobile phones will continue to be where a lot of innovation occurs which chips away at the market share of digital cameras, particularly at the low end.

David Silverman's picture

This article is misleading as you have misrepresented Phil Schiller's statement. He is not claiming as you state in the article that people shouldn't gain education and expertise to become a better photographer. He simply recognizes that most people do not want to do that; they simply want a camera that's always in their pocket that they can take good quality snaps. The claim he's making is that this new iPhone's camera does a better job for non-expert photographers than the old iPhone camera or the cameras of their competitors. He supports that statement by giving solid information about the improvements in this new camera.

You can get on a high horse all you want about how he is disrespecting the craft and art of photography, but that is a straw man argument (a misrepresentation of his position to make rhetorical points). He is selling his camera to those people who don't care about being an accomplished photographer. And what he's claiming is true. As an accomplished photographer, I have no problem with that.

Greg O'Hanlon's picture

Wonderful! Just what we need..99.9% of photos looking the same. Maybe the copyright should go to Apple instead of the image taker. But seriously, allowing the camera to make all of the decisions typically is not desirable for creating art.

Willi Kampmann's picture

This is starting to become a running gag: every time someone in Silicon Valley addresses the *general public* regarding photography, within seconds some photographer comes crawling out crying foul.

"Schiller’s statement is strange not only because it’s not true, but also because it’s not the direction of the photographic education industry is headed. At every level from consumer to pro, there has never been more of an interest (and demand) for people to learn about photography, to find ways to improve their image making and better understand the business of photography."

Schiller is absolutely right and you are missing the point. He says "[it used to be] you learn about all the techniques of light meters and gels and filters, and you can spend your lifetime learning how to take advantage of this and make it work for you." Notice something? At no point, not once, is he talking about composition or creativity—he's only talking about mastering your *camera*, being able to make the camera do what you want. He is *not* addressing the "photographic education industry", he is addressing the "hold still honey I can't get you sharp" soccer moms and "why do I look like I haven't slept in days on this flash-lid selfie?" Facebooks teens. He is addressing the people who don't care about the craft of photography, who only want the camera to do what they think it should do.

Juan Garcia's picture

Finally, someone talking with reason. Here, here!!

DeathNTexas's picture

I am not getting terribly upset by this, but he is perpetuating a myth.

Look at the picture that appears on the screen. It is filled with photographic gear that an able amateur or professional might use. What he is implying (and implication is the real language of marketing) is that the iPhone can replace all that gear that you would have to learn how to use, and it will give you pictures that are equal to what you would get if you learned how to use that gear. In the minds of many people, that further devalues a photographer's skill set.

And this matters precisely because he is talking to soccer moms and other iPhone users. Who do you think customers for photography are? Soccer moms pay for professional portraits and weddings. IPhone toting execs pay for commercial work. These are the people that photographers deal with everyday. Informed clients are better clients. This presentation is marketing which might make it the exact opposite of information.

BTW, I find it hilarious that there is a chromokey background in the photo.

Ben Perrin's picture

Very early on when I started photography I heard this definition; "Photography is the art of understanding and capturing light". I think this is the truest definition of what we do. It doesn't matter how good or bad the iPhone is if you don't understand that. You'll just get higher resolution crap. So yes it does annoy me when people put down what we do for the sake of a marketing gimmick. But then Apple always has been full of themselves.

Juan Garcia's picture

Actually hold up. Read your post. You sound full of yourself believing apple and iphone users wanna make art. They just wanna capture a moment, better. And not need to learn photography. Is that a must to take pictures in life? Does every mobile device user that takes pictures need to show up at the local community college and sign up for photography 101.

Ben Perrin's picture

I get that they want to capture moments better and easier and I'm all for that. What I was having a go at was that apple was basically saying that having this new iPhone will make you a better photographer. It does not. It might (and I stress might) make photography a little easier. What Apple were doing in their marketing was basically saying that professional photographers can be replaced by an iPhone. It is marketing crap and deceiving to the consumer. To quote Joel Grimes "A technical instrument cannot make a creative decision".

Juan Garcia's picture

Again, I'm gonna have to disagree. I don't see the marketing saying a professional photographer can be replaced. I think you as a photographer might be reading into it too much. Maybe the term "making you a better photographer" could be construed as insulting to a professional, which you really shouldnt be. What I do see is the marketing using that term to make a common person "a better photographer" which is all about the technology. Not all photography is art, I don't feel people should hold that in regard. Im sure 98% of the mobile photographers out there dont feel every photo they take is that precious.

Andrew Williams's picture

I'm sure this topic will never die... like hipsters and men wearing tight pants that look like they got them from baby gap.

Juan Garcia's picture

I for one do not agree with this article at all. Ask yourself this. Do you believe people who want nothing to do with learning photography are beneath you, or have no right to take better pictures? Does the concept of non photographers wanting to take better pictures agravate you in anyway? You need to step back and ask yourself, maybe, just maybe, there are other people in this earth that exist, that want/need nothing to do with the art of photography. They just want to capture moments in their own lives.......better I feel, apple and the iPhone has accomplished that, and folks here that hate, or praise cameras on cellphones need to check themselves. And have a better grasp on reality. I do nit need to know mechanics to drive a car to go from point A to point B. I don't need to learn aerodynamics to fly on a plane. I do not need to play a guitar/piano to have love for music.

In my sarcasm I will say, maybe if I ran circles around you, then finally stop. You just might realize the world does not revolve around you.

Iain Simpson's picture

Think il ditch my several grands worth of kit for weddings and just use my Iphone 5 then lol. Tbh it does take some nice photos, but its a damn site harder to get decent photos with than using my dslr's.

Josh R.'s picture

Does that mean something?

Elmer Escobar's picture

Obviously, it's just marketing. I wouldn't take that as a serious quote.

Ted Dayton's picture

For most people with cameras, photography is for fun. Camera phones are now party toys.
Pro shooters are generally not part of that culture. Like someone's comment about Kobe, we can
all shoot a basketball. But when LeBron is in your face, you, me, all of us can't even make the first move. I made 9 of ten free throws the other day in a contest for fun. Big deal. Same in photography. It's only fun and easy when it doesn't matter.