Can You Shoot Professionally With Just an iPhone?

Can You Shoot Professionally With Just an iPhone?

There are dozens of articles pitting iPhones against typical pro-grade cameras. Dozens of iPhones shootouts. But, what happens when a professional photographer actually relies on an iPhone to shoot and deliver work to clients?

Jenn and Steve Van Elk are wedding photographers shooting out of Indianapolis. After experimenting with the new iPhone for a while, they matched up with a couple that was eager to experiment with them:

We saw a few shoots where people used iPhones to see if they would be a viable option. What we didn’t see was anyone actually shooting a full wedding with an iPhone 11.  

The Van Elks covered their couple's day with two shooters equipped with their normal cameras and a third sporting an iPhone.


According to the Van Elks, perhaps the biggest benefit of shooting with an iPhone is how unobtrusive it can be. Shooting with a phone is going to let you blend in. Big cameras and bigger lenses can attract attention and ruin otherwise candid moments. In particular, the Van Elks note that the iPhone allowed them to shoot candid emotional moments throughout the day where the guests just didn't notice them as pro photographers.

No one paused and looked at the iPhone when we were shooting candids. People thought we were just another guest and treated us as such. Pick up a 5D Mark IV, and suddenly, that all changes.

Second, the Van Elks gushed about how straightforward it was to cull images that were already on your device. As any wedding photographer knows, downloading, rendering, and culling a day's worth of shooting can take hours or even days. Jenn Van Elk was able to cull and provide a mobile Lightroom edit to the wedding images on their drive home. In fact, their excited couple received a wedding gallery before the reception was finished. 


The Van Elks feel that the iPhone lacked the creamy shallow depth of field that you can get from shooting details at f/2.8. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it does set the iPhone images apart from their DSLR counterparts.

The iPhone can force you to get too close during intimate moments. Shooting a first look from just a few feet away can be a bit intrusive in comparison to shooting with a 200mm lens.

The Van Elks also note that after shooting with DSLRs for years, using an iPhone throws off your whole shooting positioning.

On the subject of ergonomics, there isn’t a good button for taking photos. You’re either tapping the screen, which requires visual or audio confirmation that it was tapped, or you’re pushing the volume rocker, which is stiff and doesn’t feel good to push. Neither one of those things seems bothersome when you just take one or two photos at a time, but after 8 hours of constantly tapping the screen or pushing the volume rocker, you start to notice these things.

A Few Tips

Practically speaking, the Van Elks explain that you should turn off passcode entry to get on the iPhone. Wedding photographers need to be quick on the draw. You need to be able to pick up your phone and start shooting at the drop of a hat, particularly during the reception. Likewise, they suggest that you turn off facial recognition, as the program may slow down the iPhone's response, leading to missed shots.

Last Word

What do you think? Would you ever shoot a professional gig with a mobile phone? Do you think that in a few more hardware and software generations we'll see a big enough change that you'd be comfortable using a mobile as your primary pro camera?

The Van Elks' decision: 

Would we prefer to shoot with an iPhone 11 Pro? No. While we do enjoy looking more like guests, we’d rather have a device that produces consistent results. It’s bothersome in its current state. Also, we prefer the way the pistol grips and buttons feel with the DSLR/mirrorless cameras. 

All images provided by Van Elk & Co. Wedding Photographers.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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I have always enjoyed eating apples, but now looks like the apple may take a bite out me.....pun of the day

Nice. Well done!


Hate to say it, but the photos look pretty good.

Agreed. I think a lot of it is talent. A pro will get great photos from a amateur camera. It's just that now phones are getting that good!

I've always heard "A good mechanic can get by with any tools but a great mechanic has the right tools."

I like that. Considered it adopted!

They are ok. Honestly, they look similar to those who flood the wedding photography market with overly washed out beige filters. Id be curious to see the cell phone work under all the many difficulty lighting situations weddings bring up.

Yes you can but only in certain times of day. Also, imagine the client's thoughts when her hired photographer shows up with an iPhone! Even if the images are incredible, the first impressions would be terrible and the overall client satisfaction would likely fall.

I agree about the client's thoughts. In this case, the Van Elks discussed it with the client. I think you'd have to be up front about it.

Adding a third camera that's an iPhone, and axking the couple, it's okay. And a far cry from deciding you're only shooting on an iPhone and still taking the usual pro's stance that the doesn't understand enough to worry about the gear. I mean, how many iPhones would be enough to deal with the potential failed/damaged unit, non-swappable memory and batteries, etc. Before you even get to the fact that your best camera has a 26mm lens on it, and your portrait lens is a big drop in quality. Oh, and it'll drop in quality any time there's fast motion. Your bokeh is fake. In low light, it kind of invents the colors and doesn't show shadows. You have very little control -- the AIs run it all. So many reasons it's in general a bad idea, even though, of course, compositionalky a pro who understanda the iPhone limits can get a decent shot.

Can you shoot unprofessionally with a 'professional camera' (whatever that means)?


No problem. Just about any novice can pick up a recent iPhone and get a social media worthy photo, technically speaking. They will not likely get a better result with any pro camera without understanding photography.

Yes given favourable and average lighting conditions professional results can be got from many phones both Apple and Android, I am staggered at the results from my phone and it is now part of my armoury however the wedding party, family and guests may differ in their beliefs in that if the wedding photographer can use his/her phone then wedding photography must be so easy that ... anybody can do it, why hire a professional photographer?

Interesting turn at the end of your comment. I do agree, that having equipment that looks expensive does help guests understand the value of a pro. It's sad that gear distinguishes as pro from not a pro. Not the images and experience. Which, the Van Elks have.

"No one paused and looked at the iPhone when we were shooting candids. People thought we were just another guest and treated us as such. Pick up a 5D Mark IV, and suddenly, that all changes."

That statement says a lot. That there's a use for both in a practical way. Same reason that I use my EOS M and 22mm pancake or smartphone (Note 10+ currently) when I'm doing street photography or any photography that I don't want to be noticed.

Agreed. It's the same reason that rangefinders become so popular. And, now, look, the mirrorless cameras mostly look like rangefinders.
Good point!

Yup. People see me with a big camera maybe with a big lens, battery grip, etc. they are immefiately on guard. If I'm there with my Olympus Pen-F or Fujifilm X-Pro1, if they notice me at all think think I'm some hipster shootinf film and ignore me.

I wonder if these were shot using the native automatic iPhone camera app (with deep fusion) as jpeg/heic or with a third party app with manual controls and raw?

An iPhone without the AI + computational output is pretty bad. And at least the more recent ones support their ProRAW output, same idea as Google's Computational RAW of five or six years ago. Pretty much the output of their computational engine before the final JPEG/HEIF finishing and compression. It's what you want if you're doing anything beyond snapshots, I'd reckon.

These were all in great lighting, I'd love to see it coming pared to the 5DIV I'm very low light.

Great article, I upgraded from an iPhone 6 to 11 pro at Christmas so naturally the first thing that had my attention was the camera and it’s abilities. I decided to take a few snaps with the phone whilst out with my proper camera and this was the first effort. It’s not the same level of detail obviously but still pretty amazing, and the ultra wide lens is just crazy.

Interesting trivia, this stretch of coastline was where the opening scene of one of the Alien films, and closing scene of Get Carter were both shot.

Fantastic! Which Alien film, is that the beginning of Alien 3? I'm assuming Get Carter w Cain?

Yep thats the ones, the opening scene of Alien 3 (with added extras for effect) and then the closing scene of GC where he shoots the guy on the beach, it used to be hugely polluted with mining waste but was cleaned up as part of the Durham heritage coast project, all the chutes for pumping the waste material out to sea were removed too. You still arent allowed to put your hands in rock pools but its obviously a lot better now.

Ridley Scott grew up in this area and has used quite a lot of landmarks for his films, Blade Runner for example has its sets based on the industrial landscape of Teesside, I think Joe Cornish has a few good shots of the chemical plants too, you can see the resemblance.

Cool little history! Thanks.

I've been telling myself my $80 Samsung J3 was enough for a year now, but this article has me thinking about getting an iPhone 11. Reading Fstoppers too often might just be bad for my wallet...

I need to test mine more, I’ve bought a tripod clamp for it.... but first impressions are the camera, lenses and functionality are all amazing for a phone.

I got the pro because I wanted the smaller size phone and i nearly cried handing the money over but they are definitely an amazing bit of kit.

See, that's the thing. I can't even fathom buying a pro given that I spent less than that on a new 8 core laptop and even my A7R2 cost less than that when I bought it used.

Of course, if you're fully invested in apple, the iPhone's pricetag pales in comparison to a 16" Macbook Pro with an i9...and I'm sure the Pro is just that much nicer than the regular one, too...

Perhaps I'm showing my age, but I have a hard time buying into something so expensive that I know will only last a year or two before it's out of date and I'll feel the pangs of GAS. To me, it's almost like a technology subscription - a really really expensive one.

If I told you I upgraded to an 11 pro from an iPhone 6 after it stopped receiving security updates, I’d had it 6yrs, would that explain? I don’t intend on this phone being obsolete in a ‘year or 2’, I expect another 6yr life cycle, I paid cash for it so no contract to tie to.

People who change phones more than their underwear are fools imo.

6 years is still too often when you're dropping $1k on a phone imo, but we likely have very different budgets.

They have gone to town on it with the finish and parts I will give them that, but it’s still a ridiculous price .. the normal 11 would be great if it wasn’t a Cm bigger each way

I guess if you want a certain size you want a certain size...but hasn't apple usually charged more for the bigger ones? Wonder what made them switch off that.

It was all clever marketing, stainless steel, better size for people who want a phone not a tablet in their pocket, leather cases, nicer colours, better screen, more cameras.

I had a 6 in space grey with a leather case so to get a like for like it was the only option.

They have now released the SE since which offers most of the above and if it had been around when I changed I’d have got that and saved £700, I’m not that into phones to want the top model. Not to say this pro isn’t awesome though, just I would spend my money on other things.

I bought a used X-Pro1 and four manual Chinese lenses for less than half the price of a top level iPhone. You're getting a $200 camera attached to a $1000+ pocket computer, of course.


“Just” no

“With” yes

Tiring convo

Imagine reducing everything you see to its most absurdly barren form, then complaining there's nothing there.

I bet you hate conversations IRL, too

I bet you love parrots. They repeat themselves continuously and regurgitate statements such as

« The camera doesn’t matter »
« You can shoot professionally with an iPhone, but not in all circumstances »
« The decisive moment »


Anyone can hurl barbs, bro. Act your age.

What sort of barbs are you talking about? You cannot photograph professionally « just » with iPhone just as little as you could photograph professionally « just » with a 50mm lens.

In my opinion, this is a nuanced conversation that is evolving. To me, at least, this means that there are people who do want to be part of the conversation. I know I do. And I thought that the Van Elks had something interesting to say.
I can understand that you may feel the conversation is finished, but, isn't there a way to say that that isn't dismissive and doesn't devolve into the pejorative? Isn't there a way to say why you feel that this particular line of conversation is at a dead end?

Totally - just don’t write it with the nonsense preposition « just ».

You cannot photograph professionally just with a smartphone. It’s a clickbait headline.

I somewhat disagree. This was an experiment by successful photographers to see if they could shoot with “just” a mobile phone.

Aside from that, I don’t think it’s possible for online media / or any media for that matter/ to go back 50 years and reverse the tide of sensationalism. In my opinion, my title is somewhat accurate and, if it does contain sensationalism, it’s not anywhere close to deserving a rebuke.

Fine I accept it was the assignment ... it’s just been done before and the answer always is: it depends. Can I be a professional with “just” 35 mm ... more likely but also not always.

Smartphones will not replace professional cameras. They are and have replaced consumer point and shoot.

You’ll always get a better result with a better camera. Of course the camera will also evolve.

Agreed. That is the almost always the answer.

I think the evolution is interesting. A decade or so ago nobody thought that digital would ever compete with film. Go back a bit further and nobody thought 35mm would ever compete with medium format (have you ever seen the David Bailey’s Olympus Trip 35 commercials where he gets lectured by the older wedding photog?).

It wouldn’t surprise me if mobile cameras somehow manage to actually compete. If eventually the answer changes.

Not sure it was an experiment in just using an iPhone, because they did have two Canons along. Did they really bring the 5 or 6 iPhones you'd need to properly back up a pro shoot on iPhone only? Did they have a redundancy in case of media failure? I see a big difference between iPhone as C-camera and iPhone as the only camera(s).