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.

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Previous comments
Stuart Carver's picture

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.

Les Sucettes's picture

“Just” no

“With” yes

Tiring convo

Deleted Account's picture

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

I bet you hate conversations IRL, too

Les Sucettes's picture

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 »


Deleted Account's picture

Anyone can hurl barbs, bro. Act your age.

Les Sucettes's picture

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.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

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?

Les Sucettes's picture

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

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

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

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.

Les Sucettes's picture

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.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

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.