Can You Really Claim It Was Shot With a Phone?

Can You Really Claim It Was Shot With a Phone?

Plenty of phone companies claim that their advertising images were shot with their phones. Some are outright lying, but others are in more of a grey area. When is it accurate to claim that is was shot with a phone?

When a company claims that their advertising images were created with their phones, I always find it interesting to see the images. Sometimes, they are very well done cell phone photos. Other times, they are clearly impossible, such as Huawei and Samsung’s recent advertising efforts.

Huawei has actually been caught multiple times. Their advertising for the upcoming P30 Pro mentions impressive technical specs, including four cameras and 7x zoom. Even with these capabilities, Huawei ended up using this stock image from Getty Images as part of the promotional content posted to Sina Weibo. In the past, they staged selfie style images for an ad, but behind the scenes photos revealed the models were posing in front of a DSLR. They also faked a post on Google+, where EXIF data revealed the shot they linked to their P9 was actually shot on a Canon 5D Mark III.

It isn’t just limited to Huawei, however. Samsung was caught using a stock photo, which they extensively edited, in a promotion for their Galaxy A8 Star.

Those examples are pretty clear-cut examples of misrepresentation. The companies claim, even if indirectly, that their cell phones produced those images that originally came from DSLRs. Not every company goes to that extent. Apple’s recent campaign, The Bucket, genuinely does use imagery from an iPhone XS.

Unfortunately, anyone who purchases an iPhone XS and expects to produce that quality of footage is in for a surprise. Setting aside the award-winning director and years of experience behind the production staff, which includes over 40+ credited individuals, there are a number of pieces of equipment supplementing the iPhone. Apple’s behind the scenes video reveals just one facet of the production, an Arri Skypanel, which starts at about $6,000.

A screencapture from Apple's behind the scenes video reveals the extent of the equipment in use.

Advertising always seems to be about stretching the very limits of the truth. In Huawei and Samsung’s case, the truth was never present. In Apple’s ad, the truth is there. It was shot on an iPhone, with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment to capture the audio, enhance the lighting, and stabilize the camera, all under the direction of a renowned DP and Director.

I feel that this starts to enter a grey area, where no consumer could possibly expect the same results from their phone. Sure, the images were captured on an iPhone, but don't realistically reflect what any reasonable individual could produce. When you've added professional gear, like a lighting panel that costs multiples of the phone's value, is it really still shot on the phone? I'm sure Apple's legal team has an asterisk buried somewhere, mentioning that additional gear was used and results aren't guaranteed, but I don't know if that is enough.

What makes this particularly disappointing is Apple’s customers are creating amazing work with their phones. The recent Shot on iPhone challenge highlighted exceptional iPhone photos, and it feels like a much fairer representation of the concept. Even that campaign isn't without controversy, as there was debate over whether Apple was going to compensate winners with anything more than recognition.

Considering the actions of their peers, Apple is doing better. Advertising shot with their products actually uses the camera's footage, along with some serious help from professional gear. Currently, there are a number of debates raging about truthful representation in media. Photoshopping models is a hot-button issue, while the landscape photography community debates the merits of compositing. All of these issues revolve around the concept of accurate representation, and for me, claiming that ad was shot on an iPhone violates the spirit, if not the literal meaning of that statement.

Image courtesy of Dennis Cortes.

Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

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There should be another category: shot ONLY with iPhone

Can you Photoshop afterwards or apply filters?

Can't really agree with this one. Nikon and Canon advertising images will also be shot with a fortunes worth of equipment. These phones always claim to have "professional quality" cameras so surely fair enough that they should treat them as such. They're not showing anything that's not possible after all. It's probably out of the reach of their customers but, like I mentioned at the top, most Canon/Nikon users can't produce shots like the ones on the boxes for their cameras either.

Good point

I completely agree, it only states ‘shot on iPhone’, so as long as they shoot it with an iPhone I can’t care less.
If not you should forbid professional models, makeup and styling as well, because they are an added value way higher than the cost of the phone

I recall a behind the scenes video about shooting McDonalds food for commercials, showing how they "used the exactly same ingredients as the real thing" to produce their images. The amount of trickery that went into the images was absurdist.

I feel like the iPhone ad thing is okay, although I do feel it's worth mentioning at least the stabiliser, because that might be attributed to image stabilization.

I'd say Apple releasing the BTS video is a commitment to their transparency and honesty.

transparency and honesty? Apple? Really.
My bad if you were sarcastic and I did not get it.

Thanks. I needed a good laugh.

I don't see the issue really, if people are dumb enough to think they will pick up camera X, Y or Z and shoot the same images that were used to advertise the product, then they're just plain dumb. All harks back to to the saying, "You have a nice camera, it must make nice images'
At least the BTS stuff shows what was used.

I don't see a problem. It shows what "can be" done with not necessarily what "will be" done. Just like the 1% of Jeep owners who are going to drive their Rubicon thru a river.

And the normal user. So pro looking it's like magic. Bob Ross could've painted with mud if he felt like it to prove a point but he didn't. The whole selling point is you don't need to know anything or even do anything and we'll create magic for you. Normal people aren't thinking about composition, rule of thirds, etc. "Here I am at the movies, here's my breakfast, here's my face at this very minute." I have $745 Apurture 120ds all around my studio and models still walk to the back door to take selfies. Click it and then filter like crazy until it looks like a blurry skinned, over sharpened eyes with a bunny nose. Put that in the ads.

As long as it has the #shotoniPhone, it’s legit. Solved.

Nobody should believe these ads. Even if you put your mobile phone on a cheap dji osmo gimbal and change nothing else, the end result would be different when shooting video. If you set up lighting, use very expensive stabilisers, expensive microphones for the sound and use very skilled videographers and editors, the end result will be really different.

Maybe overthinking it a bit. There isn't any gray area. Was it shot on an iPhone? Yes? No?

Nothing gray about it. As far as the other tools used to take it a step further, it's not a big deal. It's the tools that a professional would use. The idea being to show the full "potential" of the product.

It's no different, for example, than adverts for interior house paint. The examples you'll be shown will no doubt be the product of professional painters using professional grade tools. The idea being to show the potential of the product. Unless you're a professional painter with experience and using proper tools, it's unlikely that you'll see the same quality of results.

So do you also complain that movies shot using RED also use sound crews and artificial lighting?

As long as the phone is actually taking the video or photo I think it’s fair to advertise “Shot with X”.

In before someone mentions that they adapt multi-thousand dollar lenses to a phone, if you consider this “cheating” then you also have to consider Moment and other phone lenses as “cheating”. The only difference is budget, same as sound/lighting.

So it's almost like Lee's previous videos which were in the vein of iphone vs dslr, but then he used $1000 of equipment in addition to capture the image? Funny stuff.

It's funny, the way people think about camera gear these days, especially when it comes to crop sensor cameras, smartphones, sports cams, dash cams, even oldschool point and click, it's a camera. I am not embarrassed to say I started on a Kodak 110 back in the day, today I modify sports cams and use my Galaxy s8plus phone camera. I have photos exhibited globally and sell prints, does anyone care that they where shot on a so called inferior camera, no! When I go on photo walks with everyone using a DSLR and I got my phone, my photos look just as good as everyone else's. So it's not the gear it's how you use the gear. I will say this, to compare a camera where you can put a lens to get that perfect shot vs a camera where you are forced to work with one lens, that's the joke. So all this talk about ads, an ad is to get you to buy a product, that's it, not about being honest. Just about every ad lies. So if you feel the need to critique photos shot on a smartphone and sports cam here I am.