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Can iPhone Photography Look Professional? | Iceland Field Test
When it comes to travel and selecting photography gear, we’re all overloaded with choice – you can choose a fully professional kit with all the heavy (and expensive) lenses, a solid mid-range hobbyist kit, or trim right down to your iPhone or smart phone when carrying less, staying agile and budget matters most.
So when we embarked on our Iceland adventure at the end of last year, we decided to test this lightest of options in the cold, wet and windy landscapes of the Land of Fire and Ice. This trip that was months in planning. We spent days laboriously altering packing lists deciding what to bring and what not to bring. Being the gear addicts that we are, there were countless hours of deciding what would be making the cut for our trip to the small Atlantic island which is the third windiest place in the world.
However, while we deliberated over much of our gear, we very quickly settled on what photography and film making equipment we would be bringing. In the same breath, we also knew that portable coverage would be key for us, there would be moments where whipping out a full rig would be impractical, dangerous, or just not timely. Enter iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.
The #shotoniphone craze has taken off in the last few years, so we documented our trip on our iPhone’s alongside our film-making equipment. Could the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro handle the brutally cold, wet, and windy elements? Could it help us create professional content? Could it compete with our camera equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars? We would find out.
Did Apple’s iPhones help us nail professional content? Well, you be the judge. What you see below is a collection form our twelve day trip around the Icelandic Ring Road in a 1993 Land Rover Defender 110, camping at night. Everything that you see here was shot on a iPhone 13 Pro Max or iPhone 13.
You’ll find a small taste here, along with a link to the full gallery. At the bottom of the article, we’ve included our top 5 iPhone Photography tips!
Awesome iPhone Photography Accessories for Adventures
While the iPhones themselves are no doubt impressive tools, there are always a couple of add-ons that can elevate your experience. We picked out a few accessories for iPhone that we found particularly useful and awesome during our trip to Iceland.
There’s a reason that the new Peak Design Mobile line is in our Carry Awards Top 5 Accessory, and a big factor in its nomination was our trip to Iceland with the prototype. The moment we saw the tripod at Outdoor Retailer in the summer of 21, Brandon, Taylor and I all lit up with excitement. This precision engineered tripod has to be seen to be believed. With a fully articulating ball head, multiple viewing options, adjustable tension, and magnetic connection, this mobile tripod is as good as it gets for a mobile accessory in my eyes. We took multiple long exposures on this, from varying angles, all with the simple adjustment taking mere seconds. Many of our single shot images came from this tripod too, which corrected for the traditional hand shake of phone photos, least of all when it’s 10ºF! Not only is this tripod clearly a static tool, it works well for selfies or unique angles where the tripod essentially becomes a handle and gives you the ability to either get closer/further away from a subject, or presents unique perspectives with the ability to put the phone in places that might be a little cumbersome to reach usually.
While the tripod works with most MagSafe accessories, it works flawlessly with the Peak Design Everyday Case. Adding protection, great materials, and a clean understated look that matches the iPhone aesthetic, this case is a great hybrid. It has the style, it has the robustness, and it has the functionality. The nylon canvas shell is weatherproof and a 100% recycled from Bluesign materials. It’s slim enough that it doesn’t add a huge amount of heft to the phone (the iPhone 13 Pro Max is already a larger piece of equipment) but tough enough to take a few tumbles–mine certainly has! I like this case so much, it has lived on my phone 90% of the time over the past six months. The other 10% is when I’m using the case below for drone work, or when I’m running case free carelessly like a rebel.
While the Peak Design case became a go to favourite, I mentioned that for another 5% of the time, I was flying with my drone. When that’s the case, I want to use something smaller and slip resistant. This is where the silicone case really came into its own for me. It has an excellent texture that is both comfortable in hand and works very well with gimbals or controllers providing great grip. I chose Carryology orange for both safety (easy to spot!) and style , but there is a whole array of colours to suit your needs. I love their leather cases too, but the silicone proved more useful for me in the field.
Otterbox Screen Protector, Power Bank, and Charging Cable
It’s important to keep your electronics safe and well charged! Otterbox are masters of protection, and they were crucial for us on this expedition. Firstly, I always have a screen protector on my phones, you never know when a rogue stone is going to ping up, or when you’re going to clumsily let your phone slip out of a pocket/hand! My iPhone actually ended up in a hot spring for a quick dip! This tempered glass screen protector saves your beautiful display from unnecessary dings and scratches, and is super easy to install thanks to the included tool!
Out in the wild, shooting on a phone, you need power! The Otterbox is everything that I want in a power bank! 20,000 Mah (3.5/4 charges of my iPhone 13 Pro Max), rugged construction and fast charging that gets my phone going again quickly, even in the cold. USB-A and USB-C charging options mean you can support the whole team. A must have in any travellers kit! A good battery pack is only as good as the cable you charge with! The Premium Lightning to USB-C cable from OtterBox is an excellent 2m cable that can be relied on whatever the weather. The 2m length is perfect for car use, while the braided nylon provides great bend resistance (rated to over 10’000 bends!) that will stop the cable fraying or tearing. It is also a fast charge cable which means it will charge four times faster than the average cable provided with your phone. These two are a great duo for travelling photographers!
Carryology iPhone Photography Top Tips
I know this is a contentious one for many photographers out there, but simply put RAW gives you more options. Particularly on a smaller sensor like the ones that you’ll find in an iPhone camera. A RAW file (sometimes called a digital negative) is lossless and captures all of the data available on your camera sensor, whereas a JPG is a compressed, digitally altered version of that. With the excellent dynamic range on iPhones, shooting RAW will allow you to capture some magnificent colours, shadows, highlights etc. It also allows you to rescue photos that might have been over or under exposed at the time of shooting. To turn on RAW shooting in your iPhone settings follow this process. Settings > Camera > Formats. Once here, toggle Apple ProRAW to on. You’ll also want to make sure ‘High Efficiency’ is toggled on the same screen to save your memory! Apple RAW photos can come out large (25MB+) so be sure you have the storage or a good cloud service.
Use the Grid
Similarly to above, be sure to have your grid setting turned on. This helps with composition, in particular your image balance or focal point. The grid helps you follow the rule of thirds which is always a good starting point for interesting photos. Not only that, it helps you keep your horizon straight which is important for landscape photography, as you don’t want to lose too much of your frame when cropping or straightening in post. In the photo below, I chose to focus on the light coming from the surface of the glacier, so that became my focal point, and the grid allowed me to be sure I had roughly equal amounts of darker ice on either side while maintaining focus on the halo.
Clean your lens!
If you’re anything like me, your iPhone bounces between pockets, bags, car consoles, sofas and many other dirt filled places. Heck, even your finger might spend time on that lens when holding your phone! To really maximise the impressive lenses, be sure to keep your lens clean when you’re about to shoot your next masterpiece. Out of habit, I always have a microfibre cloth with me, it takes two seconds to clean off any smudges or dirt, and once every couple of weeks I’ll give it a little spray of lens cleaner to keep it spotless. Look after your lenses, and they’ll look after you!
Use your feet!
Sure, the iPhone has great digital zoom, portrait mode is powerful, yadayadayada. However, nothing can replace actual physical separation when it comes to zooming or creating better depth of field. By using physical distance, you’ll get better natural lighting and more authentic images. Digital zoom and digital computation (portrait mode) are great in a pinch but you’ll lose image quality or in the case of portrait mode, the ability to edit a RAW photo (portrait images are .jpgs). I understand the irony of this next sentence in an iPhone article, but try to rely on manual rather than digital when it comes to zoom! Besides, you can create much more engaging compositions by physical movement, both distance and height wise.
Process your photos
Now I’m not saying you need to spend hours at a computer like I do, but we live in a world littered with apps for our phones, and a lot of them are really excellent. Lightroom is free, easy to use, and it even has a library of tutorials and editing suggestions to help you get the most from your photos, even if you’re a complete novice. The best thing about learning to use an app like Lightroom is that you can either just use it to tweak your exposure, or you can get deep into it and use geometry, lens corrections, presets, masking and the like. Because you’re now all shooting RAW, using a good post production app will help all your photos reach the next level. It can also help you “rescue” photos that you previously thought lost. I edited our #shotoniphone photos in Lightroom, on my iPhone. You have a mobile studio ready at your fingertips!
The iPhones proved to be an impressive creative tool, and when paired with the right accessories, they’re elevated even further. Carrying and creating but want to stay light and agile? Look no further than your trusty phone.