Taking fantastic photos with an iPhone

Back when I was doing my Top 100 amazing iPhone photographs, a few photographers’ names kept returning again and again – one of them was the amazing Sion Fullana, whose Flickr photography stream is full of absolutely fantastic street photography; mostly in New York, all taken by iPhone.

After gawping at his photos in incomprehension, I just had to ask him if I could interview him about his technique, and see if I could get some tricks of the trade out of him – luckily, Sion was happy to oblige.

So, if you have an iPhone and want to learn how to put its camera to good use, or if you just want to find out how you can take incredibly moving photographs even with inferior equipment, you’re in for a proper treat…

King of the Castle
King of the Castle by Sion Fullana on Flickr

1) Why do you take photos with your iPhone? What other cameras do you
have, and why don’t you use them?

There are various reasons why I love using the iPhone for photography. I guess the most basic is that you carry it on your pocket all the time so you have a photographic device always ready if the opportunity shows, instead of having to wear a big bag with a heavier camera.

Secondly, even though I know the 2MP lens of the phone is not too much for quality, I am convinced that under the appropriate amount of light and holding the iPhone very still, you can get images that would put to shame some great SLR cameras. It’s something about the colors and the light that the iPhone captures beautifully, and it allows you to go for certain type of shots that may be less perfect but with a very special and distinct signature.

Last but not least, since I do mostly street photography, the iPhone certainly allows me to get some good “sneaky” shots of people without them noticing. Something that with my bigger camera I couldn’t be able to do.

When I don’t shoot with my 3G iPhone, I take out my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50, a camera that despite being considered a point and shoot still, has all controls and zoom manual, like an SLR. I use that one mostly when I cover journalistic events, or when I’m exploring a new area in the city where I want to take some wider shots or some street portraits from a bit further, zooming in.

Gentleman on a rainy day
Gentleman on a rainy day by Sion Fullana on Flickr

2) How long have you been using camera phones for photography?

Well, my iPhone was my last birthday’s gift from my boyfriend, on July 2008. So I’ve been using iPhone for 8 months, and taken around three thousand pictures with it. Almost 400 per month. Not bad, i guess.

3) Your work is quite amazing – your iPhone photos (despite all the limitations of the iPhone) are better than many people would be able to do with a DSLR – can you pick one of your favourites and talk us through your process step by step, from fishing the camera out of your pocket to people being able to see it on Flickr?

Oh, thank you very much!! Let me actually use for this the last photo I have uploaded on Flickr, as I really like it.

So here’s the story: I was on my way Uptown for a birthday dinner and I take the subway towards Times Square. In front of me, on the platform, I see this beautiful, elegant girl with her boyfriend. They both look awesome and I decide to take their picture, using the Camera Bag application, Helga Style (my favorite!). Unfortunately, the app decides it’s one of those times when it will crash and force you to restart the phone, losing your good image.

A bit down, we all enter the train, super packed in rush hour. The girl is sitting right in front of me, while I stand up. And suddenly, even with the movement of the train running, I see her using her pocket mirror to put some make-up on, and I’m fascinated. So I quickly snap the photo and off we go, Times Square…

Hours later, back home, I download the photos to my MAC, I see and like the image of the girl, and I go straight to Picnik, my favorite processing software. I tweak the image a bit by using the Cross Processing and the Orton-ish effects, and I upload it to Flickr and start spreading it around in my favorite groups.


So you can see here the original image and the final result (which you can also see (and comment on / favourite etc) on Flickr, as “Paint my eyes in blue“). I love post-processing and what you can achieve sometimes with it. It’s a fascinating part of the process of taking photos, for me.

4) What are your top tips for people trying to wrangle some sense out of the iPhone as a camera?

I would say “Don’t stop trying”. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Experiment. Look for reflections, seek for rays of light in the hours after lunch on a sunny day, stay quiet for a while in a corner and hold your iPhone very still and snap at everything that crosses your path. Try movement effects. And also, do not hesitate about using photo applications.

My truly favorite had been VINT B&W, that allows you to get some beautiful black and white images, with the right contrast and tone… until I have recently tried and fallen in love with the CAMERA BAG app, specially the Helga and 1962 styles.

5) What would you improve about the iPhone to make it a better camera?

Obviously, there are things that could improve the experience of iPhoneography, indeed. Giving it some extra resolution wouldn’t be bad at all (more Megapixels for better quality). Some settings straight from camera (some control of shutter speed, or white balance) would be great too.

Woman on Heels by Sion Fullana on Flickr

6) Are you a professional photographer? Tell us about yourself!

Mirror of Soul by Sion FullanaWell, when do you get to call yourself a professional photographer? When you work exclusively taking photos? When you have made any money with them? When you are famous because of your images? :-)

Right: Mirror of Soul (Self Portrait) by Sion Fullana on Flickr

Let’s just say for now that I have become more serious about photography in the last year and that I love documenting the world through my lens, and that I have been selling my first images recently. My greatest goal with photography is try to raise awareness of the small details and the special moments in daily life that surround us but we tend to overlook in our rushed lifestyle.

When people have told me that this is one of my strengths, I feel I’m on the right path. Whatever the future may bring me with photography, let it be welcome!

The Yellow Line will Take you Home
The Yellow Line will take you home by Sion Fullana on Flickr

As for my background, I am originally from Majorca (Spain). But I have also lived eight years in Barcelona, two in Cuba (where I graduated in filmmaking) and now I reside in New York, where I am currently since 2006. I am a journalist, writer and filmmaker.

I work freelance as a reporter / photographer, and I’m currently in the very early steps of investigating a documentary film project about GLBT homeless kids in New York. You can see some of my previous work on my Youtube page and -if interested- purchase some of my photos on my website.

Thank you!

Thanks for helping us along and explaining your work, Sion! you’re a star!

If you liked this article, why not take a closer look at Sion’s work on YouTube, Flickr, or his own website?

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