Zen & the art of iPhone street photography

Street Photography – Jason Feather give us his view on the moral dilemma of shooting the street and shares his 20 techniques & tips on how to photograph the street through the lens of your iphone.


One of the great aspects of iphone photography is that the device lends itself very well to stealth street photography.



The iPhones size & ubiquity immediately gives the iphone photographer an advantage over traditional bulky SLRs (& even simple point & shoot digital cameras) as it confers the ability to snap a good human interest shot while remaining inconspicuous & avoiding the observer effect (where subjects suddenly start posing for the camera).


Cartier Bresson famously used a handkerchief to cover his Leica camera which he would whip away to snap many of his iconic shots before hiding his camera underneath it once again.

With the iPhone camera there is almost no need for such elaborate subterfuge as it is already disguised…as a phone!

If you wish to disguise your iPhone still further (a good idea in itself to avoid the apple symbol becoming dollar signs in a muggers eyes) there are some quite innovative cases to aide your clandestine photography:


A moral dilemma?

The morality of taking someone’s picture without prior permission means that candid street photography isn’t for everyone & although here is perhaps not the place for such moral debate consider the fact that even when you are obviously and openly taking a photo people are ‘caught’ in such photographs unawares everyday and to seek permission from each & every one would be an impossible & arduous task.

In all honesty there is a frisson of excitement to be had in the danger of being caught and a great more satisfaction in finding hidden gems amongst your days snaps. These gems often reveal the small dramas that take place across your habitat everyday and such clandestine photography really does allow you to see the world afresh!

Finally there are much worse things you could be doing so try not to let your art suffer by getting too distracted by the morality of an activity that hurts no one & that brings pleasure to many.



20 iPhone street photography techniques & tips:

There is no end to the tips and tricks that individual iPhone street photographers employ but these are gleaned  from my own experience of photography on the streets of Bradford & Leeds in Yorkshire, UK (some of my work illustrates this article). 

1. Rule number one is have fun! If your not then your photographs are likely to become formulaic and lack spontaneity.

2. Try not to think but if you do think then think fast & then shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Then shoot some more! If you have time take a few shots of your subject from a variety of different angles.

3. Although the iphone 4’s auto focus & exposure technology are brilliant and a blessing they can be a hinderance to quick unplanned shots. The cure is to take a number of shots of the same scene tapping different areas of the screen.

4. Look inconspicuous? Pretend your fiddling with your phone, put it up to your ear as if your on a call but use a finger to take shots, look left while shooting right & vice versa, plug your ear phones in so it looks less like your taking shots & more like your iPod (be careful not to ruin too many shots by getting the wire in the way) etc Try Sneaky pics app http://skidmoreapps.com/ or set Gorilla cam http://joby.com/gorillacam to take repeated shots while wielding your phone. Remember to also turn off the iphone cameras shutter noise in settings or flip switch to silent!

5. Be obvious. No need for subterfuge if you are uncomfortable with this you can simply shoot the scene in front of you and if anyone objects they will tell you soon enough! This has the disadvantage of leading to less ‘natural’ shots but a clearer conscience!

6. Keep the lens clean. Dust easily gathers on your lens while your iphone is in your pocket so clean it on occasion with a cloth (or even your finger or an item of clothing if no cloth is available). This applies even more for older generation iPhones that don’t have the anti grease coating of the iPhone 4.

7. The iPhone’s camera works best in  good lighting conditions. With older iphone models that don’t have the iphone 4′s LED flash if it’s too dark your pictures will be grainy and indistinct. There may be occasions where this is to your advantage (if your aiming for a grainy or indistinct look) but on the whole your going to want a clear picture especially if your planning on using apps to add effects to your composition as many of them can reduce your photos resolution further.

8. There are a number of apps that claim to improve lighting conditions or create a flash effect for 3G and 3GS iPhone’s but invariably these are gimmicks. If lighting conditions are good, shoot your photos with the sun behind you if you want a clear image unless you’re looking for silhouettes which can often make impressive pictures.

9. It’s easy to get hooked on keeping your subject within a horizontal or vertical field of view. However don’t be afraid to tilt the angle of your iPhone and break with convention if the end result is aesthetically pleasing.

10. Unless you have the iphone 4 (or a case which includes a lens like some Griffin cases http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/clarifi) don’t shoot things too close. People look best from 2-12 feet away. This is fine when you’re planning a shot but isn’t always possible so again snap away – take a few shots and choose the best later.

11. It goes without saying that holding your phone steady will mean less blur. There are apps that allow you to sharpen or blur your shots in various ways but to do so it’s best to start with a clear photo. If your ‘planning’ a shot rather than being snap happy then try using two hands to hold the camera and a thumb to shoot.

12. Hold, release & shoot! The iPhone camera app shoots on ‘release’. Press and hold – line up your shot & then release your finger, it’s at the point of release that your photo is taken. This is not the same however for some apps (e.g. camera genius) so have a play around with whichever camera app it is your using to discover if this is the case.

13. The iphone camera can create some unusual wave or jelly like movements if you move the camera while your taking photos or while taking photos of moving objects. These can sometimes be to your advantage and create some interesting effects but on the whole its best to avoid movement – either the camera or your subject.

14. Keep your photos simple. Images with too much clutter don’t usually make good iphone photographs so try to have a few simple elements in your frame.

15. Use a camera app that allows a ‘full screen’ button i.e. you can tap anywhere on screen to take the picture. This means you wont loose time looking for the shutter button. A great all round app that includes this function is ‘camera genius’.

16. Try to keep your iPhone in your hand with your chosen camera app open, on and ready to shoot so you never miss an opportunity while on the streets.

17. If you’re right handed the bottom left hand side of your home screen (within easy thumb reach) is the best location for quick launch of your favourite camera app (& vice versa if your left handed).

18. As there is a slight lag time between screen/shutter press & the shot being taken press screen a few moments before your subject is likely to arrive in the shot.

19. Keep it charged! There’s nothing more frustrating than finding yourself amongst a great photo opportunity & your iPhone dies! Keep a charger with you or if traveling light at very least a USB cable you can always they charging at an Internet cafe or library if desperate.

20. Remember you might take 300 shots & be left with three by the end of the session. Poor focus, blurred subjects, bad composition are to be expected with such unplanned shots. These are the chaff you must blow away to get at the wheat thus the rest of your battle will be in carefully choosing your shots & finally creative app-ing.

If iphone street photography had a tag line it would have to be:

"Good street photography doesn’t stop to ask knowing that the moment is fleeting"

So remember keep shooting, keep it simple & have fun!

Other useful iphone street photography resources:

Street photography blog 

Flickr iPhone street photography group:

Inspiration from other iPhone street photographers:

Greg Schmigel 

Dominique Jost

Ugur Kaner 




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