Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Killer iPhone Photography Guest Blog by Clifford Pickett

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Clifford Pickett shows you just how amazing the iPhone can be!

My best friend in New York, Clifford Pickett,  has been blowing everyone away with his amazing iPhone photography, so I asked him if he could join us for a guest blog to share his images and some of his story.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Gear, Sex and Money

by Clifford Pickett

Copyright Clifford Pickett - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

It’s easy to say it’s not about the gear.

Gear is no different than sex and money, it’s only important when you don’t have it. Maybe in that order too, if you’re a photographer. However, sometimes all of that gear ends up being a distraction. I’m no different, you should see my man cave! And many of you reading this, if your honest with yourself, you can probably relate to what I'm saying. After all, how many times have you been fiddling with gear and missed a shot while your significant other captured it with a cell phone?

I’m not preaching here, I’m leveling with you so please hear me out.

I just spent the past week at the Photo Plus Expo, which I highly recommend to those have never been to one. There were beautiful prints on display, created by amateurs as well as some of the biggest names in the business. They were stunning! These galleries were spread throughout the show, some presented by Canon and Nikon, some by paper manufacturers and others by the event space itself.

Let’s be honest though, that’s not what the show was for – it’s exists to sell you photography products. That’s cool, but noticeably missing underneath many of those beautiful prints were any details about how the photo was made, what camera, what lens, what settings, and more importantly, actually how the photo was made.

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It makes you ask yourself, "What was Joe McNally thinking when he shot that image and why?". Where was Jay Maisel standing? What was thought process? Which lens did he use? However, this info was often missing, but why? The answer is that these photos stand on their own, so no one really cares what gear they used. The gear was necessary, but It’s not important for the viewer of that image.

Buying a Nikon SB-910 won’t help me shoot like Joe and buying a D5 won’t help me shoot like Jay. It’s all about the image!

Of course, I’m not the first one to say this, I know. But seriously, some of the most amazing images ever made for the past decades were taken with cameras much less sophisticated and capable that what we carry around in our pocket.

It feels like capability has given way to complication. It distract us. It gets in the way. Scientists have proven a direct linear correlation between the number of buttons on a camera and our ability as artists to create a meaningful piece of art. (Just kidding, they haven’t <g>). But what if we only had one camera? One lens? One button?

Apple Challenged Me

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Last year, Apple reached out and asked me to give a presentation on photography at their Grand Central Store. My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to inspire people to go out and take photos of the fall season.

My first thoughts were to showcase how I use my iPhone as a tool; to navigate, to geocache, to call my girlfriend and explain why I’m not home yet, to determine locations and times of day to shoot, to look up the weather so I can call my girlfriend to explain why I’m not home yet. Then I thought, what if I use my iPhone as a camera? Honestly, never considered it.

It turned out to be the perfect timing as the iPhone 6S came out with a much better camera in it, so I took to trip through New England with my A7R and my iPhone, shooting both. I was using my Sony, but I was also seeing just how far I could push my iPhone as a camera. After reviewing my images, I was shocked just how well the iPhone performed! The results were seriously impressive and were a big hit at the Apple store.

I had a gallery show shortly after and printed several pieces from the iPhone, and people couldn’t believe it. Seriously, they wouldn’t believe it!

I found myself having long conversations with strangers about how capable it is and how much fun it was to shoot, sort of convincing myself while convincing them that it’s not about the gear. It was strange because they weren’t photographers and didn’t care, but they appreciated the enthusiasm. However, I was a photographer and I did care!

Time to put skin in the game

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Over the last year I’ve been having more fun, working lighter and faster, and shooting more. I was thinking about photography in an entire new way, and shooting with with my phone.

No, it doesn’t matter what phone you're using either, so long as it’s the brand new iPhone 7 or the Google pixel phone - ha, ha, just kidding!

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Since my debut with Apple, I’ve shot commercial campaigns, done gallery shows, licensed images around the world and of course even taken pictures of my two cats. The best part though, and the reason why I’m writing this article, is to share how much fun it was!  I want you to know how much I learned about photography by, you know, doing it!

Spoiler Alert

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The pictures you see in this article are not as sharp or clean as those I wouldn’t have taken with my big boy camera, but that's not the point. The point is that the only reason I took those picture at all, was because I was out shooting. I was focusing on what mattered, and not obsessing about noise, depth of field, etc... I was deep into the experience of making a photography and focusing on the light, color, composition, and most importantly – the experience.

I should note that I do spend time in Lightroom to help give my images that professional look, but I don't spend nearly as much time as you might think thanks to my fine-tuned workflow.

Responsibility sucks

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Gear is critical up to a point because we do need a minimum dynamic range, an acceptable noise floor and a reasonable degree of sharpness – but only up to point. After that it's a distraction because rest of what makes a photograph is on us, the photographer.

What I really learned while shooting with the iPhone was how to focus on what really matters. The experience and then color, light, gesture and composition. After that, at the very bottom, just below taxes and my dentist, the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You begin to focus on what’s in front of you, not how to capture it.

So this year, when Apple called again. I left all my gear at home and jumped in the car with nothing but my iPhone and few pair of underwear and my drone – I can’t leave home without that. You can't imagine how great it feels not to have to pack your gear, charge your batteries and struggle with which lenses you’ll bring (only to bring them all anyway).

This experience was stress inducing in a way only a photographer can understand. To stand at the shores of Nova Scotia after a 17 hour drive and find myself looking at an amazing sunrise with just my phone in my pocket. And my underwear. And my drone.

You learn a lot about your camera when it’s always with you

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I have learned about the limitations of using a smaller sensor and fixed lens and how to overcome them. In future articles, if there’s an interest, I’m happy to share tips and techniques, apps and gear that I use to expand the capabilities of the iPhone. iOS Apps like Cortex Cam to stitch 99 photos to instantly to effectively remove noise in low-light situations or Pro Cam 4 to auto-bracket RAW photos to maximize dynamic range and how to stitch photos in perspective to create much higher-resolution images.

A funny thing happens when you start to seriously photograph with your phone. You take it less seriously. So do others. There’s no pressure, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It shouldn’t. There’s much less baggage, literally and figuratively. And how amazing is it to go out and shoot with nothing to carry and no bag to carry it it. I liken it to being a cook and not having to worry about the dishes. It’s all the fun with none of the compromise. 

I won’t be selling my A7R Mark II anytime soon, at least until the next hot camera that comes out that begs for me to buy it!

When I was at my last exhibit, with all of those prints on the wall at the show, I realized how odd it was that none of them were my iPhone shots. I still hadn't let go of the pixel peeping and deep analysis of what type of photo is "good enough" to go on display, but my attitude is definitely changing. It'll also be very interesting to see in a year if I've finally been able to let this go and show the world, in print, what I'm happy to show you here in this blog article.

Join Cliff at the Apple Store in Boston

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Cliff Pickett will be at the Boylston Street Apple Store in Boston Wednesday, October 26, 2016, 6:30 p.m. Feel free to checkout his Instagram page as well as his web site for more info.

If you'd like to join in on a paid online webinar with Cliff, please contact me.

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All of the photos in this article were shot with an iPhone ONLY. Most were the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 7 Plus.

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