Brad Mangin is one of sport photography’s best shooters – even with an iPhone

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Brad Mangin's portrait of a high school football player was selected for Apple's
Brad Mangin's portrait of a high school football player was selected for Apple's "Shot on iPhone 6" ad campaign.
Photo: Brad Mangin/Apple

Cult of Mac’s Photo Famous series introduces you to the groundbreaking photographers featured in Apple’s “Shot on iPhone 6” ad campaign.

Brad Mangin’s friends gave him a good ribbing as “the last photographer on the planet” to carry a flip phone. They all had iPhones and couldn’t believe it took him so long to not only own one but discover the picture quality of the phone’s camera.

 
Laughter would turn to admiration in less than a year’s time. Mangin would go on to use his first iPhone to produce a robust baseball essay for Sports Illustrated and get a book deal with his iPhone pictures.

So it’s probably fitting that Mangin, one of the first photographers to publish editorial work with an iPhone, would be among the photographers whose work was chosen to show off the improved camera quality of the iPhone 6.

Mangin’s photo, a high school football player muddy and sweating after a game, was part of Apple’s Shot on iPhone 6 ad campaign. It was the first time for Mangin, whose baseball photos have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that he ever had a photo on the back cover.

In fact, the picture selected was one of his first taken with the iPhone 6.

“A woman had hired me to shoot pictures of her son, who was a sophomore and starting quarterback on the varsity team,” said Mangin, a veteran freelance photographer who lives in Pleasanton, Calif. “The iPhone 6 had come out that day. I got there early because I am always early. The junior varsity game had ended and there was the kid packing up his stuff.”

He made the portrait of the player and posted it to Instagram before the start of the varsity game at Monte Vista High School. A few months later, Apple found the photo through his iPhone 6 hashtag and contacted him about using his photo.

Mangin blogged about it being a surreal experience, making the picture at a high school where he spent Friday nights early in his career struggling to make decent pictures for the local newspaper.

“It’s pretty crazy how things work,” Mangin wrote. “I shot games at Monte Vista High School for my first newspaper job. The lights were bad and we were shooting black and white film that we developed forever in the darkroom just to get a faint image to try and make a decent print for the Saturday morning paper . . . Fast forward 27 years later and I am shooting a color portrait on the same field with a freaking phone that gets published full page on the back cover of Sports Illustrated.”

Magin’s first iPhone was the 4s in December 2011. He had it with him at Spring Training in Arizona and 2012 and felt playful with the iPhone’s camera. He focused on some of the iconic details of the National Pastime, a bag of baseball, a rack of wooden bats, a mitt on the soft grass, a batter looking at the field from the on-deck circle.

Mangin's baseball Instagram photos from the 2012 season were collected into a book.
Mangin’s baseball Instagram photos from the 2012 season were collected into a book.
Photo: Brad Mangin

He posted to Instagram, an instant audience that gave him a thrill. Mangin said 99 percent of the pictures a freelancer takes never sees the light of day, but Instagram was a way to share the work.

Mangin had been around ballplayers for a long time but felt nervous approaching them to make portraits with a phone. He did it anyway and posted frequently, giving himself deadlines before his editorial work would have to begin. A Sports Illustrated editor liked the pictures on Instagram and pushed for space in the magazine. In July of that year, SI published three consecutive double trucks of his iPhone/Instagram baseball photos.

A sampling of Mangin's iPhone baseball photos as they appeared in Sports Illustrated in July 2012.
A sampling of Mangin’s iPhone baseball photos as they appeared in Sports Illustrated in July 2012.
Photo: Brad Mangin

A book with more than 200 of those photos, Instant Baseball: The Baseball Instagrams of Brad Mangin, was published in time for opening day of the 2013 season. Another book of his photos on the San Francisco Giants championship season in 2014 is a testament to his skill at shooting peek action. Yet, the book, Championship Blood, would be boring if it weren’t for 45 Instagram photos sprinkled among the pages, he said.

Other than making the colors pop or vignetting the corners, Mangin foregoes the many apps available to enhance images, opting to work mostly with the iPhone’s native camera.

“The phone is so much better than when I started,” he said. “The files are better. But the pictures are good because I know what I’m doing. I use the iPhone 6, but I still just call it a camera.”

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  • Jon McNally

    These are good photos, not because of the iPhone, but because Mangin is a damn good photographer with a most excellent talented eye.