Photographer Landon Nordeman generally knows what to expect when ESPN calls him to shoot an event. But for the recent U.S. Open tennis tournament, ESPN needed Nordeman to report to the courts in Flushing Meadows, NY without any of his cameras.
Once there, an ESPN photo editor discreetly placed in his hands a sleek new piece of gear that would not be available to a clamoring public for two weeks – the iPhone 7 Plus.
“I was excited once I learned it was the iPhone, but thought I would only get to use it for an hour and have to give it back,” Nordeman told Cult of Mac. “I had the phone and shot with it for four whole days. I loved it. I really loved it.”
When Apple unveiled the new iPhone 7 line on Sept. 7, it led some tech industry observers to say the death of the DSLR camera is near. The iPhone 7 Plus comes equipped with two lenses, including a 56 mm telephoto with a 2X optical zoom. It also has a bigger sensor for more vibrant colors and improved picture quality in low-light settings.
Apple gave ESPN and Sports Illustrated special access to the iPhone 7 Plus. Nordeman’s pictures along with David Klutho’s shots from the Minnesota Vikings-Tennessee Titans NFL game went viral last week, no doubt furthering interest in Apple’s new iPhone camera system.
The 7 and 7 Plus began shipping Friday and it won’t take long for the internet to swell with photos from the new phone.
Nordeman believes DSLR cameras will be around for a while. But that the latest iPhone shows its might with, of all things, sports photography, is a sign the smartphone camera may be all anyone needs.
Nordeman said only he and two editors at ESPN were in on the iPhone 7 Plus test and that he was not to discuss it with his colleagues while shooting around the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Except for a couple of excited teen-aged boys who noticed Nordeman’s extra special iPhone, he worked undetected during the assignment.
ESPN regularly hires Nordeman for sports, but instead of the action, asks him to move around the edges to capture the atmosphere. If the action represents the muscle, Nordeman’s work shows the soul of an event.
But to obtain a variety of perspectives usually involves a couple of camera bodies, each with a different focal length lens.
Nordeman was able to get all he needed from a single lightweight handset. He found quirky pictures of spectators eating french fries or sleeping on the grounds outside the stadium, recorded palatable tension in the interview room as Serena Williams explains her semifinal lost to the press, and captures the confluence of lines, shapes and light in ordinary scenes to compose complex images worth of a gallery wall.
While the iPhone 7 Plus comes off as the star from the resulting work, it is important to understand Nordeman is an experienced professional storyteller. His photographs come from how he sees, thinks, and reacts and not from the brand of camera in his hand. So deep is his knowledge that if he were handed a plastic 1-megapixel toy camera, he could figure out a way to exploit the camera’s limitations and produce meaningful pictures.
To get a little bit of action at the U.S. Open, the new iPhone would still limit his ability to shoot tight action from the far end of the court. But he succeeded in finding areas of the stadium court where he could make dynamic action photos, spots he likely scouted out a head of time.
What struck Nordeman was how he could trust the functionality of his device, so that he could work comfortably and just react to whatever he was seeing.
“I guess what surprised me was I was able to use it very freely,” Nordeman said. “The auto exposure and auto focus were just working and I could get close to people and rather than carefully compose, I just shot more from the hip.”
Nordeman got so close at one point, he left with a memorable souvenir. As he worked a crowd of fans seeking the autograph of obliging superstar Novak Djokovic, Nordeman felt a hand clutch his phone. It was Djokovic, holding Nordeman’s iPhone steady as he signed the case.
Nordeman had to turn in the 7 Plus after the assignment, but he got to keep the case.
After the U.S. Open, he had enough time to tweet a thank you to Apple CEO Tim Cook before grabbing his regular gear to shoot New York Fashion Week.
“I did miss it,” Nordeman said about the 7 Plus. “I don’t think it means death to the DSLR. It sort of depends on the kind of work you’re doing. But I’d like to spend more time shooting with the 7 Plus. I really did love it.”