Photographer Noe Alonzo gave himself a challenge that some people called ridiculous: He worked exclusively with his iPhone 7 Plus for six months.
The results proved stunning. Even more surprising to Alonzo, his project landed him new clients — and gave him humbling insights into his own creativity.
That the camera inside an iPhone is capable of rendering high-quality images is not news. Through its “Shot on iPhone” ad campaigns, Apple has shown how capable its camera is for producing beautiful pictures that can be reproduced at sizes filling up entire billboards.
Time magazine in 2017 hired a then-unknown photographer, Luisa Dörr, based on the stunning iPhone portraits populating her Instagram feed. She spent the better part of a year photographing influential women for a special issue. Recently, Apple commissioned her to photograph female wrestlers in Bolivia for ads promoting the iPhone XS.
Photographer Noe Alonzo’s iPhone exercise
Still, highlighting work produced using an iPhone can project a false impression that the pictures are great because of a great camera.
Based in Seoul, South Korea, Alonzo shares his experience on YouTube by first reminding viewers that photography is about how a person sees and not the gear used for taking pictures.
“Photography is just photography whether it be with a regular camera or a phone camera,” he tells followers in the video below. “It doesn’t matter, the same principles still apply.”
But Alonzo discovered something new with the iPhone as his only camera.
“I must admit shooting only with a phone for six months is a very humbling experience,” he said. “Basically, I’ve never shot so much in my life. When I started shooting with my phone, I started seeing pictures everywhere. Photography was everywhere.
“I feel like since I limited myself to only using a phone, I had to push my creativity to its limits. There were so many pictures I never thought I could take with just my phone.”
Photographing cities at night
Alonzo said he finds himself drawn to cityscapes at night. Those types of shots present challenging light conditions for smartphones’ tiny imaging sensors. But during his iPhone photo experiment, he found ways to work with the darkness and available light.
He toned his pictures in Adobe Lightroom. He also created a Lightroom filter so he could practice one of his specialties, infrared photography.
Alonzo said the negativity of some of his followers — “pixel peepers,” he called them — surprised him. These people derided smartphone photography in general. But they also questioned whether he could find paying work using only an iPhone. He said the project attracted clients, including an Apple competitor who hired him to shoot photos with that brand’s smartphone for an ad campaign.
iPhone camera still no DSLR
Alonzo did not set out to compare the smartphone to a DSLR. Conventional cameras still offer significant advantages over a smartphone, he said.
But he wanted to speak more to beginning photographers. His advice? Just pull out your phone and start today.
Follow Noe Alonzo on Instagram.