How iPhone fuels Dimpy Bhalotia’s ethereal street photography

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Dimpy Bhalotia's photos capture little slices of life from unusual angles.
Dimpy Bhalotia's photos capture little slices of life from unusual angles.
Photo: Dimpy Bhalotia

For nearly a decade, photographer Dimpy Bhalotia has been using iPhones to document captivating street scenes in luscious black and white. She’s used almost every model Apple ever released — and this week, she took home top honors in the prestigious iPhone Photography Awards.

Bhalotia, a full-time fine art street photographer based out of London, told Cult of Mac she loves shooting with an iPhone so much that it’s become second nature.

“It’s a lightweight butter slice always in my hand, which has the entire world in it,” she said. “It feels like I’m shooting with my palm.”

In 2020, you don’t need an expensive DSLR camera and a darkroom to produce breathtaking imagery. The iPhone has truly democratized photography — and made it easier for anyone to capture the magic of everyday moments.

“Once you develop your eye, provided any situation you know how to react in a split second,” Bhalotia said. “I know now what to see and what to unsee instantly. And iPhone has given me that convenience to quickly pull my phone out and capture moments.”

An eye for the extraordinary

Award-winning street photographer Dimpy Bhalotia, seen here in a self-portrait, uses an iPhone to capture the poetry of everyday moments.
Award-winning street photographer Dimpy Bhalotia, seen here in a self-portrait, uses her iPhone to capture the poetry of everyday moments.
Photo: Dimpy Bhalotia

Bhalotia, who was born in Mumbai, India, snapped her winning entry in this year’s iPhone Photography Awards during a trip to her homeland. The stunning image earned her the titles of Grand Prize Winner and Photographer of the Year in the high-profile competition.

While Apple does not sponsor the iPhone Photography Awards, the annual event attracts thousands of entries. The awards also draw the attention of the Cupertino tech giant: On Twitter, Apple CEO Tim Cook called the results of this year’s competition “extraordinary” and applauded the photographers’ “outstanding work.”

Following her big win, Bhalotia spoke with Cult of Mac about her love of street photography, why she sticks with Apple’s default Camera app, and the lessons everyone needs to learn to take better iPhone photos.

Capturing life’s little moments

At first glance, it looks like something's been printed wrong with this image
At first glance, it looks like something’s been printed wrong with this image.
Photo: Dimpy Bhalotia

Observational street photography draws its power from the possibility of capturing profound moments without the photographer drawing attention to themselves. They are just another member of the crowd, interpreting reality but not arranging it.

The iPhone makes this even easier. It’s a tiny device about the size of a deck of cards which can nonetheless produce amazing images. It is not noticeable in the way that a bulky DSLR snapping away might be. It’s also constantly available as a tool for photographers.

“Having [an] iPhone with me at my leisure has made it all more convenient for me,” Bhalotia said. “[There’s this] freedom of capturing transitory moments of the present era. Also, freedom of expressing the realism of what I see and experience in visual form. And freedom of what, when and where I prefer to make my frames from. iPhone grants me all that privilege to maneuver my craft as I like.”

‘Flying Boys’

Dimpy Bhalotia's prize-winning photo, Flying Boys.
Bhalotia’s prize-winning photo.
Photo: Dimpy Bhalotia

Bhalotia’s winning entry in this year’s iPhone Photography Awards, “Flying Boys,” perfectly encapsulates this ethos. Taken using an iPhone X, the shot shows young boys in Varanasi, India, as they leap off a human-made cliff into the Ganges River to escape the summer heat. The nearly silhouetted figures against the sky — limbs both unselfconsciously ungainly and starkly gestural — make for a compelling composition.

Although the image depicts three figures, there is an almost sequential art quality to it. The image shows movement that draws the eye vertically from the top of the image to the bottom.

The boys’ unrehearsed moment, which Bhalotia calls a “symbol of fearlessness and freedom,” only lasted a second, but it remains frozen in time thanks to her beautiful photo.

“Given how these street scenes are disappearing under encroaching modernization and climate change, it seems like these moments will cease to exist,” Bhalotia said.

iPhone photography tips from Dimpy Bhalotia

There's a definite poetry to Dimpy Bhalotia's images.
There’s a definite poetry to Bhalotia’s images.
Photo: Dimpy Bhalotia

The award-winning photog said she shoots using only the iPhone’s native Camera app. She also devotes little time to editing, so the photos are “raw, straight out of my iPhone.”

Most of us need all the help we can get, of course. However, Bhalotia said budding photographers should concentrate on understanding two things: light and composition. Get these right and you’ll produce quality photos that no expensive app or pricey lens attachment can match.

“Everyone is so blinded [to] shooting what’s in trend that they have overlooked the true semiotics of photography,” Bhalotia said. “In 1435, Alberti, in his book on paintings, outlined a method for drawing a complex object using a net, a grid of threads, held in front of the subjects. And now we use that same grid in our cameras to capture frames. Isn’t that cool? Now how many of us knew about this? Everyone is just producing photographs without fathoming it.”

(To turn on the grid in the Camera app, go to Settings > Photos & Camera, and tap the switch next to Grid.)

The power of iPhone photography

For obvious reasons, Bhalotia is a big believer in the power of iPhone photography.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised if we discover that the iPhone is used to shoot in space or on the moon [at some point],” she said. “It’s a magnificent invention … with an excellent camera in it. I think what I struggle the most is with the storage. I require more of it. Even the iCloud 2TB [plan] is not adequate. And yes, higher and richer resolution, please!”

You can check out more of Bhalotia’s photographs on her Instagram gallery. She sells limited-edition prints of all her photos, hand-signed and numbered.