Famed documentary photographer now shoots with an iPhone
Documentary photographer Rick Rocamora is a big guy accustomed to carrying around big cameras and the occasional Leica. After getting an iPhone for Christmas, the US-based Filipino decided to go small.
He discovered that it enables him to take pictures with hardly anyone noticing, an advantage especially in the street photography that he loves to do. He answered our questions via email.
You're a documentary photographer with numerous exhibits through the years. Why shoot with an iPhone camera now?
First of all, any camera we use is only a tool in taking pictures. The price or the brand of the camera does not influence the storytelling aspect of documentary photography. More and more photographers are using the iPhone for their professional work and winning awards for their work. Damon Winter of the New York Times won an award for his work in Afghanistan.
During the Arab Spring, many photographers were filing pictures using iPhones because they can blend easily with the crowd and not be prominent and be targeted. My iPhone was a Christmas gift and when I arrived in the Philippines on March 15th, I challenged myself to test the limits of the iPhone for the kind of photography that I do. To my surprise, it is an excellent tool. My excitement is similar to when I got my first Leica camera.
It is so fun that sometimes I don't take my DSLR out. Compared to some point-and-shoot cameras, the iPhone 4 and 4s are the same if not better. One advantage of the iPhone is when you touch the screen to click the shutter, there is minimal lag. Some point-and-shoot cameras still have delays when you click the shutter.
It has unique characteristics especially if you are using some of the apps. You don't have to carry an additional camera bag around and if you have to document something quick it can be in your pocket ready to fire.
Don't you sacrifice anything in quality?
It is like comparing apples and oranges. The more expensive cameras can provide better quality enlargements and resolutions, but the iPhone provides the convenience of having a camera with you all the time. Most of the pictures in the selection were taken while I was in a taxi or walking around. I put to a test one of the images and enlarged it up to 24"x 24" and it looked good enough to be displayed in any exhibition space. Good photography is not about the camera, but about how we manage light, the timing when we click the shutter to capture moments, and how we use elements and details in a scene.
Is there anything you can’t do with an iPhone that you can do with your Leica or other SLR?
The iPhone does not have a built-in motor drive and will not be good for serious sports photography. It is good enough to capture news pictures for the web and dailies that do not require very high resolution images. One advantage of an iPhone, like shooting a Leica, is it is very small and I can pretend to be just playing around and not look like a professional. The best way to use the iPhone is for images with simple backgrounds, without too many details.
Why black and white?
My iPhone only shoots in color and I am using the Hipstamatic app in my pictures. There are apps that can convert the iPhone to shoot in black and white. My work flow is to convert the color hipstamatic image using Lightroom, similar to the same process I use for my DSLR digital files. As a photographer, my preference is black and white because my goal is to get an emotional reaction to my images rather than drawing attention to the colors of the image.
What's the reason behind the square format of your iPhone photos?
I am using Hipstamatic and it provides a square frame. I never shot with a square frame before and in the beginning I have to make adjustments in composition. But based on the results, the square format was not bad at all. I think it gives my iPhone photography a distinct look compared to my other work.
How does it perform in low light?
The iPhone has a built in flash but since I rarely use flash even with my regular cameras, all the images in this collection were taken without flash. The quality diminishes when shooting at low light. The images are grainier and since you cannot control shutter speed, there is a tendency to get blurred pictures when there is a movement.
Your favorite subject for iPhone photography?
Street photography and portraiture. Actually I already did a serious photo essay with an iPhone in Angeles, Pampanga recently.
If you learn photography on an iPhone or other phone, will it be harder to learn to use an SLR?
Photography is more than learning how to use a camera. Like any other camera, we have to master its functions and use these efficiently. What is more challenging in photography is how to capture moments, develop our timing, and understand composition. More than anything else, we have to be good visual storytellers.
What should beginners know when learning mobile phone photography?
Start shooting using the basic functions. Shoot a lot and don't get disappointed by failures. Learn how to manage light and most of all, don't be afraid to get close to your subjects. Have fun. - Interview by Howie Severino/ Roehl Niño Bautista, GMA News
Talk of the web