Street Photography with an iPhone

There is a quiet war on the streets about what kind of camera you are using to capture your photos.  For some photographers, it is a fancy DSLR camera, complete with a variety of lens and a snazzy camera bag. For others, it is the ubiquitous iPhone, or some other device that slides in and out of your pocket.

Who wins?  I know in my previous article, 7 Reasons Why the iPhone 6 is My Camera of Choice, I was very clear on my preference of cameras.  But, I thought of putting personal bias aside and discovering if there is more to this DSLR and smartphone issue than meets the eye?  As a street photographer, I am always trying to improve my craft.  I feel it is time for me to take a look at this camera war a bit more seriously and weigh out the pros and cons of each camera type.

The Convenience Factor

Convience Factor

Let’s face it.  Carrying around camera bags filled with a variety of lenses is simply, heavy.  As a street photographer, I don’t want to be laden down with that kind of material because often, my picture is dependent on the speed that I am able to take my photo.  It also becomes a bit of a health hazard strolling through back alleys with thousands of dollars worth of equipment proudly displayed around my neck.  Can we say that it screams, “Mug Me”?

An iPhone, or any smartphone device, clearly rocks in this department.  I have don’t have any doubt that I would rather slide a smartphone camera into my pocket than lug around several lenses that I would have to worry about changing or breaking while on the street.  Besides, the applications available now with smartphone cameras take care of this need.  I definitely vote for the iPhone or any other smartphone device for its simple practicality.


James Looking Through The Lens
James Looking Through The Lens, courtesy of James Buffin
This really should not be a surprise. The cost of any pro or semi-pro DSLR can run thousands of dollars for the body alone.  If you factor in the glass, tripods, carrying cases and other paraphilia, the cost can run up as high as the sky.

And then you have the cost of the smartphone…

Well, I have my iPhone 6.  It did cost me some money, but combined with the contract with my local phone company, and my free upgrade, I think I may have paid about $200. I am sure that for any street photographer, including myself, less money spent is more money saved.  I would rather drop my iPhone (crossing fingers and toes here not to jinx myself) than a DSLR while shooting on the streets.  The cost of replacing or fixing a DSLR is just too scary for me.  So again, I vote for the iPhone for being more cost-friendly.

The Artistic Capture

Fade to Black, Canadian National Exhibition, 2015
Fade to Black, Canadian National Exhibition, 2015
Every picture I shoot, every photo I edit and caption, has significance for me, the street photographer. I consider this an art form. So how does our two camera types rate for artistic value?

With a DSLR, the photographer has a choice of lenses and manual operations at their disposal to recreate and represent their message.  With options like white balance, aperture, etc. it truly are artistic values and selections that are made in order to capture the picture at hand.  The only drawback is the speed the photographer needs to take in order to change lens or make adjustments to capture that perfect picture.

On My Way to City Hall
On the hand, the iPhone or smartphone camera has intuition and makes these adjustments automatically.  I will be bold and say that I don’t think this is an artistic representation, but just a good eye to see a picture. It is only by using an application, such as Manual, that the iPhonographer can take back control of their camera and is able to become the artist, by making their own choices and taking risks that an artist should properly do. And of course during post-production, my personal favourite part, can an iphoneographer or smartcamera user make editing choices that can also add to the artistic elements of the picture.

Overall, it seems that the differences between the DSLR and iPhone or smartphone camera balance out.  I would venture to say that they are therefore, tied in artistic representation.

The Learning Curve

Hudson, Quebec. Summer of 2015
Hudson, Quebec. Summer of 2015
I found a huge learning curve in understanding how to transform a picture that I see with my eye, into a message for an audience to understand and gather meaning. I believe any reputable photographer would happily share that they are still learning and trying to develop their own craft. 
All Beautiful Buildings Deserve a Picture, Hudson’s Bay Company, Montreal – Summer, 2015
The iPhone, or other smartphone, captures pictures automatically that you point the camera at. In many circumstances, people are using this as a point-and-shoot camera. The idea of taking a picture in an app, like Manual, are seldom used.

The funny thing is, I often get asked how do I edit a picture? I am sorry to say, I don’t really have an answer that I can articulate. With any art form it is difficult to explain choices based on intuition, or have to break down, step by step, the different ways that a photo was played to ensure the final outcome is precise. But, if you are using the point and shoot mode, it really does a lot of the work for you. The learning curve on an iPhone, or smartcamera, is minimal and really only comes out during post-production.

Escape Time, Pearson Airport, Toronto – 2015
On the other hand, a DSLR does have a learning curve whereby the choices rely solely on the photographer. It is true that there are various scenes available that will automatically help in making these choices, but overall, a photographer is going to want to play with shutter speeds, white balance and all those other gizmos in order to capture their photo. There are plenty of different information manuals or classes that one can resource in a, “How To” fashion in order to help them achieve that picture. In other words, there is a learning curve that is much more prescriptive and very much doable with a DSLR, through repetition and practice. For this reason, I feel that although a DSLR may at first appear more complicated, the learning is somewhat more genuine and authentic than on an iPhone or other smartcamera. The DSLR, for me, wins here.


Red End
The Red End, art credit by Poser, 2014

So my friends, there we have it. Overall, as a streetphotographer, I am clearly aligning myself with a quick and easy iPhone or smartcamera in my pocket. It makes sense for me. I am also still planning on getting my Sony A7ii, because I am just needing the choice of also shooting with a better camera and having more control than an app can provide. In retrospect, one really needs to ask themselves what would work better for them. As a small female, I am not about to take thousands of dollars of equipment in a back alley. Even lugging just one lens with my camera, I feel is risque. It is my personal comfort level, that’s all. 

In any event, whether you are shooting with a DSLR or an iPhone/smartphone, I know that capturing photos, especially on the street is lots of fun. I wish you safe travels and happy shooting.

à bientôt,


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