iPhone: a Professional Photography Tool?

I’ve read a number of blog postings and comments lately suggesting that “real” photographers only use iPhones for messing about and having fun, and will always choose a “real camera” when working. I think that’s not true.

Let’s leave aside the fact that, for many photographers, the line between working with a camera and messing about with one is blurry or non-existent. I think iPhone truly has a place in the toolkit of modern photographers. Here’s why:

Sometimes it’s simply the best tool for the job.

Clearly, top-end DSLRs and Medium Format digital cameras are technically superior to iPhone, with massively larger image sensors, much, much better optics and so on. That’s true of today’s compact cameras too, in many cases. And if you want amazing image quality at a bargain-basement price, there’s still the option of shooting film. So how can iPhone be taken seriously as a tool for pros?

Firstly, to pull out the inevitable Chase Jarvis line: “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. If a great shot is staring you in the face and you don’t have your Nikon, Canon or Hasselblad with you but you do have your iPhone, then suddenly its technical limitations don’t seem seem so worrying.

But that’s not all. I’m no professional photographer. However, I when I was working as a journalist in the 1990s I generally carried a camera around with me in my pocket. It wasn’t an SLR with a big lens (they’re not too pocket-friendly) but a Rollei 35 from the early 1970s. Here’s a picture of it—now pretty travelworn—with its most recent successor:

Rollei 35 and iPhone 4S running 645 PRO

As you can see, it’s pretty small and unassuming. And that was what made it magic. I was able to use it to get photographs that the guys toting Nikon F3s and Canon EOS-1Ns weren’t. Because nobody took it seriously. In fact, the Rollei 35 is a pretty impressive piece of German over-engineering with full manual control and a decent Zeiss lens, that produces crisp full-frame 35mm negatives or transparencies. But, to the casual observer, it looks more like a Kodak Instamatic than anything else.

When a “real camera” is pointed at them, practically everybody behaves differently: they stiffen, they suck in their cheeks—their entire body language can change. A big lens stuck on a big camera is an intimidating thing to most people, and even those who aren’t disconcerted by it are likely to modify their behaviour. However, because people didn’t take the Rollei seriously, they didn’t modify their behaviour while I was snapping quietly away (the Rollei’s shutter is almost inaudible, another plus). So I got some great candid shots. And I often got them even when a “no photographers” rule was being enforced—nobody could mistake me for a photographer, with my old toy camera.

For me, iPhone has the same quality of invisibility. And I’m seeing professional photographers using that aspect of it really creatively to get shots they simply wouldn’t get with a DSLR. I guess the core point applies to all camera-equipped cellphones, but iPhone leads the pack thanks to vast range of apps that can be used to customize the picture-taking experience to suit pretty much any photographer and any occasion.

Is iPhone a viable tool for pro photographers when they’re working? Absolutely! But don’t take my word for it—the evidence is all around.

Mike Hardaker
Founder, Jag.gr 


  1. Simon says:

    Surely the term professional photography applies to the person who is paid / makes a living taking the pictures. Whatever tool he uses doesn’t take away their professionalism.

    Besides, the quality of imagery appearing from iPhone camera’s can be pretty stunning and very publishable.

    • Mike says:

      Completely agree. For some reason, however, there are some people out there who want to lock iPhone up in a drawer marked “amateur toy”. And I’m not actually sure why…

  2. what app is being shown on your iphone/rollei shot?


  3. Hi Mike, hello everyone … I like your app 6×7 and 6×6 ….And 645 PRO ??? Go, go, go….!!!! :-) Message from my blog: http://www.iphonefoto.cz/2012/04/13/645pro-app-chysta-se-foto-aplikace-ktera-splni-sen-mnoha-iphone-fotografu/

    Tomas !!!

  4. First off, I will say that I have sold prints taken with my iPhone; I’ve sold prints taken with apps like Hipstamatic. Yes, they are not the majority of my prints sales – not even a noticeable fraction in fact – but sell them I have. But, beyond my own “professional” earnings from iPhoneography, what would be the difference between a “professional” photographer who primarily works with a Diana or other Lomography camera and one that primarily or occasionally uses an iPhone?

  5. Martin Duerr says:

    After 20 years of working in the vfx industry I’m re-entering my old profession illustration and photography. Haven’t sold a iPhone print yet, but for sure you can use it as a professional tool. it’s just a lens and a sensor. Have a look at the second image from above (stairway).


    I took this with an iPhone 4 and edited it in PS. Took other images from the same point with my DSLR and a Nikon p7000, but the iPhone image came out best.



  6. Gary says:

    This is no surprise to me as a professional photojournalist I have had several pictures used by the newspapers all using the 645 Pro app. Most journalists are also using the iPhone to provide pictures too which obviously clashes with my self at a news event, but…
    Often it’s the urgency that wins as soon as I have made the picture can send it straight to the news desk via Filterstorm for adding IPTC data and use its in built FTP.
    Needles to Say this urgency means I am getting more pictures published than from my DSLR but its the way you can get intimate pictures like you pointed out that also makes it a winner

  7. Documentally says:

    It was 2009 when I began to get paid to turn up with my phone and I started leaving my ‘proper camera’ in my bag.. http://documentally.com/2009/12/09/getting-the-most-from-your-camera-phone/

    More of my clients needed content for the web and they needed it now. A high resolution image was of little use the next day. People were only ever going to view the lower resolution copy any way.

    This was a big step for me as I came from a press photography background. A sack full of lenses and a workflow fast enough for a daily paper but not fast enough for the internet.

    That said, I feel the mobile phone needs to go that little bit further for me to be really comfortable with calling it my only camera. Either that or the decent compact cameras out there need to get their act together and enable in-camera fast editable sharing.

    This week I picked up a Leica M9. I swapped it for my M6 and pretty much all of my pro SLR gear I own. I recently got hold of the D800 and it saddened me to see it sat there unused.

    Why did i get the M9. Partly to slow down my photography and take some images that as yet my phone won’t enable me to do.

    My iPhone 4s has paid for itself 40 times over. Maybe more. I don’t expect that from my Leica. I do think it’s going to remind me of some important things though.

    I’ll no doubt blog those findings in the coming months.