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How good are portraits with iPhone and Hipstamatic?
2017-09-16, Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA – Last night I had an on-location portrait photoshoot with Dani at Goddess Tower, her aptly named apartment in Boston. The circumstances were a little different from my normal portrait photography sessions. There was little planning, not a lot of pre-shoot discussion, and no real idea what our theme would be. Similar to the boudoir photography sessions I’ve done, the number one request made by Dani (and the primary goal for both of us) was that she have a portrait photography session to help boost her confidence.
The portrait session started with ordering pizza while her roommate, Joy, joined us in chatting, sharing random music together, discussing hiring her for a couple of graphic design projects, and fiddling with her website. To make a long story short, Dani cleared a corner of her room and set some blankets out while Joy started suggesting wardrobe options.
By this stage, I decided that we would skip breaking out the dSLR, flashguns, tripod, and umbrellas — the corner was really bright, the walls and ceiling were fairly white(ish) and we’d see what happens with just an iPhone and a couple of small handheld LED lights that I always carry in my camera bag.
To me there is something to be said about iPhone photography that is especially intimate and lighthearted. The camera is utterly unobtrusive, absolutely familiar and comfortable to be around, and everywhere which makes it completely non-threatening. Plus, iPhone’s camera is pretty damned good. One of my favorite iPhone camera apps, over the years, has been Hipstamatic. I’ve always loved the simulated “lenses,” “films” and “flash” combinations it is capable of using — especially when setting everything to “random.”
Regardless of how good iPhone’s camera is, and the software engine behind it, the basics of paying attention to lighting still matter. It’s a small lens that has a relatively decent, but fixed, aperture and almost zero control over exposure. The built in flash may be “true tone” but it is still weak, incredibly small, and very direct.
The only real way I’ve found to effectively use iPhone’s LED light in a photograph is to use it as a fixed light for someone else’s selfies, the same way I use the LED video lights. Thankfully, between Dani, Joy, and me we were able to make use of both LED lights by acting as each other’s lightstands (Sorry, Diana!)
It’s important for any model to feel as comfortable as possible especially when the whole reason for the shoot is to help bring his or her confidence up. Dani picked up different things that held deep meaning to her as props: her hula hoops, faerie wings, a small glass ball, sat with some of her crystals, and her beloved kitten, Noah. We incorporated them all into different segments while constantly showing her results as we shot.
I am glad that we were able to come together with only one goal in mind, utterly zero ideas how to accomplish it, and start improvising together to create some images that are technically mediocre at best given the self-imposed limitations of the gear at hand but helped to push our collective creativity and, most importantly, the portrait photography session gave Dani the confidence boost that she was needing to find.
In the end, sometimes it’s refreshing to put down all the camera gear, and just shoot for the fun of it.