Street photographer without a camera

streetphoto iphone italia

I’m a photographer with an deep rooted passion for street photography, but you won’t spot me on te streets with a full frame DSLR, or a retro looking Fujifilm camera. It’s not that I don’t have them, but most of the time they are tucked away safely. They’re not easy to carry and can be quite complicated to use when you want to take a snapshot. I have to confess that I did not even take them with me on holiday for the last two years. In fact, most of the pictures I take these days come from my iPhone. Since I exchanged my Nokia for an iPhone 3GS 3,2MP (back in 2009) I have left the heavy and expensive equipment at home.

Bologna, Italie, 2017 – iPhone 7 Plus, Edits in VSCO and Instagram

My photography is not an art form

I don’t consider my street photography to be art, and they certainly don’t have to hang in a gallery. I would rather call them snapshots, they come and they go. I’m not really interested in the technicalities of a camera; photography for me is more about the moment than about the medium. I work on the streets and don’t want to be bothered by the many restrictions of a bigger camera that compromise my speed and agility in the process. The iPhone is my favorite, mainly because it’s light and compact. You don’t need a lot either to make good pictures, even when the lighting is bad.

Amsterdam, Nederland, October 2016 – iPhone 6, Edits in VSCO, Camera+ and Instagram

Constantly connected with the rest of the world

With the arrival of the iPhone, there was also a surge in mobile photography apps. Mostly free of charge, and sometimes for less than one euro. Another advantage: never before had there been a camera with touchscreen for immediate editing, and a functional connection to the internet. When social media made its appearance I eagerly shared my work through one of the first photo-sharing communities Flickr
I uploaded my first iPhone picture to Flickr in November 2009. This was during a final presentation by design students at Hanzehogeschool Groningen. I made and edited the picture with my iPhone 3GS.

Le Moment Décisif

An iPhone fits easily into my pocket and enables me to take pictures at an astounding rate so that I don’t have to miss a moment. All you need to do is keep your eyes open. But the biggest advantage still is that nobody notices ‘just another tourist’ with a smartphone. You don’t have to go out of your way to create the perfect photo; the one where everything comes together. That moment that wasn’t there half a second ago.

London City, Engeland, 2011 – iPhone 4, Edits in Camera+ and Adobe Photoshop

Keulen, Duitsland, 2014 iPhone 5, Edits in Snapseed

Apple’s ecosystem supports my process in the best possible manner, and most photography apps work well and deliver with high quality. In addition, I can instantly select and edit al my photos on the go and share them on whatever social medium I choose.

Atrium, Hanze University of Applied Science, shot and edited  with the iPhone 3GS. At the time it was an eyeopener to make a panorama shot with something as small and relatively simple as a smartphone. Still, the software wasn’t all that back in 2009. Notice the double ceiling lighting at the top.

Therapeutic editing

There are a lot of reasons as to why I select and edit my work directly on my iPhone. The main reason for doing this is that editing photos has a therapeutic effect on me. On the couch at home, on a train or in a hotel lobby; wherever and whenever I want to, I can edit my pictures. And that has an astoundingly relaxing effect. At times like these I can focus completely on what is happening on my screen. I’m fully concentrated and working on a specific result, and having fun while doing it. That’s pretty therapeutical, right?

Editing: which app does the trick for a photographer?

There are quite different views on the topic of editing, and which app is best. I don’t consider myself a purist when it comes to street photography. To me, they’re just snapshots. When I want to add some drama or color grading to the photos, I just do so. In my opinion every photo has the right to its own post-processing.

The expiration date of a picture is a lot shorter than back in the days. I still remember the time I was in my smelly darkroom making a barite print, the kind of print that can last a hundred years. A photo into which I had put all my soul and salvation into. Back in the days when cameras didn’t have a trashcan yet.
Zuiderwoude, Noord-Holland, Nederland, March 2017, Iphone 7 Plus. Edits in Snapseed and Instagram

When I make a bigger series of photos I do choose for a consistent method, and use the same settings in post-procession. However, this is not the case with my individual or seperate photo’s. Editing my work helps me maintain a certain level of flexibility and allows me to keep testing and experimenting with the medium.

The 5 photography Apps I often use

Over the past few years I have tested and used a wide variety of different photography apps. I’ve also spent a lot of money on testing the ‘Best iPhone Photo-app of the year”. Most of them have already disappeared from my screen. In this blog I’ll limit myself to the coolest apps. Apps that I still use today.

  1. Cortex Cam – Shots with maximum detail and no noise in low-light conditions.

I mostly use Apple’s standard camera, but if I have more time or if the picture is being made under poor conditions I use ‘Cortex Cam‘. You will notice a huge difference in sharpness and won’t be bothered by so much noise in photo’s taken with Cortex Cam. Besides, you can also take your photos in RAW-format and subsequently save them in a TIFF format. This way you won’t experience any quality loss that is common in other extensions like .JPEG. Please keep in mind that you need a very steady hand to work with Cortex Cam, because the app takes 3 seconds of recording to compose the highest end result in 100 frames. 

  1. Snapseed – Selective edits en perspective corrections

I mostly use Snapseed for more the more specific kind of image editing, like selectively editing a certain colour in the picture, or make small modifications with the ‘Healing Tool’. Snapseed enables you to use tools you normally only have acces to with software like Adobe Lightroom.

When the emphasis is on lines, or the perspective of a photo, as with buildings, I like to control the distortion. Snapseed is an ideal companion to assist you with problems concerning lens distortion, or if you want to correct the perspective. This will certainly come in handy, because you will always struggle with lens distortion, especially when you use the wide angle.

  1. VSCO – Who doesn’t know this app?

VSCO has a terrible interface and is far from user friendly. However, the filters that VSCO provides are phenomenal. I mainly use VSCO to improve color and to add effects to the image. I have bought and tested all the available filters, and still I can’t say which one is the absolute best. At the time of writing I have little over 200 filters in the gallery of this app, and to be honest: it’s driving me crazy! So many filters is a bit too much. You should try some on a lazy Sunday and figure out for yourself which filter suits you best. You can save this filter as a ‘recipe’ in your VSCO library. Besides: a recent update made it possible to color grade your video, with suprisingly good results. 

  1. Camera+ – The Evergreen

My edits really got a quality boost from using Camera+. It was one of the first apps that fully supported all the advanced settings an iPhone has. Camera+ has been downloaded by more than 10 million users. Despite all the innovations, the ‘Clarity filter’ is still one of my favourites. Especially since the introduction of the ‘Lab’ function, which enables you to completely edit this filter.

  1. Darkroom – Light at the end of the tunnel

One of the best newcomers of the past two years is Darkroom, developed by Bergen. The interface is intuitive, the filters are very well structured and are easily editable. Just like Apple the developers at Bergen thought well about making an app for photographers who have to work fast and don’t want to struggle with a confusing interface.
There are no winners

Despite the innumerable benefits of all the different apps, there is no single winner. Often I use the possibilities of different apps interchangeably to get the best result. As I said at the beginning, I like to work intuitively on the street. That’s why I have no fixed pattern for my edits. I may suddenly switch to another app during the operation. The choice herein is strongly dependent on my own arbitrariness, and how I see the end result.

Although I am a photographer,  I don’t want to tell you what you should do. I can show you the way, but I won’t tell you which turn you should take. Every creative adventure is a personal journey. And during that journey everybody is entitled to his or her own route.

Maybe I have been a bit too technical in my descriptions, or maybe you just want to know more about the editing of photos and which apps are best for different situations. Just ask me via Twitter, or send me an email.

Happy editing!
Peter van der Steege