How I Keep Photography Simple (iPhone Edition)

So recently I’ve shared a couple of posts about how I (try to) keep photography simple – a film edition and a digital edition.

But after writing, re-reading and having some follow up conversations around those posts, I’ve realised that both could still seem pretty complex to the beginner or outsider.

I know if I was reading these posts five or six years ago when I when I would have probably guessed that a Takumar was a Japanese motorbike and the Carl Zeiss was merely the name Sony used for those lenses on their HandyCams, I would have found them complicated.

Then it dawned on me that I also make photographs in another way, that’s far simpler than either of those outlined.

One that goes back to my roots of, let’s call it Intentional Photography, over a decade ago with simple Sony camera phones.

Regular readers – especially those who most enjoy my thoughts and photographs around 35mm film – might be shocked to find out I also shoot with an iPhone.

Yikes, what a sellout eh?

Here’s how I use my 2013 model iPhone with its 8MP Sony sensor – and why I enjoy it. 


Following the structure of the previous two posts, let’s start with the lens.

1. Simplify Lens Choices.

The iPhone only has one lens. I believe it’s 33mm (35mm film equivalent) and f/2.4. It focuses pretty close. It also zooms of course, but I hardly ever zoom.


2. Simplify Settings. 

I use the Hipstamatic app, where you can change the “lens”, “film” and “flash” settings. You can save different combinations of these three variables as “favourites”. I’ve found two or three favourites I like and tend to stick with those.

You can also switch to Manual mode where you can adjust ISO, shutter speed, exposure, focus, zoom and white balance. But I ignore all of these and let the camera do everything auto.

There’s also the ability to choose a range of aspect ratios. I sometimes use 1:1 as I like the challenge of square photographs (and the synonymity with classic Polaroids), but mostly I revert to the 3:2 ratio I’m so familiar with from using 35mm film and my two Pentax K DSLRs.


3. Simplify adjustments.

I just point and shoot. The only thing I adjust, occasionally, is the “favourite” I’m using, ie the combination of lens, film and flash. Oh and sometimes I just wait to make sure the lens is focusing on the right subject in the frame.


4. Simplify editing. 

I tend to scroll through the images on my iPhone then just download the ones I like to my MacBook. The vast majority get scrapped, just like with my film and digital images!


5. Simplify processing. 

Again, there is virtually none, I just download the photos I want to keep , then share my favourites of those online.

Conveniently, the Hipstamatic app does allow for a bit of post processing within itself. Every time you take a picture it also saves the original version, ie as the camera would capture without any Hipstamatic presets.

This means you can adjust the Hipstamatic lens, film and flash effects independently on a photo already captured, if you wish.

I confess that whilst I rarely do this with the photographs I’ve already made with Hipstmatic anyway, I have shot photographs on other digital cameras, then saved them to my phone to process via Hipstamatic as I really like the look!


The best way to sum up how I see and use my iPhone with Hipstamatic is as a modern Polaroid.

Hardly any settings to change, very much a point and shoot, and a distinctive look to the final photos.

Whilst I’ve been very pleased with the images made, I wouldn’t say I’d made anything stunning or classic, or to rival my best other digital or film photographs.


This is mostly because the Hipstamatic photographs have always been fairly spontaneous, and when I’ve not deliberately gone out with one of my usual cameras.

If I did leave all my “proper” photography kit at home and ventured out with the iPhone and Hipstamatic with more deliberate intention once or twice, I wonder what kind of images I might be able to come up with.

Food for thought…


Do you every just leave all the “proper” kit at home and shoot with just your phone camera? What kind of results have you got, and how do you feel about using it?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.


20 thoughts on “How I Keep Photography Simple (iPhone Edition)”

  1. Sure, my iPhone is my ‘always-with-me-camera’ when I leave even the Olymous XA2 at home and I use it quite often. And I also like the Hipstamatic app…

    What I don’t like is taking photos with the phone. It’s just awkward for me. Holding it at arm’s length…. it’s no real camera!

    What I do is I use it in square format, hold it upright in my right hand and push the shutter (volume button) with my index finger… that works and even makes for some stealthy photos.

    The iPhone is my only digital camera, and for me it good enough… apart from the haptic experience.

    1. Frank, thanks for your comment. Another thought that came to me in writing this was that my iPhone really isn’t much different to my Sony NEX. Both are digital, both have screen only (no viewfinder), neither feel particularly ergonomic to hold and use, and therefore neither I consider a “proper” camera, more a digital device for capturing images.

      This is why I sought out a DSLR a few months back and settled on the Pentax K10D. The NEX is super adaptable to a vast range of vintage lenses, easy to focus with focus peaking and very capable in the final image. But it doesn’t feel like you’re using a camera when you’re looking at a screen at arm’s length, just like you said Frank. The K10D has fantastic ergonomics and a very decent VF.

      I have gone through phases of using my iPhone like you, sideways and using the volume buttons as the shutter button. But once I accepted it’s never going to handle like a DSLR or even a film or digital compact, I’ve pretty much reverted to just tapping the shutter button on screen.

      I’m keen now to go out with the iPhone and a little more intention to see what I can get from it. It also makes a refreshing break from the size, involvement and commitment of an SLR or DSLR. Oh and of course with a screen you can compose in ways you can’t very easily with your eye pressed to a VF.

      1. Right! It’s far from perfect but still a camera…. well, kind of.

        By the way, I’ve been looking into Pentax SLRs a bit lately but simply can’t make sense of all those models.

        Can you recommend one or another? Spotmatic, K1000… which are great deals? But always remembering that I want real controls, no buttons.

      2. Frank, re the Pentax SLRs, yeh they made a lot of them in the 60s and 70s! Once you get the basic ranges the models do follow a logic.

        I’ll try to summarise!

        Spotmatics are all M42 mount (aka Pentax/Praktica Screw Mount). So you can use the fabulous Asahi (Pentax) Takumars, as well as gems by Zeiss, Fujinon, Yashica and loads of others. The definitive M42 camera for me is the Spotmatic F. This has open aperture metering with the Super-Multi-Coated and SMC range of Takumars. For any other M42 lenses (inc earlier Super, Auto and regular Takumars) you can still focus with the aperture wide open but you need to manually stop down to shoot.

        Earlier than this, I had a couple of S1a models, which are near identical to the SV. These are also M42 but slightly smaller, lighter and more elegant than the Spotmatics. They are beautiful things.

        Asahi Pentax S1a

        In Clover...

        Around 1975 Pentax introduced their K mount system, a bayonet mount. Any Pentax with a K in its name is from this range (KX, K2, K1000, KM…) Basically the K1000 is a slightly simplified KM, itself a near exact clone of the Spotmatic F, but with K mount bayonet instead of M42 screw mount. If you want one of these, try to get a KM, they tend to be cheaper than the K1000 plus have DOF preview and a self timer, otherwise they’re the same. The KM and K1000 are still all manual cameras like the Spotmatics, you just need a battery for the simple needle light meter.

        If you’d rather use K mount lenses, go with one of these. You can also get a simple M42 > K adapter (Id recommend an official Pentax one) so you can use any M42 mount lenses on these K bodies, manually stopping down. This is what I do almost exclusively on my Pentax K DLSRs.

        A year or two later Pentax shrunk everything down, and released the ME which was Aperture Priority, and the higher end MX, essentially a shrunk down KX. The MX is also all mechanical except the light meter. And it is very small.

        The ME needs batteries, except I think a back up single shutter speed. Later M series cameras were variations on the original ME really. All can of course use the M42 > K adapter.

        If you just want M42, go with either a Spotmatic (F if you want open aperture metering) or the older, smaller, more elegant S1a, SV.

        If you want K mount and all mechanical, go with a KM or K1000 or the MX if you want smaller and lighter. If you want Av mode and battery dependence, an ME or one of the later incarnations.

        Given that you use an Olympus XA a lot Frank , you’re obviously comfortable with small cameras, so maybe the SV in M42 mount and MX in K mount would be the main options for you.

        Hopefully this has been of some help.

        Let me know your thoughts and how you get on!

      3. Dan, one more thing…

        I’m looking at some MXes on eBay and juts wanted to know what price wold be reasonable for those beauties. They might make me give up my Canon AE-1!

        Then again, you don’t happen to have a cheap 50 lying around you could part with?

      4. Frank, I think I paid fairly little for my MX, about £30 with an M 50/1.7 lens but it wasn’t in the best condition.

        For a clean (ie no gunky seals and a clean mirror and viewfinder – cosmetic marks on the body are irrelevant) and fully working one, £50 is a very good price, I’d say and even up to £100 isn’t unreasonable, especially if from a reputed seller/dealer.

        The light meter set up is really clever how it shows the shutter speeds in the VF and there is much to like about the MX.

        Two things I struggled with overall is it’s just a bit too small for me (the width is fine, just the height I couldn’t get to grips with, literally) and the shutter speed dial isn’t particularly smooth to operate when looking through the VF, certainly not compared with the Spotmatic or S1a bodies I’ve had or even the K1000 / KM. That might well have been my example though, it was pretty well used.

        Re the lens, I hardly have any K mount left now I’m using mostly M42 Takumars. You might pick up an MX with a Pentax-M 50/2 or 50/1.7, both of which are excellent.

      5. Great read! I guess the MX is really too short. I can understand your issue with fingers dangling in the void instead of gripping the camera.

        And then again… bloody GAS! I have a perfect, mint Canon AE-1 with very clean and good lenses… so why do I keep looking for new old stuff? Silly me… 😉

      6. I had an AE-1. But I didn’t like shutter priority as the depth of field is far more relevant to me shooting still objects, and shutter speed doesn’t really matter as long there’s no camera shake. So I got an AV-1!

        Decent cameras but personally I feel they’re a bit overhyped.

        I just much prefer Pentax (bodies and glass) in feel and in results.

      7. Yes, about the only thing that I’m less pleased about the AE-1. Checking DOF means getting the lens off A, pushing the DOF lever, getting back to A or just using it in manual mode.

        I mostly try to rely on experience to judge DOF (I’m not always a good judge…).

        As for the AV-1 it’s a good choice, just as the manual AT-1 I think

      8. I’m not sure of the logic of shutter priority for an amateur camera. Unless Canon assumed people would rather choose say 1/125s and be confident of having no camera shake, and that was more important than the risk of too shallow a depth of field? Konica did the same thing in that era, and I remember having cameras of theirs with the 1/125s clearly marked in a different colour.

      9. Yep, strange, but somehow I get along with it. Was my first real camera I bought new way back when it was new… makes me old! When I got one again I felt at home. Strange.

  2. I shoot most photographs I take with my iPhone. I had a 5 first, now a 6s.

    Most of what I shoot is documentary, or something I saw my wife would like to see that I immediately texted her, or an old car (as I do like old cars), or a duplicate shot of something I shot with a “real” camera but where I wanted to remember the location (I love how the iPhone geotags my photos).

    But sometimes it’s just the camera I have on me when a fabulous subject appears in front of me.

    Like this. I was riding in a van, returning from a work trip, as the sun set. I took this through the window.

    iPhone sunset

    Or this, from Ireland last year.

    Narrow road among the rocks

    1. Jim, it’d be interesting to see prints of these, I keep thinking that with my iPhone images. They look great on screen!

      Do you use different aspect ratios or is the sunset one just more cropped compared to the Irish road?

      1. I have printed an iPhone shot here and there, and they turn out all right. And on the sunset shot, I probably cropped that, but I don’t remember for sure now

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