iPhone photography is all about the apps, isn’t it?
That is one of the things that gets thrown at me quite a bit. What app did you use for that? My stock response is: “I shoot with the native camera app and do a little editing with Snapseed.”
As a photographer I am very much on the side of those who think photography is about photographs – not about cameras. I tune out when photographers begin to talk about the technical side of things, but conversely I tune in when the topic of new apps pops up. I would tend to download a lot of new photography apps and experiment with them. Truth be told, I have never found a camera app that works better than the native one on the iPhone, and the with all the editing apps I have downloaded there are only two that I use regularly: Snapseed and RNI Films. The other apps live a lonely life in my Photography folder on my iPhone. Things changed a little when I came across Provoke Camera App. From the start I knew there was something different about this one. It was developed by Glyn Evans [the founder of iPhoneography], and as it says on its download page – it was inspired by Japanese photographers of the late 1960’s like Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira and Yutaka Takanashi.
I came across the app at an opportune moment. I was embarking on a 5-week tour of 5 countries in Asia. Heading out to do photo talks and walks in Malaysia, Singapore, Bali and Hong Kong. But it was on the beach in Busan, South Korea where I first began to play with my new camera app. The lighting conditions – strong, bright and harsh sunlight were perfect to shoot with the app. There are nine different filters you can use but I let it on HPAN High Contrast for the entire trip. I had found a look I liked and I did not want to stray from this. The app itself is simple to use and allows you to shoot in TIFF format, separate focus and exposure, and shoot with or without flash. Clicking on the ? sign provides an easy to follow guide.
Shooting on a crowded Haeundae beach on a hot summer’s day was fun. I had never shot with flash before, but once I fired the first blast and saw the results I knew this is what I wanted to do on this trip. Very quickly I learned that using the flash results in shots being missed. It slows things down. This I loved. Why? Because street photography is not about snapshots. Because I was missing shots, I had to become more alert. It becomes about anticipation; sensing the scene before it occurs; timing people’s movements and reactions. It’s funny in real life I am not a patient person at all. Just ask my wife. But in photography I am. With each little failure – shot missed – it pushed me to get the next one better.
In the past few months how I shoot on the streets has changed. Why? It’s all down to Portrait Mode on the iPhone. I’ve mixed things up a lot and now will approach interesting characters I encounter on the street and ask can I take their photo (should I say make your photo!?). Invariably, everyone says OK. Like always their reaction initially is one of surprise. But with a smile, a few questions and little telling them of who I am and where I am from, the ice breaks and as I am shooting all through this exchange I sometimes can get good shots.
Over the course of the trip I was working like this: Interesting characters would get my attention on the street (or beach) and I would approach them telling them I was a photographer and could I take their photo. I would try to explain what it is about them that got my interest – their hat, sunglasses, shirt, tattoos, the fact they were smoking, or that they just looked cool. This led to the ice being broken and we were off. I would start with portrait mode, then power up Provoke and fire off a few shots with flash (works so well for cliche smoke shots), and then whip up the Fuji X100T to round things off. Another thing I did was to shoot extra shots when I felt I was done. This is a little trick I learned from my buddy Eric Kim.
Being summer in Asia it was hot. Being a pale Irishman not used to the heat I quickly learned that it was perhaps better to get out wandering the streets when the sun had gone down. So, a lot of the time the shots I got with the Provoke App was at night, and the results can be quite good. Sure, the quality is not going to match a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but still, I do like the shots I got at night in places like Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Korea.
I was lucky enough to be brought to Kuta beach in Bali with Bali’s best moped drive (and a Fuji X photographer) Gathoe Subroto. He may be Bali’s best moped driver, but I sure was Bali’s worst pillion passenger. I had vowed never to get on the back of a two-wheeled vehicle again in my life years back, but I could not refuse Gathoe. But seriously, never again! However, it was worth it for the shots I got with him in Kuta. Where this app using the H-Pan filter works best is shooting into direct sunlight. I like harsh light and shooting contra luz, especially when you get silhouettes like these.
On my travels, when I was meeting up with friends, each and every one I showed shots this app produced all had the same response. “What’s it called?” they asked as they began to search for it and download it on the App Store. My Android friends were not too happy, though. For now it is only available on IOS.
How could it be improved?
Speed. This is probably the main issue. It is slow. Slower when you shoot with flash. As Rinzi Ruiz says: If you see it, it is too late.” I missed a lot of shots with it. But I always miss a lot of shots. That is street. The other thing that needs addressing is editing. When you want to edit an image from your camera roll it is impossible to locate because for some reason the images appear in a random order. With some closing and opening of the app you can correct it, but honestly I gave up. It needs to be fixed. How? Just allow a copy and paste function. Copy from Camera Roll and paste into app. Also, it would be cool if they allowed access to the dual lens system on iPhone.
All in all this is a killer app. The very best I have worked with as a native camera replacement, and most definitely the most fun. And that is what it is all about: fun.
So, is iPhone photography all about the apps? No, it’s about the moments you encounter and try to create memories of through photographs. This app, Provoke, does that and it can produce stunning shots.