Proving that the best camera is the one you have with you, an iPhone 4 was all Joshua Brown needed to make his book, Italy, a remarkably beautiful portfolio of images from a trip he took earlier this year. The photographs are so striking that viewers probably assume they were taken with a DSLR. And while Brown, who had been hired to shoot a wedding in Florence, had his Canon EOS 5D Mark II with him, he decided not to haul around a heavy camera and a bunch of lenses while exploring the country.
The first two days of Brown’s 11-day trip were spent shooting the wedding. Afterward, he and his assistant traveled through southern Italy, getting lost in small Tuscan villages before making their way to Rome and Naples and driving down the Amalfi Coast.
"I just didn’t want to carry a camera bag around," he explains. "I wanted to enjoy my vacation, and the iPhone 4 is really the first camera phone where I felt like the quality was high enough for taking those kinds of pictures. The trade-off was that I ended up shooting a lot more because the camera was always on me, and I didn’t get caught up in shooting."
Taking a photograph comes a lot more naturally when you just pull a phone out of your pocket and shoot. Instead of previsualizing stuff I wanted, I could just have an immediate reaction.
With the iPhone’s 5-megapixel resolution, Brown knew he wouldn’t be able to create poster-sized prints, but his goal was not to blow up the pictures. The camera had a high enough resolution to produce 4×6- or 5×7-inch prints, and that’s all he was looking to do.
Brown was aware—and took advantage—of just how unobtrusive he was with such a small camera. One of his favorite shots is of an older gentleman working away in a shop while smoking a cigar. If Brown had used his DSLR, the man obviously would have known that his photograph was being taken, and that would have changed the whole shot.
"This really allowed me to go back to my photojournalism roots and be a fly on the wall," says Brown. "Taking a photograph comes a lot more naturally when you just pull a phone out of your pocket and shoot. Instead of previsualizing stuff I wanted, I could just have an immediate reaction."
And while he would have given himself more options if he had busted out his DSLR with, say, a telephoto lens to zoom in on details or people’s faces, he chose to accept the iPhone’s limitations, such as being able to shoot only from a wide angle of view, and adapted his shooting style. Even though the iPhone 4’s camera has a built-in LED flash, Brown didn’t do a lot of shooting at night either.
As is usually the case, most of the credit for a beautiful photograph goes to the person behind the lens. In addition to the quality of the images, what makes Brown’s book so appealing is that the photographs really do tell the story of his trip, from visiting such noted landmarks as the Coliseum and charming seaside towns to narrow village streets, big moody skies and vast, open country fields. The page layouts themselves add to the narrative, by combining images in groups that tell a bigger story than a single image can convey.
Brown used Camera+, an all-in-one photo-taking and photo-editing app, to fine-tune the images. He says its biggest advantage is the control the program gave him over exposure. In Apple’s default camera app, you tap the screen, and the iPhone sets both exposure and focus on that spot. With the Camera+ Touch Exposure & Focus feature, exposure and focus can be set independently for finer control. You basically touch the screen with a second finger to show the exposure control and then drag it until the image looks the way you want it to.
Brown also used Clarity, a filter that delivers an HDR kind of effect to give images greater dynamic range. So if he was working with a bright sky and clouds, he’d expose for the clouds and use the filter to bring out the shadows.
Originally intended as a keepsake for his assistant, the book, which Brown published using Blurb (www.blurb.com), shows that, while technology can help us take better photos, we shouldn’t let our gear get in the way of seeing great images. Less really is more if it frees us to be creative and spontaneous.
Joshua Brown is a photojournalist based in New York City. He primarily shoots weddings and portraits. See more of his work at www.weddingsbyjoshuabrown.com.