3 October 2015
Good morning Jack. I’m very happy to have you here for the interview. You are one of the most prolific and impactful mobile photographers in the world, sharing your knowledge and techniques with the community. Let us start from the beginning: can you tell us how you started your photographic adventure; when did you realize that it is photography that you want to do for a living?
After graduating from high school, in the early 70s, I took my very first overseas trip. Over the summer I worked in the kitchen on a 600-cadet merchant Marine ship that sailed from Buzzards Bay (Cape Cod) to Scandinavia. My uncle, Leigh Harrington, was the president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, one of six State Maritime Academies in the country. As a going away gift, my dad bought me a Minolta 101 SLR. As I look back, that experience sent me on a path but I’m still on today – travel and photography.
I have a degree in photography but I always felt like I was more “self taught”.
Now, at the highlight of my career, I find myself in a enamored, even obsessed, with shooting on my iPhone camera. C’est la vie. I do believe with all my heart that when all is said and done the iPhone camera will rightfully take its place in history as the most influential of all camera devices ever manufactured in the history of photography (yes, I’m a true Apple fan!)
Having worked for 30 years as a commercial photographer, what made you consider trying mobile photography? After all, I’m sure that many of your colleagues still laugh when they hear about photography using smartphone camera.
I have been a commercial photographer for the better part of four decades. During that time I have shot for some of the biggest names in travel, leisure, hospitality and tourism.
Back in February 2011, I was shooting a job at the luxury Crane Resort on the island of Barbados. On the morning of February 11, I was sitting in the rocky cliffs watching the sunrise over the ocean horizon. I shot the scene with my iPhone camera. It was love at first sight. I knew right then and there that iPhone photography would play a significant role in what I did from that day forward.
Yes, I have many DSLR colleagues that think I’m a bit crazy. But that hasn’t stopped me nor will it stop me. That’s because, in photography, the only voice you really need to pay attention to is that still small voice from within.
I feel like a kid in a candy store! It feels like I’m just learning photography for the very first time. It’s very exhilarating for me.
Why is the telephone with little lens, fixed aperture and limited features suddenly the world’s most popular camera? Why such phenomenon?
The popularity of the iPhone camera is really a mash up of computer technology, Internet technology and photography technology. As I mentioned earlier, we are just at the beginning stages of all of this. It’s very exciting.
For years, even decades, the photography conversation has always been focused on “image quality”. Technically speaking that often meant judging photographs against the criteria of sharpness, noise, dynamic range, contrast, color accuracy, distortion, vignetting, exposure, etc.
The iPhone camera has enormously broadened the scope of the conversation. It is way beyond just “image quality” and now includes convenience, cost, fun, entertainment, availability, and creativity.
The Apple ecosystem is, hands-down, the best ecosystem for mobile photographers. and in my humble opinion, it has the best smart phone camera on the market today. This ecosystem is growing by leaps and bounds.
The iPhone camera, as a device, has almost single-handedly killed off the compact camera market. Now it is taking a strong and deliberate run at the DSLR market. What a fantastic time to be alive as a working photographer – at any level! I believe we are living in the Golden Age of Photography. Seize the day!
You are one of the mobile photographers that like to see the world pure, not using too much post-processing but rather spending more time thinking about the good composition and the story behind the photo. What is the secret sauce that makes a good photo?
I have always believed and continue to believe that the “road less traveled” is the best road to raising your game in iPhone photography. That means focus first on the fundamentals – exposure, focus, and white balance. Once you learn the fundamentals, all the other pieces will fall into place, over time.
I think there is way too much attention focused on apps and post processing. I understand exactly why it’s happening – it is a low barrier entry point into the world of photography for so many newcomers. Apps, in my opinion, should refine but not necessarily define your style.
The iPhone camera has truly democratized photography for the worldwide masses. Everyone can take a photograph but not everyone is a photographer.
If you consistently lay a proper foundation of learning photography fundamentals, I think you’ll see a keen, even drastic improvement in the subject matter you shoot as well as the style in which you shoot it.
I own over 400 apps but only consistently use about 40 of them on a regular basis. It makes so much more sense to me to be the master of a handful of your favorite apps than to be mediocre at many.
Also let me say this – don’t be tricked into thinking there is a best app list. There isn’t. The best apps for you are the ones that best serve your shooting personality, experience, style and expectations.
The biggest joy for me, as an iPhone photographer, is when my captures need “little to no” post processing because I nailed it right “in camera”. That’s focusing on the fundamentals.
This may offend many of you but I’m bored with all the app talk. It is needlessly side-tracking our scrutiny and contemplation from where it really needs to be – on the “why to” rather than the “how to” – on composition and design and on the unique and distinct subject matter as well as building stories and narratives through our photographs.
On your educational movies you often stop and engage into conversation with people on the street. Few moments after they happily pose for you. Do you think that pure street photography should be always candid or do you think that you can get better photo if you talk to your subject?
I get asked this question often – “How do you approach people on the street?”. My simple answer is this – I ask them. Really. What could be easier? I rarely, if ever, take photos surreptitiously. If I see someone on the street I find photographically interesting, I go up and ask permission to photograph them. I get way more folks saying “Yes” then “No”. If I think I might use the photograph as a stock photo then I take the extra time and get a model release.
This is a different type of approach to many candid street photographers. It’s how I do it. Not everyone is comfortable doing it this way.
What I can tell you, from decades of experience, is the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Have a shot or concept already in mind. Be polite. Make eye contact. Smile. Don’t fumble around with tech stuff. Make that brief experience more about the person you’re shooting that about yourself. Gently direct the subject. Thank them. Share a JPEG with them if you’re so inclined. And then move on. Rinse and repeat.
This may surprise you but I think the biggest fear in shooting strangers on the street is our fear of rejection. Who cares? Get over it. Some will say yes and others will say no. With every experience your confidence will grow and it will become a part of your everyday toolkit.
Please tell us the story behind one of your favorite photos. How did you find the scene? How did you work the shot? What post-processing did you apply?
Here’s the thing, I don’t have a lot of “favorites”. My favorite photos are generally tied to some sort of back-story for me. My favorites will likely not be your favorites because you don’t have the same “back-story” as I do.
One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.
This may shock you but I like to think of myself more like a hunter and less like a farmer. I live for the “capture” part and not the post processing or even the sharing part. I have been like this from the beginning of my photography career and I’m still like this.
Over the last four years, and having visited over 20 countries, I have shot over 400,000 captures with my beloved iPhone. Do I have a favorite among this “body of work”? Yes, of course I do, but my real “favorites” are the ones I haven’t shot yet :-)
As many of you know I spent quite a good deal of time throughout my commercial career shooting stock photography. So I probably know more about this industry than most. Sometime over the next 12 months I will be partnering up with my colleague Manav Lohia to officially launch our “Jack Be Nimble” mobile collection.
If you want to see some of my favorites then wait for the new collection to hit the street.
You are the public face behind the best-selling Camera+ application. Please tell us how this cooperation began. What made you consider working with app development company?
I’m actually not the public face of Camera+. Lisa Bettany is (she smarter and a lot cuter than me :-). I’m the blog content guy for Camera+.
You can see a lot of my posts right here: http://snapsnapsnap.photos/author/jack/
Camera+, led by entrepreneur John Casasanta, is the best-selling camera app of all time. These folks are amazing. They have it all – from design to development. I’m lucky to be working with them.
I’m a power user of Camera+ and have been since day one of my iPhone photography experience.
It would be disingenuous thought to not mention here that I’m also a believer and supporter of these other camera apps as well: VSCO, ProCamera, Instagram and Hipstamatic as well as others.
I’m also a big fan of the native app that comes bundled with the iPhone. I find myself more and more using the heck out of this for panos, time lapse, slo-mo video, and even live filtering.
Camera apps are super important to my workflow because as I mentioned above my mantra is to get it right in the camera and not have to rely on post production tweaking and trickery to get what I want.
That’s exactly why I like a camera app that allows me to independently control, set and lock the exposure, focus, and white balance. In my opinion, Camera+ does that the best so far.
What accessories do you use when you were out shooting with your iPhone?
For the vast majority of everything I shoot with my iPhone, I’m shooting “naked” – without any accessories. In other words, I’m shooting just like many of you do.
I have tried and tested just about every accessory that was made for iPhone photographers. (Disclaimer: Most are sent to me gratuitously to test and review). So many of them are silly and cheesy. The iPhone is an awesome capture device. You don’t need a lot of accessories to make great photographs. Great photographs are born from great photographers with a great vision, style and passion.
That said, here are a few pieces of gear in my mobile camera kit that I have come to depend on:
What projects are you currently working on that may be of interest to our readers?
One thing I’m excited about is my new blog. It will feature only my iPhone photography and it’s real eye candy. Can’t wait to launch, hopefully in October. I’m also under contract to write a consumer-level book on iPhone photography that will be published by Ilex Press in January 2016. Be looking for that :-) Finally, I’m working feverishly on a new e-book called “A Photographic Approach to iPhone Photography”. This e-book will also feature a video companion course. Watch out for details on this mid 2016. The funny thing is, after 40 years of commercial shooting, I’m being asked more and more from paying clients to help them with their Instagram feeds – content creation and content curation. I have a sneaking hunch that I’ll be doing a lot more Instagram commissions over the coming year.
If there is only one thing that the readers of this interview could take with them what it would be? What is the most important thing that the aspiring mobile photographers should learn from you?
The most important piece of advice I could give you is to take your iPhone photography from the casual to the intentional. In other words, shoot every day with the intention of creating photographs. It’s one thing to capture every day subjects and objects as you move and meander through the routines and rituals of life. It’s another thing altogether to migrate your iPhone photography from less casual to more intentional. Think of your iPhone – less like a phone and more like a camera. I didn’t become a successful career photographer by just shooting whatever came to me. I succeeded by going to my subjects and making my iPhone photographs more intentional.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you a very successful continuation of your photographic career.
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