For Professional-looking Photos, the iPhone Can Be Your BFF

Clockwise from top left: "Selective Crossing Allowed,” “Extra Prayers Included,” “America’s World View” “Security Detail – 24th Street”  (Photos by Rick Rocamora)

Clockwise from top left: "Selective Crossing Allowed,” “Extra Prayers Included,” “America’s World View” “Security Detail – 24th Street” (Photos by Rick Rocamora)

In December 2011 I received an iPhone as a Christmas gift from Jun Factoran, my best friend and batch mate in the Sigma Rho fraternity. I appreciated the gift of having a better phone that I could use while working in the Philippines. To my surprise, the iPhone’s camera generated a new photographic excitement for me, similar to when I had my first Leica camera.

Inspired by the work of an old friend and colleague Richard Koci-Hernandez, I continued to explore the possibilities of using the iPhone as a regular tool for my documentary and street photography.

To Jun Factoran, thank you for the iPhone and more.

Fragments From My Mind’s Eye, my first exhibition using an iPhone and a Hipstamatic app, is the result of an exploratory work.

My work as a documentary photographer was inspired by the classic tradition of documentary photography of W. Eugene Smith.

In July of 2012 while I was browsing through Smith’s book about Pittsburgh, Dream Street, I felt a strong urge to do a similar project using a different tool. Since I was already using an iPhone to document Metro Manila while riding a taxicab, it would be a good counterpoint to do San Francisco using the same tool while walking.

San Francisco has changed so much from the city that welcomed me 40 years ago. It is now a city of diversity and multicultural social and political activity. San Francisco is known for its innovation in ideas, arts, politics, food, fashion, new technology, music and many more.

Understanding light and how you manage light in making pictures is the most fundamental issue a photographer using the iPhone has to consider.

I decided to use the streets of San Francisco to document the changes. Seeing San Francisco at street level would give my audience a unique view as I walk the city’s streets, attend festivals and political events, and capture day-in-a-life moments of its residents and visitors. I hoped to capture the city’s vibrancy, excitement, aesthetics and uniqueness, using the tool of the 21st century, the iPhone.

Metro-Manila has likewise experienced dramatic changes in infrastructure since I left 40 years ago. Since I have been spending a lot of time in the Philippines lately, working on various commissions and personal projects, I decided to use my downtime to document day-to-day life in the metropolis. While many changes have happened in 40 years, a lot of collective work is still needed to improve the lives of the majority of Filipinos. Recent economic indicators look very good, and I hope I will be able to show the transition to a better tomorrow for many Filipinos.

Tips on Making pictures with an iPhone

The iPhone is as good as any low priced, point-and-shoot camera if you just intend to make snapshots of daily life. Having the iPhone alone will not guarantee a memorable image. Like any other camera, it is just a tool.

Understanding light and how you manage light in making pictures is the most fundamental issue a photographer using the iPhone has to consider. Avoid shooting against the light, and take pictures early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Avoid too many shadows on your main subject, unless the shadows are part of your composition.

Try to fill the frame with interesting subjects and tap the iPhone at the peak of the action. It will require a lot of practice to get the timing right. Focus on a single subject as a start and explore new compositions as you get more comfortable with using the iPhone. To get a sharper image, make your pictures when your subject is not moving, unless the movement is part of your composition.

Shoot more frames and expect to have a lot of failures. Read and use for some pointers. Spend time looking at iPhone images and learn from them. If you have time and resources, attend workshops taught by professional photographers; they will teach you more than what you already know.

“El Che”  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“El Che” (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Musical Ringtone”  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Musical Ringtone” (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Knockout Punch”  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Knockout Punch” (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Mural Grab”  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

“Mural Grab” (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

A collection of images of Metro Manila taken while riding a taxicab  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

A collection of images of Metro Manila taken while riding a taxicab (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Rick Rocamora is an award winning photographer based in Oakland, California. His street photography using the iPhone about San Francisco is being exhibited at the Hipstamatic Corporate Headquarters. His work is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.