Fine-Art Camera Phone Photography

Using a bevy of sophisticated apps, Tony Sweet shows how to expand your creativity and make wall-worthy pictures from an iPhone
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With the advent of new highly capable cameras in various smartphones combined with very cogent apps, we’re now able to create images and optimize them almost exactly as we would in Photoshop. I call it iPhoneography because I use the iPhone 4, and I find it has expanded my creativity.

AutoStitch; Perfect Photo; ProHDR; Filterstorm 2; Pic Grunger; Impression; Hipstamatic

An increasing number of apps are able to manage larger file sizes. For example, AutoStitch can stitch together a series of images that are 5 megapixels each, which can result in an 18-megapixel file (the maximum size AutoStitch allows), depending on the amount of overlap. Many, but not all, apps can handle high-resolution files from 3 to 5 megapixels. Knowing which apps won’t downsize the image is of paramount importance if your end goal is to make prints. Sometimes you have to hunt for information about file sizes, but you usually can find it in the System Preferences or under the (i) Information icon. Some apps allow the user to select file size when saving. If you intend to do no more than display on a computer screen, all apps work great.



Various apps can create everything from a totally natural look to one that’s highly manipulated. Personally, if I want purely natural, I’ll use my DSLR or my Leica or Casio point-and-shoot cameras, all of which render sharper images than my iPhone. To me, the allure of the iPhone and the apps is the ability to create highly stylized, completely unique images from oft-photographed locations. I want to experiment and expand my creative side by revisiting these places with a new approach. Any new camera, software or technique that can take me off the beaten path is a welcome tool.

The Apps
The apps for the iPhone run the gamut from elementary to advanced levels. Some feature sophisticated features like working with layer masks, overlay images and texturize. The more I shoot and process in the iPhone, the more I’ve developed a systematized workflow. To help me choose from the bewildering number of photo apps available and because my goal is to be able to make prints, my criterion was only to pick apps that maintained the native file size. This limited my most-used apps down to about 15 from the hundreds available. Here are a few examples of my favorites to get you started in new photographic endeavors.


Hipstamatic. When opening the Hipstamatic, one of your first choices is the “lens” you want to use. Moving on from those choices, the “film” setting is selected by pressing the film canister icon at the bottom left. By pressing the curved arrow icon at the bottom right, the interface flips to the second screen where the image appears in the finder window. You can see effects immediately and change settings as desired.

One of the most popular and very cool settings is the John S lens and the Kodot film selection. Several war images from Afghanistan that were shot with the iPhone and this lens/film combination have appeared in The New York Times.

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ProHDR. ProHDR is a great app for creating HDR images on your iPhone. Although I prefer an iPhone tripod holder for HDR images, this app is very good at joining the two images it produces—one for the highlights and one for the shadows—if you hold the iPhone reasonably still. Using ProHDR, I took this serendipitous image from my room in the Smokies during a workshop. I had no time to set up the tripod, as the light lasted only a few seconds. I held my arms against my chest to steady the camera as much as possible. The software had no problem combining the two images.

ProHDR gives you three useful options, Auto HDR, Manual HDR and Library HDR. The Auto HDR setting is the most used as it’s good at assessing exposure values. In Manual HDR, you can choose the highlights or shadows. Library HDR can blend any two images from your library. This can be an HDR series or any two images for a wild special effect.

Pic Grunger

Pic Grunger. Texturizing and the so-called grunge look are cool and popular these days. Using Pic Grunger, I took an image from Thunder Hole in Maine’s Acadia National Park and applied several effects. Clicking on the Fx selection in Pic Grunger brings up the Effects photo wizard. I clicked on Texturize to experiment with various textures and opacities. Next, I called up the Pic Grunger Aged Effect to add low-opacity grunge, which enhanced the overall texture.

Perfect Photo. One of the better ways to sharpen is in Perfect Photo because it gives a large split screen of the before-and-after effect. My initial image was shot using Hipstamatic with the John S lens and Kodot film. Using the Perfect Photo split screen, you can get in close to see the effect of the sharpening adjustments. Even on my iPhone’s small screen, the adjustments are easily visible in this zoomed-in view.

Perfect Photo


Impression. Particularly if you’re going to post images online, it’s a good idea to imprint your name on the actual shot. To do it in a visually pleasing way, I use Impression. I can control the font, size, opacity and color of the type, as well as where it appears on the image.

Panorama Using AutoStitch, PhotoForge, PhotoStudio And Filterstorm
. I seldom use just one app when I build up an image. When I was on a trip to Iceland, I took a series that I wanted to build into a panorama. In the end, I used several apps to create the final image, each one building upon the effects of the previous app.

Using my iPhone 4, I’ve created stitched panoramas of up to 46 images with AutoStitch. For a sequence I shot in Iceland, I opened AutoStitch, then in the Selected Photos window, I simply pressed Stitch. To create the complete look that I wanted, I used PhotoForge to sharpen and add a watercolor filter at a medium opacity. This final move texturized the image. The stitched panorama was saved at the original resolution, 18 megapixels. I opened PhotoStudio and selected the Vintage Red Filter at a low opacity to slightly color the clouds. In Filterstorm, contrast was increased and the image was cropped to clean up the edges.

Other Apps I Use
This article covered some of my favorite apps, but certainly not all. Here are a few others that I highly recommend:

Iris Photo Suite—Layers, opacity blending, textures
PictureShow—Edges, special effects
TiltShift—Controlled blur
PhotoArtista—Adding brushstrokes and texture
ClearCam—Eliminates blur and noise
finarX Image—Control perspective
Sketch Me!—Textured image good for blending

Tony Sweet
is a professional photographer, lecturer, online instructor, workshop leader and Nikon Legend Behind the Lens living with Susan and Akira in Eldersburg, Maryland. Visit his blog at

iPhone Shooting Technique

When using the iPhone, it appears that all of the shutter speeds are the same, as the camera clicks at the same rate with each exposure; however, that’s not the case. If you check your metadata on any iPhone image, you’ll see different apertures, shutter speeds and white balances. It may sound a bit crazy, but I frequently use an iPhone tripod mount ( where I’ve attached a Really Right Stuff G10 L-Plate to use on my Gitzo GT3540XLS tripod and Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead. This approach can hamper some of the spontaneity, but for sharp images in low light, for HDR and for stitched panoramas, a tripod is strongly recommended in order to get crisp images. On the other hand, when shooting in bright light, I can handhold, and even if I’m making a panorama or an HDR image, I can stitch the resulting frames perfectly (I overlap by 50%). No matter whether I handhold or use a tripod, the iPhone is a phone, and while its camera is good, images aren’t as razor-sharp as with a DSLR, which necessitates at least one sharpening procedure during image processing.