Karen Messick
Karen Messick

Often when I show my work I am asked, ’What camera did you use to take that shot?’ When I reply it was made with an iPhone, people are amazed. While really stunning tack sharp images are made with high end cameras fixed securely to a tripod and tripped with a remote of cable release, the iPhone equipped with a 5 megapixel camera can capture the essence of a scene handheld, if the photographer is zeroing in on great compositions and understanding light. There are no camera settings to be made, no ISO settings, no white balance settings, no aperture settings, so working with the iPhone distills the photograph down to composition and light.

Calla Lilies by Karen Messick

When I teach, I inform my students that I want them, at the end of the class, to be able to ’see the light’, as I believe light is the most fundamental element in a photograph that photographers need to understand and communicate. Light is central to all images, it’s color, it’s direction, it’s intensity and it’s dance with your subject must be considered when capturing images. Light on a subject creates form, depth, texture and shape. I utilize the following passage when I teach to demonstrate the concept of light in photography from Robert Hirsch’s book, ’Seeing the Light a History of Photography’ as I believe it really distills the essence of the importance of light in the scene.

Old Greenhouse by Karen Messick

Light is a vital component of every photograph. This was recognized early in the medium’s history by William Henry Fox Talbot’s, The Pencil of Nature (1844 - 1846). Talbot’s selection of images, such as The Open Door, 1843, demonstrate his belief that subject matter was ’subordinate to the exploration of space and light.’The quality of light striking a subject can reveal or suppress its characteristics, which will make or break a photograph. Light may be natural or artificial, but without the appropriate type of light even the most fascinating subjects become inconsequential. Ultimately light is a principal subject of every photograph that image makers must strive to control and depict. As Talbot stated, ’A painter’s eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feeling, and picturesque imaginings.’ This is the realization that the subject in front of the lens is not always the only subject of the photograph.

By: Robert Hirsch, author of ’Seizing the Light a History of Photography’

I strive to blend the principles of composition with great light when making my images. Here, a few of my iPhone images demonstrate that idea.

Bonjour Cafe by Karen Messick

'Bonjour Cafe', apple iPhone, True HDR app: VintageScene app for processing

In this image I noticed how intriguing the light was coming through the window and then reflecting in the mirrored top table. Compositionally, the table is positioned in the lower third of the frame, the window in the top left of the frame and the counter which is reflecting light on the right side of the frame These elements form a triangle in which the viewers eye moves through the image. All four corners of the image contain no distracting elements, so the viewers eye stays in the image. (This image is an HDR image created and processed on the iPhone)

'Junkyard Car', apple iPhone, True HDR app:DynamicLight for processing

Junkyard Car by Karen Messick

This image was also made with the iPhone and is an HDR image, but look at the light caressing the steering wheel and softly illuminating the dash of this old car. Look at the light as it strikes the dirty window of the old car, adding texture and interest to the window. This is what drew me to this scene and ultimately why I made this image. Compositionally the elements of interest draw a diagonal line in the image, from the shift knob in the lower right corner, to the steering wheel and then through the window to the cars beyond. I often try to combine elements in an image in a diagonal line to create interest and tension in the image.

Newseum Guest by Karen Messick

'Newseum Guest', apple iPhone, HDR App: TrueHDR: and PhotoForge app to add layers of texture:PerfectPhoto app to sharpen

This image was about the light shining through the glass design in the building splintering across the floor and the intense focus of the woman on the bench watching a museum video. I loved the way the light cast itself on the floor and wall dividing the scene into light and dark. Again in this image the corners of the image are clean with no distracting elements , keeping the viewers eye focused on the light and subject. Here two main areas of interest create dynamic tension, as the viewers eye bounces between the light and the woman.

Palm Room by Karen Messick

'Palm Room', apple iPhone, True HDR app: PicGrunger App for texture and tone for processing

This image demonstrates how light striking a subject can make it important and dramatic in a scene. As the late afternoon sun streamed through the conservatory windows striking the large palm leaf, the design of the leaf was exaggerated with light and shadow creating shape and interest. There is no mystery here as the what the photographer found interesting or where the viewers eye comes to rest in the image.


'Coy', apple iPhone, App:SlowShutter:Photostudio water effect layer for processing

This image was made using a slow shutter app on the iPhone to capture the movement of the coy in the pond. The Light reflecting off the surface of the water added interest and design and a sense of place.

I hope I have demonstrated that getting great images is not about what camera you have. Of course you may have some limitations on how big you can print, however, a great image is about seeing, and as I noted in my last article, foreseeing how you want the final image to look. There are some really good apps on the iPhone that provide you with the means to process your photos and create art.

© Karen Messick

To learn more about improving your photography, think about the following workshops: