Featured Photography

The iPhone: A Photographer’s 2nd Best Friend

Here are ways you can use your iPhone as a multi-purposed tool to keep you prepared, organized, and inspired, before, during, and after photo shoots:

1. Build a reference library of cool locations

A shoot I did with Ry at a cool warehouse location I scouted a few weeks before.

When you’re out and about, always be on the look out for cool places that would be great locations for photo shoots: An abandoned warehouse, a great patch of long grass, a gnarled old tree on a hill top, a stark modern apartment building etc. Snap a couple shots of the location from different angles and file it in an album for future reference.

After a while, you will start to build up an excellent reference library of locations that you can pull up to show a client or model or yourself. It will save you a lot of time scouting for locations and also help you generate ideas in the early planning stages of a shoot.

2. Shoot your gear & set-ups

gear I used for the Giant Ant Media shoot
Gear Redpilot used for a recent shoot for Giant Ant Media. First test with the Ray Flash.

Every time you shoot, take a picture of your gear and any lighting set-ups you used for a photo shoot. Like at a recent shoot I used a new piece of gear: The Ray Flash. I’ll always remember when and where I used this gear because I have a photo of it.

I also find it really helpful to keep track of lighting set-ups that work and ones that don’t, especially when you are using some DIY set-ups. Sometimes the $5 Ikea curtain works great, sometimes not so much. I usually review my stobe & DIY set-ups after a shoot to try to find ways of improving the setup to achieve better results.

3. Share your set-ups with other photographers

DIY set-up for jesse godin shoot
DIY Ikea curtain diffuser we used for a shoot with drummer Jesse Godin.

It’s also nice to share your set-up with other photographers, like Strobist does.

If you are a photo blogger or share your photos on flickr, consider writing a little blurb about your set-up or show a picture. You’ll learn a lot from doing this exercises and you’ll get to start a discourse with other photographers and gain from their knowledge.

I am trying to do more of that on flickr and on my blog. I’m even getting into the habit quickly posting shots of my set-ups while I’m on location to TwitPic and Twitter using the iPhone App, Tweetie.

4. Make an album of reference photos

ref photos for kylee
Album of reference shots I used for this shoot with musician Kylee Epp.

When you are planning for a shoot, gather a bunch of reference shots that inspire you. Look for shots with cool lighting, composition, model’s positioning, interesting location or just an intangible je ne sais quoi that gets your creative juices flowing! After you have gathered a good group of shots, make an album of these photos on your iPhone.

When you are on location, you can easily pull up these shots to show the model, client or help remind yourself what look you are going for.

This works with other types of photography, not just for fashion & portrait photography. If you are a landscape photographer trying to get that perfect shot of Oxbow Bend, then do an image search on flickr for “Oxbow Bend”. You will find a plethora of images. Having those images at your fingertips when you are on location will help you find the best angle or lighting situation. It may also inspire you to break out from the crowd and find your own unique shot.

5. Carry your portfolio in the palm of your hand with Klick


You never know where you are going to run into your next client. They may end up sitting next to on a plane or you may bump into them on the street. Imagine if you had your photography portfolio in the palm of your hand? Here’s how you do it:

  • Get together 20 of your best shots,
  • make a set for these photos on Flickr,
  • download an awesome Flickr iPhone app called Klick

And voila! Instant access to your photography portfolio wherever you go. It’s also good to have your portfolio album in Camera roll as well for times when you don’t have access to wi-fi.

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  • Reply
    Alex Ristevski
    March 2, 2009 at 1:27 AM

    Hi Lisa, great post. I’ve been doing this too. Like Pasquale said, it’s great for all types of creative people. For illustration and animation it’s the best thing having a huge library of inspiring images and bits of film. Different lighting conditions, compositions, locations and people – Help keep your mind fresh when starting something new. And with the iPhone you have everything with you wherever you are!

  • Reply
    Your Photo Tips
    March 2, 2009 at 1:47 AM

    I’m a new iPhone user and have to say that I am actually getting some really great use out of my iPhone as a photographer.

    The camera really isn’t that bad when used with the right apps and the screen is great for showing off your portfolio or your family/vacation pics.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 3:26 AM

    2nd all that!

    I mainly do a lot of these steps for work purposes to show how i set everything and on the odd occasion post something up either on twitter of flickr.
    I haven’t really used my iPhone for location references – i just rely on my memory :P

    Thanks for the tips! Handy as always :)

  • Reply
    Scott Webb
    March 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    These are 4 reasons I already thought about! I didn’t think about shooting gear! thats smart. I don’t have an iphone yet, but june/july for sure! I thought for reminders of other locations to photograph that you went buy but didn’t have your camera or time to stop and shoot.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 8:06 AM

    Great post. I’m not a professional photographer but there’s some really great stuff here. I’ve just recently purchased my iPhone there are so many uses for it that I’ve never even considered…

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 8:07 AM

    Great tips Lisa.

    I’ve been using the iPhone to help my photo work ever since I got it.
    *Portfolio in different iPhoto created folders for different clients.
    *Behind the Scene Shots, setups.
    *Reference materials
    and my favorite is scouting locations. I didnt see it mentioned but the fact that iPhone photos adds GPS info is great since the locations can get pinned in Google Maps or Flickr. I even have a whole private Flickr folder of just locations so I can use that to plan a shooting route.

    Keep up the great work Lisa!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    One more thing add-on to my comment.

    I have some apps such as PhotoBuddy, iSee4K, DoF Calc, etc… which are useful for lots of things such as sun rise and sunset times, Hyperfocal distance, figuring out DoF and other little tools.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    Thanks for the tips! I just got my iPhone a couple weeks ago & will definitely keep these tips in mind. =)

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    I really should get an iPhone. :(

    I envy you with all your camera toys.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 5:23 PM

    These are great tips. Just have to get an iphone now.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2009 at 6:16 PM

    Ya’ll don’t need to get an iPhone to take advantage of these tips. This will work with any SmartPhone/CameraPhone, or even a PDA with camera. It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.

  • Reply
    Travis Dunn Photo
    March 2, 2009 at 9:38 PM

    I’ve been meaning to do this on the last two shoots that I have done…. i just keep forgetting……..

    Great tips though.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    March 4, 2009 at 5:36 AM

    thanks everyone!

    @Copperchef: Thanks for reminding me that the iPhone can add GPS info to your photos making it super easy to catalogue and re-find locations!

    I am going to be doing a post on the Photography apps I use with my iPhone soon.

    @Lewis: So true. Before I got an iPhone, I still utilized these techniques. I would take shots with my small p&s and use my iPod to view the photos on location. The iPhone just makes it all slick and integrated. It is beastly expensive though :S

  • Reply
    March 5, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    Lisa, thanks for the tip about klick, have been looking for a dacent flickr tool for the iphone for some time… glad I checked in on your blog today :)

  • Reply
    March 6, 2009 at 7:53 PM

    great tips thanks !!

  • Reply
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    […] I love my iPhone. It’s light and small and fits in my back pocket. It has 3G so I can use it outside of my house when I actually need to be connected to the internet and google maps, as I have the tendency to wander. It has a plethora of cool apps and I can even take pictures with it! […]

  • Reply
    May 15, 2010 at 3:38 AM

    Cool article Lisa. Thanks for that. I’ve just got myself an iPhone as well and haven’t really found many good apps or used the camera much. Now I’ll think about it in a different way.

  • Reply
    Scott Meinzer
    June 30, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    Great article, you should really make an iPhone app!
    (I’m actually just testing comments)

  • Reply
    February 28, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    Excellent article, Lisa. Slightly off-topic (and nearly 2 years late), but do you have any tips on how best to take photos/videos through glass windows using an iPhone? For example, on a plane or from the inside of a building?

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