How I learned to love iPhone photography again

December 1, 2021

Outer Banks Paddleboarding at Sunset

I hesitated.

My wife and I had just arrived at our little above-garage apartment in Duck, N.C., our home away from home for five days.

We were heading out the door for a kid-free dinner, our first just-us vacation in about three years.

I glanced jadedly at my camera bag. Stored inside was my Canon 6D and a few lenses I habitually bring on a trip.

My motivation, though, for vacation photography had waned a long time ago. Being a parent of young children, taking a thousand or more images, the editing process — it’s a lot of work and my motivation for that work was tapped out a long time ago.

Should I bring it?

No, I decided. I have my iPhone 12, and that should be enough.

My wife and I took a table at a nice restaurant patio as the sun set golden behind Currituck Sound. As the first glasses of wine arrived, I spied a solo paddleboarder silhouetted on the water.

Thank God for this iPhone, I thought, and for the ability to shoot RAW files through the Adobe Lightroom app.

I did this the entire vacation, depending on the iPhone’s portability over lugging a much heavier, much more expensive, but just as easy to lose DSLR.

The phone made some sweet images, and Lightroom did its magic. I posted them to social channels, garnered an encouraging number of likes and comments, and we went on enjoying our time in the Outer Banks.

However …

When we came home and I looked at those images on a larger iMac screen, I began to notice something troubling about the images created on my iPhone.

They were grainy or severely pixelated. I looked at images I made with the iPhone earlier in the summer of a family vacation we took to the Outer Banks, and discovered the same poor quality.

It was frustrating, even infuriating. The images were taken in well-lit environments, so even using auto ISO should have made for crisper, cleaner RAW files.

Yes, I know. I could take auto ISO off the iPhone, but the iPhone is about convenience.

Crushing. That image of the paddleboarder plus one I made of my wife wading out into the ocean, I loved those. But when seen on a large screen, the poor quality caused me to forget about them.

I resolved to never again depend on an iPhone. How I wished that night at the restaurant, spying that paddleboarder, I had my Canon 6D with me.

Wading into the Ocean

Over the years, I know my Canon camera so well I could adjust settings with my eyes closed. I wouldn’t need auto settings and the image would have come out exactly the way I wanted.

Jump forward a month and a half to me photographing my first high school ice hockey game in a badly lit local ice rink. I needed fast shutter speeds and a super high ISO (5000 or 6400) on my DSLR.

Of course, the images were grainy. That was expected. They were almost too grainy, however, and so on a whim I purchased Topaz Lab’s DeNoise AI program in a desperate attempt to clean them up for my client.

It did such a great job. One night, as I was looking at my back catalogue of images, I found those Outer Banks photos and decided to run them through DeNoise AI.

Daaaayum! The program brought life to them as it cleaned up the graininess in ways I don’t think I ever could no matter how skilled at Lightroom or Photoshop I become.

Are they perfect? By no stretch, but that’s okay. DeNoise salvaged images I had largely given up on.

While I still believe a DSLR option is better (for me at least) should I find moments when I have to rely on the iPhone, I’m no longer too concerned about the graininess of the images.

Dock at Currituck Sound Beach, Duck, N.C. Outer Banks, N.C. Dock, Duck, North Carolina Mid-morning at Duck, North Carolina My children at Duck, N.C. Ocean Wave, Duck, North Carolina Jumping in the water at Duck, N.C.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. He’s worked in wedding, family, and high school senior portraiture and today owns Creative Sports Photography, which provides portrait services for youth athletes.

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