Over the last few years, the improvements made in smartphone photography have been huge. Rather than feeling threatened, more professional photographers are now embracing the creative possibilities of iPhone cameras, and more amateurs are looking to step up their game.
The just-announced iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS, and more recently Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones have been praised for their camera performance, presented as one of its most exciting features.
To understand and appreciate the limits and possibilities of smartphone photography, we interviewed landscape photographer Mariko Klug, who shoots and edits entirely on an iPhone, and delights her Flickr followers with breathtaking images of meadows, beaches, mountains, and lakes.
Tell us about where you’re from, where you live, and what you do.
I’m of German and Japanese origin and live in Erding, in Southern Germany. As a wife, mother, dog owner and part-time worker at the nearby Munich Airport, my time is fully engaged.
How did you get interested in and started with iPhone photography?
In 2011, my husband gave me his used iPhone 4. At that time, I didn’t really know what an iPhone was capable of. It was just a phone to me. Coincidentally, I came across some interesting photos and artworks on social media and was really surprised to find out that they were taken and edited with an iPhone. This awakened my interest, and I started experimenting. I didn’t have any background in photography, but that was not a problem at all.
Most professional photographers choose to gear up with lenses and equipment. What is the appeal of using an iPhone?
The biggest appeal is the easiness. It’s just so simple and convenient: no heavy equipment, no need to adjust settings, just take it out of the pocket to shoot and edit at any time, wherever you are. My camera is always with me, so I don’t miss any photo opportunities. There’s also the unlimited number of image editing apps. It’s all in one, which is just perfect to live out my creativity.
You still can’t compare the quality of mobile photos with DSLR taken ones (although the quality has improved a lot since I started shooting with an iPhone 4 in 2011) but, in my opinion, photography isn’t about the gear or the technical quality of an image, it’s about the power of the imagery itself, the content and composition.
Creatively, what is your process for taking photos? Do you do any planning?
I usually don’t plan much ahead. As a dog owner, I have to go out three times a day anyway, regardless of the weather. But as a lover of mood, I have favorite times and weather conditions that I prefer to photograph in: sunrise, sunset, during fog and on stormy days.
What are the most common challenges you come across when shooting with an iPhone? What do you do to overcome them?
Definitely the battery life. The problem is not only the relatively short battery life: an iPhone—or I suppose this concerns all kinds of smartphones—is also very sensitive to cold temperatures. The battery can suddenly die even when it is still around 60 percent. My solution is to always have a small portable battery charger on hand. On extremely cold days I just leave the charger connected while shooting to prevent it from dying.
Getting a landscape scene to fit within the boundaries of a square-cropped format seems an added challenge. How do you approach composition when taking square photographs?
When I began photographing and uploading my photos to Flickr, I used to mix all kinds of formats. One day I was looking at my own Photostream and decided to bring some harmony into it. I chose square because I often used the Hipstamatic app to take pictures and, at that time, it was a square format photo app. Nowadays I see it as part of my style and also as a challenge.
I don’t think much about composition when shooting, I just trust my feeling. I think you can apply all the same well-known composition techniques to square photos too. I don’t see much difference in the approach to composition, whether square or not.
What are some of your favorite places to photograph and why?
My favorite place is the countryside, so I count myself very lucky to live in beautiful Bavaria, in Southern Germany. In my vicinity there are lakes, forests and fields in abundance and the Alps are not too far away either. As a dog owner, I spend a lot of time outdoors regardless of the weather. So I find most of my inspiration in what’s around me. I also find inspiration while traveling in Europe.
What editing app do you use? What apps do you recommend for people wanting to use their smartphone for more professional shots?
I always start editing with Snapseed. It’s a free, powerful editing app ideal for basic adjustments like brightness, contrast, temperature, saturation, etc. It has a very helpful brush tool to treat certain areas, and a healing tool to remove unwanted objects. For filters and textures, I currently like to use Mextures, Stackables, LensLight, SkyLab and RookieCam. But there are still so many great editing apps…
For shooting, I use the native camera on iPhone, ProCamera (for HDR shots), or Hipstamatic.
Photography wise, what do you feel has been your most significant success?
This is a very difficult question. I have won several awards in leading mobile photography competitions, like the Mobile Photography Awards and the iPhone Photography Awards and just recently, one of my photos was chosen to be featured on the official Apple Instagram account, with more than 360,000 likes. And now a dream comes true – the Flickr Blog feature!
Be sure to visit Mariko’s Flickr photostream to see more of her work.