This photograph of the Seattle Space Needle made me realize the potential of the iPhone camera for low light photography.

Space Needle
Seattle Space Needle on a clear winter night

I had purchased an iPhone 3G in August of 2008. The camera in this unit is a 2 Mega Pixel fixed-focus device. There were reports that the shutter speed was slow and that there were problems taking pictures in low light conditions. I happily snapped away without much heed to those reviews until I took this photo in early December after a visit to the Experience Music Project.

It was a day or two later before I really looked at it and saw the contrast between the needle and the night! The amount of light let in by the slow shutter speed of the 3G camera really made it glow!

Over the next several months I would occasionally take a low light photograph. Often the results would be less than stellar, but sometimes the added grain of texture or emphasis on an object or color would create an interesting image. Most of these were just happy accidents, but I began to see certain elements occurring again and again, so I started trying to control them to get the results that I wanted. Soon I had a collection of interesting images.

The camera in the iPhone has progressed along with the introduction of each new model. More pixels, greater video capability, a controllable flash, but still there is a lag to the light sensors that can be exploited!

This camera and it’s easy mobility allow for all sorts of spontaneous experimentation. Much like different types of film stock could be manipulated to emphasize green over red, or contrast, film grain and texture, so can the iPhone camera. All it takes is an appreciation for what it can do and not for what it can’t. Find strength in it’s weakness!

All the images on this site were taken with just an iPhone camera, starting with the 3G and moving on to the 5G. (I haven’t upgraded to a 6G yet, which is supposed to have even more camera improvements) No filters have been used to alter them. No Instagram type apps to adjust contrast or color. Photoshop was used to resize the images for the web and nothing more.

Exploiting the iPhone camera