What iPhone photography means to Erik Halberstadt

Last Tuesday I was introduced to IG’er Erik Halberstadt when he began following my Instagram gallery and as with any new follower, I have an extensive look at their individuals work, along with any other websites to which they provide a link to.

This is when I discovered that Erik is not only a Bay Area local, but also has a blog on photography. The site’s name ‘OTSOGraphy’ or otsog1 stands for “On the Shoulders of Giants” and it is here where I discovered his wonderful essay “The New Photography or how the iPhone changed my life.” After I finish reading Erik’s post, I not only identified with it, due to the similarities of our paths in life, I knew I wanted to share this with my website readers. 

With today’s Guest Editorial post, I mark the beginning of regularly featuring guest writers, providing diverse and different view points from my own.

The New Photography 
or how the iPhone changed my life

by Erik Halberstadt

I grew up in a commercial studio; our dad was The Man To See if you wanted food shot for advertising. He'd park me inside the 20x24 Deardorff to keep my grubby paws off the props . . .   well, not really, but it's still a grin-making fable from my early days in photography.

In the last 50 years, I've seen a lot of great new technologies, like Polaroid Land film (we used to get cases of it to play with), pro-grade consumer video, and laser printing: those first prints of Ansel Adam's Yosemite images were stunning, even to the Master himself.

Hal was old school and a child of the Great Depression; he attended the New Bauhaus and studied with Moholy and Kepes, so my education in photography was grounded in essentials and making do with what's on hand instead of leaning on what I could do "If only I had X.” He taught that it isn't the camera that makes the image, it's the photographer's vision.

I grew up in that wonderful community of San Francisco photography of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham (and oh, so many others!) were just part of that big, extended family—they were just plain folks who'd stop by the studio or the house, for a drink (or ten) and maybe a grilled salmon, or we'd go visit for the same, and if I was really lucky and Ansel got just enough liquor in him, I'd get to hear him play the piano . . .   Virtually anyone who was anyone in photography or craft was part of the circle with very few exceptions. Being in the food photography niche meant there was always something to eat and drink at 243 Vallejo.

It wasn't until I got serious about photography in the late 1960s that those associations got to be intimidating. I was trying to shoot the Rock scene with my Nikon F, how to process and print and use the light. Hal's business was down to three months of real work a year—I got frustrated by my lack of technical adequacy and scared by the realities of making a living as an artist of any stripe.

But I always kept my hand in; making images or equipment as needs required. I adopted computers and digital imaging early on; I still have my Epson scanner that cost $1100 (after a steep dealer discount)! because it came with Photoshop. IIRC, that was in the early 90s. . .

All that by way of background; suffice it to say (at this point? I must be kidding, or delirious!) that I've always been passionate about photography. But never obsessed with it until I got an iPhone 4.

My Samsung Code was just good enough as a camera to be interesting. Not quite addictive in its image quality, but when it bricked and I had the opportunity to upgrade to an iPhone, I dithered like mad. Even then, if it hadn't been for a woman who lived outside my then-carrier's coverage, I'd likely have gone for a lesser model and brand. I got an iPhone 3 at first, and while it was okay, reading about the 4 convinced me that the higher resolution camera was worth the extra $200.

Within a week or two of shooting with it, I was hooked. It's a huge leap from the wine-box-with-magnifying lens-and-Polaroid back simplicity that my Dad taught and championed as an aid to seeing, but it has some of the same endearing qualities, with the added benefits of a real preview and none of the mess.

It wasn't long after that that I asked my brother about selling images for stock (he runs a small agency with a niche market model.) I was intending to put my abstracts out there for sale or rent, but he offered me a spot in his stable instead! So I sold off our dad's Canon F1 system and most of my collectible cameras to fund purchase of a Canon DSLR and some decent glass, and set up my own small digital studio.

But most of the time, when I'm not studying digital technique or making images for sale, I reach for my iPhone, and not just because I like the way it renders color, or the immediateness of imaging with a camera that's smaller than a film holder for a 4x5—it's the fact that I can take an image from conception to print-ready without having to fire up the "real" computer. And I can order prints from any of a dozen vendors in any of a hundred formats and finishes.

Complex post-processing, a'la Photoshop? Sure! HDR? No problem! Chroma Key? Easy-peasy! Brenizer Method? Well, not exactly no problem, but I'm getting there—this morning's "Still Life - Onion" is 18 megapixels from a 5 Mpix camera, all without getting out of bed. Off camera lighting? While I haven't yet found a good way to trigger a strobe (or the shutter slaved to one,) I have built a bunch of repurposed 12 volt fixtures, softboxes, strip lights, pin spots and on and on . . .   all in the name of making better images on the journey to Who Knows Where. I have learned tons about exposure, lighting, and processing that I might never have considered if I was shooting with my DSLR alone—the iPhone is quirky, to be sure, and those quirks force me to see better, shoot better, and process better when my seeing and shooting fall short.

Onion. 22 images blended in the Breinzer Method, all on the iPhone 4

And it isn't just the nuts and bolts of photography—it's the social aspects as well. I'm usually not very social, but with Instagram, Path, Tadaa, Facebook, Flickr, and Tangents all within reach, virtually everywhere I am, I have a virtual "Studio Between Shoots." I can do a six martini lunch with a few dozen or a few million photographers without leaving the house or getting the hangover.

The iPhone wasn't just a sea change camera for me; it defines and creates a whole new world whose boundaries have yet to be discovered—kind of like the Bauhaus of the 20s and 30s and the New Bauhaus of the 30s and 40s. And yes, while it has "cheapened" photography just as every evolution of photography has done since the first snapshots came out of those early Kodak Moments, it is raising a new generation of serious photographers who will take photography to its new limits.

Erik Halberstadt’s blog On the Shoulders of Giants
His Instagram ID #otsog

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your story has really inspired me, thanks for sharing. The IPhone has transformed photography and agree with what you say, it's the photographer's vision not the camera that makes the image!

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