Street Photography in San Francisco: It’s not about the camera

single exposure, image shot entirely with iphone

Last weekend, I was conducting a hands-on photography workshop with a handful of budding photographers in SanFrancisco. I planned what I was going to bring for the all-day street and food photography excursion perfectly: one body, one lens, some pocket money, a credit card, and my iPhone. I’m all about packing light, especially when I am doing street photography; I find that if the people I’m photographing think I’m a professional photographer, it changes the entire dynamic of the frame and the image disappears. In general, my goal for this type of photograph is to blend in, disappear and quietly make my photographs.

Before we started shooting that morning, one of the photographers taking the class told me that her camera had just quit working. Her batteries were charged and everything was in its place, but her camera was freezing up. I immediately handed her my camera and told her to put hers away. She fought me a little on the idea, but eventually acquiesced.

To be completely honest, I wanted to spend the day shooting with my iPhone. In the past month, I have really been getting into the photo sharing app called Instagram. This was my chance to just stretch my legs with the iPhone camera and see what I could get. So, that’s what I did. I practiced – worked at getting my timing right with the camera and tried to get more fluent with the dynamics of the app.

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have; just shoot. Work with the tools you have and just practice your seeing. At the end of the day, it’s not the equipment you have that counts; it’s the images you’ve made. Here are a few of my faves from my take during the workshop. Thanks for looking.


single image using glare off car windshield to add to composition






Filed under Inspiration, iphoneography, San Francisco, street food, travel

31 Responses to Street Photography in San Francisco: It’s not about the camera

  1. Like what you did with the IPhone. I have the ITouch 4th gen and it takes great video but the pics are not good.

  2. Beautiful images, Penny. Thank you for inspiring us non-pro photographers to believe that we can shoot good photos, too!

  3. JP

    Great photos from an amazing photographer.

  4. Gorgeous photos, and it’s really inspiring to see what can be done with an iphone camera in the right hands!

  5. I echo Michelle’s comment. I often forget to take my camera with me but I always have my iPhone. I love the level of artistry that you’ve achieved with a phone app. Totally inspring!

  6. Thanks for sharing Penny. I really like the one with the glare off the windshield.

  7. Great photos, Penny. I have been trying to use my iPhone for 365 photos; then I see my 7D sitting there crying, I pick it up, start shooting, and never post the photos in the 365 file. Last year, when we were traveling in France, we used our iPhones, very often, and the photos were brilliant. Everyone loved them.

  8. Great pics…love how they really capture a moment in time. I am loving camera + & hipstamatic on my iphone….they can become highly addictive :)

  9. You’re absolutely right. Thank you for reminding us all that it’s important to shoot more.
    There’s often too much focus on the trio of camera, lens, tripod. I believe the holy trinity of photography are your eyes, heart and hands.

  10. I feel so encouraged, me with my little point-and-shoot camera.

  11. I love taking photos with my iPhone and am a fan of the ShakeIt photo app. I haven’t tried Instagram yet. I like your philosophy about equipment–that it’s not the equipment that counts. It reminds me of how I grew up–my sisters and I always had the shabbiest ski equipment on the mountain, but had fun and learned to ski anyway.

  12. I couldn’t agree with you more. I once received this comment on my blog:
    I wish I could afford a fancy camera so I could take pictures like yours.

    I wrote back to that person and explained that though my camera was expensive when I bought it about 8 years ago, my camera the Canon A400 now runs for about $20 on Amazon. I finally upgraded to an S95 a few months ago. It has not made me a better photographer, practice has.

  13. Lovely images! This debunks any assumptions that it’s all in the camera. Clearly, not the case. You inspire me always (though I have never commented before until now), and now I am inspired to take better pictures with my smart phone.

  14. Penny, I’m pretty sure you could take amazing pictures with any camera. You have the eye of a storyteller.

  15. Amazing that these were taken with an iPhone and they have so much depth!

  16. Hi Penny, you have such a lovely positive, and sharing attitude. So inspiring! Pascale.

  17. Simon

    Sorry, but I can’t get past the low image quality, despite the cool shots…they look fine on a phone but awful on a big screen. In 2011 I expect better IQ than I got from my first cheap compact film camera in the 80′s.

  18. Brilliant – a great reminder it’s about the photographer’s view not the technology. Like the new blog design too.

  19. Drat! I wish I had known you were doing this. I would have pounced on it! Is there any way I could get notified about future SF events?

  20. Simon-Thanks for making a comment. I understand what you are saying too. My point is that photography is about practicing in every sense of the word. Practice your seeing, practice your timing, practice understanding the language of a new camera. It’s about creativity. All of this work translates and pays off now matter the image quality. If we aren’t open to new ideas, especially as photographers then we aren’t growing.

  21. Great work Penny! I too am in love with the “small camera” – in my case the iPhone. As you say it’s not the camera though, it’s a whole new workflow, a photographic ecosystem without a desktop computer. Create, develop and distribute with minimal hassle. The best camera is the one you have on you.

  22. Wow, that is brilliant. I am really impressed with all you captured!!

  23. That’s a good word Penny: Just shoot. I tend to like the anonymity of shooting with my iPhone. It’s highly mobile, small & let’s me take some good shots on the move.

  24. Pingback: Amateur’s Food Photography VIII: Exploring New Directions

  25. Proof that obssessing over gear is pointless. Great shots.

  26. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have; just shoot. Work with the tools you have and just practice your seeing. At the end of the day, it’s not the equipment you have that counts; it’s the images you’ve made

    Thank you for saying that! I used my Canon point and shoot for years while trying to save up for my first DSLR. I worked that little Canon as best as I knew how, I read the manual from cover to cover and I experimented daily. I think it all paid off. Making the transition to my Rebel was easier than I expected anyway. :)

    I still have a LONG way to go before I plan to move up to my ‘dream’ camera- the 5D Mark II but I’ll never stop dreaming.

  27. Love this! How liberating to see great photos with ordinary equipment. It’s exciting to tackle the idea of seeing images rather than getting hung up on the tools.

  28. Penny thanks for this awesome post and for the reminder to use the iphone if that’s what you have. Something is better than nothing. At the end of the day, I’d rather have pictures to delete b/c I can’t stand them than no options at all (which is what would happen, and does happen, if unwilling to use the iphone as one tool in the toolbox).

  29. These are wonderful images. I love your work, with or without all your equipment. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging amateurs like me. I feel inspired to pull out my little Samsung phone if that’s all I have to shoot with. Thanks!

  30. Shaun

    Well executed single exposure!