When Steve Jobs debuted the iPhone at Macworld in 2007, he breezed past its 2-megapixel camera, instead focusing on the device’s revolutionary touchscreen, one-tap online access and iPod integration. But within the close of the decade, the rapid proliferation of the smartphone and its built-in camera would forever alter the craft of photography. Suddenly everyone who had a couple hundred bucks and a two-year contract could point, shoot and share photos in an instant.
“That last thing we use now is the phone device,” says Sterling Lorence, one of mountain biking’s seminal photographers. “It’s a camera in your pocket and it has an oversized monitor to look at.” Lorence believes the presence of a perpetual camera and the meteoric rise of Instagram have upped the quality of photography among professionals, amateurs and athletes; people take more photos than ever and can now adjust quickly for mistakes. Plus, scrolling through hundreds of Instagram images a day inserts ideas into their subconscious that inevitably influence future shots.
With the ability to run editing apps as advanced as laptop software, the iPhone has turned into a self-contained, trailside content-creating weapon. And in a time when clients include Instagram and Facebook posts in job requirements, professionals must stand out from competitors who may lack talent but are social-media savvy. “It makes you strive to get into those leagues of photography that aren’t easy to do on the iPhone,” Lorence says. “Certain lenses and flash use–the sophisticated corners of photography–are how you can stay ahead because the device is limited.”
That’s Bruno Long’s end game. Long, a ski and mountain-bike photographer known for his creative eye and unconventional images, appreciates the iPhone for route-finding and apps that track the sun’s rise and set, but he rarely touches the camera. “I don’t take any iPhone photos ever. I find I feel very limited, there’s not enough creatively I can do with them. I don’t see things through my iPhone, I see them through my digital camera only,” Long says.
For others, the phone has changed how they cover fast-paced events like World Cup races, Red Bull Rampage and Crankworx. Wireless technology now allows images taken on a ‘real’ camera to be uploaded to a phone and posted moments after they’re taken. The ‘instant’ culture propagated by the iPhone is one that Sven Martin both embraces–52,000 Instagram followers can’t be bad for business–and grapples with, philosophically. “Nothing’s sacred anymore,” says the longtime World Cup photographer. “It used to be you’d keep your best stuff off the web for print, but through the combo of riders’ and I guess photographers’ vanity and people just wanting to show off how cool they are and where they are, they’d rather get a ton of ‘likes’ now than get a cover in two months, which is just crazy.”
Today’s iPhones include a 12-megapixel camera with myriad features and a team of developers pushing its progression. It’s no longer an afterthought to other iPhone attributes, but a major selling point: Last year, Apple created an entire ad campaign to tout the camera’s capabilities, eschewing its typical product beauty shots to plaster user-generated iPhone images on billboards all over the world.