Ansel Adams Meets Apple: The Camera Phone Craze in Photography (iPhone)

Wade Roush 9/25/09

[Corrected 9/28/09: Chase Jarvis is based in Seattle, not San Francisco. I regret the error and apologize to our Seattle readers!] Seattle-based commercial photographer Chase Jarvis is known for his arresting, color-saturated images of people in motion—skiing, swimming, somersaulting. He’s also known for (literally) trademarking the phrase “the best camera is the one you have with you.” His point is that you don’t an expensive SLR to take great pictures. You can do a lot with the camera in your pocket or purse—which more likely than not is a camera phone.

This week, Jarvis took his slogan to the next level, launching a trio of products—a book, an iPhone application, and a photo-sharing community on the Web—intended to encourage all photographers, pro and amateur alike, to get more creative with their camera phones. This cross-media campaign is a brilliant concept—both as a digital-arts-education project and as a piece of self-promotion for Jarvis and his studio—and it also happens to fit in really well with the theme I’ve been writing about in this space throughout September in “Seven Projects to Stretch your Digital Wings,” Parts 1, 2, and 3. So, if you’ve got an iPhone, go spend $2.99 on Jarvis’s app, called “Best Camera,” and consider today’s column Project #8.

There are more than 1,300 photography-related apps in the iTunes App Store, but as far as I know, Best Camera is the only one that comes with a dedicated community of other iPhone users. The app allows you to take a picture with the iPhone’s built-in camera, apply a range of cool digital filters and effects, and then upload your finished photo to a gallery that’s constantly being updated, in real time, with new photos from other Best Camera users. You can give the photos you like best a thumbs-up, and browse photos either by popularity or recentness.

In addition to introducing you to a bunch of other creative souls, Best Camera will let you play with your own images and perhaps invent your own new styles. That’s thanks to a surprisingly flexible interface for applying various filters to your raw images and changing the order in which the filters are “stacked.” The filters themselves go well beyond the typical gray-scaling, contrast-enhancing, or redeye-reducing algorithms you’ll see in other iPhone image editing apps: working with Übermind, a Seattle software development firm that specializes in photography-related applications for desktops and mobile phones, Jarvis dreamed up a dozen effects altogether, including four “signature filters” inspired by his own photographic styles.

It’s hard to describe the signature effects in words, but one filter, called “Jewel,” gives photos a warm, rich, almost antique look, while another called “Candy” creates an intense, high-contrast, caffeinated feeling reminiscent of Jarvis’s advertising photography. At left, I’ve lined up examples of the same photo from my own iPhone album, altered using the “Jewel,” “Paris,” “Slate,” and “Candy” filters, respectively.

As someone who loves to spend time looking at other people’s photos and trying to understand their styles—I could spend hours using the “Explore” feature at Flickr—I think the community feature of Best Camera is especially fun. It’s a nice feeling to upload a picture and then see it appear in the public gallery, which is accessible right from the app. You can browse the gallery from a desktop browser, too, at; the bonus, if you go there, is that the “recipe” used for each photo—that is, the combination and order of digital effects the photographer chose—shows up right alongside the image. (You can see all of my Best Camera photos here.)

Jarvis certainly isn’t the only professional photographer singing the praises of camera phones. Shawn Rocco, a staff photojournalist at the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, shoots with a long-since-obsolete Motorola E815 mobile phone. In fact, the American art world seems to be developing a bit of a fetish for …Next Page »

Wade Roush is Xconomy’s chief correspondent. You can e-mail him at, call him at (617) 252-7323, or follow him on Twitter at


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