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Phones With Artistic License
Published Monday, August 03, 2009 3:50 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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You can buy the most expensive camera equipment in the world but it won't capture that perfect sunset if it's sitting at home. As a fellow photographer said, the best camera is the one you have with you. The camera I never leave home without isn't really a camera at all, it is my iPhone.

Like many, I use my camera phone for snap shots of the kids or to post a funny photo on Twitter. Until recently, that is all I thought my phone was capable of capturing -- blurry snapshots. The iPhone can be used for much more than that and many use the popular phone to make art. Maybe I was overlooking a great piece of technology and the newest addition to my camera bag.

"Wading Dangerously" -- The Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park

On a recent trip to downtown Charleston, I jumped on the newest photography trend and shot with the iPhone while the family went shopping. Sure, I could have sat in fancy pink chairs while they tried on every piece of clothing in the store or I could run wild in the streets armed with my camera phone.

"Paper-thin Beauty" -- A window display along King Street.

Photographing Charleston is nothing new, everyone carries a camera while touring the city. In fact, I must have walked along every street on the peninsula after moving to South Carolina. What made this different: creating art on a phone.

"Pretty in Pink" -- Parked bike on King Street.

First, it is so much easier to carry a phone on my belt than a couple pounds of gear on my shoulder. Very liberating!

"Picture This" -- Antique cameras displayed at the City Market.

How times have changed for digital photography. My first digital camera, the Kodak DCS 420, was introduced in 1995, weighed almost 4 lbs. and cost over $35,000. The iPhone has about the same image quality of that camera and is considerably cheaper and lighter.

"Horse Power" -- Waiting for passengers on North Market Street.

Back then I never thought digital cameras would replace film, I also never thought cell phones would ever give me directions, instant weather conditions or access to my email. Remember the bag phones? They are coming back like bell bottom pants... so retro.

"Uncorked" -- Store front window on King Street.

Phone Art?

In photography classes at college, no one used the newest 35mm camera. Some built pinhole cameras while others used Holgas and one student shot every assignment on a disposable camera using tape to keep it together. The photographers in these classes produced great pictures despite using outdated technology.

"Iron Art" -- Iron gate in front of St. Philip's Episcopal Church.

In that class, the camera was only as good as the photographer using it. Each photographer was forced to test their creative limitations.

"Shuttered" -- A home on Church Street.

Sometimes technology only gets in the way. The best part of the experience while using a camera phone was focusing on my surroundings rather than lens selection and camera settings. It's amazing how much more you see when not staring at the camera dials.

"Holy Stones" -- Graveyard of St. Michael's Church.

Exploring downtown was a totally different experience with the camera phone, I saw everything instead of focusing on one thing.

"Handmade" -- Evelina Tolbert making sweet grass baskets.

Sometimes, I would watch a scene develop before taking a single picture. It was enjoyable watching as sweet grass baskets were made or as children jumped around in the fountain. A camera phone with its limitations forces you to be patient and wait for the decisive moment.

"Child's Play" -- The fountain at Waterfront Park.

Despite the advanced technology of the camera phones, they almost seem old fashioned because of their speed and quality. Since I love the look and feel of older cameras , I bought the Camerabag app for the iphone. The application applies filters to the images to give them the feel of a Polaroid or Holga camera.

"Ground Work" -- Construction crews remodel buildings along Broad Street.

These photos come straight from the phone processed using the Camerabag application.

"I See Me" -- Self portrait against the cobblestones of Adgers Wharf near East Bay.

The photographer, not the camera or technology, make a good photo. Sometimes it pays to take a couple of steps back in quality to take that step forward in creativity.

Grab your camera phone and start shooting... I have and won't stop shooting with my iPhone anytime soon.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (7)

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Small world ...
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 12:09 PM

We are doing exactly the same thing as you. But we are using also some other brands not only iPhones. Our blog is on
Moreover, we print some of our work and open first mobile-photo exhibition in Romania ...

Posted by: Marius Torsan (
Yours are better than mine
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 8:05 PM

Some how the photos I take with my iphone don't turn out as well as the ones posted here. I definitely agree with the statement that the camera was only as good as the photographer using it. And you are taking some GREAT photos, Paul. Thank you for bringing Charleston to us many, many miles away.

Posted by: Joanne
I am so addicted to your photoblog.....
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:04 PM

Paul, I grew up in Summerville and still come back to visit often. I have a son in college at CSU. I am so addicted to your photoblog. Every Wednesday morning I get up and fix my coffee and cannot wait to see what you have chosen to photoblog for this week. I then get the opportunity to share your beautiful work and my beautiful homeplace with friends here in Kentucky. Thank you for sharing your talent with us and giving me a "little slice of lowcountry heaven" each week. Somehow it keeps me connected to a place that that I hold dear to my heart. The emotions and things/places you capture are incredible....

Posted by: Cathy Holtman
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 8:13 PM

It's amazing how you could captured these wonderful images through an iPhone. My favorite is the "Child's Play" photo.

Posted by: Teuschler
No diving.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 3:43 PM

Paul, Nice work. Did you notice the tiny sticker in the upper right hand corner of the lifeguard sign by the Pineapple fountain? It's the city's official Swimming Pool permit. Yikes.

Posted by: Chuck Boyd
iphone photos
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 1:40 PM

I thought I was the only one who appreciated the snapshots that are so readily available in this place we love-the Lowcountry. Thanks, Paul, for showing us some of the simple, but beautiful, scenes that are available at our fingertips.

Posted by: Warren Peper
iPhone pics
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 3:22 AM

Awesome job, Paul! I know you are a pro, but you have still inspired me to look at my iPhone camera a little differently! Thanks for the insight, the tips and the great photos! Michelle

Posted by: Michelle Finch

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