Sketching With Your Smart Phone

The smart phone – specifically the iPhone – has certainly caused a bit of a revolution and excitement when it comes to photography and as a professional I’ve embraced the craze, too. Some of my favorite images have been captured with this clever little device. Nowadays, we have the ability to shoot, process and share images with anyone in the world in the time it takes to brush your teeth. And it fits in your shirt pocket… its like a magician’s trick! But let’s not pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat just yet though. The magic can only take us so far, especially when we want to enlarge the file for print. Here’s the caveat, it can’t replace the quality you’ll get from taking the time to capture the scene with your DSLR gear. The iPhone’s 8mp sensor size is relatively small and there isn’t nearly as many pixels, so it becomes just point-n-shoot quality when we go to print. The zoom feature also makes the quality considerably worse because you’re using relatively less and less sensor the more you zoom in. Digital noise is another misfortune inherent in these little cameras and basically unprintable after shooting in low light (auto ISO takes over). Those favorite iPhone images could maybe be enlarged to 5×7, but going much beyond that and we’re looking for trouble.

Considering these limitations, I’ve started using my iPhone as a sketching pad preceding the act of “hauling” out the big gear when I think the composition might be important. Sketching can be loosely defined as a preview of the possibilities. Perspective and framing is just one advantage of sketching.


With the explosion of smart phone applications that mimic what post processing software can do for with our DSLR files, now not only do I use it for composition, but also for sketching what a close up, panoramic or high dynamic range (HDR) image might look like. I would have never thought my little phone could become such a valuable tool for my serious photo work!

Even the default camera that comes with the phone is fairly rudimentary and I’ve found third party apps that control exposure and focus (among other things) much better at these basic camera functions. ProCamera by Jens Daengen is my first choice for capturing any image on my phone.


ProCameraAll of us close up photographers using our DSLR camera’s know what kind of time and energy it takes to set up and shoot a macro shot whether the composition ultimately works or not. We’ll, why not try one with the phone first to see if you even like it?  Unfortunately, the lens won’t allow you to focus as close as a true macro lens or extension tubes will. The subject will not be sharp after hitting the shutter, but all you’re looking for is the sketch to see if the composition is worth your time…awesome!



Pro HDRHDR software has also created a buzz in the photo world, and now with your iPhone and Pro HDR by eyeApps LLC, we can now capture and render highlight and shadow detail from high contrast scenes by processing more than one exposure. It’s a common occurrence shooting landscape scenes or building interiors with outside views. Pro HDR is the app that can accomplish this and the results are surprisingly good, but not without significant limitations. Higher contrast scenes require a broader range of exposures than the app will allow to create a realistic interpretation. And the jpeg file format won’t produce great results compared to the image quality captured with a raw file on your DLSR and processed with a computer application like HDRSoft’s Photomatix.



AutoStitchA panoramic perspective is a blast to shoot and process and the merged files are capable of producing big beautiful wall prints. The workflow also requires patience, time in the field to set up and capture, and merging all the files on the computer requires time and energy. It’s worth it if the scene is good, but sometimes after all of that we realize the final output isn’t worth the high cost of printing and displaying it “big.” With the simplistic setup, capture and processing capabilities using a pano phone app like Autostitch by Cloudburst Research, we can now sketch it first to see what the possibilities are like from our DSLR. What an enormous time saver!



So the next time your on the way out the door to do some serious photography with your beloved DSLR, don’t forget your little phone camera and do a little sketching!


I will be teaching at our upcoming Photo Weekends in Cheyenne, WY  in May and in Missoula, MT in October.

You can also join me for one of these Workshops in 2013:
Basic Photography – Cheyenne, Wyoming
Basic Photography – Missoula, Montana
Death Valley National Park – Stovepipe Wells, California
Flash Photography – Missoula, Montana
Grand Teton National Park – Jackson Hole, Wyoming