"The Art of iPhone Photography" functions as both a gallery and an instructive work, though it is only partially successful on both counts. An in-depth look at the processes of dozens of artists that shows how the raw shot or shots became a finished and often impressive work, the book certainly does not want for material. Unfortunately, that's also its primary flaw.
After a largely vestigial introduction, in which platitudes are served to the revolution in photography ostensibly offered by iPhones (and, the authors generously admit, Android phones), the instruction begins. The first section, focused on emulating the results of a DSLR + desktop OS method of photography, has some really great shots and some truly helpful tips.
Each featured photo starts with a list of apps used and the original shot. The screen and settings after or during adjusting the shot in-app are shown and referenced helpfully by number in the text. It's a breeze to follow along with a photographer's process for, say, darkening just the background, or bringing in a blending layer to add texture.
There are also genuine little nuggets to keep in mind. Right away I found a great, punchy list of tips every portrait photographer should keep in mind: Expose for skin tones; Bracket; Minimize the background; Desaturate; Make eye contact. Great! But it was only a square inch or so of a six-page spread describing which filters he'd used.
Again on page 83, a great tip for creating a sparkling bokeh for blending modes (attach a macro lens and aim at something bright) is buried. And later, "hacking" the Photostitch app by feeding it two very similar but subtly different images is likewise hidden among the dross. At over 300 pages long and with no shortage of text, it isn't easy to come across these gems.
That's partly because the narration is very uneven in quality. Allowing the photographers to write their own sections makes for a nice personal voice (and less copy to produce), but the style of instruction varies widely. One writer repeatedly and pointlessly narrates such trivial steps as "I tapped the arrow to apply the effect," while another dismisses in a few words the relatively complex process of painting out some unwanted figures.
Others bloviate on their creative drive, explaining at length how they arrived at the shots pictured, some of which are quite underwhelming (one in particular, describing a series of highly ordinary yet slightly creepy street shots, was particularly overbearing).
Indeed, much of the photography is not to be admired. I loved a few of the shots and marveled at some of the creators' processes (one guy used 10 different apps) in making works both traditional and abstract. But some of the shots resembled the stuff we all made when we tried Photoshop for the first time. I mean really tacky stuff — zoom blurs, superfluous light rays, '90s-style compositing. The book could have lost half the shots in it, easy, and been better for it.
That, in the end, is the real problem. The book is simply too long and requires too much parsing on the reader's part to find the bits that really matter. With a more standardized format — say, one full bleed page for the final image (so the effect of various processes on noise and sharpness can be evaluated), with the two following pages used for explanation by the photographer and then a fourth page for general tips or to highlight an app or accessory. Such a format would be way more practical as a guide and still successful as a gallery for the photographers involved.
With that said, the book is laid out and printed in extremely high quality and the pictorial instructions are excellent. There's a glossary of apps in the back as well, something useful for anyone just getting into mobile shooting and looking for a few to try out. It has a lot of good info for the reader, if they're willing to do a little reading (not everyone is), but would do better as a $20, 100-page book than a $45, 320-page one. Maybe they'll release a condensed edition.
Sep 23, 2016
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