Interview: Michael Fagans, author of The iPhone Photographer

The iPhone Photographer  is available from Turnaround for £19.99. It’s not what you’d necessarily expect from an educational non-fiction title; accessible, clear and even funny – it talks you through exactly how to get the most out of your iPhone and peps you up so that you are motivated to do so. Michael Fagans’ title having shown us that photography can be a joy and that no project is too small, we were excited to talk to him about his own history with the medium.

What was the first camera you ever shot on and what did you like about it?

The Pentax K-1000. I really liked its rugged build and the simplicity of the system. The lenses were quite nice at that price point and at that time in my life, I was just having fun.

PentaxWhat’s your favourite iPhone photography app and why?

My favorite iPhone app is still probably Hipstamatic although I use it paired with Instagram almost all the time. I really like the ability to ‘change lenses and film’ with the app and they have finally opened things up so that I can change an image post-shooting. I really like the square format for framing discipline, although I like their new 16:9 format as well as some other new tweaks.

Overall, how would you summarise the change in how photography is seen in wider society since the rise of the camera phone?

Good question. I’m not sure much has changed… photography still struggles with its ‘artistic bona fides’ as compared to many other mediums. That being said, the Polaroid aspects to digital photography, especially as the lenses get better and the file sizes larger, is really enjoyable for the amateur, intermediate and professional photographer. I am not sure much has changed as far as perception of photography. People are using their phones publicly with much more ease and for many different things. If anything there is an increased democratisation of the field that is both quite exciting as well as really frustrating at times. News gathering organizations are really struggling with how to utilise and take advantage in the sea change of images while also maintaining standards.

The cinematographer on our latest project shot many images with his iPhone and moved them from the road with great success, so I do really appreciate the ability to post updates from the road on while working on a project.

In a sentence, what distinguishes the iPhone camera from other camera phone cameras?

I would have to say that the quality, interface and ease of use separates the iPhone from other camera phones.

There’s a Dorothea Lange quote in your book: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Could you talk more specifically about the ways you see the world differently since starting to use a camera regularly? 

There have been many different times I have started seeing the world differently since I became a professional. I am probably going to break some ‘rule’ and offer another quote to clarify the Dorothea Lange quote. I believe it was Joel Meyerowitz when he was speaking at the Rochester Institute of Technology who said something like, ‘If you see the world from a two degree difference it is a whole new world.’ When I became a professional working every day, that was different. When I attended the Mountain Workshop and really pushed myself to get out of the way of my work, that was a big breakthrough. Finding/realising that I still loved photography when using my iPhone was a giant relief to me and really pushed my creativity and vision mid-career. One of my former photo directors commented on how much I had grown since I left his tutoring and I believe my work demonstrated that to him. So, I am afraid there is not one ‘a-ha’ moment but rather a series, some larger, some smaller, I suspect that is true for most artists as they grow.

Could you take an iPhone picture right now and caption it with some of the ways that your artistry made the shot what it is? Particular reference to the ways the iPhone affected that would be great!

Michael Fagans

This is an image I made here in Bakersfield (in California, where Michael is based). Ironically what caught my eye was how the weather had stained the building and reminded me of Anasazi cliff pueblos. I initially thought that the image would work better in black & white and then the rich cyan sky really caught my eye and attention. In one sense, a black & white image became a colour photo as I edited in-camera and worked on my composition. No one was more surprised about this than me. It was a strong reminder back to my Photo One class and paying attention to what catches your eye and then adding and subtracting things until it works.

What made the book an appealing form to you as a way to share your tips?

The book form was because Bill Hurter, formerly of Rangefinder magazine, saw my work and suggested that I get in touch with Amherst Press. Once I found my ‘voice’ in writing the book, things became much easier. I tried to mix my sense of humour, wonder and joy with my photographic training and some interesting quotes so that photographers of different skill levels could get something from the book.

Were there any other photography books you looked to for inspiration while putting The iPhone Photographer together?

The Great Picture Hunt is still a classic and Sam Abell’s book is amazing. Although Michael Williamson once showed an entire slide tray of images that almost worked and I learned more from his courage to show those images than Idid from almost a year of photography lessons. That is one reason I included an edits section in my book so that people could understand how much editing, both in camera, and post-camera really make a difference.


Thanks Michael! We were inspired by your talk of what a difference iPhone apps can make to the finish of a photograph so decided to have some fun ourselves in the office. Here’s a picture of Heather taken using the Hipstamatic app Michael mentioned here and in The iPhone Photographer.  It took all of a minute to download, and we love the classic effect that the square framing app gave even a quick snap by decidedly unprofessional photographers such as ourselves. 

Like what you see? Check out our full range of Amherst titles here.

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