Meet the iPhone Photographer

Writing the title to this blog piece finds me asking ‘Is that for real? Is that me?’ Apparently so. On Tuesday I will take to the stage in Apple Store in Regent Street with the great Dan Rubin, in an event sponsored by Knomo bags and accessories. I am really looking forward to this event, as you can imagine.

Preparing for this has been a great opportunity to reflect on my photographic journey and see where I have come from and what has brought me here.  Looking back at my early iPhone images I can see the things that caught my eye are pretty much the same. It is very cool to look back and see how my eye has developed and with it how my style has also evolved. Have had to choose some categories of images also to talk about and to select a few shots in each of these. This has been fun too, but as I always say – life is hard when there is choice. Narrowing down the sleection is not the easiest thing to do, but I am happy with the end result.

To say I am impressed with Dan Rubin would be a huge understatement. Of course, I had heard of him and was aware of his work, but I did not get to meet him until the Mojocon event in Dublin last month and like everyone else I was struck by how kind and humble this guy is. In preparation for this event he has been so professional and I am heading into this assured that everything is in place and that it will be fun.

Got to say that Knomo the sponsors have been so great also in arranging flights and hotels for me and sending me on some of their products. I have always had a case for my iPhones, but their quality never seemed to match that of the iPhone. The Knomo case is different. For the first time, I feel I have a case fit for the iPhone. It’s a snap on leather case and provides a great grip which is perfect for shooting.


They were kind enough to allow me to choose a bag also and I know I am repeating myself now, but life is easy when there is no choice. All the bags look so good. In the end, I went with my heart and selected one from their range called Kinsale. Being a proud Cork man, how could I have chosen anything else as Kinsale is my favourite town in Ireland. The bag is perfect for travel and the finish on it is so impressive. Looks cool and does a great job.

Kinsale bag from Knomo

Kinsale bag from Knomo

Knomo also make a great range of organisers and this one I like particularly as it has a mobile charger included: perfect for those longs days travelling or out shooting street. A big thanks to Knomo for these top class products.


Knomo Organiser


All set to go with my Knomo Organiser


So, all set for London! All set to take the stage with Dan Rubin. How cool!

November 14 2014

I had thought I was not going to post another from this series of blur photographs from Copenhagen, but they keep drawing me back in. I cannot seem to settle on a uniform style, but perhaps they don’t need it. Some look good in colour and others need to be reduced and constrained and only black and white can do that.

In saying that, despite the way I work through images, I am coming close to producing a coherent series. One of the challenges that I encounter is that I present images consecutively from locations, but very often later I find that an image from one place can easily complement one taken in a  very distinct location. All of this is the process. I may write about the frustrations I encounter with this process, but it is how I work.

Mark T. Simmons, a friend whose work I really admire, posts sporadically on Flickr, preferring to work on a series of images before posting them. When the series is complete and you spend time looking through them you realise the craft that has gone into the creation and curation of the series. His series of images from Istanbul is coherent and there is a cohesion in style and you move from one image to the next carrying with you the emotion and impact of the previous image. I envy his patience and attention to detail. I look back at my images and my series are short – usually between 3 – 5 images and then I get restless and take things in a different direction. Recently, Mark gave me some good advice about working on and presenting a series of images and I have begun to learn from that. If you have not already seen Mark’s work, his series on Istanbul is a good place to start.

So here is today’s image. Would love to hear your reaction to it. Leave a comment below, or on Flickr.


Overcoming nervousness


Writing this blog entry is a discipline I set myself. I try to do it every day, but life gets in the way. I am trying to document my photographic journey and trying to learn about myself and how and why I photograph. Very often, I write about the DSLR shot first and by the time I arrive at choosing (I rarely know what I am going to choose) an iPhone photograph I am too restless to continue writing. This is where I am today. I need to go now and choose a photo, post it to Flickr, download a lower resolution size for the blog and then write a little about the image.

Which image?

This one:


Copenhagen Coincidences


September 29 2014

Autumn is fully installed now. Mornings arrive later and night falls that bit earlier each day. It is my least favourite time of year. I feel a tightness in my chest as winter gets its grips. Darkness, so much darkness. Gloom and decaying greyness.

What is needed is early morning jazz music to soothe us slowly into the rhythm of the new week. Back to work for me today. Back to work after a long break. Always difficult to readjust. Am listening to  – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Moanin’. And already I am feeling less – less what? Less everything.


Slow release melancholy

To accompany this dour and dull image of a rainy Tokyo I have chosen an iPhone image of a tree in the rain. And we all know what trees should do. They should cheer the fuck up.

Have a moderately acceptable Monday. Prepare yourself for disappointment.


Trees need to cheer the fuck up


September 23 2014

Quick note on Flickr. You can disable comments but not disable faves. I would like to be able to disable faves. I think they are pointless anyway. I have always used them as a means to identify photographs I have already seen. I fave every photo I look at. Sorry, if that disappoints some, but I have over 60,000 faves. I rarely look through them. I have noticed in the past year that views have increased dramatically. Before the new and so awesome version of Flickr, I was averaging about 500 views per day. A daily post would be seen about a 100 times, get about 20 or so comments and about 30 – 40 faves. Now, a photo is seen about a 1,000 times, gets about 80 – 100 faves and about 15 – 20 comments.

Yesterday, I had reached over 300 views and over 30 faves but only had 1 comment. Flickr have made it so easy to consume photography that people spend as little time as they can on photos. On the Flickr app, double click and a star appears obscuring the image and scroll quickly to the next and repeat. Dozens of photos can be consumed in a matter of minutes. On the desktop version, the page with your contacts – sorry followers (how much do I hate that term!), you can just single click on the star and consume with even more convenience.

Time to contract, I think. I have, for the moment, abandoned Instagram because of this trend of scrolling and clicking. Perhaps if the fave button was disabled – if this was an option – then people might be more inclined to view the photograph and even write a comment in reaction to what they have seen. Good idea, bad idea?

Anyway, rant suspended, I don’t subscribe to the rant over idea. If I want to resume the rant later, then it is nice to know it is there waiting for me to pick up from where I left off.

Photographs for today. I am still in the Shibuya underground station. It is past midnight, edging close to the time of the last train. Commuters are streaming out of trains and I am there in wait, camera poised and ready to capture the moment. I have one or two more in this series to show. I love the fluid colours in them.

Commitment to the future

Commitment to the future

The iPhone image for today is another taken as people are waiting for the train to leave the station. I was pretty lucky with the commuters I got in shots like this. Usually they responded well to me, sometimes smiling or like the photo other day when they guy gave a wide-mouthed exclamation. Today’s image is a little out of focus (when did that ever bother me?)and grainy, but his expression is tender and warm.

This is about as happy as I can look for you

This is about as happy as I can look for you


Michael Kistler: A street photographer based in Tokyo

This is the start of a series I intend to do with people whose work has inspired me. I hope you enjoy it. Please click through the links and see more from each artist’s streams.

Inspiration. Flickr has been great to me. I have learnt so much from viewing the work of others. It is a great buzz to stumble across a photographer’s work and find that image after image just gets better and better. To begin this series of interviews with photographers whose work inspires me I have chosen one of my favourites on Flickr – Michael Kistler. From the thumbnail in my contacts’ list on Flickr his images jump off the screen. His work is consistently thought-provoking. Compositions are striking and engaging. Based in Tokyo, his view of street life there captures and enchants. For me, he is also one of the leading lights in mobile photography. Following him on Instagram, is a daily delight. I could try to describe his work but his photography does not need description. Go check it for yourself on his Flickr stream, and his Instagram page.

Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. I really appreciate it.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m originally from Minneapolis but have lived in Tokyo for more than 10 years. I live in Shibuya with my wife, Mami, and three-year-old daughter Meisa. I am lucky to live in one of the most photogenic cities on earth!

Let’s go back a bit. How did you get into photography? What are your earliest memories of photography?

A great question…

I always remember there being a camera around. Both my father and one of my brothers were photography enthusiasts at different points in their lives. My brother was always hauling (bribing!) me to the river near our house, using me as a model for different projects. I have a lot of polaroid memories (hey…maybe a title in there somewhere) and just unearthed a couple of old cameras last time I was in town. I wouldn’t say I got into photography until after high school, and even then, it was just snapping around.

What about your first camera? Tell me about that.

My parents bought me a point and shoot Ricoh film camera that I used for many years. That’s probably where I learned the basics of composition–even though I really had no idea what it was at the time. I took that camera on my first trip to Europe as well as Asia and almost always shot B&W film. From early on the monochrome aesthetic really appealed to me. I felt like it removed a lot of noise from the images.

Do you have a style? Are you aware of adhering to your style when you shoot or do you adhere to it when you process?

I think I have a style…but I don’t give it a huge amount of thought. If I had to characterize my work it would probably be B&W street photography with a less conventional and more abstract feel. As for style, it’s probably easier for others to judge or define it than it is for me.

What kind of camera do you use? 

I mainly use two cameras: Canon 7D and iPhone. I recently bought a compact Ricoh GR but thus far am not really sold on it.

Do you prefer to use manual, auto or a mix?

I prefer a mix. I’ve heard a lot of photographers emphasize the importance of only shooting manually. I guess I’m generally a believer in tossing out the rules. There is a time and place for everything.

 Did you use to shoot film? Do you still?

I touched on that a bit already. I haven’t shot film for several years now but keep threatening (myself) to do so. Hopefully one of these days soon. I have an older Canon AE1 that I’d love to get to know again.

Tell us a bit about your post-processing; how do you go about it?

I keep my post-processing very simple. First of all, I’m not that great at it. But I’d also like to spend more time shooting and less time editing. I generally do some tone tweaking and contrast adjustments but generally don’t do a great deal of PP. I’m trying to use Silver Efex Pro a bit more these days.

Why do you photograph? Do you feel you have to? How do you feel when you go for a time without photographing?

I don’t feel like I have to. I just feel as though I want to. I hear people talking about not shooting due to a lack of inspiration. That’s not really a problem I have. I find that photography has given me the ability to see things I would have otherwise overlooked and I have too much fun with it to ever be bored or uninspired. I don’t really go any length of time without shooting so I guess I don’t really know that feeling. At the very least, I shoot with the iPhone everyday.

What advice would you give someone stepping out in a big city to shoot street?

Spend some time just observing and trying to get a feel for the energy of the place. Also, don’t try to hide what you’re doing–it only looks suspicious and makes people wonder what you’re doing. I always carry business cards and tell people I’m happy to send them an image if they contact me. I have also found that eye contact and smiles go a long, long way.

Are you a Mac or PC guy?

Mac. Mac. Mac.

Who would you like to give a shout out to; someone you feel whose work we have to see?

Arpita, she is absolutely one of my favorite photographers with her unique ability to produce compelling compositions again and again.

You shoot a lot with the iPhone. How has this impacted on your relationship with photography? 

The impact is almost indescribable. The iPhone started as pure fun…and still is. But it’s turned into something much bigger and more significant. As a lot of people would agree, one obvious benefit of the iPhone is that I’ve always got it. There’s never that feeling of missed opportunities because I’m without my camera. More importantly, though, is how much that additional shooting has improved and sharpened my eye. I think in some ways the iPhone is simple because you’re limited in terms of functions so you just go out and shoot. The flip-side of this, however, is that because of its limitations, I believe it actually takes more skill to produce a strong composition. All of this has bled into my DSLR shooting and made me a better photographer. I will argue with anyone that the camera doesn’t really matter.

What ambitions do you have in photography? 

Mainly it’s just to keep exploring and growing, letting my mind and eye lead the way. I’m just entering an exciting and scary stage in life where I will try to make a living solely based off photography. So the short-term ambition is just to survive! I have a fledgling company called Urban X that I’m going to be working on, and I am also immersed in a street photography workshop series called Finding Yourself in the Streets with good friend and insanely good photographer Mimo Khair. We have already done workshops in Shanghai and Tokyo and intend to do them in different cities all over the world.

Is Flickr still the best platform for a photographer to share and learn about photography?

For me it is. I’ve resisted going elsewhere in part because I’m a creature of habit. Also, I like the community aspect of Flickr a lot and have met some very good friends there. It’s hard to break away from that first love.

What advice would you give to a budding photographer?

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Simple and obvious but very important. You need to get the reps in if you want to be good.

Now, I am putting a gun to your head and asking you to choose three of your favourite images. Tell us a little about them.

You are! Wow, this is tough…I’d prefer someone else chose them. I will choose three recent ones just to make things easier.


free admission to the future

 This image I took in Minneapolis and means a lot to me mainly because it’s my daughter; but it’s a rare street image that features her, making it even more special to me. It was just one of those moments when everything lined up perfectly. The background; her stance; the mood. I like imagery that is open to interpretation, and I think this can be viewed in a lot of different ways from hopeful to apocalyptic. That I will leave to others.


a sort of homecoming

This was taken in Shanghai in an area where it’s easy to fall into cliched photography. I have been trying to work more on layering my images, so in that sense I was happy with the composition. More than anything, though, the mood here strikes a chord with me. Good photography should be evocative or thought-provoking and I hope I’ve accomplished that here.


re: evolution

This I shot with my iPhone in Tokyo. I have been increasingly interested in using shadows in images, trying to find ways to look at something that is simple and complex at the same time. It’s often a challenge for me because in Tokyo, the large number of people often come out in a jumbled mess. I probably got a bit lucky here with the spacing and timing. And then I gave it a flip just to change the perception a bit.

Thanks Michael. It is great to get to know you a little better. 

In this series, I’m asking photographers to choose three of their own personal favourites and I know it is not an easy task. A photographer’s eye evolves. What may appeal one day, may change the next. Very often images reveal things earlier unseen. For me, trawling through Michael’s Flickr stream to select my own three favourites was not easy. I love everything that Michael does. (I curated a gallery of these here.) The thing that impresses me about Michael’s images is the ability to bring elements together. City life is hectic, relentless and in the world’s biggest city – Tokyo – even more so. Yet, Michael can make it stand still; suspend its momentum. He sees potential in composition that brings striking results. As in this image he took in Tapei, Taiwan –


His eye for dark and light is particularly sensitive. He has so many images which represent this, but the one which stands out for me is this one –


It sums up the old adage – less is more.

The final image I have selected is a portrait. In his stream, there are a few fine portraits among his street work. What I like about this is the connection Michael has made. The guy, a friend of his, just opens up. There is a wonderful smile, enchanting eyes and the cherry on the top is the cigarette. Now, we all know cigarettes are bad for you, but man, they can make photographs look so cool. And this is what this photograph is – super cool!


This is the first in a series of profiles I intend to do with some of my Flickr friends. A big thanks to Michael for being my first. He has a sensitivity, an alertness that the best street photographers need. He is a constant source of surprise and inspiration to me. I had the great pleasure of spending an evening with him last year in Tokyo and it was so cool to discover that we shared many things besides photography in common. A very big thanks to you, sir. Thanks for sharing your world with us.

Connect with Michael – Flickr ~ Instagram ~ Facebook