LTP 124: Traveling with Just an iPhone

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In this solo show Bart describes his experiences traveling without his ‘big boy camera’ for the first time. Did he end up regretting bringing nothing more than his iPhone? Nope, and he shares some tips that helped him come home with some cherished keepers.

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Show Notes (by Bart)

For the first time since the pandemic, and the first time since I stopped shooting with my DSLR, I went on a little holiday to a foreign place — my native Belgium. Leaving aside the one business meeting I had, it was 4 days where my priorities were family, first and foremost, reconnecting with Flanders, the place, and getting some nice photos, and very much in that order. I could have blown the dust off my Nikon D5100 and dug up my 18-300mm ultra-zoom (the ideal ‘one lens to do everything’ for travel IMO), but I chose not to — this was going to be travel photos by iPhone! Photography on this trip was going to be opportunistic, it wasn’t gonna be a driver.

My big question was whether the iPhone would prove enough, and whether I’d regret a bunch of missed opportunities. TL;DR — great decision, no regrets!

I flew into Brussels, rented a car, then drove to my parents place in the beautiful and somewhat under-appreciated town of Lier (a little east of Antwerp), and that was by base for the trip. I spent some time driving to different family things, went on three cycles, re-discovering many of my childhood haunts, and I did a lot of walking in and around Lier.

The weather was ok — it was cold, but above freezing, and mostly overcast, but also almost completely dry (apart from some snow showers on the last day which played havoc with Brussels Airport ). It was not ideal photo weather — no orange red and yellow brick medieval buildings bathed in soft winter light this time. But plenty of opportunities presented themselves, and I came home with plenty of keepers.

The biggest thing was that my camera was always with me, but never a hassle, and it was good enough to capture what there was to capture. It had been much too long since I was on home soil, and I needed to soak in the ambiance of the place, and I did, and it felt great. A big camera would just have gotten in the way!

That’s all very philosophical, so I want to end with some tips I picked up from the experience.

Firstly, when you are flying in the morning or evening (when the sun is not too high in the sky) try book a seat on the side of the plane opposite the sun and a few rows back from the wing. Any cool atmospheric effects will be on that side of the plane, the shadows on the clouds will highlight their textures best, and you’ll be able to include the wing tip in your compositions to give a sense of place. If the atmosphere has the right size of water vapour molecules, you’ll see something cool projected onto the clouds below directly opposite the sun — the Brocken Spectre — a rainbow coloured halo around the anti-solar point. If the clouds are close enough to you, you’ll notice something even cooler, at the very center of the halo is your plane’s shadow!

The second thing the medieval streets of Lier reminded me of is that even the iPhone’s amazing ultra-wide lens is not always wide enough! Don’t forget you can use pano mode to capture even wider scenes, that you can take vertical panos, and that you can change the lens on a pano, so if you meet a beautiful, tall, church on a narrow cobbled street, you can still capture it all with a wide angle vertical pano. just be sure to capture plenty of spare space on all sides because while you won’t get all the distortions out in post, you can get a lot of them out with the skew sliders in the photos app, but only if you have the space at the edges!

Another timely reminder is that night mode on the iPhone rocks! If the weather isn’t particularly photogenic during the day, maybe the same street or building will look great at night!?

Finally, places are complex subjects, and no one view captures all their important character. Different scales and different points of view can capture the place’s different aspects, but to capture the feel of a place in a single shot, why not build a diptych or a collage? I don’t think my Glass timeline has ever seen as many multi-photo images as it has in recent days as I’ve been processing and sharing my shots form this trip. As a bonus tip, the collage app that I’ve found to work best for me on iOS is FrameMagic, it’s free to try, but you’ll need a few in app purchases to really unlock its power.

All in all I had a great time, got some lovely photos, and never once regretted leaving the DSLR at home!

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