My iPhone surprised me — and it wasn’t the new iPhone 15 Pro

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

“How this photo embarrasses my DSLR camera,” said a fellow reporter after we took some night mode shots in a dark valley. The conversation occurred immediately after we crossed the world’s highest motorable road, the Umling La Pass, at 19,300 feet above sea level.

I used an iPhone 14 Pro to take the image below, and my friend mounted a Sony DSLR on a tripod to take the long exposure shot. This was never intended as a comparison between phones and DSLRs. We all know where that conversation is going. The majority of elements visible in the photo are barely visible to the naked eye, making it even more impressive.

But a call of praise on a call, also from a seasoned photojournalist, prompted me to do a little experiment. I swapped SIMs and handed my iPhone 14 Pro over to Md. Meharban — a photojournalist whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Reuters, among others.

We’ve had many arguments over smartphone cameras over the years, and I’ve always failed to convince him that the Google Pixel is better than the iPhone. This time, we tested the iPhone 14 Pro in the extraordinary terrain and extreme weather of Ladakh, which is often referred to as the “Roof of the World”.

Over the course of the week, the iPhone 14 Pro was used to take some stunning photos including the Pangong Tso lake, the Changa La landscape, and the stunning Nubra valley. The photos taken with the iPhone 14 Pro are so stunning that not a single photo shared on social media required the slightest bit of editing. It was a great, eye-opening experience — and proved that I probably don’t need a new iPhone 15 Pro.

How to take great smartphone photos

Example of a cloudy daylight camera clicked by the iPhone 14 Pro.
Example of a cloudy daylight camera clicked by the iPhone 14 Pro. Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

There is a big difference between the scenes captured by photojournalists and the average smartphone user. So how does the average smartphone user achieve that level of proficiency? “To be honest, it’s impossible to do. It takes years to teach and hire those experts, but there are a few basic rules that really make a difference,” Meharban told me.

“Don’t click photos just for the sake of it. Before you press the shutter button, tell yourself that the photo you are going to click should tell a story. Once you have thought about it, structure your frame accordingly,” he adds. The point is valid. Even for basic product photography, we make adjustments to highlight aspects that will explain something.

Here are some basic tips that can make your photos stand out:

  1. Enable grid lines from the viewfinder. Once there, try to dedicate your subject to a third of the frame and leave the rest to the surroundings to set the scene in a narrative.
  2. See if the environment around you follows any geometry. Look for lines and diagonal arrangements, then adjust the frame with your subject at the center.
  3. If your frame has natural openings, such as windows, gates, doors, etc., try to find symmetry or lines and match the frame accordingly.
  4. A viewing angle that can show color contrast and the reality of a frame is a recipe for producing good photos.
  5. When taking a close-up shot – for example, of a person or an animal – approach it slightly off center, that is, with one eye aligned with the vertical center of the frame. This approach gives the impression that the eye is focusing following the lens.
  6. Find objects that disrupt the pattern or break the symmetry. Make this the focal point and let the elements of anarchy be the story tellers.
  7. Don’t be afraid to play with advanced tools. Slight changes to exposure values ​​and depth adjustments can work wonders.

All you need is an eye

Director Marchella De Angelis poses for the camera.
Directed by Marchella De Angelis Daniele Mah / Woolf’s Women

While we’re talking about quite a sophisticated device like the iPhone 14 Pro, I recently sat down with Marchella De Angelis, the director whose film is called Wool Woman hits UK cinemas in June this year. Nearly 15% of the film was shot on mobile phones, with some key shots coming from very old hardware, including the Sony Xperia 5 and iPhone 7.

Marcella told me that this was the first feature film shot using smartphones in such a way. “In some scenes, it’s hard to tell,” he added. But I was really surprised when he revealed more details about the production process. “All the sound for the entire film was recorded on iPhone 11.”

In fact, the film’s footage was mostly shot on an iPhone. For post-production, the crew turned to Adobe Premiere Pro, and they didn’t need to hire a sound engineer. Yes, lighting is a challenge due to sensor size limitations, but it’s amazing to see how much can be achieved from a seemingly outdated phone with a little patience and creativity.

Why the iPhone 14 Pro is still good

Monochrome night sample of the iPhone 14 Pro.
Monochrome night sample of the iPhone 14 Pro. Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

A recurring theme I hear from professional photographers and journalists is that they master the basics first — and then break the rules. But ultimately, this is an adventure of trial and error. As you experiment, you learn and perfect the craft. That doesn’t mean you need a DSLR to get started. Phones like the iPhone 14 Pro are a good start.

In fact, it offers a ton of tricks that can even surpass what a DSLR or professional-grade editing software can achieve. Take, for example, filters. It’s a comfortable way to enjoy the natural views, but that’s all for them.

A few years ago, Apple introduced Photography Styles, which let you preview a scene with a unique lens before you pressed the shutter button. Think of it like putting different transparent crystals in front of a camera to capture the scene in a completely different light.

The best part about photography styles is that you can adjust the tone and warmth of each style using sliders to get the exact color profile you’re looking for. But what really surprised me along the way was how good the night mode experience was.

Image editing on iPhone 14 Pro.
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

I’ve always held Google’s Pixel phones in high regard for their low-light capture. But shots taken with the iPhone 14 Pro – and that too, with a smaller shutter capture window – clearly surpass what I’ve seen the Google phone produce in terms of color.

It’s not like Apple phones change night frames to daytime scenes. But the level of noise cancellation, control over grainy textures, and colors that can be extracted really surprised me. Portrait shooting is equally good, with accurate edge spacing and a beautiful bokeh effect.

Once again, the iPhone 14 Pro wowed us with its video shooting prowess. All the clips I captured maintained an amazing amount of detail, minimal focus, and with a level of stabilization that’s hard to achieve on an Android phone. All this without having to fiddle with pro-level controls or dig into PreRes settings.

Edit cinematic mode footage on iPhone 14 Pro.
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

What really impressed us was Cinematic Mode, which did a great job of keeping focus locked in dynamic frames. This is impressive, but what really surpasses this video capture trick is the ability to edit those videos natively on the iPhone. I’m not talking about basic editing like cropping or applying filters.

We are considering changing the focus point and even adjusting the strength of the background blur effect. Of course, the A16 silicon inside can help, but the ability to perform such demanding edits natively on a phone is something that needs to be experienced to truly realize its power.

In the end, I couldn’t help but reflect on the benefits of frequent iPhone upgrades. Stabilization is another aspect that puts the iPhone 14 Pro (and its siblings) well ahead of what DSLRs can achieve, especially when you need to capture moving subjects or have to move with them.

Example portrait of the iPhone 14 Pro.
Example portrait of the iPhone 14 Pro. Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

I recently wrote a story asking where exactly there is a “Pro” upgrade for the iPhone 15 Pro pair. After testing the iPhone 14 Pro, I doubled down on my resistance to upgrading to the iPhone 15 Pro. These older generation warriors offer enough camera hardware and software tricks to wow a photojournalist.

So is it enough to replace the DSLR? “Not really. But if needed, I can definitely use it for time-sensitive tasks without a second thought,” says Meharban. That’s still a win, and for the average person, a strong enough reason to stick with their trusty iPhone 14 Pro over long.

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