15 years of iPhone: Evolution in photography

Duna watches the sunrise from the window in Buenos Aires, Argentina in this Saturday, June 25, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Natacha Pisarenko

This week marks 15 years since the iPhone first went on sale and ushered in a new era: the age of the smartphone.

It's hard to imagine today how different mobile access was before that evening of June 29, 2007. The internet in your pocket didn't look like, well, the internet. Social media — and the ability for everyone to respond globally to everything — was in its infancy. And while older phones certainly had cameras, the quality – and the potential for instant editing and filtering and sharing that exists today — wasn't there yet.

The modern smartphone has changed photography. To capture a snapshot of that change, we asked more than a dozen Associated Press photographers across the world who use iPhones — some of the most talented journalists in the business — to capture an image on their phone and submit it.

Here is what they came up with. But first: Some words from Enric Martí, the AP deputy director of photography who oversaw the project — and who had his doubts about it at the outset.


I didn't like this idea. At first.

You might call me a traditionalist. I've been a photographer for three decades and a photo editor for half that. I like negatives and the details they contain. I like physical things. I like full-on cameras. I liked the thought that went behind taking a 36-exposure roll of film and making tough choices about how to use each frame.

Sometimes I feel photography has almost lost the magic it had before the means to take a photo and share it with the world was in our pocket. Now, you can go for an assignment and easily take 3,000 frames.

And phones — everywhere, every day, millions of images. There is so much photography, and so much fake photography. You can buy a 99-cent app that removes people from photos. That's not photography to me; to me, photography is documenting what's really in the world.

A woman carrying a pair of pink shoes walks near the Sept. 11 memorial in New York in this Monday, June 6, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Enric Marti

But I'm changing my mind about phone photography — sort of. I've been trying for a while now to see and feel the positive side of this technological evolution, so I am not perceived as a "dinosaur." This project has helped me in that regard.

The photographers whose work is shown here are pros. Colleagues. People I admire. People whose images — from our "work" cameras — I see and edit all the time. But they are also people with phones, and with cameras in their phones, and that vision — the one they use so well in covering the news — comes out in very interesting ways. I asked them to observe things, and they did — each in a unique way.

In the end, I decided to add a photo of my own to this as well. Why not? I take them anyway, every day, on the street. I stopped carrying my "real" camera a long time ago, but I always have my phone. Which is kind of the point.

You go through life having to change. The world is moving quickly. You have to adapt. What else are you going to do?


I use an iPhone instead of a camera on diverse occasions.

"Duna, the cat adopted months ago, loves all the noise and movement of these morning hours in his new home, so stands by the window and enjoys with curiosity this show for two hours until the calm arrives. My cameras were some place in the house, and I took the picture with my iPhone," wrote Pisarenko.

Sometimes it's as a reflex, when I see something I want to keep at that moment during my daily life. Sometimes it's just that I don't have a camera at hand, even though I'd want to. Sometimes I use the phone camera when I want to send an image immediately by message or WhatsApp — a way to communicate something to someone through an image and no words. Sometimes it's just something I want to keep.

Flowers, Sony cameras, and a cup of coffee sit outside the memorial service of a Ukrainian soldier killed during a battle with Russian soldiers in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this Saturday, June 18, 2022 photo taken with an iPhone. Photo: AP/Natacha Pisarenko

The irony: My phone is so full that at the end, I scroll down the pictures erasing everything that does not mean that much to me. That way, I can keep using it as a camera or video recorder — and then erase it again.


The photos now shot on the latest phones feel like digital art more than photographs. What you see with the naked eye is not what you get on your screen. And that for me is very unsettling. For example, the colors are oversaturated and look "touched up" when I have done nothing but pressed the shutter. The portrait mode produces blur but it's not the same effect my regular camera gives me. These pictures definitely don't evoke a similar thrill of a taking a good picture.

Tanzeel Ahmed, left, and Umar Ahmed, the children of migrant workers from the state of Uttar Pradesh, look out from the window of their rented home in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, in this Tuesday, June14, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Dar Yasin

I'll admit that there are instances when I love the pictures taken on my iPhone. There is no denying the phone captures those moments very well indeed. But it's important to realize: The "pro" label on a phone doesn't necessarily make every owner a pro photographer.

On the contrary. The photographs on a smartphone are a product of machine learning, with the machine thinking and manipulating for you. It is also true that the iPhone is kind of setting a new 'standard' of what a photograph should look like — and I'm not sure that's a good thing.


The phone allows me to practice street photography, a branch of photography that I like because it allows me to always be attentive to the everyday without a precise news event to cover, and with only the intention of documenting THE most banal moments of life. But at the end of the road will be a record of a vital moment in the life of society.

Rodrigo Abd-argentina
Members of the Mapuche Indigenous community gather while cooking a barbecue during celebrations of the Wetripantu or Mapuche New Year, in Corrayen village, Puyehue district, Chile, in this Tuesday, June 21, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd


I used my iPhone to take this picture, which is what I do when I see a beautiful view and I am not carrying professional cameras. But I mostly use the iPhone camera to capture family memories. In all cases, the use of the phone does not eliminate the need for professional cameras, neither in the beauty of the picture nor in the pleasure of capturing it.

A photo of a wooden bench in Basaksehir forest in Istanbul, Turkey, in this Thursday, June 16, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Khalil Hamra

Truth be told, every time I take a nice picture with my phone, I feel that something is missing and could have been better if I took it with my professional camera.


For me, the use of the phone camera is just an alternative to my conventional camera, so I only use it on rare occasions and basically to photograph or capture on video family scenes or scenes with friends, with the simple idea of documenting banal moments.

Men and women practice yoga on a breakwater by the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona, Spain in this Tuesday, June 21, 2022 iPhone photo. Photo: AP/Emilio Morenatti

Shooting with a camera is much more serious, and the result differs dramatically from shooting with a phone. Composing and capturing a scene through a viewfinder while pressing a shutter release is part of the essence of photography, and you can't do that with a phone yet. The flat image that a phone gives you can't compete with the photography you get from an SLR camera and a good lens, no matter how much phone photography lovers say otherwise.


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