How Ali Shams Shoots Amazing iPhone Street Photos

I’m really pleased to share this interview with Ali Shams, a talented iPhone street photographer from Iran. With an excellent eye for light and composition, he captures wonderful moments in the lives of strangers, telling interesting stories and evoking powerful emotions. In this interview you’ll learn more about Ali, and how he takes such incredible black and white street photos with his iPhone.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in Tehran, Iran, and I now live in Qazvin with my family. I’m an architecture student working towards a bachelors degree, and a year ago I started studying architectural photography.

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As I started to learn about photography, I got more and more interested in this branch of art. But I discovered that I would rather use photography to express my feelings about the world I live in, as opposed to taking architectural photographs.

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I remember that my interest in photography began in my childhood. As a child I wanted to record human moods and emotions, and when I held a camera in my hands I thought it was magical! The camera allowed me to communicate simply, clearly and quickly.

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How did your iPhone photography journey begin?

I started taking photos with my iPhone in January 2015. The attraction of photographing with the iPhone began for me with the first shots. I was shooting easily without getting noticed, which is ideal for street photography.

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An iPhone is your camera and your computer in one device. As soon as you shoot, you can quickly edit the picture you took, and then easily share it on multiple social networks.

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I think whoever becomes acquainted with the iPhone camera will develop a passion for taking pictures, and won’t ever stop investigating the world they live in. That’s what’s so special about the iPhone!

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What inspires you to take photos with the iPhone?

The iPhone is such a handy device that provides a fast, high quality camera. I’m filled with real joy when I take photos with the iPhone – way more than when I shoot with other devices.

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You mainly shoot street photos with your iPhone. What draws you to this genre of photography?

There’s always something interesting happening on the streets – different kinds of people creating unrepeatable moments.

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Whenever I explore the streets, it’s impossible for me not to find out new facts about human relationships and emotions. And that’s always interesting for me.

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You capture incredible light and shade in your photos, with powerful silhouettes and dark shadows. How do you create these high contrast images?

I use the powerful light of the sun. Harsh sunlight creates strong shadows, and allows you to easily create silhouettes by reducing the camera’s exposure. In post-processing, you can enhance the effect by making changes to the contrast and shadows settings.

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Street photography is all about storytelling, capturing a moment in time in the lives of strangers. How do you go about telling powerful stories through photography?

I believe one of the most important things in photography is to practice a lot. Think about the goals that you have, and try to shoot over and over again.

Get out on the streets and investigate unseen places. And make sure you’re familiar with the work of great photographers.

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These things will help you to improve your story-telling skills and the way you express yourself through photography. The more you take pictures, the better you can see, think and understand.

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One of the main challenges with street photography is taking photos of people you don’t know. How do you deal with this, and have you ever had any problems when photographing strangers?

When I find a scene or location that I have a good feeling about, I’ll never give up until I take the shot that I’m looking for. That’s the thing about me!

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But I endeavor not to make people feel upset about the situation. I try to have their agreement about the shot I want to take. If I tread gently with the people in the scene, they wont have a problem with it.

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With street photography your subjects are constantly on the move. What tips do you have for taking great iPhone photos of moving subjects.

When I’m photographing moving subjects, I use the burst mode feature in the iPhone’s Camera app so that I can capture the subject just where I want them to be.

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Manage the situation by setting focus, choosing your the viewpoint and following the moving subject. Take all possible shots first, then check them afterwards!

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Most of your photos are black and white. Why do you prefer black and white over color?

Black and white photography has been more interesting for me from the beginning. It’s like I’m discovering more and more facts through this technique.

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Black and white makes you forget about all the sweetness of the colored pictures, allowing the concepts to break out. In black and white the story is better understood, and the parts of the composition become more defined.

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I really like this quote by Ted Grant: “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Let’s talk about photo apps. Are there any apps that you use for taking photos besides the native Camera app?

I only use the iPhone’s native Camera app for shooting.

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What are your favorite apps for post-processing?

Oggl by Hipstamatic is awesome! Using the lenses and filters of this app is one of the most interesting parts of the editing procedure. Nearly all of my photos are edited with Oggl.

I also use Snapseed, VSCO Cam, Mextures, ScratchCam FX, Fused and Glitch Wizard.

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Do you use any iPhone photography accessories?

No, I don’t use any accessories in my iPhone photography.

Can you briefly explain the story and editing process behind your three favorite iPhone photos?

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I took this picture, which I’ve named “Lost Man,” while I was shooting on the streets of Hamedan. I saw a man passing with an odd figure and a covered face. Investigating the location, I found some elements with suitable forms that could express the atmosphere I wanted to share.

After quickly taking out my iPhone, I took three shots. When I looked back at the photos I thought that they evoked a creepy, frightening atmosphere, so I edited with this in mind.

First I used Glitch Wizard to create some noticeable movement on the man’s body, then I applied this effect onto the main picture using the Fused app.

Next, I used Oggl to apply the Queen west film, then used ScratchCam to add a texture. I used Snapseed to make some final adjustments, and I added a border to the photo.

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Here, I wanted to capture this moment between the cow and his owner. The cow had gotten out of its box, and the pole’s shadow which points to the man like an angry flash really interested me.

The contrast of the scene helped me express my virtual atmosphere. The fact that the farmer is looking right at us without any noticeable facial expression – indeed, without a face at all as it’s just filled with blackness – made it more attractive for me.

In post-processing I first I used Oggl, then Mextures to add texture, and lastly Snapseed for the final adjustments.

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For this picture , I found an atmosphere full of contrasts. To me it felt prison-like and seemed to express a horrible story related to a dark witch.

I took many shots. The light and the position of the people were constantly changing, so I had to change my position several times, but finally I got it. This photograph was only edited in Snapseed.

What tips do you have for beginner iPhone Photographers who want to start taking more creative photos with their iPhone?

Never worry about what the people around you will think. Be yourself, think wisely, and keep in touch with art. Art does come from art.

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You’ll have ideas about your artworks, so follow your ideas and turn them into reality by practicing as hard as you can. Never give up photographing!

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Which iPhone photographers do you admire the most?

Richard Koci Hernandez @koci

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Where can we see your iPhone photography?

You can find me on Instagram @ali.shms

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It's easy to take a quick snapshot with iPhone, but most people don't know how to take full control of their iPhone's camera. That's why we created a free video revealing 7 hidden iPhone camera features that every photographer should use.

  • Thank you Ali for sharing your wonderful street photography with us 🙂