How Rob Pearson-Wright’s iPhone Street Photography Won The Terry O’Neill Award

I’m really pleased to share this interview with Rob Pearson-Wright, winner of the mobile photography category in the recently announced Terry O’Neill Photography Awards. Rob has an incredible ability to tell powerful stories with his candid street photography. In this interview you’ll discover more about Rob and how he takes award-winning street photos with his iPhone.

Rob Pearson-Wright iPhone Photos 9

Harold Realized That He Hated Rum And Raisin

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I’m from London, England. In my completely biased opinion, it’s the best city in world. I work a 9-5 job as an office manager for my family’s architectural ironmongery business.

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The Boss

How did your iPhone photography journey begin?

At the end of 2010 I treated myself to my first iPhone, an iPhone 4. I put my little Panasonic Lumix in a drawer and never looked back.

Rob Pearson-Wright iPhone Photos 27

Who You Callin Dummy?

For the first couple of years I used the Hipstamatic app almost exclusively, but only really as a replacement for my point and shoot camera.

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Follow The Light

In the summer of 2012, I signed up for a five-week long iPhone photography course, threw myself into it obsessively, and discovered a real passion for photography in the process.

What inspires you to take photos with the iPhone?

The iPhone gives me a camera that’s always with me, a darkroom that’s always at hand, and a computer that I can use to post and share my photos from almost anywhere in the world.

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Better Together

For the type of photos that I enjoy taking, an iPhone is small and discreet enough to not bring attention to myself, and it lets me get close to my subjects.

Congratulations on winning the mobile category in the prestigious Terry O’Neill Awards 2014! Can you tell us a bit about the series of photographs you submitted, and why you think they caught the attention of the judges?

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Aggressive Thinking – Winning Image Terry O’Neill Award

Thank you very much! It’s a great honor for me to have my work featured alongside the work of amazing photojournalists and established photographers.

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Communication Breakdown – Winning Image Terry O’Neill Award

After much poring over my Flickr feed, I found a set of images that had a coherent theme linking them together. I noticed that I’d taken images where you could find a story in the shots because of the gestures, postures and different types of non-verbal communication in them.

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Face Off – Winning Image Terry O’Neill Award

As a part of the submission process you had to send an accompanying piece explaining the series entered. This was mine.

“Universal Language” – Sometimes we say more through our body language or a look than we could through words. Consciously or unconsciously we convey our thoughts or feelings through our outward appearance. Expressions, gestures, posture and use of space, read correctly can be insightful into the current state of a human, or indeed animal mind. Through the understanding of body language we can gauge the clues and interact accordingly. It is possible that most of our social interactions are nonverbal and account for more communication of information than words alone.

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My Sweet Lollipop – Winning Image Terry O’Neill Award

The judges were looking for a consistency of quality throughout the images submitted as a series, as well as working well as a body of work together. I guess that my submission ticked those boxes and appealed to them aesthetically too.

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So Daddy Won’t Buy Me A Pony – Winning Image Terry O’Neill Award

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

I’m interested in people and the way we all express ourselves, both physically and emotionally.

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Zombie Joan Rivers

Shooting street photography is a kind of social zoology where I can capture moments that run from the mundane to the absurd – the full range of the human experience.

Street photography is all about storytelling. What tips do you have for telling a powerful story in a photo?

Get close to the action or subject, and zoom with your feet if your story is about characters. Hint at the story behind the image. Leave the viewer with a sense of mystery behind the shot.

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The Horror The Horror

Let them explore the photograph and see what they take away from it. Always view a photo before reading an accompanying caption. You may read differently into the scene than intended or hinted at.

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Her Voice Echoed In His Mind

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

Once you get over the initial fear of taking photos of strangers, it becomes addictive, almost a challenge to relish. How close can you get? Will they notice? The iPhone is a perfect tool for street photography – small, unobtrusive and ubiquitous.

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The Lovers

I’ve not yet had a problem with my iPhone shooting on the street. A friendly smile or nod helps if you sense someone is suspicious.

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

Sometimes I’ll use Hipstamatic or ProCamera to take shots. Though I mostly use the native camera app for convenience and speed. I like 645 Pro too but haven’t really had time to explore the app fully.

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Spray

What are your favorite apps for post-processing?

Snapseed is my immediate go to app for image editing (check out our Snapseed video tutorial). Apart from being free, it’s extremely intuitive to use and more than adequate for everyday use.

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Honk Honk

I use Big Lens a lot when I feel like “apping” an image and adding a depth of field effect. Mextures is great for adding texture to an image, as is the ScratchCam app.

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Believe In A Better Tomorrow

I also love Noir Photo for its selective lighting abilities when creating a black and white image. Juxtaposer and Image Blender are great for combining images or elements from different photos together.

Do you use any iPhone photography accessories?

I did enjoy using the Olloclip lenses for macro photography when I had an iPhone 4, but I haven’t upgraded to one for use with my iPhone 5s. I didn’t like the lens aberration that occurred with the wide angle and fish eye lenses. A good tripod is essential though for portrait work and night shoots.

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Kabuki Night

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

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Don’t Look In The Pram

I was heading to the shops to buy some food when I turned around and noticed the two dogs in tutus, which made me laugh, so I grabbed a shot of them.

When I reviewed the image I began to notice more and more elements to the shot, like the nails of the dogs were painted, the details on their heads, the woman doing a double take. And then I noticed what was in the pram.

I edited the shot in Snapseed, boosting the saturation and contrast slightly, and cropped a bit off the left of the image.

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Absolutely Fabulous Sweetie Darling 

Getting off the bus after work I noticed a local character I’d taken a picture of a couple of years before. She still had the big quaffed hair and air of Margaret Thatcher about her. She must of sensed that I was taking her photo and gave me the evil eye.

After tweaking the saturation and brightness in Snapseed, I used BlurFX to add a motion blur to the background, and then added a little textured effect in Mextures.

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Diversion

Walking on the way to the park I took a slightly different route than normal. The sun was out for a change and I noticed the pattern of the shadows of the railings hitting the ground. On the path was a broken branch from the tree above and I liked how the shadows diverted slightly over it.

I took the shot with Hipstamatic, using the John S lens and BlacKeys SuperGrain film (check out our tutorial on how to take black and white photos with Hipstamatic). I did no other editing.

Do you use any other cameras, and if so when do you prefer to use the iPhone?

I have a Canon 7d but it’s a whole different kettle of fish for use with street photography than with my iPhone. Firstly when you point a DSLR at someone they’re going to notice. Then even if they don’t notice, there is the massive “clack” sound when the shutter fires.

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Pipe Dreams

I find it’s a completely different process shooting with the two cameras. I’m seriously considering jacking in my Canon gear in exchange for something like the Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera, which is silent and fantastic in terms of image quality.

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Animal Farm

For street work I prefer the iPhone as I can be completely invisible and can get close to my subject.

You’re heavily involved in the mobile photography community. Do you think mobile photography is starting to be taken more seriously in the world of photography?

There are still many people who dismiss mobile photography out of hand as a fad, and say that you need a big and expensive SLR or DSLR camera to be a “serious” photographer.

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Sushi Noms

However, there are, encouragingly, many who say that it’s the picture that counts, and that a good photographer will make a good photo regardless of the camera.

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Jedi Shave

More and more competitions now feature a category for mobile phones and some of them get a lot of international press coverage showcasing people’s work which can still make people say “Wow! That was taken on a phone camera.”

You’re co-organizer of the Click photography group in London. Can you tell us a bit about the group and how it benefits mobile photographers?

Click London is a not-for-profit collective of photographers in London, running workshops, photo-walks and occasional exhibitions. We use Meetup to put on these events and encourage both mobile photographers and DSLR users alike to join in regardless of skill level.

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Higher Perspective

Mobile photographers can share tricks, tips and info about different apps, and socialize and have a drink or two at the end of the day.

Which iPhone photographers do you admire the most?

That’s a long list! Here’s a handful… Kaaren Malcolm @jinx97, Alon Goldsmith @alon_goldsmith, Ryan Vaarsi @ryan_vaarsi, Sacha Dohmen @maktub_street_dog and Robin Robertis @robinrobertis.

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Heaven On Earth

Where can we see your iPhone photography?

You can find my photography on Instagram @brian_beaver, Flicker @brian_beaver and EyeEm @RobPearsonWright. You can also visit my website: www.robertpearsonwright.com

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Camouflage

  • Dave Rothschild

    Extremely talented artist. Wonderful storytelling. Great interview.

    • Glad you enjoyed the interview Dave. Rob has such an amazing ability to capture just the right moment doesn’t he?

    • Rob Pearson-Wright

      Thanks for those kind words Dave!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful street photography and knowledge of iPhone photography with us, Rob. A thoroughly deserving winner of the Terry O’Neill Award 🙂

    • Rob Pearson-Wright

      Thank you Kate and iPhone Photography School for the opportunity to share my thoughts and images. 🙂

  • Do you get the people you photograph to sign releases after you photograph them? I was a media student back in the early 90’s and we were told to always carry release forms with us back then. Some of the street photography that I’ve been looking at lately has me wondering if people are doing this or not and where the law stands these days in this regards…

    • Rob Pearson-Wright

      Hi Maureen. 99.9% of my shots are candid and I do not get releases signed. In the UK the law says it’s fine to take someone’s photo in a public place. If I wanted to use an image to sell something with a person’s likeness, I would need a release form signed by anyone potentially recognisable.

    • Thanks for the reply Rob! I will have to read more into the laws in the U.S. It used to be we did not need releases if the person was doing something in the line of public duty (i.e. police officer working, postal worker delivering mail) or if they were of a certain level of infamy, but we did need it if people were just going about their daily business. I only recently was introduced to street photography, so never really gave the topic much thought. It has been on my mind a lot though, as people keep walking into my shots! I also just assumed your photos were being sold, given their quality!

  • Prashant Thapa

    Hi Rob, congrats on winning the Terry O’Neill Award these are wonderful clicks, just wanted to know what do u tell people when they notice that u have taken their pictures. How do we make own-self invisible while taking people’s click.

    • Rob Pearson-Wright

      Hi Prashant! Many thanks for the congrats. The times I’ve had someone ask me why I’ve taken their photo have been very few. If they question me as to why I’ve taken a shot of them I normally say…”You look great in that hat….you have a cool look…etc Something complimentary to imply that I found them interesting. Then I say I’m a street photographer and that I just like taking pictures of interesting or cool people on the street to document the area or different types of people. 9 out of 10 times people are cool with that.
      The best way to be invisible…wear normal, bland clothes, blend in to your surroundings and pretend to be busy doing something other than taking pictures.
      If you use a mobile phone like an iPhone you can use the headphones to trigger the shutter or the volume buttons. I like to get close to the subject and will often pretend to make a phone call next to someone and catch the shot that way using the volume button to release the shutter once I have composed the image out of the corner of my eye. Experiment and see what works for you. You can be ninja sneaky or in your face.

  • KD

    Wow, Rob. You have just simplified my life, saved me money, AND inspired me! I’ve been thinking about getting a prime lens for my recently acquired hand-me-down DSLR (thanks Dad!)…or maybe even a Fuji x-100. I love street photography and want to try some. Now, I realize a great street photography camera has been in my pocket the whole time…my iPhone 5. I’ll look into a couple of the apps mentioned here too. Now, if the workday would just end so I can get out and shoot. Thanks and congratulations!