If you’re struggling to find inspiration for your iPhone photography, you’re going to love this interview with Matt Inwood who takes incredible photos of everyday subjects, mostly in his own home. With a fascination for finding beauty in the mundane, he uses natural light and careful composition to portray his subjects in the most amazing way. In this interview you’ll learn more about Matt, and how he uses his iPhone to capture stunning beauty in everything around him.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a 40-year-old graphic designer who’s spent the majority of his professional life working in food publishing, creating (mostly cookery) books and art-directing the photographers and illustrators who work on them.
I live in England, in a small Wiltshire town with my wife and two daughters. I studied fine art (but all of my best friends were graphic designers!).
How did your iPhone photography journey begin?
When I used to work in-house for a food publisher, I had an idea to shoot one of the books we had commissioned entirely on the iPhone. I was working with the photographer David Loftus at the time, whose Instagram account (@davidloftus) might be familiar to many of your readers.
Shooting on the phone was second nature to him, and sharing via social media was something he was always doing. He loved the idea of shooting the book with an iPhone.
He introduced me to the Hipstamatic-built Oggl app and I started experimenting with it. I immersed myself in it completely for a while and then started on Instagram a month or two later, and have forever since dovetailed the two.
What inspires you to take photos with the iPhone?
Many individual subjects, of course. I’m often mesmerized by the the way light gives shape to the world around us and I have a desire to hold onto so many of those impressions. But there are two general motivations which make the phone the best camera for me.
I’m fascinated by the everyday, the unexceptional and the beauty manifest within it. The iPhone is always with me and so it’s the easiest way to capture this quickly.
The other main motivation is to go further, to create something which is itself beautiful. This is where learning how to shoot and edit with the phone and the apps I use comes in. I feel it’s taken a lot of time to find a way to do this and to find “my” style.
So, in short, it’s really the same age-old two reasons which encourage most artists to pick up a camera, a pencil or a brush – to both reflect and enhance the world around us.
You shoot a lot of your iPhone photos at home, capturing beautiful still life images of everyday subjects such as flowers, food and other household items, as well portrait photos of your children and pets. What inspires you to photograph these kinds of subjects?
I shoot food because I’ve worked in food publishing for most of my working life. During that time, I’ve mixed with some of the most talented cooks, chefs and food stylists around, and commissioned some of the very best food photographers in the business. So, a love of food and how we see food is part of who I am and always will be.
I also love small details – often those things which are overlooked or thought insignificant. I love the power of the mundane. I’m fascinated by the things which are constantly around me and the beauty they have, and seeing that beauty repeat itself in different lights or contexts.
In my writing (www.athousandfragments.com), I love to write about the banal – a button which has become unthreaded from the fabric of a coat, perhaps – and I love to do the same thing with images. One of the comments I’ve treasured most on my Instagram is, “you make such insignificant things appear beautiful.”
With the children, the cats and dogs – they are, of course, the most beautiful and easily available subjects I always have to hand. I love that I have a record of my daughters as they grow up.
Food photography is probably the subject most frowned upon by serious iPhone photographers – apart from selfies! But your food pictures aren’t the typical “what I had for dinner” images that plague Instagram. Your photos are beautiful, colorful, well lit and thoughtfully composed. What tips do you have for anyone wanting to take amazing food photos with their iPhone?
Ha! Yes, the ubiquitous “here’s my dinner” photo has been much maligned (and rightly so). I think people fail to use Instagram well when they feel the urge to record and share every aspect of their day. I’ve never understood the need to photograph and share pictures of one’s own face (although that perhaps speaks volumes about my face).
I think Instagram is wonderful when it does one of two things: delivers something beautiful or something useful (and to achieve one is to effectively achieve the other). The best accounts do this.
I’ve been around wonderful food photographers for many years and feel I’ve learned an awful lot from them. You can learn so much from a food photographer such as Jean Cazals. He’s an artist, but he’s absolutely a brilliant technician. His images tell me so much about lighting and composition.
A food photographer such as David Loftus inspires because he bridges the gap between the photographic and the painterly (he had a brilliant illustration career before he took up photography). I watch and learn from them all closely.
I’m a designer, so I see the world in neat little shapes. Many of my images have a very graphic quality – shot overhead or front-on, with minimal background noise or clutter.
I’ve watched many food stylists carefully, too, so I see how they work and I try to put food on the plate in a pretty way (although I never really labour over this aspect – I think a “natural” look is best).
Food always looks best in daylight, and I very rarely shoot it any other way. I tend to shoot in one of two places when at home, depending on the time of day and the fall of light. If something looks bad next to the front window, I take it to the back window.
I always avoid harsh light on food. If shooting next to the window creates too heavy a look, I come away into the middle of the room where the light is softer, or I’ll drape a tea towel in front of the window to diffuse the light.
I try to compose things naturally. Wood is a wonderful surface for a plate of food, not least because your viewer can believe it to be their own tabletop.
And I think it’s important not to be lazy or to allow anything to distract from your subject, so clear the background or the sides of clutter. That means the handle of that saucepan just poking into frame or that can of coconut milk just creeping into shot.
These will be the things which really annoy and distract when you’re about to upload your beautifully captured plate of food to Instagram and realize it’s too late to re-shoot it because you’ve just eaten the contents of your imperfect last photo!
Who makes the delicious food that we see in your Instagram feed?
I make the majority of the dishes you see. My work has enabled me to work with some outstanding chefs and stylists over the years.
I’m always keen to get a snap or two of the food that they produce while with them, though I’m always respectful and wary of getting under the feet of the photographer I’m working with.
A typical book shoot these days often includes one photographer and half a dozen other people desperate to get a shot with their phones. I try to be one of the less intrusive of that half-dozen!
My wife gets credited with creating some of the food too, and my daughters have been known to throw the odd cupcake or bowl of frosting around.
I very rarely photograph anything while I’m out and about eating socially, not least because the light is often too thin or artificial, but mostly because I don’t want to be “that” person photographing their dinner! I also like my wife to believe that I have a life outside of Instagram.
Your beautiful cats and dog feature in your photos, and they make fantastic subjects. Photographing animals can be notoriously difficult, so what advice do you have for capturing better iPhone photos of pets?
Bo (my golden retriever) is the most patient and loyal subject any photographer could wish for. She would do anything for me and I think you can almost sense that in the pictures of her.
The cats (three of them) are positively feral by comparison! Treats help for holding their focus. The scattergun approach works well – snap quickly and repeatedly and one of your ten shots might come off.
Lighting is also crucial for furry types! If I use the north light at the front of the house I get a completely different look to the south light at the back of the house.
One light will be soft and give definition to every single whisker and hair on their coat. The other will give shade and contrast.
The pet pictures in particular are often very “posed.” I like that the majority of them are quite formal portraits, not snaps. I like the mock-seriousness of them.
Let’s talk about photo apps. Are there any apps that you use for taking photos besides the native Camera app?
Believe it or not, I almost never use the native Camera app. I only shoot with the Oggl app, created by Hipstamatic.
The Hipstamatic and Oggl apps work by selecting different lens and film “combos” to create unique effects. Do you have tried and tested combos that work well to create a particular look and feel, and if so will you share some of your favorite combos with us?
With the Hipstamatic app you had to select the film and lens combo in advance – decide exactly how you wanted your image to appear – and you then couldn’t change your mind to edit later.
But when Hipstamatic launched their Oggl app, they created the ability to edit the film and lens combo after you’ve taken the shot. That makes a huge difference.
I didn’t use Hipstamatic pre-Oggl, so don’t have any experience of having the lens and film combo defined in advance. That said, the majority of my shots use one combination – the “Lowy” lens and the “DC” film. I also like the “Loftus” lens.
After those two lenses, I tend to think of the others which I use as the “special effects.” So the “John S” lens, for instance, is capable of mind-blowing landscape images, pumping up the saturation and light on both sky and grass for a wonderful effect
The “Tinto 1884” lens has a beautiful narrow depth of field, but needs to be used sparingly and only works well for certain light, colors and subjects.
The “Salvador” lens is great fun for creating mirrored Rorschach-style images. And films such as “Rasputin,” “Sussex” and “BlankOL” all deliver wonderful painterly effects over the top of the photo.
I always ensure I credit these combos and the Hipstamatic/Oggl apps when I share my photos on Instagram, taking care to hashtag and acknowledge the apparatus with which the image was created.
This is both to show the “truth” of how the image was created, but foremost to thank Hipstamatic and share a love for what they enable lay photographers like myself to do.
What are your favorite apps for post-processing?
Just Instagram. I say “just,” but actually the power of the Instagram editing suite is now immense. They seem to have been updating the app time and again over the last six to nine months – it used to be very basic indeed.
Now, even if I don’t post the picture to Instagram, I still use the Instagram editing suite to finish off almost every image I wish to keep (there might be images of my children, for instance, which I wish to make beautiful but keep personal).
Normally you have to share an edited Instagram photo before it will save to your Camera Roll, but if you put your phone into Airplane Mode using the Settings app you can get around this.
Edit your image using Instagram, then tap “Share.” Because the phone is in Airplane Mode it won’t be able to connect to the internet to publish the photo (you’ll see a “Failed” message at the top of your Instagram window, with “Retry” and “Cancel” icons next to it).
However, Instagram will still save the edited photo to your Camera Roll. Just make sure you cancel the image from the top of the Instagram window and then turn Airplane Mode off afterwards.
Do you use any iPhone photography accessories?
Until a few weeks ago, none at all. But a friend bought me an Mpow 3-in-1 clip on lens which is very good fun indeed. It has wide angle, fisheye and macro lens attachments, and I’m still very much experimenting with it at the moment.
Can you briefly explain the story and editing process behind your three favorite iPhone photos?
This image is of a very old cookery book. One of the leaves was loose and this element gives the picture a really nice point of interest. I shot it with Oggl using the “Tinto1884” lens and “BlankoFreedom13” film.
The Tinto lens has a lovely shallow depth of field, which softened most of the subject and turned a picture of a book into something much more abstract in appearance. Indeed, my favorite thing about this picture is that it looks more like a beach and seascape than a book.
I don’t know whether this is a favorite shot, per se, but I think it gloriously celebrates wonderful ingredients. It’s a most joyous dish to eat (broad beans, peas and ricotta on toast).
It’s got a beautiful garnish with the mint leaves and purple chive blossoms scattered over the top, which make it such a pretty and beautifully colored thing.
I eat this dish quite a lot through spring-summer and it always make me very happy. It was shot using the “Lowy” lens and “Irom2000” film.
This shot of my mother is very dear to me. I’ve written often about my mother, but I’ve pointed a camera at her perhaps only a handful of times during my life.
I’d paid her a surprise visit, together with my youngest daughter. Her happiness to see us both that day was so wonderful. We’d spent a few lovely hours together and then I saw her sitting there in her chair, looking so wonderfully content.
The moment and look felt so right, so I asked her if I could take her photo. And she said, yes, “if you want to.”
It had been raining and dark for most of the day, but the early afternoon light had a wonderful late-in-the-day feel about it and fell on her so kindly.
It’s a photo that talks to me all the time and I never tire of looking at it. And I’m grateful always for the memory which it will help to preserve. It was shot using the “Loftus” lens and “Irom2000” film.
Do you ever shoot with any other cameras?
No. I used to own an entry-level Nikon DSLR. I actually shot a couple of (very basic) cookbooks using this camera. But I sold it about five years ago and haven’t owned another since.
Do you find that shooting with the iPhone has any limitations for your photography?
I think the iPhone’s limitations are the thing which charm me the most.
My iPhone photography is 99% centered around Instagram, so I’m always photographing with Instagram in mind. As I’ve already mentioned, there are images I don’t publish, which I still look to “complete” by editing with Instagram.
Every photo I take is square. I’ve come to view the world in little squares! I frame views of each of my daughters inside these parameters. I see a breakfast of smashed-up avocado inside these four walls of equal length.
A few professional photographers have commented kindly from time to time that they enjoy my work but that it must be sad that I don’t shoot primarily on DSLR and have a large-format or non-square image of “that shot” of my daughter or “that plate of food.”
But I don’t feel that way. I love that I’ve defined and am working within these self-imposed constraints.
What tips do you have for beginner iPhone Photographers who want to start taking more creative photos with their iPhone?
Get the basics right. Get key horizontals and verticals parallel with the edges of the frame (especially horizon lines). If shooting overhead, make sure you’re directly overhead, not slightly off-piste.
Study the way that light falls on a subject. Take your subject to a north-facing window and then to a south-facing one and see the difference.
Equip yourself with some very simple tools, such as a sheet of white card to reflect and “fill” light, and a white cloth to filter light. Steady your arm (use a wall to lean into or a table top to lean onto).
Take lots of images of your chosen subject – you’ll see something in one of them that you like. Once you’ve identified that thing, you’ll probably be able to focus better on that quality and improve your image the next time round.
If you take ten beautiful photos of the same thing, share just one of them and resist sharing the other nine. Love the best result and challenge yourself to return to the subject another day and do it differently and better. Practice as much as you can.
Don’t pay heed to those #NoFilter tags/brags on Instagram (hold the picture of the sunset on your phone up alongside the sunset itself to see the lie which is #NoFilter).
The phone itself is the first and most profound of filters, and there’s so much beauty possible if you want to be creative and push colors, contrast, angles and depth of field. The result is as “true” as the creative spirit which creates it.
But, similarly, don’t strive to distort or “distress” that which is already beautiful. Have as much fun experimenting as you can.
You’ll find a style in time. And once you do, that’s a beautiful thing because your images will become consistently recognizable to others. That will make them stand out from a crowd of millions, which, after all, is the thing in life which most of us aspire towards.
Which iPhone photographers do you admire the most?
Gosh, I’m terrified by the thought of who I’m about to miss out. For food, I love the light of Regula Ysewijn (@missfoodwise) – it moulds itself around the forms of every dish and ingredient she puts in front of the camera. Her pictures have such weight.
Aran Goyoaga (@cannellevanille) makes wonderful food and photographs it beautifully. Her work always inspires me in so many ways.
I love @thefoodiebugle – Silvana (the Foodie Bugle creator behind the lens) is a great example of someone who uses her camera and Instagram to share knowledge, dispense gratitude and acknowledge the wonders of the people she works with. She has a very simple aesthetic which works for her brand perfectly.
Nadia Dole (@laporterouge) gives her home and surroundings the look of some ethereal other world. The light and her love for everything she points her camera at are always very moving. Pieter Ten Hoopen (@pietertenhoopen) takes incredible portraits and landscapes.
There are also photographers I came to know through their use of, or love for, Hipstamatic, such as @ivanbradauskas (amazingly moody images), @cristi.an (just an incredible eye for a photograph) and Dror Blumberg (@drorbl).
Dror is forever experimenting and showing the world through different lenses and filters. His love for his medium and photographic communities is as passionate as anyone who I follow. All of these Hipstamatic photographers create vivid and beautiful pictures.
Where can we see your iPhone photography?
I also run the Instagram account @1000cookbooks. It’s a new digital start-up aiming to become the best online resource for curated food and recipe content. I’m the designer involved with it all.