How Pu From Appotography Creates Art With iPhone

Today I’m really excited to share an interview with Pu the Owl, an iPhone artist and a fellow iPhone photography blogger from Appotography. Even though Pu is modest about her iPhone photography, her photos speak louder than words. In this interview you’re going to find out more about Pu’s work as an iPhone photographer and blogger.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I could write a self-flattering introduction, instead I’ll start by saying I’ve been ridiculed as the most incompetent shooter for years at home. In the end, I think it all began because unconsciously I knew I had to do something to clear my name.

Before starting to take photography seriously, I had a phase in which I thought I was going to be a filmmaker. I got into film studies because, besides being an avid watcher, I liked that a film is a complex vehicle with the power to combine photography with writing — which is another thing I do on regular basis — and other creative tasks as well.

But filmmaking was not for me, first and foremost because I like doing creative things on my own and films are too much of a collective effort. So I decided to stick to still photography and image editing and did a lot of stock and concert photography for a while.


I got into iPhone photography in 2009, but I turned it into a major interest only after starting Appotography in 2010. At that point I felt authorized to mess around with mobile photography tools and to share my ideas on the matter.

However, I tried to keep my photos and the site as separate entities, because I didn’t like the idea of using Appotography to “show off”. This self-imposed limitation eventually robbed me of most of my original enthusiasm, so I decided to revise my position and recently I started to be a little more open and let the two sides of my interest mingle.

How did your journey in iPhoneography begin?

In late 2009 I was going to move abroad and I needed some kind of device to document the move and keep in touch with people. I was after something more immediate and flexible than a laptop and DSRL combo. I hate phones and I didn’t have a decent one to begin with, so I was eager to take advantage of this excuse.


So far, I have never actually used the iPhone and iPad for their “phone” capabilities, but mostly for creative purposes. When I show some of my images to random people they are very confused. The majority still think the iPhone’s is just a lesser camera, and the most you can do with it is to take a few snapshots and stick a colored retro filter over them before sharing through the various social media. Of course you can do all these things, but I appreciate these devices as powerful creative instruments.

In a nutshell, what is Appotography and who should read it?

With Appotography, we (there is another person in the “staff”, good old Harry, but he rarely writes; he mainly does site maintenance) tried to share information to make it easier for whomever needed support in a form or another to find answers to their questions.

Up to the present day, Appotography was first and foremost a way to get acquainted with specific mobile tools and an outlet so that our acquired knowledge, however limited it may be, should not be wasted. In some cases, we just shared personal experience on dealing with hardware and software, experimenting and testing to give the most unbiased opinion possible on this or that app and on how to use them proficiently. In other cases, we did research especially for the site, sometimes adapting to readers’ special requests.


We also expressed our view on problematic subjects, like the question of licensing photos to social media. Personally, I’m far from being an authority (the whole notion of self-proclaimed “authority” is stupidly pretentious, anyway), but I don’t think I’ll be arrogant stating that most mobile users need this kind of support at some point; if what we write is helpful, it’s all the better.

How did you decide to create Appotography?

I first started the site in summer 2010 as a way to voice a very basic need. I found most reviews in the App Store were not detailed enough to answer my questions and often even the app’s summary was not very informative. I assumed there must be others with my same unanswered questions about this or that app.

Some objected that downloading and seeing for yourself is quicker than hunting for and reading reviews, but sometimes I found annoying to download perhaps a dozen of tools doing all the same thing instead of what I expected them to do or not knowing if the app was capable of saving at a reasonable resolution. At the time there were fewer sites on the subject compared to what we have now.

You have covered countless photo apps on your blog. What are the three apps that every iPhoneographer should use?

Which apps to use is a matter of what kind of images you want to produce. I usually recommend getting a versatile shooting app, like Camera+ or ProCamera, and a solid layer editor, like Leonardo or Laminar. With just these two you can do most things as you would with a full-fledged camera and editing platform setup.

Handy Photo is excellent for correcting issues as wrong framing and for clean-up, Snapseed for local adjustments. For people who just want to take pictures with traditional photography flair, VSCOCam is probably the best (it comes with fairly good shooting features as well). These are more than three, I hope you don’t mind.


Absolutely not!

In his final blog post Glyn Evans argued that there are now less and less new and worthwhile photo apps coming out (and thus less to write about). Do you agree with Glyn?

I think that’s the “natural” course everything follows. You go through an experimental phase, when you have all sorts of paths slowly opening before your very eyes. During this phase even the most trifling ideas, like adding a Polaroid frame to a mobile picture, seem truly exciting. Then you have a climax, in which what you have devised during the experimental phase is refined. Derivative ideas and products, often better than the originals, come out apparently in a continuous, inexhaustible flow.

After that you reach a moment of creative stagnation and even decadence, in which quantity takes over quality and the same formulas are repeated ad nauseam, until a radical change comes into play and gets things started again. We are going through a stagnation phase now, but sooner or later development in technology is going to reshuffle things and fresh ideas will start once again to pour out.

Tell us a bit about how you normally take photos. Do you have any favorite subjects or scenes?

I am a collector, I have always been. I go around and collect situations and fragments of reality. Unlike some photographers who feel comfortable focusing on clear-cut genres (street, landscape, abstract, whatever) I don’t feel like devoting all my efforts to a specific subject, mainly because I find artistic definitions panic-inducing.

On the other hand, I know I have recurring themes and motifs, some visual idiosyncrasies almost, like the tendency to do mainly monochrome or to incorporate together incongruous elements. I can find visual material in the most diverse contexts, in a street scene, in a patch of dirt on the floor, or I can bring it all together through montage.


I always have a camera with me and the iPhone is more often than not my go-to camera right now. Unless I start with a definite project in mind, I put all the photos I take aside until the right moment comes to bring them back. Some of these photos sit idly for just a few hours; some others have to wait months or years for their moment.

Like bag ladies, I rarely get rid of anything, that’s why my storage space is always bursting. The truth is I am less and less attracted by creating hit-and-run images for the sake of it. Like everybody, I produced plenty of those in former times, but now I feel the need to revise and think twice before sharing pictures I took and edited on a whim.

What advice do you have for beginner iPhone photographers who want to start taking better photos?

The wisest advice I can offer to anybody is to slow down. I know these days it feels essential to be quick and prolific and to keep other people’s interest high by sharing image after image without stopping, even when you have nothing worthwhile to display.

But thinking takes time and to make images that will have some relevance after the first couple of hours in the cyber-wilderness you need to reflect and know what you want to say or document with them. Slowing down will be reflected in more accurate composition and control over your subject matter, a more personal approach, and more rigorous self-criticism. These are all fundamental to better photos.

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


The image is a composite of two separate back-lit shots taken with Camera+ at the end of summer 2011. The dreamy effect was achieved by attaching to the iPhone a macro lens, like the one coming with the Olloclip. With the macro attachment on, the camera is unable to focus at a distance, but with the right light conditions and subjects it will create very interesting effects.

Editing was done in the now defunct PhotoForge2. I imported the two shots as separate layers and changed blending mode for the shot above. Then I flattened them and added a texture over the result, finally adjusting color toning and contrast to achieve the dark sepia effect.


For this image, I used four separate shots: the window, my face, the little walking man and the gas mask. I fixed perspective issues in Genius Scan and assembled all the pictures through layer masking in Laminar.

In Laminar I also adjusted levels for better contrast and values. I achieved the painterly effect in Repix and merged it with the original composite. Color to black and white conversion and textures were achieved in Snapseed.


The photo was taken in Reykjavik in spring 2010. At the time I was living in Iceland and I loved taking pictures of buildings in the city. The one pictured here is one of the first concrete buildings of Iceland. In a country where everything tends to fall apart after just a few years because of the harshness of the weather, such a thing has a tremendous historical value.

The seagull flying over the building is an actual bird. Even if birds often make for clichéd images and there is a strong party of bird-haters among iPhoneographers, I still like when I can expressively use them… When material allows it, that is.

From a post-processing point of view, this is a basic picture. I took the original shot in Camera, an app I rarely use because of its limitations. The black and white conversion was done in Film Lab. I am not 100% sure about the app I used to add the border, but I think it was DXP.

Which mobile photographers do you admire the most?

Well, I like Tamas Andok, David Ingraham and Koci Hernandez for their evocative street photos, Nettie Edwards for her transfigured depiction of reality, Sarah Jarrett for her emblematic collages, Janine Graf for her quirky imagery and humor. There are more though. I don’t feel comfortable picking just a few names…

What do you think about the new iPhones? Are you upgrading?

The 5C model is basically a flashy remix of the iPhone 5. On the other hand, the 5S has some interesting new hardware and software feature. However, even though I am curious and I’m really fond of the iPhone as a creative instrument, I’m not obsessed by tech specs at all, so I’m usually not into upgrading as soon as new models come out. Well, that’s true unless I have reasons to believe the upgrade will make a substantial difference in the way I shoot and edit.


Where do you think mobile photography is headed in the future?

I’m pretty sure mobile and non-mobile photography will become one and the same at some point. On either side specs will catch up and there will be no difference among the two. Even now, some photographers are showing how to use the two interchangeably, concerning themselves more with creative possibilities than with technical trifles.

Do you have anything exciting planned for the future of Appotography?

With the partner in crime I have been working for some time on a global revision of the site’s format and intents. As we were saying above, talking apps is less relevant now that in the past and I would love the site to be less “jack of all trades” and be a more accurate representation of my editorial stance and creative interests. Time is however very strange and it moves in the most unlikely directions, so I cannot give you exact details yet.

Where can we see your iPhone photography?

I sparsely post finished images on Appotography and when I do it’s often in the form of tutorials or samples. Besides, you will find me here:

My photo and art website | Flickr | iPhoneArt | EyeEm

Feel free to say hello if you stop by. I am not a capable social tamer and entertainer, but I am open to exchange ideas with others.