The 2021 iPhone Photography Awards were announced recently. And while as usual, most of the attention revolved around the winners and the photographs that won awards (you can check them here), a look at the winners served up a huge lesson for every aspiring photographer out there (these days, that would mean almost everyone, given how omnipresent cellphone cameras are). No, it was not about the art of composing a photograph or spotting patterns that are not obvious, or even about getting a good subject.

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Photo by TheRegisti on Unsplash

No, it was much more than that.

Allow me to digress for a moment. One of the first questions that often get asked whenever we take a good picture is: “which camera/phone did you use to take it?” It is almost as if in some way, the camera (be it a proper camera or one in a phone) plays the biggest role in taking a picture. Well, there is no doubt that the camera is very important – hell, the photograph would not exist without it – but what so many of us sometimes forget is that it is the person behind the camera who actually makes the photograph happen. The cameras help, but no matter how much manufacturers hype them up, the cameras are just tools – of little use unless in the right hands.

Similarly, while new phones come with better cameras, it does not mean the older ones lose their capabilities. “The newer the phone, the better the picture it will take” is a principle that does not really need to apply if you use your device well. If that sounds difficult to believe, let’s take a look at that list of winners:

  • The Grand Prize Winner and Photographer of the Year Award: Istvan Kerekes of Hungary, Transylvanian Shepherds, (shot on iPhone 7)
  • First Place Photographer of the Year Award: Sharan Shetty of India, Bonding (shot on iPhone X)
  • Second Place: Dan Liu of China, untitled image (shot on iPhone 11 Pro Max)
  • Third Place: Jeff Rayner of USA for \Side-Walking on Air (shot on iPhone X)
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Shot on iPhone X by Jeff Rayner of USA

The four of the best photographs of the year were taken on an iPhone. The latest iPhones are the iPhone 12 series launched in late 2020. Now, let’s look at the cameras that took those photographs:

  • Grand Prize: iPhone 7 (2016)
  • First Prize: iPhone X (2017)
  • Second Prize: iPhone 11 Pro Max (2019)
  • Third Place: iPhone X (2017)
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Shot on iPhone 7 by Istvan Kerekes of Hungary

There you go – none of the photographs that won awards was from a new iPhone. In fact, the snap that took the grand prize was taken by an iPhone that is almost half a decade old – the iPhone 7! Only one of the top four photographs was taken by a relatively new iPhone – the second prize winner, which used an iPhone 11 Pro Max.

The lesson? Simple. The next time you want to take photographs, focus (pun intended) more on what you want to snap, and less on the kind of camera you have. Cameras can make a difference of course, but at the end of the day, you are the photographer and the camera is but a tool – no matter how new or old it is. In technical terms, the iPhone 7 is way behind the iPhone 12 series – it is a single 12-megapixel sensor, as compared to the dual and triple-camera setups on its newer siblings. It has no ultrawide, no telephoto sensors, and it is powered by a chip that is no longer used by Apple itself. And yet in the hands of Istvan Kerekes, it took a picture that no other iPhone could. So do not worry about the phone model you have and go ahead and say cheese to some good photography then.

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Shot on iPhone X by Sharan Shetty of India

There will always be better cameras out there, but the best camera is the one you have when you want to click a picture.

(Note: some might say that one of the morals of the story could also be that even older iPhones take great photographs. We would not argue with that, but we think that the lesson goes beyond that.)

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