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Time Magazine cover image shot with iPhone: interview with Ben Lowy

Mel Martin
11.06.12
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Ben Lowy is what photography professionals call a "conflict photographer." He goes where the dramatic stories are, and in recent years has been to Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and now to the US states knocked hard by Hurricane Sandy. His equipment of choice? Often it's an iPhone 4S, plus some iOS apps for image editing and getting photos to his editors.

Time Magazine likes his work so much that an image he captured with an iPhone recently graced the cover of the publication. Lowy told me by phone yesterday that he has really embraced the iPhone in the last few years.

I asked him if it was embarrassing as a pro to be carrying an iPhone when most of his colleagues are into Nikon and Canon gear. "People don't think twice about it," Lowy told me. "It's a fast little camera and I do like that on a tough assignment." At times though, he says, "pros will push me aside" assuming he is a tourist or amateur.

He's not a photographer who uses a lot of filters, but he does add some grain for effect, and plays with curves and color balance. The results are terrific, and sometimes people are surprised with the modest gear he uses to produce his iconic images.

While in the field, Lowy carries two iPhones (if one fails) and Mophie Juice Packs, since there often is no place to recharge. He also carries a small LED light from Manfrotto.

As for software, he often uses Hipstamatic and Snapseed. When working with Time, he uses the magazine's Instagram account to get pictures back while he is on assignment.

If he has one complaint about the iPhone it is low-light performance. Lowy likes to do a lot of work at "Golden Hour" near dawn or sunset, and he wishes the iPhone would let him control shutter speed and depth of field. "What you are giving up is some creative control. You can do some things with filters, but the iPhone camera does have limitations." Sometimes the iPhone blows out highlights, and that's another thing he has to be aware of. On the other hand, Lowy loves the ability to get pictures out quickly to share them with an eager audience.

I asked him about the iPhone as an artistic tool that competes with expensive camera equipment. Lowy says it is the mind of the photographer that defines the quality of the image, not the equipment. "Everyone has a pen," says Lowy, "but not everyone can draw."

That sentiment is proven when you look at Lowy's images. You can see some of his impressive work at his website, and almost any day in the major news outlets.

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