iPhone·tography Archi·sketch·ure

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about my iPhone is how it’s opened up new photographic possibilities.  My photography used to be subject-focused with nature being the primary theme.  The iPhone helped shift my perspective from one of subject-based photography to being more creativity-based instead.  I understand the affinity for exploring natural subjects, but now find simply taking and processing images to be at least as satisfying as hiking my favorite nature trail or visiting a particularly scenic location.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve started to focus on architecture.  That’s partly because Tucson, where I now live, has more of it.  Previously, living in rural northern Arizona, there just weren’t many buildings to photograph.  Tucson has a lot by comparison.  The University of Arizona is perhaps my favorite place.  It’s always building something new and has considerable diversity with regard to the size and style of its structures.  The facades of the buildings were clearly designed to be eye-catching, and there are plenty of details to explore as well. Stairs and stairwells, as you can tell from the images here, are something I find particularly interesting.

My favorite time to visit is in late December and early January during the holiday break because there is almost no one around.  Most hiking trails and national parks would probably be more crowded.  The weather is quite pleasant (it’s Tucson, after all) and I mostly have the place to myself.  In this regard, it’s very much like the natural places I visited in the 1980s on the Colorado Plateau.  It’s still easier for me to get in touch with the character of a place when there are fewer people to share it with.

I have an older iPhone.  It has just one 12-megapixel camera with a 29-mm equivalent lens and a constant f/2.2 aperture.  This combination works well for photographing architecture and might be part of the reason I’ve started exploring in this direction. The field-of-view, approximately 44 degrees, is just wide enough to include a slightly expansive scene, though I do sometimes lay on the ground to get all of a particular building into the frame. The f/2.2 aperture is smaller than on current iPhones for this focal length, which is probably a good thing for providing additional depth-of-field for buildings, where distance from the lens can vary considerably.  Overall, I’m very pleased with image sharpness even though I rarely choose a focal point. I also rarely adjust brightness or shutter speed. These architecture images are mostly point-and-shoot.

One of the best discoveries about using the iPhone for photography is that I don’t have to compromise when it comes to processing.  The DNG files from the Lightroom Mobile camera app work just fine in Lightroom and Camera Raw, and I can even apply a linear profile.  The same also applies in Photoshop.  Luminosity masks, color masks, the different actions in the TK8 plugin . . . they all work the same.  In fact, maybe better.  These 12-megapixel image files are only half the size of those from most APS-C cameras and even smaller compared to those from full-frame and medium format digital cameras.  It’s extremely rare that my computer bogs down during processing, even if I’ve added lots of layers in Photoshop. 

For architectural photography, I always experiment with the sketch actions in the TK8 “Workflow Extras” section. These come courtesy of my photographer friend Steve Dell.  They have been incorporated to some degree in almost all the images in this article.  These actions add a certain level of definition and simplification to the image, which helps create better separation between the various elements.  As a result, there is added clarity in pattern relationships, which is often the hallmark of architectural images.  They also provide a way to re-balance contrast. With the sketch actions, dark areas can get lighter to overcome blocked shadows, but the dark edges are still black, which maintains global contrast.

Even though all the images in this article are monochrome, I don’t necessarily use the “B&W Sketch” action to do the conversion.  Sometimes I do, but it’s also common to convert the image to monochrome using a different technique and then applying either the “Color Sketch” or “B&W Sketch” afterwards.  Additionally, the opacity of the sketch group is usually lowered so that the sketch effect better matches what’s needed for the image and to make it less obvious that a sketch technique has even been used.

The sketch itself is highly adjustable.  The smart object layer allows for trying different settings for the Minimum filter, which determines the strength of the edge blackness.  For the “Adjust Sketch” Levels adjustment layer, pulling the midtones or “gamma” slider to the right is almost always necessary to restore realistic contrast in the darker tones.  But there is no one-size-fits-all approach for using these sketch actions.   Like with many things in Photoshop, I keep fiddling until I get something I like.

There’s no question that using the iPhone for photography has changed my photographic focus.  There seems to be more things to photograph now, and I’m instantly ready to engage with whatever catches my eye.  My compositions feel more certain when viewed on the phone’s larger screen, and it’s easier to try different compositions with unusual angles to see what might work.  Having a single-focal-length lens might seem constraining (and I admit that I sometimes miss having a telephoto option), but it also creates a situation where the equipment needed to take a photograph almost disappears.  A 4-ounce camera is incredibly liberating both physically and creatively. 

And the creative possibilities aren’t just enhanced when taking pictures.  With a larger collection of raw files, I’m also working more in Camera Raw and Photoshop to see where processing will take these images.  The old adage that “Photographers would rather be out taking pictures than in front of a computer processing them” simply doesn’t apply to me.  I love processing images as much as I love taking them. It’s all part of the creative process, and that’s what I enjoy.  However, it’s important to keep in mind that creativity is neither in the camera nor in the computer.  It’s in the photographer.  Computers and cameras are merely the tools for setting it free.

Dave Kelly also has a video on using the sketch actions which I’ll link below. I’m starting to use them in more subtle ways now, but this video provides some good ideas to get started.

25 thoughts on “iPhone·tography Archi·sketch·ure

    1. I’m using the Lightroom Mobile camera app. Lightroom Mobile is included in your Creative Cloud subscription and it has a camera app that uses the iPhone’s camera to capture raw files. So, means you don’t have to work with jpg images, and, unlike Apple Pro Raw and HEIC, all of Lr and Camera Raw functionality, including linear profiles, is available. There are other camera apps that capture in DNG, but I don’t know if they’re as versatile when it comes to developing the images starting in Lr or Camera Raw.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is another great idea, Tony. Having just visited Tucson a couple months ago and shot around the city, photographically of course, you’ve given me an idea for using the Color Sketch technique for processing them. I use it quite often to slightly enhance landscape images at low opacity.
    All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tony,
    What you wrote about how iPhone has extended your range of photography resonates with me very much. I now have an iPhone 12 mini. I even use it in combination with my system camera, specially the iPhone´s super wide camera, when I only bring my 24-105mm with me.
    Thanks for trying to define the linear profile for the superwide camera of 12 mini. I think I understand the reason why it is not feasible. I guess the super wide distorts the view so much, that it has to be corrected by sw, thus Apple will not be able/willing to record real uncorrected raw data. And if they would, the data might be less useful.


    1. I was able to make a linear profile for the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max ultra-wide cameras, and other iPhone ultra-wide cameras. So, it seems it should be doable for the 12 mini also. Contact me if you’d like to try again. If I can get a DNG from the Lr Mobile app, it usually works.


  3. Tony, I really enjoyed your latest post! I have a fairly high-end D850 and have to admit I think I’ll be taking it out less and less. The Apple 14 Pro has a magnificent camera and can even do some bracketing stuff. I haven’t looked yet, but I assume you have a linear profile for this camera?

    Thanks for all the good work.


    1. Yes, there are linear profiles for the iPhone 14 models, at least the Pro and Pro Max. I don’t think I have linear profiles from the non-iPhone 14 Pro models yet, but will add them if someone sends me raw files. Remember, in order to use a linear profile with iPhones, you need to capture a DNG with the camera that Lr and Camera Raw can use to apply linear profiles. That’s why I use the Lightroom Mobile camera app to take pictures with my iPhone. Those DNGs definitely with linear profiles.


  4. Thank you Tony !!
    You’ve solved my concerns with trying to explain why I am using my iPhone more & more. Why I am enjoying post processing even more. The iPhone has reignited my interest in photography and the joys of exploring.


  5. Hi Tony,

    I keep thinking I need a smaller camera to take with me for hiking and travel. This has inspired me to try my iPhone with the Lightroom mobile app as the dedicated camera. I think the only thing I’d miss is the longer reach that some of the compacts have.


    1. Since most of us have phone cameras already, they’re certainly worth a try. And the Lr Mobile camera app is free if you have a Creative Cloud subscription. If nothing else, experimenting with this format will let you know if this works for you and whether or not you want to continue to use it. The important thing is to take pictures with the phone camera the same way you would with a “real” camera. That is, work to find the best composition and consider how the light and elements are working together. If you take your iPhone camera seriously it can produce some seriously good images.


  6. Tony — This article is much appreciated, very informative and frankly quite motivating. Over the last year or so, we seem to have reached the point where even dedicated ILC shooters are coming out and helping us understand just how useful those iPhone cameras can be. On the technical side, I had no idea I could use Lr mobile to capture DNG on my iPhone. Another area to explore. Thanks!!!


    1. Once I found I could get a raw file from my phone that was fully supported by Lr/Camera Raw, I knew I would be using it more. And, once I saw the images I could make with the phone, I’m talking prints now, I was hooked. This combination for portability and image quality is unparalleled, IMO.


  7. Dear Tony, I used the Lightroom app to take some dng photos yesterday on my iPhone and am amazed at the results. My iPhone is a 12.8 mp SE generation 3. I didn’t see a linear profile for it so I tried the generation 2 version. It doesn’t work. Can you provide a profile for gen 3? I feel guilty asking you for things that are free, but I really like linear profiles. Thank you for all that you do. Steve Baggett


      1. I tried that and installed it and it doesn’t show up as an option. I tried to reinstall it and Lightroom says it’s already there. I will go through the steps again and reboot everything and see if I can get it to work.


      2. OK, it’s installed then. I have a list of troubleshooting tips that might help if rebooting doesn’t work. Contact me via my website and I can send them if the reboot didn’t work.


  8. Hi Tony:

    I so agree with you about these shots, and that creativity is in the photographer, with the computer and camera being tools for this. I also agree that most of the fun is in post-processing especially with programs like TK8 and other PS tools that really challenge our creative juices.

    I love your architectural shots and you have inspired me to get more into my iPhone (I carry around my little Canon R7 for daily shots) and see what I can find. Architectural shots are pretty limitless here in LA, except for the very limiting traffic! I’m attaching a couple of recent shots of Disney Hall and Downtown LA, which I converted to B&W. There is so much to explore and learn, right?

    Be well.




  9. Great eye with the architectural lines! And the wheels are turning for me with this Sketch feature. Thanks for sharing.


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