Meet the sports photographer swapping his camera for an iPhone

19 Aug 2016

Sports photographer Brad Mangin uses an iPhone to good effect. Image via Patrick Tehan

Photography is an expensive industry, with equipment and software not coming cheap. But what if you could just use your iPhone? We spoke to a sports photographer who does just that.

When you’re a photographer, getting the perfect shot is important. Finding the perfect moment, the perfect subject, the perfect lighting and the perfect timing are constant struggles.

But software and apps in recent years have meant perfection is no longer the ultimate, merely just one of many ingredients to a satisfactory shoot.

Sharing images, spreading your name and consistently enhancing your portfolio can now prove just as important. With Instagram, it has never been easier.

Willie McCovey statue on Opening Day in San Francisco, 2016. Image via Brad Mangin

Willie McCovey statue on Opening Day in San Francisco, 2016. Image via Brad Mangin

“I loved Instagram, I liked being able to share shots immediately with fans,” said Brad Mangin (@bmangin), a professional sports photographer in the US who has covered everything from Major League Baseball to PGA tournaments throughout the country.

“Back in 2012 I thought it would be fun to try using my iPhone,” he told me, now four years down the line and at the centre of a photography revolution.

That revolution has seen him publish a book, Instant Baseball, solely consisting of images he snapped using his iPhone 4s back in the day.

Instant Baseball book, 2013. Image via Brad Mangin

Instant Baseball book, 2013. Image via Brad Mangin

Now using the iPhone 6s, Mangin travels around with the PGA tour for colour shots, with the accessibility a smartphone gives you offering something far more powerful and better than any DLSR cameras can.

“I’m less intrusive, less intimidating [than people] with load cameras, tripods and drives,” said Mangin, who is based in California. This suggests some people are now so used to smartphones being around them, they can act more natural when Mangin is looking for an opportunistic shot.

“It’s awesome. As long as you know the limitations, don’t shoot tight action pics, then it’s fun. When I’m working for PGA tour they have their own staff photographers who are great, the best at what they do, with real big camera lenses capturing some seriously good shots. They do that, my job is to do what I do.”

Travis Ishikawa, 2014. Image via Brad Mangin

Travis Ishikawa, 2014. Image via Brad Mangin

In the four years since Mangin began working with the iPhone, a lot has changed, both in the hardware and software he relies on. Only using the native camera app, Instagram and Snapseed, he has seen file sizes and manipulation tools skyrocket in recent years.

“In 2012, Instagram wasn’t great, you couldn’t dial in the filters,” he said. “It was great to use but it hadn’t got the levels you might want. Now it’s a million times better. You can dial in everything, and there are brilliant editing tools I use a lot now.

“The iPhone, too, is way better. Files are way bigger, the quality is improved. Now you might have to crop a little because the file size is so big! When I look at now compared to 2012 there’s a world of difference. Today’s stuff looks amazing.”

Mangin’s work has proved immensely popular, too. Apple has since used his work to promote the iPhone in advertisements, with one such project, in particular, showing how far the industry has come.

Opening Day in San Francisco, 2016. Image via Brad Mangin

Opening Day in San Francisco, 2016. Image via Brad Mangin

An Apple campaign called ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ saw an image Mangin took, the day the device was released, make waves.

“It’s pretty crazy how things work,” Mangin wrote at the time. “I shot games at Monte Vista High School for my first newspaper job. The lights were bad and we were shooting black and white film that we developed forever in the darkroom just to get a faint image to try and make a decent print for the Saturday morning paper.

“Fast forward 27 years later and I am shooting a colour portrait on the same field with a freaking phone that gets published full page on the back cover of Sports Illustrated!”

Why an iPhone? Sony devices have better cameras, Samsung’s Galaxy Edge range are improvements on Apple’s flagship, too.

“Well… almost every photographer on the planet that I know uses Macs,” he told me.

“I grew up using Apple, when I was younger it was thought that creatives use Apple, geeks use PC. So it came from there.”

Mark Canha and Brett Lawrie, 2015. Image via Brad Mangin

Mark Canha and Brett Lawrie, 2015. Image via Brad Mangin

Of course, it’s not just an iPhone that Mangin packs in his case, with his baseball coverage also including his 400mm f/2.8 DLSR, which he spent $12,000 on as he shaped it into what he needed. Will the iPhone eventually render such a costly device redundant?

Not a chance, according to Mangin, as they both operate in two completely separate worlds. “It’s not going to happen, it’s not mathematically possible to get what I can from my 2.8 out of an iPhone, it will never happen.”

Instead, smartphones will increase the number of amateur photographers, which, in theory, makes professionals even more valuable.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic