iPhoneography: Show life as it really happens.

Chances are, if you have seen photos from World Vision, you have also seen the work of World Vision photographer, Jon Warren. Jon has shot countless images for World Vision- his photos are a staple of our Blog. His skills as a photographer allow us to see parts of the world we have never been to, and give us insight into people we have never met. On a recent trip to Cambodia, instead of using an assortment of cameras and lenses as he usually does, Jon used another camera to capture portraits- his iPhone. Read on to hear Jon's thoughts on capturing images in a brand new way, and see the amazing captures from his trip.

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Show life as it really happens. Open a window to the scene. Do nothing that might raise a barrier between the reader and the subject. And never, ever, draw attention to yourself as the photographer.

For years as a World Vision photographer I’ve clung to these guidelines. I’ve done my best to document real life, presenting as genuine a picture as possible for readers. My goal has been to show subjects that are real, live, unique people — not just objects on a page.

And then came along the iPhone with its cool photo apps. It was like being handed a new toy — a combination of a bucket of crayons and malleable SX-70 Polaroid film. A few flicks of the finger and a mundane scene would become wildly colorful. Close-ups transformed to pop art. I loved playing with it! It became my casual camera of choice.

But I didn’t consider using the iPhone for a real assignment until confronted with the “Amber Alert” story in Cambodia. The story was dramatic and powerful, but the events had happened two years earlier. And the text revolved around people rather than locations.

To tell the story, I needed a series of portraits of the main characters that would be compelling enough to draw readers to the writing.

If I used a “proper” camera, I’d need to do “proper” photographs. But in this case I worried that standard photos would be dull and boring, especially when there was no action and the light wasn’t ideal.

But what if I used an iPhone? Something had to be done to add spice and pizzazz. These needed be different.

Most importantly, would using an iPhone give me more inspiration as a photographer — doing an assignment that was stalling rather than stirring me?

So I followed the same approach as with regular portraits, but this time around I clicked on my iPhone, pulled the images into the Camera+ app and briefly tweaked the images on the spot. Done.

The results were interesting and fun. The portraits still seemed to have character and personality, but definitely broke the traditional “no alterations” rule. One iPhone image even ended up on the cover.

In the photography workshops I occasionally lead, I emphasize that equipment is much less important than vision and passion and message. And I’m still a firm believer in documentary photography. But tools like the iPhone certainly give us new options.
They also raise all sorts of questions. Will readers recognize the distinction between authentic documentary work and manipulated posed portraits? Do “real” and “proper” photos lose some of their credibility when played alongside the altered ones?
I’d love to hear from you. What do you think the role of Instagram and camera phone altered images play when we’re trying to show genuine stories?  Email me your thoughts at: jwarren@worldvision.org.










Be sure to read "Saving Savoeun," and see the rest of Jon's iPhone captures. "Saving Saveuon" tells the story of  a community  who developed  a plan to rescue Savoeun from being sold into sexual slavery.

What do you think of using an iPhone to illustrate a story? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. 


    Hi Karyn,
    Thanks for your encouragement!
    I'm still a newbie when it comes to iPhone photography and use it mostly for casual personal pix. But I have noticed how differently people treat me when all I have is the phone. Most of the time folks just ignore me, which is great! The few times I've used it on assignments, people are wondered how I can get anything of consequence with this toy!

    I think using the phone apps make for interesting pictures. They may even highlight the photographers vision.

    God Is with you
    Thanks for everything,bless your mission work

    Jon, your iPhone images are wonderful. I've had good success with Camera+ but have shyed away from Instagram thinking that the images look too contrived. I like the iPhone as a camera for many of the same reasons you do. I sometimes travel to closed countries and always can use my iPhone but am scrutinized more if I pull our the 'heavy artillary.' Thanks for encouraging me to push the limits a bit.

    Hi Bill,
    The cool manipulation that can happen with camera phones is a big temptation for this dull documentary photographer! Crazy colors! Intense contrast! I think that's why I've shied away from using is on regular assignments before -- the feeling that it is a toy and could quickly become too much, like ultra sweet desserts (excepting chocolate, of course, and ice cream, where you can never have too much). Seriously -- I'll have to try your advice next time I'm in a tough spot and use the camera as a serious tool.
    Let's keep pushing each other to tell stories that are authentic and touch our hearts!
    Thanks for your suggestions!

    Hi Jon,

    I continue to be such a huge fan of your imagery. I can always spot a "Jon Warren" image without fail. As a fellow shooter I can appreciate the great liberty and sheer fun of using the iPhone. When traveling I'll often get out my iPhone to subtly capture an image in a public setting as to not be obtrusive. I bet you also noticed a different response from your subjects when pulling out a simple, tiny iPhone as opposed to a big lens. As photographers its nice to do our art while "blending in" and the iPhone is a great way to do it. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was so interesting to read! Your work is a big reason why I support World Vision. It takes me "there!"

    nice job taking the risk of shooting iphone only. i've thought about doing an iphone only shoot before, just haven't yet. i will sometimes update the company's instagram with iphone photos though.

    did you take another camera just in case u weren't happy with the iphone pics? also, have you heard of snapseed? i've found myself liking the editing options in it more than most apps. i'll also use Photogene2 because it has curves and levels inside it. although not an app, i'm wanting to pic up an olloclip too in order to enhance my own iphonography, but those apps have definitely helped!

    again, props for taking a step in trying something new on a professional shoot.

    Hi Jon! I'm very inspired by your God-given talent. I am a beginner in photography. But, since I was a kid I already love pictures. Now, I'm learning to step up in this area. I am currently working with World Vision right now for the Typhoon Haiyan Response. Hopefully, even though I'm working in the office, I can practice more and be of use.

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