When All You Have Is an iPhone

What to do when you unexpectedly end up photographing performances and shows with your smartphone


Actor Steve Hayes performs at Pangea in NYC.

This past Sunday I went to see Steve Hayes perform Now That I Mention It at Pangea, in New York City. I had interviewed and photographed the award-winning comedian and actor for A&U Magazine, and I was looking forward to the show.

Upon arriving, someone welcomed us inside. When I told him my name and showed the tickets, he said, “Ah, you are the photographer!” (That felt good, to tell you the truth, and it took me completely by surprise, too). While nobody had mentioned pictures to me, I assumed that he might have recognized my name somehow. As he led my party to the photographer’s table, as he called it, in case I wanted to take pictures, I realized that I only had my iPhone with me.

There’s no photography allowed during the show. That’s a given. But I had just been okayed to snap a few shots, and that was very tempting. I had to work with the only camera I had handy–my iPhone. I muted the phone, not to interfere in any way with the performance, and I took a few pictures during the show.

Actor Steve Hayes performs at Pangea in NYC.
Actor Steve Hayes performs at Pangea in NYC.

A few things to keep in mind when you end up photographing performances or shows using a smart phone:

  • mute the phone during the show; turn off or log out of all the apps that might make noise, even when the phone is muted
  • flash is definitely not allowed, that’s a given, so do not use flash
  • keep in mind that, even with the newest smart phone, the response time (from the moment you press the button to take the picture to the moment the picture is taken) is not as snappy as it is when you shoot with a DSLR; that makes it more challenging, at times, to freeze the action, for example
  • the stage lights and other lights make it difficult to expose correctly when shooting with a smart phone, even a brand new one
  • that said, take advantage of the stage lights, use them to create a mood
  • keep in mind that zooming in too much, even with the latest iPhone, can introduce a lot of noise
  • no matter how clear the path between you/your camera and the stage/subject you have to photograph, when it comes to photographing shows and performances, chances are that there will almost always be people blocking the view and/or making composing the shot in camera a bit of a challenge
  • try to take enough images to briefly capture the entire show and experience: photograph the room and audience before the beginning of the show, capture facial expression or gesture, the performer taking the stage and the final bow at the end of the show; photograph the performer, the audience, as well as those behind the scenes if you have a chance
  • stay out of the way, at all times; the show must (and will) go on
  • most importantly, enjoy the show and have fun
Actor Steve Hayes performs at Pangea in NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald.

The idea is to try your best to make do with what you have handy. That applies not only to when you’re not on assignment, but most importantly when you are on assignment and things might happen and end up not working your way. Batteries might not work. Glass can get shattered. Memory cards end up unusable. And so on. These things happen, no matter how prepared we are. And when they happen, we still need to take the shot. That’s our job. Even when we’re on the job or not. And we have to improvise and think outside the box to get that shot.

Here are a few more images I snapped during Steve Hayes’ fantastic performance at Pangea:

Actor Steve Hayes performs at Pangea in NYC.

I’ve been a fan of Steve Hayes ever since I heard his voice, trying to guide me through his building and to his apartment, a few months ago when on assignment for A&U Magazine. I’ve always wanted to see him perform, and this past Sunday my wish came true.

Steve Hayes performs at Pangea, in NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald.

We had a fantastic time at Pangea and I was the only one allowed the snap a few shots. The food was delicious. The performance, phenomenal. Steve Hayes was amazing! Look forward to his next show.

As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald





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