Most photographers panic when they have to shoot low light with fast motion. They start to blubber on about needing uber-high ISO and uber-expensive glass. For those with smartphones like the iPhone, the common thought is “Don’t even bother, it won’t work”. And truly, for most photographers and most common users of the iPhone, that is true. And it’s true because they keep banging their head against the problem instead of thinking smart and letting that smartphone do it’s job.
First, let me show you what you can do with an iPhone when it’s in a dark place with a very bright spot light and something moving fast like the “Disney on Ice” show.
So the first thought is “Whoahhh”.. that’s an iPhone picture? You must have special access, special software, special lens blah, blah.. There is NO way I could do that. And you would be completely wrong about your assumptions. I shot this with an iPhone 5S and using an app called ProCamera for a couple of reasons. The app lets me set my exposure and focus points in two different places and it lets me save a TIFF file so I can really work with the image after the fact in something like Lightroom.
I also use a desktop editor to get the best out of the TIFF files but for fast posting to Facebook, I will use Snapseed then re-edit later on when I get home. That editing with Lightroom or other desktop editor is the magic secret sauce to get the very best out of smartphone image. The TIFF gives you the latitude to work the shadows and highlights to recover details without ruining the image.
A very important trick is to learn to anticipate a slowing in the action to mimize the blurring OR to use the blurring to help tell the story. If you cannot fix a liability then embrace it and make it your own. In this image, I knew there would be tons of movement but I also knew some of the skaters would be pausing so I had the best of both worlds. I had the grand finale with the fireworks which I had set my exposure to and I had motion that made the image dynamic.
This is the trick, use a liability and turn it into a positive which in this case is the inherent blurring.
When you shoot something like this, don’t be afraid to try a few techniques like using the OEM HDR or alternative camera apps. Also, use techniques like panning to help lock focus on your subject, just don’t whack your neighbor. The flash off the iPhone in an event like this is useless and obnoxious to your neighbors so don’t forget to turn it off. Most of these images were cropped down some since I was not what you would call “close to the action” so keep your subjects away from the edge of the frame as you shoot.