After more than two years away, I was back in Apple’s storefront at the Fifth Avenue Store. The invitation was to join Apple and celebrate a group of amateur photographers who have mastered macro photography using Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro.
Apple finally added macro photography to its iPhone line last year, following in the footsteps of smartphone startups like OnePlus, which introduced the feature in previous phones, though inexplicably removing it from the flagship One Plus 10 Pro.
Standing in the large, underground space, teeming with Apple customers, fans and today photographers, felt like “before times”.
It turned out that this was one of the first personal “Today at Apple” events the flagship store had held since before the pandemic, and one could feel the excitement and the little tinge of anxiety in the air. So many people.
Before the ceremony Wednesday night, where a trio of Apple executives mainly deal with camera technology (but who were not available to talk to me), explained why they chose the photos (and talked about the joys of macro photography), and before Apple gave attendees a chance to try macro photography on phones they (yet) did not own, I found two of Apple’s macro photography contest winners and asked how they captured their winning photos.
One of them is Tom Reeves, a tall thin guy with a wide smile who seemed eager to share with me how he photographed a snowflake on the back of his puppy.
The picture was my favorite as I have spent years trying to get a decent picture of a snowflake. I’ve used OnePlus 8 Pro, attached macro lenses on previous iPhones and a DSLR, all with varying degrees of success. Nothing I’ve done looks as good as what Reeves caught.
“How?” I asked.
Reeves told me he and his fiance were out for a walk in Riverside Park, New York, one early morning. He explained to me that he learned about the perfect conditions for snowflake photography by reading about the legendary photographer William Bentley, who invented the phrase, “No snowflake is alike,” and wrote about the perfect conditions for snowflake photography. It’s really cold weather, but with the temperature rising just enough to make separate and distinctive flakes. On the day of Reeves walk, it was just such a morning.
Reeves told me he looked down at his puppy who “turned into a little snowflake Christmas tree” and saw his opportunity. He took out the iPhone 13 Pro with one hand while holding the cord in the other, and came very close – which automatically activated the macro mode. The camera stuck to one perfect snowflake and he got shot.
We talked a bit about the tendency of the iPhone 13 Pro camera system to change lenses unexpectedly, which can be problematic in macro mode. Apple uses the ultra-wide lens for macro photography, but under certain conditions the wide lens will take over and ruin the image. The answer, and this is how Reeves manages its macro mode, is to change the camera setting so that there is a selectable macro mode that you can lock or turn off with a touch.
“It’s smart,” I thought as I quickly changed the settings on my own iPhone 13 Pro.
This macro option, however, was not provided with the iPhone 13 Pro, but was added in a software update after users complained. To adjust your settings, go to Settings / Camera and switch between “Macro control”.
In addition to talking to Reeves, I had time with Guido Cassanelli, a charming amateur photographer from Italy. His macro image of glass was one of the more abstract and joyful images (there were a lot of close-ups of flowers). I asked him how he captured the image.
“I was walking on a beach in Italy,” he said, smiling, and I quietly wished I could start every sentence that way.
However, Cassanelli’s details were a little more fabricated than Reeves’ when he collected the stained glass on a beach in Zogali, Italy, collected them on the sand, sprayed some water on the glass mosaic and came so close enough to catch a macro.
The result is still quite nice.
Overall, the winning photos, especially the photos of a strawberry in soda and a cat staring out of a window (probably a bird), were beautiful and even arresting.
I have not been wildly impressed with the macro features of the iPhone 13 Pro, especially the default control settings, but the competition and the resulting images made me reconsider the tool. Outside and in the office, I tried to capture a few of my own macros. They are not as good, though I guess no one had as much light as some of these pictures, which all seemed flooded in sunlight. Apple did not mention how much editing – if any – was done on each of the winning shots.
Apple’s macro photography in macro mode is not yet the best I’ve seen, but it shows potential. Maybe I should just wait for the right moment, get close and then slip away.
You can see a few recent unedited examples below.
Lance Ulanoff’s Apple iPhone 13 Pro Macro Photography.