New Adventures in Street iPhoneography: Imagining New York in Camera Apps

With the increasing popularity of phone cameras, thousands of apps have hit the market in the last year or so. At the time of this writing, the iTunes app store features nearly 3500 apps in the category of photography. While the built-in camera on the iPhone 4 shows vast improvement over the earlier version, many developers have found ways to improve on Apple's camera by offering apps that incorporate vintage filters, panoramic stitching, the looks of Lomography, editing, cartoon and other special effects, and much more. Two new sensations include Instagram, an app that includes several filters for vintage effects and instant sharing, and 8mm Vintage Camera, an app for the movie mode that simulates the look of old home movies or experimental film.

A page on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone 4.
Getting carried away with the camera apps.
For the purposes of this website, I've taken to the world of iPhoneography in a big way. I don't need a big camera anyway. I consider myself more a writer than a photographer, and the kind of images I take of New York scenes, especially the ones that slightly alter "reality," appeal to my sense of creative nonfiction. As we often imagine New York City through the lenses of novels, plays, photographs, and films, we're always engaging in a dialogue between the representations of the city and our own lived experiences. While walking the streets, we may encounter a variety of representations of New York whether it's a DC Comic version of Gotham City, Holly Golightly's Fifth Avenue, New York as the white witch as perceived by James Weldon Johnson, or Piet Mondrian's abstract painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-1943), just to cite a few examples. The ability of the iPhone apps to create or recreate fictional representations of the city or the vibe of certain neighborhoods appeals to me as a writer.

For today, let's just look at three apps.


The iPhone 4 camera has an optional setting for HDR, or High Dynamic Range, meaning the ability to combine a wide range of light and dark in one image. The process often involves merging an underexposed image (dark) and an overexposed image (light), or even many more images along the range, so that what is usually perceived by the human eye - a starry night or a cloudy sky above dark city streets - might be better rendered in a photographic image. Just because you can see it doesn't mean your camera can.

Before the last snowfall arrived, the clouds rolled in from the south. Here - a moment on Broadway near the intersection with Bond Street. Made with Pro HDR. It was important to capture the clouds and sky. 

Consider purchasing the Pro HDR app by eyeApps. The app takes an underexposed image (dark) and an overexposed image (light) and then aligns and merges them. If presented with a scenario of high contrast, an HDR image could help render more details in both the light and dark areas. The Pro HDR app has an automatic setting and a manual one, the latter useful for more control. In many HDRs, the colors can become almost too psychedelic. The drawback for HDRs is certainly the factor of motion. When a second image is snapped, a person moving across the visual field, for example, may be caught in two sequences. The resulting image can turn them into ghost figures. I think this so-called drawback can be cool, especially if it's Halloween in Central Park. There might be ghosts lurking about. And anyway, spirit photography has a solid tradition.

Ghosts in Central Park captured with Pro HDR.

Pro HDR currently costs $1.99 and requires iOS 4.0. Official website. (Many of the images of Central Park West accompanying a recent post were taken with the Pro HDR app. They should look rather obvious.)


For those who like to take their images fast and with more clarity and truer colors, the ProCamera app by includes many excellent features - good zoom and image processing with tones and effects. An Expert mode gives control over exposure and focus. Post-editing offers many vintage looks, retouching, and color options. I like the images straight, however, as shown in the examples below from Times Square.

ProCamera offers clarity and true colors.

So what if the sky is a little washed out? The contrast in this ProCamera image looks suitable for a winter day of long shadows in Times Square. It could be a fictional moment, as if the people in the picture have just been returned to Earth from the starship. That's how a lot of people react to Times Square.

ProCamera currently costs $2.99. Official website.


Hipstamatic, certainly familiar to readers of this website, recently released version 190 of their popular app. The app is so hipster that one app combo, available for purchase, is called the Williamsburg Starter HipstaPak. The 190 version includes a new film called Claunch 72 Monochrome, a nuanced black and white film. Part of the fun appeal of Synthetic Corp's Hipstamatic app is the ability to test a wide variety of combinations of lens, film, and flash, challenging the image maker to make the smartest combinations for the appropriate content. I mostly like the app for intimate subjects or details, but it can handle big things, too.

A confab of New York architecture styles talks it over. Lucifer VI lens with Claunch 72 Monochrome film.

Sunshine Cinema, 143 E. Houston, built in 1898, formerly the Houston Hippodrome movie theater and a Yiddish vaudeville house. (info from Landmark website) John S lens with Claunch 72 Monochrome film.

The Hipstamatic app currently costs $1.99. Official website.

Notes: The images here are resized for the website, so much better pictures can be printed out for uses in the material world. Prices of apps quoted above are subject to change.

Additional apps are described in the post, Point and Shoot Nostalgia: iPhone Photo Apps for the Contemporary Retro Traveler.


Harry Hilders said…
Thanks for sharing, these examples. Nice shots.

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