On Wednesday 3 November Robert Friel ARPS Zoomed in from Haddenham, Bucks, to tell us about his “phoneography”. He wanted to inspire us to think about what phone photography can be. And it’s not necessarily the same as “normal” photography.

More of Robert’s work, including his ARPS images, can be found on his website at http://robfriel.co.uk/

He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Robert is the Chair of Princes Risborough Photographic Society.  His well illustrated talk took us through his photographic journey from early beginnings, through to getting his ARPS, and beyond.  Having started with “normal” camera photography, Robert is now concentrating on “phoneography” – the art of taking quality images with a smartphone instead of a camera – often with added intentional camera movement or multiple exposures.

He first took an interest in photography as a child on a family trip to Paris using a camera borrowed from his Grandad.  His interest progressed more seriously through university and then subsequently as a job in engineering consultancy took him all over the world.  In particular, being in Hong Kong for five weeks gave him the chance to do more.

A change in job then gave him the opportunity and money to travel for his own interests.  He bought an old Leica M6, and a couple of lenses, and went trekking in the Himalayas.  His interest in photography was getting keener.  He was experimenting with scanning negatives and working on them in Photoshop.  He went on a course with Lakeland Photographic Holidays (the photographic training business run by John Gravett).  Landscape was his first love and he adores the Lake District.

When digital photography came along, he quickly went digital with Canon.  He expanded his interests to wildlife and travel and went on more trips – the Lake District, Namibia, South Africa, the Antarctic, the USA (eg, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Vermont in the fall), and Iceland.  He got more experienced – and got more and more equipment.  And, as he progressed, he began to get more adventurous and creative.  He even joined a camera club (Brighton and Hove CC).

Over time, he realised that trying to get great images of iconic landscapes was really difficult for a non-local, non-professional.  Your opportunities to photograph these places are too limited.  You have very little chance of being there at the right time, in the right weather, with the right light, etc, etc.

More recently he has become more interested in intimate landscapes.  He has been trying to find his own voice.  “The ultimate difficult thing to do.”  His photography has become more about reflections, intentional camera movement (ICM), playing with contrast, and multiple exposures.

His influences in the art world include JMW Turner’s watercolours (his mother does watercolours) and James Whistler (he compared the brush strokes to ICM).

His photographic influences include Ansel Adams(American landscape photographer), William Neill (American landscape photographer), David Ward (British landscape photographer), Tim Rudman (British fine art photographer and authority on darkroom printing and toning techniques), Valda Bailey (very creative British photographer), Chris Friel (British photographer noted for his abstract landscapes), and Matt Botwood (creative British landscape photographer exploring the transience of the landscape, see his book Ephemeral Pools).

In 2014 Robert moved to Haddenham and found himself commuting into London.  He began taking shots from the train on his iPhone and posting them on Instagram.  As “train windows are dirty and you are always moving” he was not looking for pristine landscape images.  He was more than content with impressionistic results.

He accumulated a large body of work and was encouraged to consider going for his ARPS.  He reckoned that this collection of work was more suited to the ARPS than the LRPS, which is really about demonstrating you know something photography rather than putting together a panel of images that amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

He therefore began developing the required Statement of Intent.  He wanted to convey that his panel was about using a phone to create an image representing his feeling about that day.  In due course, he presented his 15 images in a single row (in itself, a most unusual move) as a journey through mood, landscape and time.  He is believed to be only the second person to achieve ARPS with phone images.  And he has made presentations about it in the RPS series of Distinction talks

After relating the story of his photographic journey right up to ARPS, Robert explained how he uses his iPhone to create such artistic impressionistic images.  He showed us the sort of shots he takes and some of the apps he uses to process them on the phone before posting them on Instagram.

Robert gave us demos of how he uses two of the apps.  First, the Slow Shutter app.  This “fakes” long exposures using either motion blur, light trails, or low light options.  Then the Snapseed app.  This is a photo processing app originally developed by Nik Software and then acquired by Google.  Using touch and swiping gestures you can apply “Styles” (like pre-sets, and you can develop/save your own) and a variety of “Tools”.  It is very quick and intuitive to use.  And it’s free to download!

Since getting his ARPS in 2018, Robert has been pursuing several other iPhone projects.

City Life, as the name implies, is about urban life, mostly in London but also in Birmingham.  He uses the Slow Shutter app and multi-exposures for street shots and cityscapes.

Water Worlds is a reaction to the boredom of having to fill lots of buckets with water (he has three horses)  He makes creative images of the water going into the buckets.  They work well in triptychs.

The Pond at the End of the Road involves taking pictures of the pond as he passes it every day.  He posts them on Instagram in groups.  The light is always different, the seasons vary, etc, so the images are similarly varied.  He has accumulated over a thousand images in two years.

Robert’s final thoughts on his photography were that an iPhone is a different tool from a camera and that using the iPhone has made him more creative.

This was an excellent illustrated talk.  Anyone interested in phone photography will have found plenty of inspiration for their future activities.

Robert will be with us again in January when he returns to critique our phone images.  This is designed to tie in with submissions for the CACC Phone Photography competition in February.  And we also have a club Phone Image Competition in June.