This iPhone-only professional photographer is the future of sports photography

Picture a professional sports photographer. What do you see? Someone in a beige vest hidden behind a giant, telescopic camera stationed in the back of an end zone?

How about someone standing in a throng of spectators with only an iPhone 6s Plus in their hands and a battery pack in their pocket?

No? Well meet Brad Mangin. Brad has been a professional sports photographer for over two decades and has shot countless Super Bowls, World Series, and even the Olympics.

But those were all with a traditional DSLR (or film!) camera. Recently, he’s started exclusively using his iPhone to photograph professional sports events. Why, you may ask? As Brad explained, the phone’s small form factor has allowed him to get shots that would have never been possible with a bulky DSLR.

At first, I was skeptical. But after having Brad walk me through some photos that he shot and edited entirely on iPhone at THE PLAYERS Championship, it made sense.

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The first thing that stands out is that these obviously aren’t the typical action shots you imagine when you think of sports photography.

One of the first things Brad touched on is the importance of knowing your limitations – as good as iPhone’s camera is, it just isn’t powerful enough to capture split-second action shots. So instead, Brad shot things where the iPhone’s small form factor would help him tell the story of the THE PLAYERS Championship in a way that action shots wouldn’t be able to.

For example, he was able to gain access to areas where a big camera rig would have been frowned upon. Plus, Brad explained that shooting with an iPhone is disarming – the lack of bulky gear allowed his subjects to let their guard down and be more natural.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 13: The private caddie dining room in the clubhouse during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 13, 2016. (©2016 Brad Mangin/PGA TOUR)

©2016 Brad Mangin/PGA TOUR

Besides capturing more honest shots, shooting and editing solely on iPhone gives a tremendous speed advantage in terms of sharing the photographs with the world.

Typically, golf tournaments employ “runners” to canvas the course for photographers, and grabbing their memory card to run back to the media tent. Instead, Brad shot a picture, found some shade to edit it, and sent it directly to the TOUR, who were able to instantly share it across their social media. Caryn Levy, a photo official at the TOUR, said that Brad’s photos were the fastest turnaround time they have ever had at a tournament.

So does Brad just run these through an Instagram filter and send them off? Sometimes, yes.

Actually the editing process is a bit more complicated than that, but Brad really does occasionally use Instagram’s filters. He explained how he puts his phone in airplane mode and edits a photo in Instagram so it will save to his camera roll but not share to his feed. He also uses Snapseed, Google’s free mobile editing suite that is apparently popular among amateur and professional photographers alike. After the editing is done, he uses PhotoShelter’s Libris Uploader, which is a new iPhone app that lets multiple photographers all upload to one organization’s central photo archive.

Over the four days of THE PLAYERS Championship, Brad shot 3,232 photos on his iPhone, which resulted in 380 final shots. Interestingly, Brad often transmitted the same image in various colors and aspects (like square for Instagram), so the TOUR could instantly upload the ideal shot across social platforms.

As mobile cameras continue to improve, look to see more and more professional photographers eschew their bulky gear for devices like iPhone. While they won’t always be able to capture that perfect touchdown catch, they will be able to tell viewers a different story that only a small, discrete camera could tell.