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iPhone portraits of San Franciscans by Troy Holden

Black and White Hipstamatic seems to be Troy Holden’s favorite tool when it comes to portraits.
Troy defines himself as a San Francisco snapshot photographer. His work is a mix of Portraits and Street Photography in San Francisco. Here is an interview of Troy talking about San Francisco and San Franciscans. Troy explains why he prefers to use the iPhone as a camera for his portrait series.

“When the iPhone 4s came out, I finally had a mobile camera that could perform in good light. Using the Hipstamatic app, I was for the first time happy with the black/white photos I was making.” Troy Holden


P : Pierre T : Troy

P : Hi Troy, I discovered your work on Instagram and then I saw the other part on Tumblr. Are you a Professional photographer ?

T : No, and I’ve never had the desire to be one. I prefer the definition of flâneur as it relates to photography : a person who walks the streets of a city in order to capture its essence. My photos are casual snapshots in that regard.

P : What is your occupation ? Is there any link to photography ?

T : I work for an internet company during the week. My job is not related to the field of photography, but I am able to work photography into my role at times. My passions are raising my family, taking long walks, and drinks with friends.

P : How long have you been practicing photography ?

T : In late 2009 I started to take photography seriously and have since dedicated much of my free time to practicing and understanding it further. I imagine I’ll be making photographs for the rest of my life.

P : Why did you choose Hipstamatic for your Instagram photos, especially for portraits ?

T : For their black & white lens/film combination and image quality. I’ve never been happy with black & white conversions from my DSLR. Something always seemed off and untrue.

Also, the small, unobtrusive nature of the iPhone removes the seriousness associated with a bigger, professional looking camera. I’ve found my subjects are much more relaxed when I’m using a smaller camera.



P : How do you see both devices ? how do you choose to use either DSLR or the Iphone ?

T : Seeing in black & white is much different than seeing in color. I’ve started making 2 versions of certain frames: 1 color DSLR and 1 black & white iPhone.

In reviewing how each camera records light, I’ve become comfortable using each for different reasons. I try to think about the shot in black & white or color before releasing the shutter (or tapping the screen).



P : Do you also use DSLR for portraits ?

T : Yes, I do use a DSLR (and a point-and-click) for portraits ;) I don’t post as many because the mobile setup I’m currently using brings out more of what I’m trying to capture in my subjects.

P : How do you choose people involved in your portrait series ?

T : Each portrait is different. Some are friends, family, or co-workers. These are the most difficult because I already know something about these folks and it’s hard to keep myself out of the portrait.
Others are street portraits, mostly strangers. There is some level of engagement in these, but it’s quick and passing. Others are candid portraits, but those are harder to get right and don’t present themselves as frequently.

P : For portraits, do you prepare any kind of background ? Any specific place ? Any lighting ?

T : For the #ffportraits (family & friends) project I prefer a light toned wall with flat texture and available light. With street portraits, I look for interesting textures or contrasting patterns to pose the subject against. Occasionally, I’ll shoot wide open to isolate a face from background clutter, but not often.



P : I feel no editing process in your IG photos. Is it “raw materials” ? Do you edit a little bit ? If so, what kind of set up ?

T : I don’t edit them much other than deciding what to dump and what to share. For processing, I use a combination of 2-3 from the following apps: Hipstamatic, Snapseed, Camera+.

That being said, I can see myself processing mobile images in Photoshop (on a laptop) soon. I’ve noticed things in mobile images on a bigger screen that I missed when reviewing on the iPhone. For both archiving and workflow purposes, my computer performs better than mobile apps.

P : Do you have any anecdotes about your portrait sessions ?

T : Not anything specific. Each person is different. Be confident and clear about what you are doing (snapping photographs). You don’t have to advertise it, but don’t act sneaky either.

P : What can you tell us about San Francisco and San Franciscans ? What have you learned so far while taking photographs ?

T : It’s a small city that feels like a big town. It’s very walkable. Public transit is cheaper than driving. The weather is rarely harsh enough to keep you indoors.

If you can find an angle or a way to break the ice, most people are open to having their portrait taken. Others are paranoid, suspicious and will not hesitate to shoot you a nasty glance.



P : Who are the photographers who inspire you ?

T : It’s a revolving list of great names as I can afford to buy their books used on Amazon. Currently: André Kertész, Elliot Erwitt, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog, Joel Sternfeld.

P : How do you see the emergence of mobile photography ?

T : The iPhone really disrupted my workflow. At long last the camera on my mobile device was able to produce believable images! By that, I mean without the abuse of a filter or tilt-shift, and with acceptable image quality.

The size and omnipresent nature of the mobile camera has made candid and portrait photography more approachable. For street portraits, you can send a .jpeg file and 5×5 print directly to your subject from your phone. Giving your subject a copy of their portrait builds trust and opens the door for future photo opportunities.

P : Do you have other upcoming projects ?

T : Nothing specific. I’d like to figure out a way to present my iPhone portraits as a large group and share them with the people who participated. But I’m more focused on making the images right now than how or where to display them.

P : Thank you very much Troy !
IG : @troyholden
Twitter : @troyholden