TIME technology

Photographing the White House Christmas Decorations With an iPhone 6

White House photographer Brooks Kraft used his iPhone to document this year's Christmas decorations at the presidential residence

Photographer Brooks Kraft has been covering the White House since 2000, and over the years, he’s had plenty of opportunities to document the unveiling of Christmas decorations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This year, however, he decided to mix things up a bit — and shot the event with Apple’s new iPhone 6.

“I’ve covered this event about 10 times before,” he told TIME. “It’s a very light event, obviously, and the president is not even there. So there’s no real, intrinsic news value, which is a good opportunity to try out new gear that I might use later in more news-oriented environments.”

The unveiling also offers Kraft and other journalists the rare opportunity to walk freely around the grounds of the presidential residence, “which,” he notes, “you normally don’t get to do.”

With his mind set on getting a different sort of imagery than in previous years, Kraft chose to shoot in the square format with an iPhone 6 Plus. “I thought that format would work well with the formality of the architecture in the White House, and it was a different way to look at this event — compositionally.”

The results, he feels, were good. “There are a lot of mixed lights in these rooms and there’s also [natural] light, and the new iPhones do a really good job of balancing colors right out of the camera. Kraft also likes to shoot with an iPhone because it allows him to work rapidly. “The iPhone has a lot of depth-of-field, which allows me to shoot the [picture] and move around quickly, which worked in this situation because we were sort of ushered through the rooms and didn’t have a lot of time. I wanted to photograph most of the spaces with few people in them, so the window of opportunity in which to shoot was brief.”

Kraft uses both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but in this case, he wanted to test the larger model’s new image stabilization technology, which is supposed to help in low-light situations. “Some of the rooms are quite dark, and I used the 6 Plus for that. And the larger screen also helps. There were situations when I was holding the camera above my head to try to make vertical lines more parallel on the edges of the frame, and in that case having the larger screen helped me [compose the shot].”

Kraft says the iPhone won’t replace his professional DSLR. “I look at the iPhone as another piece of equipment. But the majority of my professional work is shot on a DSLR.” Nevertheless, the iPhone can help in certain situations. “I notice that people just don’t react the same way [when you’re using an iPhone]. If you are looking to capture something candid, people are so used to seeing mobile devices that their reaction time is slower. You have a better chance of getting the shot, and that was the case at the White House.”

Brooks Kraft’s five tips for shooting with an iPhone:

  1. Make sure you get the best exposure you can when you’re shooting, because it’s pretty hard to correct a bad exposure on the phone. It’s worth taking the extra minute to get it right.
  2. Don’t use the flash. With steady hands, the iPhone is frequently capable of capturing images in low light situations, and the results often look better then with the flash. But in some cases, you don’t have a choice.
  3. Don’t use the zoom function because it’s not an optical zoom. It’s just blowing up the pixels you have.
  4. Pay attention to the image settings of the app you’re using to photograph. Some will downsize your files. I use the native camera app because I’m sure to have a clean, maximum resolution file that I can go back to.
  5. Think about what you do with your images once you’ve shot them. There’s a tendency when you’re using a mobile device to let your images sit there instead of organizing them, archiving them or printing them. I really think that when people look back at their visual histories, they [might find big gaps in their archives].

Brooks Kraft is a freelance photographer based in Washington D.C. and a regular contributor to TIME.

Marisa Schwartz, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


YOU BROKE TIME.COM!

Dear TIME Readers,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team