Austin Mann captures the power of light with his smartphone | Profoto (UK)
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Austin Mann captures the power of light with his smartphone

28 November, 2019

Written by: Steven Hanratty

Austin is a veteran of shooting with the iPhone, and with the Profoto C1 Plus he’s going to teach the fundamentals of how light can help smartphone shooters stand out from the crowd.

Austin Mann didn't play with the usual toys when he was a kid. His father was a photographer, so Austin got to play with scanners, the very first Apple Macs, and this newfangled thing called Photoshop (way more fun than Pong).

Pretty soon, the young Austin became hooked on working with digital imagery. So much so that the year the very first iMac came out, he spent the entire summer mowing lawns to buy one. Little did 12-year-old Austin know, as he sat there in front of his shiny new Bondi Blue iMac creating websites and graphics that Apple would feature so significantly in his future.

Letting the light in

Austin went to college in Waco, Texas, and it was there his life underwent something of a 180-degree change. "I needed to re-focus my life on something more positive, and that was the beginning of my faith story. I became fascinated with creation and the wonder of the world around me - in particular, the power of light over darkness."

That fascination was not just in the spiritual sense but also the physical, scientific, and photographic sense. It was about this time Austin picked up a DLSR that he'd received as a gift and began experimenting with photography.

"I would go on to the college campus at about 9 or 10pm and shoot all night. I was fascinated with the idea of filling the darkness with light so I would shoot lightning storms, car light trails, and experiment with flashlight painting."

You're not in Kansas anymore

Later, a mentor encouraged Austin to travel, and in 2005 he found himself on his way to Tanzania in Africa. "It was my first time out of the United States, and I learned a bunch out there from the people around me. I discovered that photography could be a powerful tool that could connect my world, the west, with other parts of the world that were becoming increasingly important to me."

"After that, I shot mostly for non-profit and social enterprises from schools to clean water projects. And from there, I started a collaborative studio in Dallas called WELD; a community where photographers and creative professionals could work together."

A puzzling review

In 2012, Austin found himself reading a review of the latest iPhone camera. "The review was written with the focus on the technology, but it didn't have the information and inspiration I was looking for as a photographer - so I decided to write my own to find out what the new camera features could actually do.”

After trips to Iceland and Patagonia shooting and writing about the iPhone camera, the reviews he self-published got quite a bit of traction - and before long, Apple got in touch. Now he conducts his reviews pre-release and often times the first images ever shot on the new iPhone camera in the wild come from Austin… his recent reviews have taken him to Switzerland, Rwanda, India, Guatemala, and he just returned from his review in China with the iPhone 11 Pro.

Over the years, Austin’s iPhone images have been featured in Apple Store displays and used to lead the initial launch of the Shot on iPhone campaign.

Play to your strengths

“The great thing about your smartphone as a camera is how nimble and agile it is. It’s always with you, so at any given moment, you can capture anything - it’s a flexible and powerful tool.”

For Austin, it’s important not to buy accessories for the smartphone that might weigh it down. “Play to the strengths of your camera; the iPhone is the camera I always have with me, and from this point forward, the C1 Plus will be the light I always have with me.”

“So now can throw light wherever I need it - I can put light in places where I couldn’t put a light before because it’s so much smaller. To be able to hide one of these little pucks in a car dashboard or in someone’s hand - it’s a different way of thinking and fosters a new sort of artistic expression."

Teaching the Profoto Academy Course

To make the Profoto C1 Plus Academy course, Austin headed to Dunton Hot Springs close to Telluride, Colorado. "It's a beautiful mountainous spot with so much character, and nature gave us so many great backdrops to work with."

The course has been created to help anyone enthusiastic about shooting with a smartphone. "It's about helping smartphone shooters discover their unique look or style. To help them push their creativity further and understand how the light from the C1 Plus can help them stand out from the crowd."

Austin teaches many smartphone workshops and by far and away the question he's asked most of all is; 'How can I shoot better images in low light situations? '

"This course will show that there's no better tool than the C1 Plus to supplement natural light."

Buy series

Playing with the C1 Plus

Austin loves photographing horses and is particularly drawn to their shape and form. On the course he guides us through capturing the silhouette of the model Scottie with the horse as they move through the field at night.

And how he captured the Colorodo sky with the stars - an example of how the viewer will see only what you choose to illuminate - so they see the details they might miss during the day.

Bottom line - it's all about light

While the future of photography might be crazy technological developments like computational photography, for Austin the one constant will always be light.

"Without light you just have a black frame. Nothing. That's why off camera lighting is going to be the one constant. Light will never be replaced by software. Sensors may become more sensitive to light, but they can’t be directional like light.

An algorithm can’t replace the quality, the harshness or softness of light - and because of that the C1 Plus has a huge role to play."

Written by: Steven Hanratty

Products used in this story

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Profoto C1 Plus

The light that changes everything
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Profoto Clic Grid & Gel Kit

Creates a more direct and circular shape of light and color correction on the go
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Profoto Clic Grid

Reduces light spread and controls straylight