Tech

Here's every image from the 2020 iPhone Photography Awards — and the backstory of how they were shot

We spoke with IPPA founder Kenan Atkulun and several of the U.S. winners to learn more about the 13-year-old photography awards that started as a hobby and now awards winners real gold and platinum bars.

Kristian Cruz

NFor 13 years, Kenan Aktulun, has crowned winners in the annual iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAWARDS).

Founded by Aktulun after the original iPhone launched, the IPPA has showcased the very finest that iPhone photography has had to offer. What started out as a hobby and side project has ballooned into a revered annual ceremony that presents powerful photos submitted by photographers from around the world.

There were no prizes in the beginning and Apple didn't start promoting IPPA until about seven years ago. Aktulun maintains that the IPPA is completely independent; Apple is not a sponsor and isn’t involved in the competition other than to amplify it. He says all of the submissions and winners continue to astound every year despite many of the winners shooting with older iPhones. One of the winning shots was taken with an iPhone 4, a 10-year-old iPhone.

"I just put up a website, a really simple website," Aktulun told Input. "I asked people around me [at the agency I worked at], friends, and family to submit their pictures that they took with iPhone. It was just kind of an experiment and hobby."

Akutulun says he never expected it to become this global competition that would later award winners real gold and platinum bars. "It grew really organically."

I asked Aktulun to share some details behind the curtains about the judging process. Though he wouldn’t say specifically who the panel of judges was for the 2020 winners, he said they were made up of a diverse cast of visual storytellers including photographers and designers. There are no limits to the number of photos that a person can submit (you just have to pay more for the entry fees), but Aktulun assured me all photo submissions are blindly judged. Of the "tens of thousands" of submitted photos, any instances where a photographer wins for multiple categories is coincidental.

As to verifying the legitimacy of submitted photos, Aktulun says there’s not much in terms of an involved vetting process. Original metadata is required for submissions and photos can’t be manipulated with desktop editing software, only iPhone apps. When I raise the concern that metadata can be faked, he says that he hasn’t run into many cases where the validity of a photo was seriously questioned.

"There are basic things we can do like asking them to send the original image from their phone," says Aktulun. "So far we haven’t had anything [of notable violation] in the last 13 years. There were only two cases and I think there was one case from a guy from Poland who submitted something and I think [his photo won] honorable mention and someone else saw his picture and sent us something about it being misleading. That was the only one we disqualified."

Winner’s circle

Whenever the winning photos of the iPhone Photography Awards are announced I love to, first, see which iPhones the winners used for their shots, and second, peek at the metadata to unearth more on the behind-the-scenes.

"Beach Chair" by Danielle Moir, a U.S. photographer, is particularly interesting. Moir’s photo won first place for the "other" category. Digging into the metadata reveals she took the picture in 2016 with an iPhone 6 and used Hipstamatic to edit the shot. Launched in 2009, two years before Instagram, Hipstamatic was one of the first breakout third-party camera apps. Hipstamatic became widely successful by letting users take lo-fi, film-like photos. As the image quality of iPhone cameras improved over, photographers largely abandoned the app in favor of more powerful editing apps like Snapseed, VSCO, or Adobe Lightroom.

However, Moir, remains a Hipstamatic faithful. "It’s more a color palette thing for me."

"I love Hipstamatic because I’m an old-school — girl who still uses Polaroid," says Moir. "It is my way of feeling like when I don’t have a film camera with me that I can get that feeling from using Hipstamatic. When I’m using Hipstamatic, I’m choosing a lens and a film, and that gives me another sense like I can really work with the iPhone so that it gives me more of a manual feel."

Anyone perusing the IPPA website can see that the quality of photos has improved dramatically since the awards started 13 years ago when the first iPhone came out. Despite how powerful iPhone cameras are now, there are still non-believers. Camera purists who think photos taken with an iPhone are somehow inferior. Which is, of course, completely untrue.

2nd place: "Winding Down" in Manila, Philippines — iPhone XKristian Cruz (United States)

"The [quality of iPhone photography] keeps increasing and it increases my quality," says Kristian Cruz, first place winner for the "travel" category and second place winner for the "still life" category. "iPhone photographers like myself get discriminated by some of the photography community using DSLRs. IPPA shows people the quality... it can be as high as the photography from DSLRs and it’s really about creativity."

“iPhone photographers like myself get discriminated by some of the photography community using DSLRs.”

Photographer and iPhone photography teacher Ekatarina Varzar, who nabbed first place with "Cotton Candy" under the "children" category, echoed the same advice about shooting with your phone. Great, award-winning photography is not about the camera or the resolution, but the creative eye and preparation that goes into getting a shot. Nobody goes to a gallery to see Annie Leibovitz’s portraits only to scrutinize whether she shot with the latest Canon or Nikon.

Besides recommending iPhone photographers “practice, practice, practice” Varzar says she advises her students to "for one week go for a walk, specifically to make pictures on a certain topic" to literally help improve their composition.

"[For example], today I do geometry, or today I do still life, or today I would like to shoot portraits," says Varzar. "Organize a self-challenge for yourself for a week."

Doing so will help photographers discover their strengths and weaknesses and the type of photography that is most "authentic" to them, says Varzar.

Audrey Blake Calvani, who took home first place for her photo "Culture Fusion" in the "lifestyle" category, told Input her winning shot was "different than my normal work" and that the iPhone camera was the perfect tool for quickly capturing the chaotic scene of a man dressed in vaquero garb tossing a lasso, as a paraglider dropped into the frame, and a person in a bikini walking along the beach looked over.

"I’m a professional photographer by trade and I photograph families and commercial work," says Calvani. "That picture in particular, I was shooting a wedding [in Cancun] and it was a break in the craziness. I was completely struck by the juxtaposition of what I was looking at because it was a hundred degrees and this man is in full garb, completely owning his lasso."

Who knows if she would have captured the moment if she had spent time pulling out her big camera and adjusting its settings.

Below, you’ll find all of the winning photos for the 2020 IPPAWARDS. Anyone who still thinks they’re of less artistic expression than "real" photography is in denial.

Grand prize: "Flying Boys" in Banaras, India — iPhone XDimpy Bhalotia (United Kingdom)
1st place: "No walls" in India — iPhone 6Artyom Baryshau (Russia)
2nd place: iPhone XS MaxGeli Zhao (China)
3rd place: "Sheikh of youth" in Baghdad, Iraq — iPhone XSaif Hussain (Iraq)

Abstract

1st place: "Untitled" — iPhone 7 PlusTu Odnu (China)
2nd place: "Beauty in everyday" in Irvine, California — iPhone 8 PlusVeronica Yoo (United States)
3rd place: "Untitled" — iPhone 7 PlusTodd Chen (China)

Animals

1st place: "Untitled" — iPhone XXiaojun Zhang (China)
2nd place: Flamingos — iPhone 6SJi Li (China)
3rd place: "The Empty Quarter" in United Arab Emirates — iPhone XAnna Aiko (Japan, France)

Architecture

1st place: "Duomo di Milano" in Milan, Italy — iPhone XHaiyin Lin (China)
2nd place: "Palm tree series #5" in Los Angeles, California — iPhone 8 PlusEmilia Kashfian (United States)
3rd place: "Calpe Sunrise" in Calpe, Spain — iPhone 11 Pro MaxJiandong Wang (China, Spain)

Children

1st place: "Cotton Candy" in Vorontsovksy Park, Moscow — iPhone 6Ekatarina Varzar (United States)
2nd place: "Untitled" in Myanmar — iPhone 11 Pro MaxDan Liu (China)
3rd place: "Through the eyes of the children" in San Carlos Pangasinan Philippines — iPhone 6 PlusMary Joy Gaitano (Philippines)

Floral

1st place: "Untitled" — iPhone 8 PlusPeiquan Li (China)
2nd place: Untitled — iPhone 6SChikeung Poon (China)
3rd place: "Untitled" — iPhone XHao Wen (China)

Landscape

1st place: "Untitled" in Marble Canyon, Arizona — iPhone XS MaxKaiwen Jiang (China)
2nd place: "Dunes" in Zeeland, Netherlands — iPhone 11 Pro MaxNico Brons (Netherlands)
3rd place: "The Cloud" in Tenerife, Canarie Islands, Spain — iPhone 8 PlusDominic Dähncke (Spain)

Lifestyle

1st place: "Culture Fusion" in Cancun Mexico — iPhone XAudrey Blake Calvani (United States)
2nd place: "Untitled" — iPhone XShiTian Zhang (China)
3rd place: "Devil's Gold" in Indonesia — iPhone XS MaxDan Liu

Nature

1st place: "Untitled" — iPhone 7 PlusLisi Li (China)
2nd place: "Kea at Mount Luxmore" in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand — iPhone XR
3rd place: "Journey to the Lava Field" in Hawaii — iPhone 6Jiawen Lu (Singapore)

News & Events

1st place: "Untitled" — iPhone XFernando Merlo (Spain)
2nd place: "The Virus" in Trang, Thailand — iPhone 7Caterina Bertone (Italy)
3rd place: "Field of Dreams" in Melbourne, Australia — iPhone XJosephine Cafagna (Australia)

Other

1st place: "Beach Chair" in Westhampton Beach, New York — iPhone 6Danielle Moir (United States)
2nd place: "Call from Mokattam Mountain" in Cairo, Egypt — iPhone 7 PlusMagali Chesnel (France)
3rd place: "The Secret" in Huntington, New York — iPhone 6SShana Einhorn (United States)

Panorama

1st place: "Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas" in Madrid, Spain — iPhone 8Bojan Pacadziev (France)
2nd place: "Untitled" in Naples, Italy — iPhone XFabián Cárdenas (Colombia)
3rd place: "Immersion" in Meteora, Greece — iPhone XSGarrine Tsang (Canada)

People

1st place: "Knitting to heal wounds" in Ayacucho, Peru — iPhone 4Omar Lucas (Peru)
2nd place: "The temple of Philae" in Aswan, Egypt — iPhone 6Kris Arzadun (Spain)
3rd place: "Prune Deuce" in Brisbane, Australia — iPhone 11 ProGlenn Homann (Australia)

Portrait

1st place: "Beautiful isolation" in Ouarzazate, Morocco — iPhone XRMona Jumaan (Bahrain)
2nd place: "Roberta" in "L'Almentera, Spain — iPhone 8Renata Dangelo (Span)
3rd place: "Untitled" — iPhone 7 PlusLeping Cheng (China)

Series

1st place: "Untitled" 1/3 in Mindat, Myanmar — iPhone 11 Pro MaxDan Liu (China)
1st place: "Untitled" 2/3 in Mindat, Myanmar — iPhone 11 Pro MaxDan Liu (China)
1st place: "Untitled" 3/3 in Mindat, Myanmar — iPhone 11 Pro MaxDan Liu (China)
2nd place: "Lonely Fisherman" 1/3 in Pico, Peru — iPhone 11 Pro MaxPeng Hao (China)
2nd place: "Lonely Fisherman" 2/3 in Pico, Peru — iPhone 11 Pro MaxPeng Hao (China)
2nd place: "Lonely Fisherman" 3/3 in Pico, Peru — iPhone 11 Pro MaxPeng Hao (China)
3rd place: "Whales and watcher" 1/3 in Troms, Norway — iPhone 11 Pro MaxNaian Feng (China)
3rd place: "Whales and watcher" 2/3 in Troms, Norway — iPhone 11 Pro MaxNaian Feng (China)
3rd place: "Whales and watcher" 3/3 in Troms, Norway — iPhone 11 Pro MaxNaian Feng (China)

Still Life

1st place: "The Wine Bottle and the Seven Chouriços" in Santa Maria dos Olivais, Portugal — iPhone XRJoao Cabaco (Portugal)
2nd place: "Winding Down" in Manila, Philippines — iPhone XKristian Cruz (United States)
3rd place: "84,000 statues of Yakushi Nyorai" in Shimane, Japan — iPhone SEShinya Itahana (Japan)

Sunset

1st place: "Nightfall at the Dolomites" in Auronzo di Cadore, Italy — iPhone 11 ProLeon Chan (Hong Kong)
2nd place: "Twilight Reflection" in Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona — iPhone 6SJoseph Cyr (United States)
3rd place: "Tower 11" in Pacific Beach, California — iPhone XBill Marson (United States)

Travel

1st place: "Free from the Past" in Varanasi, India — iPhone XKristian Cruz (United States)
2nd place: "Eye Spy" in Katoomba, NSW, Australia — iPhone 7Anthony Ginns (Australia)
3rd place: "Window to Denali" in "Talkeetna, AK — iPhone 7Scott Yamano (United States)

Trees

1st place: "Alone" in Queensland, Australia — iPhone 11 ProGlenn Homann (Australia)
2nd place: "Untitled" — iPhone 11 Pro MaxWei Xiong (China)
3rd place: "Solitude Beauty" in Ewa Beach, Hawaii — iPhone 6S PlusChuyang Baideme (Hawaii)