The winners for Apple's "Night mode photo challenge" are in. Announced on January 8, Apple invited users from around the world to share their best "Night mode" photos shot with iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro. Winners would have their photos plastered on Apple billboards, social media, and marketing campaigns (all with proper credit to the photographer of course).
Apple originally said five winning photos would be picked by a panel of judges, but a sixth one managed to impress the judges. Let's look at the winning shots, shall we?
Russia sweeps — An interesting observation: half of the winning photos were shot in Moscow, Russia. The other three were photos taken in: Beijing, China; Pamplona, Navarra, Spain; and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Interestingly enough, no photos from the Americas managed to win. Looks like the international #shotoniPhone community might have more game.
Who were the judges? — A panel of 10 judges, including five photographers and five Apple employees (SVP of marketing Phil Schiller participated) chose the winning six from "thousands of submissions worldwide" and explained in a press release why they loved the shots.
Shot on iPhone, but maybe not edited on iPhone — Clicking the shutter and capturing a photo is only half of the equation to a great photo. While Apple makes no mention of whether or not any of the photographers used additional gear like Moment lenses or accessories like flashes (our guess is no on lenses), editing is what ultimately creates an image's mood.
Apple shared no insight into how the photos were edited (what apps were used and on what platform? Mac? PC? iOS?) or how much was edited. A peek at each photo's metadata shows five of the shots have the iPhone 11/11 Pro's full 12-megapixel resolution (4,032 x 3,204) while only one photo was cropped (2,951 x 3,940).
This mystery is also the magic and secret to photography. Knowing how to transform what's captured from a camera into a picture that says something or makes you feel a certain way is part of the craft. Sharing the whole step-by-step process would be a bit like going to Michelin-starred restaurant and asking for the recipe for your course. That's for the chef to know and for you to not worry about.
Incredible cameras — The photos reinforce one thing: the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have incredible cameras. Not even Samsung's Galaxy S20 and its mega-sized 108-megapixel camera and 100x digital zoom can beat it. Apple lost the crown to Google's Pixels for a few years, especially when it came to night photography. But it came back strong last year and these pics are proof the phones are killer cameras.
The above photo was shot on iPhone 11, but the photographer Rustam Shagimordanov has another nearly identical photo on his Instagram account that was a Sony A7R III with Sigma 24mm f/1.4 lens. Shagimordanov's Night mode photo attracted controversy for being fake, but if you look at the two photos, they're similar, but different. Take a look at the water — the Sony photo has a much longer and smoother long exposure. Apple confirmed with Input the winning photo was indeed #shotoniPhone despite the similar compositions. Shagimordanov likely took the photos at the same time.
If anything, the similarities of the two photos show how powerful the iPhone 11 Pro's cameras are. The phone, in your pocket, now takes comparable photos to a $3,350 professional camera and lens rig. Incredible.