EXCLUSIVE: I interviewed my friend Tom about his #ShotoniPhone win

by | Apr 18, 2022 | Feature, Interview

EXCLUSIVE: I interviewed my friend Tom about his #ShotoniPhone win

by | Apr 18, 2022 | Feature, Interview

Hot on the heels of last week’s news cycle, The Shutter Angle presents this exclusive interview with my friend Tom Reeves, a winner of Apple’s #ShotoniPhone macro photography challenge. Alongside images from nine other photographers, Tom’s chilling photo was selected out of thousands of entries and will soon be featured on Apple billboards in cities everywhere.

In short, it’s a pretty big deal. So I fired up the old email machine to ask him a few questions about how he made this impressive photograph.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Shutter Angle: What’s up? It’s been, what, 10 years?

Tom Reeves: Indeed. I have been living in NYC for a whole decade now. Some might say that finally makes me a New Yorker, but I’ll always appreciate my West Coast roots.

Apple selected 10 winners, but only two — you and some guy I don’t know named Trevor, whose shot was also awesome — were personally mentioned in Tim Cook’s tweet. How does that make you feel?

I’m all atwitter! It feels awesome. [I see what you did there. -ed]

Did Tim Cook follow you?

Not yet…


Yeah, back to work…

Tom Reeves

Your photo shows the exquisite detail of a snowflake resting on your dog’s fur. But when I first saw it, I thought it was a horse’s main! Am I way off base, or does it kinda look like that?

One of the esteemed judges of this challenge said the same thing, so at least you’re in good company. I think it’s a valid testament to the capability of macro on iPhone that these incredibly fine goldendoodle puppy hairs look as thick and strong as horse’s mane.

I think I just misspelled “mane.” I don’t talk about horses a lot.

Oh, not your mane focus? Shall we move on? [Damn, that was a good one. -ed]

I totally forgot that the new iPhone has a macro mode. Is it worth the upgrade? I’m still on an iPhone 11 Pro.

I can certainly say the upgrade is worth it! Macro mode is super fun and opens up so much creative possibility. Plus, a shot like this would not have been possible with any other iPhone, duh.

Most of the other winning entries were all pictures of some kind of plant, which I suppose is par for the course for macro photography. Did you know your image was going to be unique? Were you like, “Yeah, I’ve got a winner here,” or were you totally surprised to be selected?

I felt really great about the photo when I posted it, but there are so many brilliant creators that I assumed it would go unnoticed in the tsunami of incredible images being shared every day. My winning entry post only got a single like (thanks, mom!), so yeah, I was totally surprised.

There is a unique quality to this kind of macro shot that I was aware of — it’s a tiny and fleeting moment seen from up close. I’m very excited to say that I’ve got more work like this on the way, and the iPhone 13 Pro finally delivered the lightweight macro camera that I needed to create it.

What new photo mode will Apple introduce in the next iPhone? Are you going to enter that contest?

I wish I knew… I read a rumor online that sensor upgrades are on the way, but instead of more megapixels, I am hoping they enable even better image quality across all three lenses, particularly in low light. I also believe that Live Photos have an enormous amount of untapped potential, but I’m keeping those and other ideas to myself unless Apple wants to give me a job as an innovator… [I’m sure members of Apple’s iPhone team are avid readers of The Shutter Angle. Expect them to reach out soon. -ed]

On Instagram, Apple didn’t “tag” the winners, opting to merely mention them in the post copy. This means you can never change your Instagram handle without breaking the link from Apple’s post to your account. Do you think whomever manages Apple’s social media doesn’t know how to Instagram properly?

In reality, I am probably the one who doesn’t know how to Instagram properly. I was just pleased to see my photo shared to their 27.4M followers… They must be doing something right!

The last time we shot together, you were using, I want to say, a Canon 20D? What cameras do you shoot now, and what role does the iPhone play in your photography?

Yes! We went chasing waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge, if I recall correctly. I finally upgraded to a Canon 5D Mk III about 7 years ago and eventually replaced my starter lenses with some professional glass, but I never picked up a dedicated macro lens. Occasionally, I’d shoot macro by flipping a 50mm prime around and holding it against the camera mount, moving in and out to find the extremely narrow and fixed focal plane. [Curious readers can learn more about this technique in this Photography Life explainer. -ed]

Now, the iPhone beats this technique in every way and offers way more flexibility than even a dedicated macro lens would in terms of sharp images in low light and being able to get in really close to the subject from different angles.

The storied Washington Post labeled you an “amateur photographer.” What are your photographic ambitions?

Lolz. I hoped in this case “amateur” was meant to be synonymous with hobbyist, which is technically true in this chapter of my photographic journey. It was perhaps a fair assumption, based on the fact that I am currently an IT grad student and photography is not my primary source of income. Regardless, I like to call myself an avid photographer. Sure, I’ve done it for the money, but I’ll also keep doing it for the love.

What’s next for my photographic ambitions? Well, I am currently studying Information Science with a belief that my photography and ophthalmic imaging experience will eventually play an important part in that work, but I can’t be sure exactly how. Like Steve Jobs said in his famous commencement speech, I trust that the dots will connect at some point down the road.

Not to get all artsy on you, but this ambition is also reflected metaphorically in my winning image. If you follow the winding threads of our puppy’s hair, a few key strands coming from various directions twist together before colliding with the pop of an unexpected snowflake. In that sense, I hope to be able to offer something valuable, unexpected, and innovative in the space where visual art, vision science, and information technology collide.

Until then, I’m going to keep sharing ambitious photos until everyone knows me as a professional. 🙂

I actually can’t read The Washington Post piece because it’s behind a paywall. The Shutter Angle has no such paywall. Isn’t that cool?

I’m so glad that labeling me an amateur is the only part they didn’t put behind the paywall. /s

The Shutter Angle is super cool because you’re a fantastic writer. Thanks for keeping it free! [Honestly, I would charge if I could. And thanks! -ed]

Thanks man. Love ya.

You too, brother. Always good to catch up with you.

You can see more of Tom’s work on his website.