Photographer Sam Horine moved to Seattle from NYC a couple years back and pretty quickly developed an appreciation for the neon signs spread across the city. “Half the year it’s great weather. The other half of the year it’s total crap and completely dark all the time. But the signs are a beacon of light and I like how they play in reflections and light up the night a little bit,” he tells us. As Horine’s commercial clients keep him pretty busy, his idea to shoot a series on the signs was tabled. Given the opportunity to test Apple’s new iPhone 12 Pro Max, Horine immediately knew this was the right timing to shoot some neon. And as a result, we have some of the very first photos made using this flagship camera phone.
As seen on his Instagram, Sam’s work is not heavily edited—a little de-sharpening and slight color grading soften his images and give them a bit of a more film-like feel. However, to share what images from the new 12 Pro Max look like as captured he was kind enough to let us publish these shots completely unedited. And note, you can click through the images to see them full resolution.
Horine lives downtown and not far from Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. “Despite the tourism, I find it very interesting as a hub of Seattle. This city has always been in flux and there’s not a lot of history so the market to me is like a European town square. It’s got a heart and some interesting parts to it. There are some really weird corners and fun little vignettes.” The market, shown above, looks like a movie set during the golden hour through the wide lens on the iPhone. At night the neon reflects in puddles and spills over slick cobblestones rendering gradients captured smoothly from the ultrawide lens.
The industrial district south of downtown (SoDo) has businesses brightly badged by their neon. Horine imagines a community centered around sign making. “There’s a neon sign shop, which explains why there are so many signs. One of those is, ‘if you build it, they will buy it.’ I want to do some research on this neon sign shop and figure out how long it’s been in business for. I’m assuming it’s been forever because these signs are so old. But you know, it gives it this kind of throwback image.”
Horine has been taking pictures with an iPhone since 2008 and sad, “This is one of the greatest iPhones they’ve made.” Acknowledging that he’s an Apple fanboy, he adds that “with this project I wanted to push the phone as hard as it could go.” The main (Wide) camera on the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 47% larger sensor than the 12 Pro which means there’s a greater ability to absorb and translate light in darker situations. Further, that sensor is mounted with physical stabilization to reduce movement during longer exposures. Combined with the power of computational photography this all means that the brightness of the neon signs doesn’t overpower the camera’s ability to capture nuances in the shadows. The other two lenses—Ultrawide and Telephoto—are paired to the regular sized sensors you’ll find in the iPhone 12 Pro, though the Telephoto lens on the Max has greater magnification power: 2.5x vs 2x.
Comparing the performance of each lens/sensor pair Horine says, “The ultrawide makes it really fun to get some interesting perspectives; telephoto is fine and gets a little tight—you know, you have to get used to it, with the two and a half is just punches even tighter. But overall, the more time I spend with it, the more I like it. And it handled mixed lighting incredibly well.”
Pre-orders for the iPhone 12 Pro Max are open now and the first ones will be available on 13 November 2020.
Images by Sam Horine