INSPIRATIONS: Andy Royston on Ft. Lauderdale

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Today, well into its third year as a daily event, the FtLauderdaleSun beach photography project remains essentially unchanged from the day it began.

The concept is quite simple. I take a daily dawn walk along Ft Lauderdale Beach, north from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. I take and share iPhone photographs along the way, primarily to a twitter account called FtLauderdaleSun. Landscape format images are also posted onto my blog and square format ones to my Instagram account @ayup , all directly from the beach.

Almost all processing and editing of the images takes place along the way, and after 8 am the images are taken off my iPhone for filing and (at the end of the day) added to the ‘Day by Day’ section of the blog. Sometimes the images are revisited, but for the most part the project remains a ‘fresh from the beach’ iPhoneography experience.

Quite why the project remains strong is a mystery, even to me! Sometimes, after a holiday break, there’s an opportunity to re-think the project. To make it less dawn-orientated by including images taken at different times of day maybe. Or to vary the subject and the location; after all taking images of the same narrow stretch of beach day after day runs a big risk of monotony and repetitiveness

Some followers on Twitter have actively encouraged me to take a morning off. To take a lie in and relax. But the fact of the matter is that the beach walk is the most relaxing time of my day. It is also the most exciting. The experience is a thrill and a privilege whatever the weather. The iphoneography project is just a small part of the experience – an ocean dawn just fill the senses and offers an unfolding natural drama every day. The Ft. Lauderdale Sun project is just my way of sharing the experience and trying to capture the uniqueness of each morning as best I can.

Over time the ‘freshness’ of the photograph has become an important element in the project. I believe that the ‘live from the beach’ aspect is what makes it compelling. The project isn’t really a photo project at all. It is a live event experience – I did work in television news for many years after all. The sun is up and its another beautiful day in paradise.

The Ft. Lauderdale Sun propject is just my way of sharing the experience and trying to capture the uniqueness of each morning as best I can.

The project offers a discipline and a format that allows the subject to shine. It is almost a natural soap opera with recognizable characters. Some palm tree forms are shot daily, and edited in ways that are familiar to regular followers. I know that some of the more glamorous shots will be re-shared by prominent visitors bureau organizations, such as VisitLauderdale and VisitFlorida which helps the project be seen by many more people. The FLS audience includes followers who are interested in weather, in birds, in holidays, in spiritual matters and even in photography, mobile or otherwise. It is a diverse crowd so I do vary the kind of pictures that are uploaded. Some kinds of images are perennially popular, so I do try to make sure that these popular bases are covered.


That being said I have a keen appreciation of the arts and keep a very close eye on the work of other artists and photographers in my field. I think it important to try to reach for the skies artistically too, and the project offers many opportunities to capture pure light or pure color within the FLS context. I have shared quite radical shots with the FtLauderdaleSun audience; I’m sure that by now regulars expect a few curve-balls every so often.

Quite why I feel attracted to the dawn sky as a subject (I take a dawn walk wherever I am in the world) is complex, but in essence it is all about the extraordinary skies here in Ft Lauderdale, where the beach is straight and clear and offers a clear view of an ocean dawn in all its extraordinary glory. With no landmass features to frame the shot my subject is a vast, ever changing natural event that manifests itself in dramatic shapes, light and cloud forms. With a busy ocean to provide a counterpoint nature really is at its finest. What a subject to try to capture.

The iPhone of course is another essential element in the FtLauderdaleSun project. As a photographer I’ve used a multitude of big glass cameras, most recently at professional motor racing events, but for my own work I gave up on other cameras after yet another moisture-damaged gadget bit the dust. The iPhone camera is to me a real game changer.

iPhoneography – mobile photography – is what I call an active photography experience. To get the shot you are looking for you necessarily have to place yourself exactly where the photo is. Because of this you, as a photographer become much more actively involved in the scenes and the subjects which in turn changes your attitude to the whole photography process. The increasingly detached, objective, formal photography experience is replaced by a more fluid, intuitive way of working. It quite simply is another way of seeing.

iPhoneography – mobile photography – is what I call an active photography experience.

This active photography becomes all the more involving when making use of the iPhone’s processing capabilities. The connectivity of the device opens up a whole range of ways to share and communicate the images with others globally, and this enthusiastic and increasingly talented community helps expand both your technical skills and your artistic capabilities too. Indeed it is this latter aspect that has kept the project alive and exciting. As with everything practice makes perfect and spending 100 minutes a day exclusively on iphone photography is bound to improve the eye.

On a more personal note, I have always been very competitive and judgmental about my artistic skills, and the social nature of the iphoneography experience has meant that it is easy to participate in online communities and enterprises that are highly artful, skillful and sophisticated. Globally the most artistically talented iphoneographers are aware of each others work. They share experiences and create mutually beneficial events, competitions and projects that are have become very well respected by the wider artistic and critical world.

My own participation in the community is a real challenge to my own work, as I do feel a need to try to achieve artistic quality through this medium. This means taking on board not only the history of photography, of fine art and of print but also the digital mediums that are brought to bear in this increasingly technological world of art. Most times I fall well short of the work I feel capable of, which gets me back out for another shot!

A recent London visit re-enforced my love of the 19th Century landscape masters, particularly JMW Turner whose abilities with light and color were spectacular.

A recent London visit re-enforced my love of the 19th Century landscape masters, particularly JMW Turner whose abilities with light and color were spectacular. Combine the epic paintings of John Martin, the intimate, impressionistic studies by Pissarro, Corot and Cezanne and the deep emotional colors of Mark Rothko and you have a measure of the kind of imaging that I’m ultimately aiming for each time I step onto the sands. I can only scratch the surface of these great artists work, but at least in making the effort I might share some of their vision and experience.


One marvelous consequence of this project is my accumulated knowledge and photographs of beach nature and coastal marine life. This means that I can give talks and presentations to both scientific and photographic audiences. My images tell a story that is at once artistic, scientific, technological and – due to the iphone’s role – accessible and understandable. With this in mind I have plans to take this project ‘on tour’ – to spend a weekend at a coastal location; take two sets of photographs on location at the beach, then give a themed talk on the marine biology of the US south eastern coastline.

Andy Royston

Andy was the lead judge in the SUNLIGHT category for the 2011 Mobile Photo Awards
You can follow @ftlauderdalesun on TWITTER

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About the MPA

The Mobile Photo Awards were founded to promote the global phenomenon of mobile photography and art.  The awards are committed to presenting the art-form in galleries and exhibits. The MPA is the world's largest open gallery call and competition of its kind.
The Mobile Photo Awards were founded to promote and celebrate mobile photography and art. With fine-art exhibits, competitions and open gallery calls, the MPA is the world's largest event of it's kind.