Woman Uses Her Work Commute to Snap Portraits of Strangers with Her iPhone [Interview]

Mobile Photography by Dina Alfasi

Many of us commute on public transportation and wish that the minutes would fly by. Dina Alfasi makes the most of this typically boring experience with her creative pursuits. Based in Israel, she spends plenty of time riding buses or trains to get to her engineering job at a hospital. During these trips, she pulls out her iPhone and captures compelling moments in the everyday lives of strangers.

Alfasi’s iPhone photos depict quiet portraits of people as they try to pass the time. Many of her subjects stare out the window and appear deep in thought. Their stillness allows Alfasi to carefully compose her images so that they are elevated from quick snapshots into the realm of fine art photography. They showcase a range of emotions and moods, from hope to determination to sadness to boredom. Edited to highlight their deep shadows and an exquisite desaturated color palette, it’s beyond what we might expect from photography on a smartphone.

This habit of photographing people in transit has extended beyond her daily commute. She has also snapped pictures of folks traveling on airplanes, and Alfsai’s portfolio is peppered with people who are out and about on city streets.

We spoke with Alfasi about her candid portraits, including the apps she uses to edit her pictures on her phone. Scroll down for our exclusive interview.

Engineer Dina Alfasi uses the train as a mobile photography studio for her work commutes by snapping portraits with her iPhone.

iPhone Portrait Photography by Dina AlfasiWhen did you start shooting pictures with your iPhone?

For the last seven years I have been shooting with an iPhone, currently the iPhone X. On my day, I spend a lot of time traveling by train and bus. At first, I took pictures just to pass the time. Slowly I realized that I was in a “mobile studio” with great lighting and interesting objects for photography.

What compelled you to start shooting?

What inspires me are the little moments that happen every day. My work is a testament to telling stories through a single photograph and proof that all you need is just to look around and find those magic moments.

Mobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiWhat appeals to you about shooting mobile photography?

The more I took pictures with the iPhone, the more I realized that in mobile photography I was able to capture more authentic and meaningful frames. Beyond that, the ease with which the iPhone can be pulled anywhere, at any time, made me decide to focus on photographing with the iPhone only.

Mobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiAre all of your subjects strangers?

Yes, most of the subjects are strangers.

How often do people catch you taking a picture of them? What is their reaction?

The subjects do not notice that I photograph them because, with time and experience, I learned how to do it secretly and without attracting attention. It requires practice, but it works.

Mobile Photography by Dina Alfasi

Wrinkles and Dots. 2013, iPhone 5

What's the most memorable photograph you've ever taken on your iPhone? 

It's hard to choose one picture, each picture is a story and a memory for me. But if I have to choose, then I will choose Wrinkles and Dots, which is a milestone for me to begin understanding how to photograph a human moment and convey so many feelings without words.

iPhone Portrait Photography by Dina AlfasiiPhone Portrait Photography by Dina AlfasiHow do you edit your photos?

The entire editing process I do on the iPhone. I almost always start with SNAPSEED for minor color adjustments, alignment, and cropping. Other apps I use the most are VSCO, Quickshot, and Facetune.

iPhone Portrait Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiMobile Photography by Dina AlfasiiPhone Portrait Photography by Dina Alfasi

Next: See even more photos by Alfasi.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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