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I attended a beautiful wedding ceremony at Big Sur over the weekend. I shot a bunch of photos with my iPhone 6s of the wedding party, the ocean, the sunset, etc. The photos are pretty.

Now that I’m home I realize that many of them were shot in Live mode (a new, marquee feature in the iPhone 6s), and, looking at them, I realize what a marginal feature Live Photo really is. It’s simply not useful, it doesn’t help capture moments you want to remember, and it doesn’t add to the enjoyment of reviewing your photos.

Live Photos, in case you managed to miss all the hype, are a series of images shot by the camera during the second-and-a-half before and after the actual photo. Apple says the extra images on either side of the still are meant to provide “context.”

When you play them back (by pressing down and holding on the image) they look like little videos. You see the movement in the scene (with audio) from just before the shot, then there’s a pause on the actual still you meant to shoot, then you see the movement from after the shot.

Apple has pointed out that these are not actually video, and that they don’t take up that much memory space. Well, OK, it’s true that they don’t take up much space, but, I still have a problem with Apple’s statement. A Live Photo is pictures running in succession with sound. To me, that’s video.

Just not very good video. The Live Photos I shot look like a series of jauntily connected still images with a bit of sound that’s too short to be meaningful. They don’t look fluid and beautiful like some of the home screen and lock screen live wallpapers that shipped with my iPhone 6s.

Live photos, to me, look just like the tiny, seconds-long videos you sometimes shoot by mistake.

Apple even made a video to hype Live Photo, featuring Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry nailing a half court shot. Cool, but the ad can’t even answer the question of why you wouldn’t just shoot a video, or a Vine, of the shot.

As a tool for recording life events, the user isn’t allowed to be very involved.

Live Photo involves Apple putting an arbitrary number of frames around still photos. The user can’t stipulate how many of these “contextual” images should be shot around still images, or how long of a period the camera shoots photos before and after — it’s always a second and a half. The user can only tap the shutter button and hope for the best.

For instance, I shot a picture of the second when the bride and groom kissed — when their lips met — in front of the sun setting on the Pacific. It was a pretty damn good shot. But I was trying to capture a single point in time, not a three-second scrap of time. The extra Live Photo images, therefore, were useless. They contained no evocative impact. The single, still photo did.

Videos can definitely be tools to capture important moments, but probably not three-second videos. If you want to shoot video, you’ll turn the camera to video mode and shoot video, then edit down to the perfect length later. You won’t bother with the quasi-videos that are Live Photos.

The only practical use case I can think of would be that when you just barely miss a shot of a quick event — like a car accident or a sudden football goal — one of the pre-shot frames might catch the crucial millisecond. But that’s about it, and it depends on whether you push the shutter button within a second and a half.

Live Photos were part of the rather short list of the improvements built into the iPhone 6s to distinguish it from the iPhone 6. And there were some powerful improvements on that list. The cameras were upgraded, and the processor is very, very fast. But Live Photos is so weak, it feels like Apple may have included it — and talked it up — just to add a sexy new consumer-facing feature to the “s” series phone.

The above may seem like a lot of fuss over a single feature. But it’s Apple that made so much fuss over the feature, not me. I’m just pointing out that it was all mostly hype, and had little to do with an actual, useful feature.


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