Category Archives: DIY

Super Amazing Smartphone Tricks

Trick 1

Reflections

Reflectors are just a way to toss a bit more light onto your subject. In spite of the marketing hype in the photography world, there is nothing magical about a reflector. It can be anything that reflects light ranging from a simple piece of white paper or tin foil to a concrete wall. There is something to be said about the use of white vs. color and white vs. something highly reflective like tin foil. The reflected light will carry with the color cast of what you use so with yellow or gold, you can “warm” up a subject by way of a yellow light. Tin foil adds a sparkle and edge to the light which some folks like and some do not.

reflector in use

Trick 2

Light up small objects

Something that a smartphone like the iPhone excels at is shooting small items for sale on sites like eBay. The trick for this type of photography is using a lightbox that will evenly illuminate the item from all sides. You can buy a light tent or do a DIY version using a cardboard box with panels cut out and covered with a diffusion material like tracing paper. You cut out the panels and then position some lights at each panel. I use three 85 watt CFLs that are daylight balanced. I had them for another project and reused them for this project. You can use the cheap worklights but they put out a lot of heat. The CFLs are much cooler and can be color corrected by gelling or in post processing.

Trick 3

Diffuse Your Light

Diffusion is the opposite of reflecting in a sense. You are not adding light but evening it out by subtracting the brightest parts. You can accomplish this several ways ranging from making your own diffuser from a cheap canvas frame with the canvas cutout and replaced by something along the lines of Roscos Opal diffuser material, a piece of thin white ripstop nylon, tracing paper, cheap shower curtain or any other semi opaque material. In my case, I made a diffusor (or Scrim) from the canvas frame so I could clamp it in my C Stands. But you do not have to have that stiff of a frame. You can use a cheap white “shoot-through” umbrella which will cost about 10 dollars from various online stores.

Diffuser made from canvas and wooden stretcher art frame
DIY DiffuserHow does a diffuser work

How does a diffuser work

The left side doesn’t have the diffuser overhead and right side is using DIY diffuser overhead

diffuser in action

Trick 4

Increase Your Density

When you take pictures in bright daylight, the typical smartphone will lower the ISO and crank up the shutter speed to get a good exposure since the aperture is locked to something like 2.2 or 2.4. On the surface this sounds fine and in most cases this perfectly fine until you want to make a better picture than a snapshot. When you take a picture of something with motion, you need to show that motion and a fast shutter speed is not the way to do it. So how can we reduce the shutter speed when we really cannot control it from our smartphone? We fake the camera into thinking it’s darker than what it is by way of neutral density filters. We are playing off the camera’s programming that it will reduce shutter speed before it raises ISO speed. Sometimes it’s easier to show someone something. So here is a shot taken high high noon at Disneyland. Normally the water would have been stopped like it was frozen. But when I tape a ND filter of two stops over the camera lens of my iPhone, the phone thinks it’s darker than what it is and lets the shutter slow down. This bit of slowing is enough to let the water blur but still keep the submarine motionless. The moving water adds visual tension to the image which the brain likes to see. It shows motion which it expects to see.

IMG_8230

Trick 5

Light Up the World

You can spend a whole lot of money on lighting or you can be cheap. The good news is smartphones do not require expensive lighting. You can do amazing work with a 60 dollar video light. Since there is not any real way to connect and synchronize strobes to the smartphone, continuous lighting is really your best way to illuminate your subject. A common use is to supplement other lighting but you can also use it by itself.

Trick 6

Be crafty with your smartphone

When you go to anywhere that you will be shooting through glass like an aquarium, make yourself a foam gasket to seal the smartphone against the glass. Why? because the gasket will prevent reflections and absorb vibrations while giving you a way to steady the camera. The black foamie material is available for virtually any craft shop for a few dollars for enough to make several gaskets. When you get up close and personal to the glass, you can easily get shots like this taken at the Montery Bay Aquarium using my iPhone 4S.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
sea anemone

Trick 7

Use latex gloves

This trick is a bit of an odd duck. When you are carrying around your fancy glass encased iPhone or other smooth smartphone and it is a bit damp, the phone gets slippery. This is generally a bad thing but putting on a uber cheap throw away latex glove can give you much needed “stickiness” to keep a good grip on the smartphone. I’ve used this trick with my iPhone while at the best or out whale watching. Even when it’s really hot and my hands are constantly sweaty. Yes, I could use a case but I am always adding some type of filter over my lens or using a third party lens so cases become a real pain point and as a result, my iPhone tends to be naked most of the time.

Trick 8

Making a Case for a Case

This is not cheap trick but it is a very worthwhile accessory to invest in. There are a few different underwater cases for the iPhone and some for various droids but I will be talking about the iPhone since that is what I own. I would highly recommend that you get a GOOD case which means spending a fair bit of money. The Watershot underwater case I have cost close to 90 dollars but offers quite a few features for the money. You get a shock mount for the iPhone, waterproof to 140 feet, a safety clasp to prevent it from opening underwater, seals for the lens and a custom app to let you shoot and preview the images underwater. It’s not perfect but man is it fun to have in the pool or on casual diving. It is also the case to have in any adverse enviroment like high dust desert or in muddy situations ( think monster truck mud races). This is also a cool case for water soak amusement park rides. Some of the cases have threads so you can add filters or even a different lens.

Under the Sea with an iPhone

Trick 9

Join the Group

One problem we all face is that we want to take a selfie or we want a group shot and we have to either be out of the picture since we are taking it or we have to hand our phone to some stranger and hope they dont run off with it. With the iPhone and Android phones, there a a few different ways to trigger the shutter remotely. With the iPhone, you can use the much maligned earbuds to trigger the shutter by way of the volume controls. You can also use a bluetooth remote trigger or even a bluetooth remote keyboard (the volume controls). Some of the better units support many popular third party camera apps. The cheaper ones are bit more challenging to use

Also posted in Articles, equipment, iPhone, photography, technique Tagged , , , , , |

Christmas Time in November

Oh yes, it is THAT time again with Christmas just around the corner. But, do not fear, you can make the killer gift for the extended family or friends by using all those pictures you took over the year. You can make books, cards, magazines, calendars and more using Instagram shots, Hipstamatic pictures, iPhone pictures, Droid pictures or pictures from any other camera.
iPhone catalog of images
And we ALL have hundreds and hundreds of pictures from the course of the year to pick from. Digital film doesn’t really cost us a nickel so we shoot much more than just a few years ago.

I offer many of these services as add on features to my photography sessions. I can do a themed session or do some photoshop magic for that one of a kind portrait for the gift of a lifetime.

You can always have some fun with the traditional family portrait. In this image, my own family and I decided to play off our Apple addiction that is well known in the family. everyone really liked that my oldest daughter was “in” the iPad and looking up at the youngest. That was a very simple trick with telling my oldest how to look when a friend took her picture since she was out of state at the time.

A Very Merry Apple Christmas

You can take the card into a whole new direction by compositing the family into some other place like, say, a snow globe which plays well off the fact we live in Southern California.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

But for a real gift, there are many, many options in today’s digital world. You can easily use software like MyPublisher and build a very nice book with the year’s highlights in pictures for the grand parents. In this example, I made a picture book of my daughter’s first trip to Paris, France as a remembrance for her. This twenty dollar book was one of the best gifts I had given her (her words).

The best part of a picture book is that with the newest software from the vendors, they require no special Photoshop skills or expensive software. With iPhoto, the ability is built in and with vendors like MyPublisher, they give you the app for free to build the book. Other vendors like Adorama use online software and your web browser to build the book.

Amanda's Picture Book Paris France

There are dozens of printing houses that can do this type of book and Apple even has it as a built in option in iPhoto. You will hear of MyPublisher.com, Blurb and Lulu.com for a few common names. But there are many more including some books available from stores such as Adorama, Costco and Kodak.

You can decide if you are going to tell a specific story or just have a compilation of pictures from the year highlighting key events. I would strongly suggest that you write a few sentences with each picture or group of pictures so when someone is looking at the pictures, they can be reminded to what the pictures are about.

You can make calendars through many of these companies or you can buy templates with a dozen different designs ready to go with just your pictures added to finish it off. The calendars can be a single month, a year at a time or the more traditional flip calendar. You can have one, two or more pictures per month or year. You can do a lot with the newest templates and many of the templates are offered by the same fold that publisher the picture books. There are also templates available that you can use and then print anywhere you want including your own home with your own printer. In the sample below I used a Photoshop template and a picture I had taken at a school. I then printed out the new calendar at home with my own printer. My cost was twenty dollars for the template kit which has a dozen different calendars and about five cents for the printer paper and ink.
Olivia with 2014 calendar

Calendar templates are available from many sources such as Photoshop Island, RedBoot and others.

For the more advanced users, you can always make a story book by building the pages in Photoshop using templates and then exporting the resulting page out as a single JPEG file which you then print as a single page. In this graduation album, I made the pages in Photoshop and then used each page as a single picture printed on each page.
Graduation Album Pages

Also posted in Album Software, Articles, editing, editing software, lightroom, osx, technique

Cheap Third Hand Style of Clamp

As humans, we have two hands. But, every time you think two are enough, you need a third one. You can buy 3rd hand tools which is just a couple of clamps mounted on a bendable shaft of some kind. But being cheap, I decided to see what I could do with a few bits and pieces I had laying around the garage. I had a bag of plastic clamps I bought at Home Depot, some leftover aluminum clothes line wire, a few wooden clothes pins and gaffers tape. I was able to pot together a clamp in ten minutes that would hold a light flag or reflector or even a lightweight subject like a flower.

Also posted in Hardware, musings, technique Tagged , , |