Category Archives: musings

Have iPhone, Will Travel

 

[dropcap_1]L[/dropcap_1]et’s see a show of hands, who has used their iPhone to shoot travel pictures? Yep.. it is soooo much easier to have an iPhone with you (or any smartphone) vs carrying around a DSLR with a couple of lens, a flash, spares and more. The iPhone slips right into the pocket which leaves your hands free for holding, swinging, looking, touching and more without the fear of the 10lbs of camera slamming into some child’s head or into that very expensive glass case in the gift shop.

You can get the iPhone camera lens right up to a glass case and lose the reflections that plague a normal DSLR trying to shoot through glass. The DOF is so wide that you can be be just inches away and still get everything in focus. In this shot, I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and shooting through a glass fish tank with really dim light. By placing the iPhone right up onto the tank, I was able to lose reflections AND stabilize the camera for the the sharpest image with the slow shutter speed needed. I did try it with my DSLR and the results were less than satisfactory. Not to mention I really could not do anything with the image till I got back to my room while I was able to work with the iPhone shot and post it to social media while having a snack at the aquarium.

Flower of the Sea

In this shot, it’s myself with my FILM camera and the family at 8,000 feet in Bryce Canyon. I could and did hand the iPhone to a non-camera geek and just told her to tap the screen where I was standing then tap the button. Done. One nice picture without any mess or fuss. We even got “Flat Stanley” in the shot 🙂 When we went for our hike, I was not carrying eight pounds of gear. I had my iPhone and I was then able to carry my medium format film camera for some truly amazing images that only come with a negative that is over two inches square. In an interesting twist of the times, I used an app on my iPhone as a light meter to set up the exposure for the older film camera.

Family at Bryce Canyon High Point

Is an iPhone a perfect replacement for a DSLR or micro four thirds rig? No, but it IS an acceptable substitute perfectly capable of awesome pictures. In some cases, it is even easier than the DSLR because of the smarts built into it and the apps the iPhone can run right away while taking the shot.

[content_box color=”#000000″] The iPhone can produce some amazing pictures but to get the full quality, you need to use a real editor like Lightroom or Photoshop. Apps like Pixlr and Photoshop Touch can work wonders  but the big boys can pull out the very the best quality [/content_box]




The built in HDR app is OK, but the cool app is called HDR Pro. It’s one failing is that it over sharpens the image when it saves. I wish it would just blend and stop. But it is not bad for what it can do. Snapseed is still my “go to” app but Pixlr is fast becoming a good friend. PhotoFX does awesome black and white conversions. None of this is really possible on the normal pocket camera or DSLR. So you end up with the camera, a laptop, software and sitting in the hotel room processing images then uploading them. While with the iPhone, I can shoot, process and upload while drinking a cup of coffee or even sitting on a bus heading back to the hotel.

Also posted in editing, equipment, iPhone, Travel

The incredible Shrinking Camera, Olympus OM-D Micro Four thirds

To get to the meat of the article, Yes, it looks like a toy but it takes very good images. Done.  Now, on to the details !!

I’ve been eyeing a micro four thirds camera for a while now, something between my D700 boat anchor and my iPhone. I have a Canon G11 but I hate the controls and I find the picture quality to be marginal in high contrast situations. I also despise the noise control of the G11. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things on the Olympus OM-D and a deal popped up to get the camera body, a 17mm F/ 1.8 lens, a 12-50mm zoom, a grip and the TTL flash for a good price. So I decided to go for it and pick it up.

I have to say, while it’s small, the build quality is very good. The 17mm lens has a very nice feel to it when I’m using it and the body while small in my hands, has just enough heft to keep me from thinking it’s a lomo toy camera. The flip screen is lovely but like every other LCD I’ve ever used, bright light just kills the display. But the OMD has a cool proximity sensor so when you put your face up the the viewfinder, it automagically switches from the preview screen to the viewfinder.  The stabilization is to die for. I wish very much that Nikon would take a lesson and use something like this over their VR system.

I’ve added in an assortment of images that show the camera used from a moving car, bright daylight, night time and some snapshots. All the images were shot in RAW then processed in Lightroom 5 and sometimes, CC6 Photoshop.

I would not hesitate at all to shoot one of my professional sessions using this camera. I would think twice or three times about shooting a wedding with it. I find the controls to be awkward and small for my hands. I do not like the low light performance compared to a FX sensor. And there is the perception issue of using a “Consumer” camera while being paid to be a “Professional”. Yes, size does matter at times. When a bride is paying upwards of five thousand dollars for the full deal, she generally wants to see something that her mum is not shooting with.
This first gallery is using my 17mm F/1.8 lens and natural night with the camera to aperture priority.

The next gallery shows off the ability to shoot outside in bright light and handle extreme contrasts.

The final gallery shows off using the OMD at high ISO (1600) and slow shutter speeds. These were all hand held shots and you can see how sharp they are even with the slow shutter. The OM-D holds up pretty well in the noise arena but my D700 can go to ISO 3200 with less noise so for now, full frame (FX) sensors work better. This not to say the OM-D is a slouch, it’s not but it’s not up to beating a full frame camera just yet.

Also posted in Hardware, reviews Tagged , , |

iPhone Madness

Too many people are told that an iPhone or any other smartphone is “just a camera phone” and not capable of taking “real” pictures.  It’s not the camera, it’s the person taking the picture who creates the picture and breaks through the limits imposed by the hardware or themselves.

[blockquote_with_author author=”Orson Welles”] The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.[/blockquote_with_author]

I hope in seeing this gallery of  iPhone images, you can get  sense of what you can do with your own smart phone. Some of these images I’ve used in my iBook, but many of them are new. And I tried to include what I consider to be “average” pics. So the image might not be technically perfect or the image might have been an experiment. Many are from Disneyland which is my testing ground for many of my techniques since I am in a real world environment that many people are using their smart phones in.

All of these were taken with my Apple 4S smartphone and processed in a wide variety of apps. I’m not a purist for my post processing, I’ll use whatever application gets the job done whether the app is on the phone or installed on my desktop such as CS6. The one thing shooting with an iPhone has taught me above everything else is to be flexible. Embrace change, embrace the flaws, the defects, the limits and make them your own.

In many ways, being an iPhoneographer embraces Steve Jobs own views on misfits and rebels. I think his famous quote could easily be dedicated to the smartphone photographers who have embraced the sea change that the iPhone has brought to photography in spite of the denunciations of the so called professionals.
[blockquote_with_author author=”Steve Jobs”] Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.[/blockquote_with_author]

 

 

Also posted in Articles, equipment, iPhone Tagged , |

iPhone Magic or How to Make Your Smartphone Smarter

This post is not an iPhone specific post, it will apply to ANY Smartphone that can take a picture. But, since I specialize with the iPhone, that is the one I will reference to the most for this post. Virtually all of the smartphones have a camera now of varying ability. But the one thing they cannot do is a decent zoom. Oh they say they can “zoom” but what they are doing is taking that small marginal image and then cropping it to make it even more marginal.

A real zoom would need moving optics and with our collective lust for thin form factors, a optical zoom on a cell phone is just in not in the offering. Why is this important? Because it points out a hard set limitation of the camera. Other limitations are the lack of adjustable F stops or a real adjustable shutter. These are the things you need to learn about on your phone because knowledge is power. With the knowledge of your phone’s limits, you can overcome the limits and make the phone camera do what you want it to do and how you want it do it.

For an example, lets use my iPhone 4S as our test bed. It has a fixed aperture of 2.8 and works to adjust the exposure in the daylight by keeping the ISO low and the shutter speed high. And I mean very high, I have images with the EXIF data showing 1/10,000 of a second shutter speed. So if I want blur in the middle of the day, what can I do? According to Apple I cannot adjust any of these adjustments. But, there is way to FAKE it!. All I need to do is make the camera think it’s darker outside than it really is. This is accomplished by the use of a special filter called a Neutral Density Filter or ND filter. They are measured in “stops” of darkness, starting at 1 stop then 2 stops and finally 3 stops of darkness. You can even stack them to add up 2+3 to get 5 stops of darkness. Cool you say but my phone does not have any place to attach this filter. True but with a bit of gaffers tape, you can TAPE the filter over the camera lens and the camera wont know any better. I always carry a bit of gaffers tape with me wrapped around a sharpie marker pen.

Gaffers tape and sharpie

Gaffers tape and sharpie

Here are the ND filter I use on my iPhone. I bought them years ago for my Nikon 950 digital camera so they are too small for anything new but work perfectly when taped in place on my iPhone.

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density Filters

Why would you want to use something like this? In the following example, I’m at Disneyland taking pictures of the submarines going through the waterfall. A rule of thumb is that movement adds drama to an image. But with it being bright, the default shutter speed of my iPhone camera would have been high enough to freeze the water in motion. You can see that freezing in this image but it’s not what I wanted on the waterfall. I wanted the water to show action unlike this shot where I wanted to freeze the action.

Frozen motion using iPhone

Frozen motion using iPhone

To get the motion I needed to slow down the shutter speed. But according to Apple, I cannot do that. But I know if I use the ND filters, I can make the camera THINK it’s dark and it will slow down the shutter to let in more light for a proper exposure. To be frank, shooting in this hack style of photography is a blend of experimentation, luck and guesswork. But it does work as you can see here. I have the submarine sharp but the water which is moving faster than the submarine is blurred. This adds a lot of drama to the snapshot.

Disneyland submarine going through waterfall

Disneyland submarine going through waterfall

Now I have a keeper shot rather then just another poorly done snapshot like everybody else with a smartphone. So the takeaway here is to learn the limits of the camera and then be creative in working around them to get the camera to do what you want it to do. After all, you are the photographer, not the camera 🙂

You can find more tips like this in my iBook “How to Create Amazing iPhone Photographs” in iTunes as an iBook or at Lulu.com as a PDF for all other devices.

Also posted in Hardware, iPhone, technique, Travel

Shooting a Camaro

So Fathers Day was very intersting for me this year. My oldest daughter decided that I needed something to bright up my day and that a RED Camaro was just the ticket  for said brighting. We went down to the local Enterprise rental car agency and I got to drive away in a screaming RED 2013 Camaro for the entire weekend.

Now since she was so kind to rent the Camaro, I had to shoot a picture or two of the car. And if I’m going to shoot a picture of the Camaro, then I am going to do it right. I had thought about this several months ago so I had found some likely sites to use for backgrounds. I grabbed my D700 and 70-200 then drove off for a few hours of driving and shooting.

In Santiago Canyon I found a abandoned gas station and some cool turnouts with oak trees. I started a bit earlier than I wanted because of the bright light but I was hoping on shade and shooting angles to help make up the lack of reflectors and the bright sunlight. Here is my first shot at the gas station.
Camaro at gas station

This image was also an experiment in processing. I shoot RAW exclusively but for the past year I have been working with JPEG files a lot from my iPhone and I’ve been impressed with how well the new tools can handle a JPEG. So this time I took the raw file and flipped it to JPEG in the D700 by way of delighting. I then dropped it into CS6 and retouched it and cleaned things up.

I then moved to a oak lined turnout and shot this image.
2013 Camaro by Oak Trees

I had an idea about “School is out for the summer” theme so I drove over to a local high school and used their parking lot. I did several shots and this was my favorite of the bunch.
Schools out 2013 Camaro

This image took some time since I did some work like removing the front license plate, various signs, cleaned up the reflections and lost some curbing. Here is what the raw image looked like before my edits.
2013 Camaro before edits

In the end it was a lot of fun renting the car and then shooting it. Most of these pictures were taken with a single D700 and one lens, the F2.8 70-200 zoom. The one exception is the oak tree shot which I used a 24-70 F2.8 since I was on the side of highway and did not feel like going out into traffic.

Also posted in commercial photography, photography Tagged , |

IPhone Photography or iPhoneography

SmartPhones are ubiquitous in today’s world. So many of us have one or another type of smartphone and they are so capable that they have replaced several devices. The one device that the smartphone replaced for many of us is the pocket digital camera. For myself, I shoot with the iPhone for a lot of reasons and not least of all is that I love the interface of the iPhone. It works for me and apparently for a goodly number of other people too. For the past year or so, I’ve made it a habit to watch others at events and while traveling to see who is shooting their memories with what device. The iPhone wins hands down as the most common smartphone I’ve seen in use overall. There is even a word used to describe using the iPhone to create photographs. You will see and hear the word “iPhoneography” or the art of creating photographs with the Apple iPhone.

People use their iPhone for travel pictures, family pictures, weddings, news and just for making pure art. It really makes sense when you think about it. The smartphone or iPhone is almost always with you in your purse, or in your pocket ready to be used for a call, internet query, a map or a fast snap. I find that I tend to be much more creative when shooting with my iPhone over shooting with my normal DSLR because I can easily shoot when inspiration strikes or sometimes, when opportunity presents itself. The DSLR is so big and bulky that it takes a conscious effort to carry it around and it’s noticeable when at times, I dont want to be noticed. The iPhone on the other hand is great for stealth shots or if I happen to be inspired at the moment. And as I show in my book, one can get REALLY creative by Macgyvering (is that a verb?) your way to success with simple tricks.

I want to show some images that I created while in flight and bored or just walking across the parking lot. The idea is that you can shoot and make art at almost any time of the day or night with your smartphone, or in my case, the iPhone. The only real limitation is your imagination.

IMG_4728 dreams

This image which I call “Flight of Dreams” was taken while flying back from Chicago. I was bored but I had my iPhone and so I took several shots out the window. Then I used Snapseed to adjust the colour and crop. I used another tool called “Image Blender” to add a texture and finally I used AlienSky to add my Saturn to the corner.

Triumph Motorcycle

This shot and the next one were taken while strolling through a parking lot on my way into the office. I happen to see a new Triumph motorcycle parked and I love the old school lines but on the modern motorcycle. I quite literally stopped, put down my coffee and ripped off several images. I then processed the images over my coffee once I got into the office.

Chrome motorcycle wheel iPhone

Also posted in Articles, iPhone Tagged |

High Dynamic Range or How to Love Sunny Days

Ah, Sunny days! We love them in Southern California but they cause significant problems with digital cameras of all kinds because of the limited range of exposure. You can see this effect on a bright day when you are trying to take a picture of something in shadow and the sky blows out to pure white. You lose the cool clouds or mountain peaks behind the subject. Or you are in a dim room and when you take the picture, the image is very dark or you lose the wonderful ambiance because the flash went off and blew it all to white. What is a person to do?

There is a trick in photography called High Dynamic Range or HDR for short. It is a method of taking multiple images seqentially at the same time with something like one stop of exposure difference between them. The range will go from dark to light and then the different exposures are stacked and blended to keep the highlights and the shadows in the final image. Many people will overachieve and end up with a cartoon like effect rather than a realistic image. This is strictly a function of taste and not a fault of the technique. The technique of HDR mimics what our eyes do naturally by letting us humans to see both shadows and highlights at the same time without us having to think about it.

This image of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland shows off what HDR can do for your photography. This image was taken during a very bright morning and normally when you exposed for the white building and trees, you would blow out the sky. But I took several images and used an application called “HDR Efex Pro 2” which handles the loading and merging of the images. It also gives a nice dashboard to adjust the final image to taste.
Disneyland Haunted Mansion

But I have an iPhone or other smartphone you say? What can I do? As it turns out, there are several HDR apps available for both iPhones and Droids. I happen to use an iPhone and I use an app called “TrueHDR” which will shoot three images and then merge them on my iPhone in just a few minutes. I can then edit a bit more if I want.

In this image, you can see the typical shot you would get with the iPhone without using HDR. In trying to get the shadows, the highlights blow out. The colors look a bit washed out also.

Before HDR and post processing

Before HDR and post processing

And here is what the final image looked like after TrueHDR blended the images and I tweaked up the saturation a bit. The beauty of this is that I was able to shoot and then process the image while walking to the next ride. I didn’t need my computer, laptop or extra software loaded up. I was able to process and adjust my images while munching on some treats and standing in line for a ride. How cool is that?

msmedia-2013- Final -HDR- TrueHDR- IPhone

You can easily see the marked improvement in the final image by using TrueHDR. You can do even more by shooting on a more powerful camera like a Nikon D700 or other DSLR. In the next image, I used a very high shutter speed to not just stop the action of the falling log but to keep it from moving too much between frames. The movement of something between frames in HDR causes “ghosts” to appear and the closer the images are, the easier it is to fix the ghosts. This is a feature of using a better camera and more powerful software (so far) then the amazing iPhone 🙂 As you can see, the riders while in deep shadow are easily seen and the clouds while in a bright sky are also easily seen and add a lot of drama to the final image.

Splash Mountain Disneyland HDR

Splash Mountain Disneyland HDR

I’m using images from one of my Disneyland trips because it is vacation time where you lose much of the flexibility for waiting for good light or time of day. You are on limited time and you need to make do with whatever light you have or don’t have. Shooting with HDR in mind is an easy way to really improve your images even while you are shooting with what is normally considered “bad light”. It will also work at night time to pick up cool details of lights and details of buildings. You will have more ghosting but that adds to the overall look and feel of the image.

Here is the Disneyland Tower of Terror as an nighttime HDR. The building picks up all the cool but subtle lighting in this image which normally cannot be photographed without the details blowing out.Disneyland Tower of Terror HDR

So learn how to use your camera for HDR whether it is a smart phone or a DSLR. Both will work really well for HDR shots and give it a try. The trick is to learn how to bracket your shots on the DSLR and finding an HDR app you like for the phone. The phone is cheaper by far to try but the DSLR will give better results overall. In my own case, I find that my iPhone does a very adequate job while on vacation and is the proverbial “good enough” for my vacation pictures.

Also posted in HDR, iPhone, photography Tagged |

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 DIY, Hardware, technique Tagged , , |

Clone wars – Bridal Retouching

While photographers strive for that perfect picture, often times we have to make do with where we are, the light we have and stray items or people in the shot. But, with modern technology and some skill, we can fix a good many things now in our digital darkroom. In this show and tell, I will be showing how I was able to remove a child who was not wanted in the image by the photographer. Just to make it clear up front, this was not my image, I do some work for hire and in this case, it was a friendly competition among several photographers as to who could do what with the image to meet the requirement of the picture being childless.

Bride and groom with child before edits

Here is our RAW image straight from the camera and without any edits at all. In the image you can see the color balance is off, the bride is not exactly the center of attention, there is the child in the foreground and there is the tilt thing going on. We need to fix several things here before we can give back the image to the photographer.  Now, there are many ways to correct this and I’m just going to show you one of many ways.  It does not make it any more correct or right than any other way. It just happens to be the way I worked this picture.

The first thing I needed to do was to remove as much of the little girl as I could. You could try and clone her out but it is a lot of work, you will fight the texture, the lighting, and you need the replacement floor, door jam and baseboards. So to keep things simple and because the human eye can be fooled given half a chance, I borrowed the wall from the right hand side and flipped it upside down. This gave me texture, lighting in the correct place and the clean corner.

start of edit with just the cloned wall

The result of the wall clone looks like this image. You can see with just the simple act of borrowing the right hand wall and moving to the left side then flipping it upside down, I have cleaned up the wall, the corner and erased most of the child. Now it looks much easier to fix what remains doesn’t it?

This still leaves me the floor, the door jam, baseboards and overall image corrections.  So lets move on shall we?  The next item on my list is the floor. It’s rather simple but like many things, paying attention to the detail is what makes it work. In this case, I selected a large piece of the floor and slide it sideways on it’s own layer. All my edits sit on their own layer so I can change and move things around without damaging my original image. I also lined up the darker boards so the eye is fooled into thinking all is well with the new cloned floor. A layer mask and a soft brush let me feather in the edges so there is not any hard line for the eye to see.

replacement floor with clean edge I drew in a selection with my polygonal lasso tool to get some straight lines, inverted the selection and then erased the wall that was in the way of the floor. This gave me nice clean edges.

This now leaves me with needing a baseboard. But, I dont have any baseboard to borrow or steal so what is a retoucher to do? You make it from scratch or in this case, I faked it by stealing part of the door jam and then using the transform tool to stretch it and bend it the way I needed it to be. If you notice, my wall is not straight but I have a perspective angle on the wall which is what you would see if it were real. The lines head back in a convergence and if you dont have this, the brain will note there is a problem and the picture will not look “right”.

baseboard and door jam replacement

I also took advantage of the good parts of the door jam to fix the parts that had the child in the way. One issue right now is that the edges of the new baseboard are too “sharp”, they stand out and do not really look part of the wall. A simple layer of gaussian blur takes care of that along with a soft brush to put just the right amount in place. Retouching is as much artistry as it is anything else so you have some leeway as far this sort of reconstruction goes. As long as you are close enough, the brain will automatically fill in the rest for you. And that is something you can use to your advantage when retouching.

At this point, I spent some time cleaning up the edges of the door frame by making small straight selections and moving them up against the door frame. This brought in texture and a clean edge to my edits and building out of the door frame. A touch of blur here also smooths things out. I used color sampling and a brush set to about 10% opacity to “paint” in color to smooth out the color on the door jam.

I used a grad filter on the left side to darken up the wall some which helps hide all the work. And then I used a white grad filter to add some “light” to the top. Again we are fooling the eye by putting in tones that the brain expects to see and using them to help blend everything together. My final layer was to color adjust and apply a high pass filter to the bride only.

Final Edited and rebuilt image of bride

In this image, I decided I liked black and white better as it fixed the color casts of the original. I was able to to use a yellow filter to really clean up the dress and I worked the face and dress to get good deals. The black and white version was the keeper and it made everybody very happy.

Asian bride with mom in black and white

 

I wish to thank Rengie Mendoza at renzaweddings.com for permission to use his image for this tutorial.

 

Also posted in Competition, editing, portraits, technique, training

Making your environment work for you

For any photographer who is not in the safety of their studio, they are at the whim of whatever environment the location has to offer. The real professional and why the client pays for the professional is the small fact that the professional can make almost any situation into a great image. To  illustrate this point, I took a five year old to a local park on a blustery and cool day with virtually no skies, clouds or anything at all of interest in the sky. The light was basically flat and pretty low contrast from the cloud cover. So what is a photographer to do?  On the way into the park we passed onto a tree lined sidewalk and I was stuck by the beautiful yellow leaves on the trees, very fall-like even though it was mid December. My problem was the leaves are a bit high and my subject at five is a bit short. You can see my set up shot below. Just as a note of interest, the set up shot was taken with my 4S iPhone rather than my DSLR. I do this often in part because I use a location scouting app called “PocketScout” that lets me keep pictures of the site along with notes.

Tree lined sidewalk before portrait session at park

As I looked at it, I saw that at first glance while it is a nice landscape, it’s not much for a background with a five year old. But, we professionals have ways to make our images speak!  In this case, I pulled out the 70-200 F2.8 in order to use the compression of a racked out 200mm at a shallow depth of field. This compression of distance let me fill the frame with yellow leaves and get them nice and blurred at F3.5. I put my subject up on the rail and had her sit there. This got her up a few feet from where she stands and let me pull in the background right behind her. I shot a bit hot knowing I was going to go for the somewhat bright post processed look playing off the fall colour in the leaves.

little girl against fall yellow leaves portrait

 I shot several times given that kids do not give a natural smile on demand, you have to work it out of them. In the end, I was pretty happy with my final shot.

Also posted in commercial photography, photography, portraits, technique, training