30 Days of Black and White iPhone Fun

I’m not much on things like 365 day projects and whatnot but a favorite group of mine on Google’s G+ called “Smartphone Photographers” is having a fun time with #30DaysBandW or 30 days Black and White. The deal is you shoot with your smartphone and post it as a black and white image. Thats right, no color, no fancy filters, no tints are allowed, just good old black and white images but we do allow traditional tinting like sepia toning, blue tones, duo tones and so on.

I find this really makes you think more about composition than you normally might. You always will find that you play with the tools more since a simple conversion to grey tones gets boring 🙂 You will rediscover that red, green, yellow and blue filter can really alter your tonal range in a B/W image. That grain is your friend much of the time. And that the iPhone (and others) very, very capable black and white shooting tools.

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of concept shots, playing with processing, playing with textures and anything else I can think of. My go-to tool has been SnapSeed but I plan to use a few others before it’s all over. Here are several of my shots so far. All taken with an iPhone 4S and I’ve used Snapseed, Mextures, AfterFocus and Photoshop Express for the processing in various combinations. Something I’ve noticed is that with the iPhone, I tend to shoot much closer than I normally would think to do. The DOF is so much that I can be inches away and get a decent shot. None of this are using any third party lens, just the plain old iPhone lens.

Yes, I did a selfie as one of my shots but it’s a bit different than many. I tried to tell a bit of a story. What do you see as my story?
Mike Selfie iPhone 4S

I plan to try some landscapes and maybe some cool textures before it is all done. I also don’t think 30 days is going to be the end of it for me, I’m having way too much fun with this little challenge. And you know what? It carries over into my shooting with the D700 and other cameras. Practice is practice.

Posted in Articles, editing, iPhone, photography Tagged , |

A California White Christmas or A Snowglobe

When you live in part of a state that has a well deserved reputation for 75 and sunny, you need to get creative to enjoy a “white christmas”. In my case, what started as a bit of a joke went significantly further than I had anticipated. Last year I had seen what purported to be a “photoshop template” of a snow globe and I was intrigued. I could not understand how such a thing could be made into a template with layers. So I paid an obscene amount of money (four lattes) and was promptly disappointed. I had been snookered. The “template” was nothing more than a JPEG file in the PSD format. As it turned out, bad karma followed the individual selling this thing and it became quite the broo-haw on the internet. I missed all of that and found out about much later.

This was the basic so-called template. No, I won’t link to the source because of the outrageous price of a JPEG file.
Snow Globe Template

So roll the clock forward a year and I took the family’s Christmas portrait. It was sort of plain this year and on a lark, I decided to drop us into the snow globe and send it to my wife as a joke. Turns out she liked it.. a lot.. and gave me marching orders to fix up as she saw it should be. I had to get the right type of snow and I decided I needed a stereotypical SoCal background which meant sand and sun.

I found a cool picture of Huntington Pier at sunset which fit perfectly in my vision. According to the copyright posted, free to use for personal use such as this. Please don’t steal someone’s work. There is plenty available for your personal use like this.

I had this family portrait from my shoot this year.
Sweeney Family Portrait

And here is the cool sunset I found

beach sunset

And I found a good tutorial on making “snow” in photoshop plus I used some snow from another snow globe picture for around the bottom.

I ended up compositing everything together for this final image along with a free font from DaFont.com. While this composite didn’t take magical skills, it did take some patience and subtle work to blend everything together well. The biggest trick was to use the “average blur” filter to even out the tones of all the bits and pieces I stuck together. I also paid close attention to the background by blurring it as if I had taken it with a shallow depth of field and that it showed up correctly in the blur of the glass globe. It did take a few tries to get everything the way I wanted it but I think it ended up pretty successful.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

Posted in composites, editing, 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

Posted in Album Software, Articles, DIY, editing, editing software, lightroom, osx, technique

Be Anywhere or Anything You Want with Compositing

The art of compositing opens up a whole new world for photographers and the client. You can be anything or anywhere you want with a bit of preplanning and work. Many people think you have to set up a green screen like Hollywood but in reality, it causes issues with improper lighting. Shooting on a white or black background is much more forgiving and considerably easier to work with. The color selection of the background is really immaterial to a large degree, the still photographer needs the contrast between subject and background to get a clean “cut out”. Proper lighting avoids what is called “spillover” or contamination of the subject with unwanted light and color from the background. I tend to shoot white as much as possible since any spillage looks just like some extra light unlike the day-glow of a green screen.

The image below was shot on a white background with single octobank light. I could have used strip lighting for a more edgy look but this was a “off the cuff” shoot at the end of a family portrait so I used what I had set up.

Olivia on white background

The background was a stock photograph from Depositphotos.com that saved me from having to drive into some sketchy areas on a weekend to get graffiti shots. Note!! Always take element shots when you can and keep them in a library. I take various texture shots and odd bits here and there just for stuff like this.

The Photoshop tool “quick selection” is your friend for this type of work. It’s fast and very easy to get decent results right away. Of course, the more time and effort you put into the selection, the better the results will be. For some work you will find the pen tool to be a better choice but that is a topic for a different day. To get the hair, you can push up the radius up and up. As you go up, Photoshop will go further out from the edge to look for what it thinks to be part of the selected subject based on color.

Olivia Graffiti portrait

You can also use compositing for enhancing images such as I did here for a Christmas card. It was something of a joke for the family since we live in a “non-snow” locality while most of the family lives in snow country. I took a family portrait which I shot against white, a picture of a snow globe, a picture of a local pier at the beach and use a technique for “making snow” in photoshop. This all combined into one image that went on the annual Christmas card. And yes, this is a service I offer and not just for the holidays. Compositing can be the adding of a new board me member, removal of an unwanted person/place or thing and much more.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

You can also use compositing to show off someone or someone’s skill. In this last image, the subject made her costume by hand for Halloween and I composited her into her own movie poster that fit the theme of the costume. To be sure, a composite of this type is not just a “drap and drop” cutout inspite of what some software packages would lead you to think. It takes some time and few tricks to get everything to work together. I hope you can start to see that composting can really open up a world for the more artistic image or a precisely tuned image.
Queen of hearts Composite

Posted in commercial photography, editing, editing software, photography, studio, technique Tagged |

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.

Posted in Hardware, musings, 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]

 

 

Posted in Articles, equipment, iPhone, musings 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.

Posted in Hardware, iPhone, musings, 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.

Posted in commercial photography, musings, 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

Posted in Articles, iPhone, musings 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.

Posted in HDR, iPhone, musings, photography Tagged |