If you love your photos, back them up
Are there any sadder words than “I didn’t have it backed up”? My house was burgled many years ago. The only things I couldn’t replace were some photos on a laptop, which I didn’t have backed up. It was an unpleasant experience but it gave me a healthy obsession with backing up my photos. Backing-up options have changed a lot over the last few years. My burglary took place in 2005 and backing up to the cloud was not an option then. At that time, basic backing up would have meant copying files from my laptop’s hard drive to CDs or to external hard drives. I could also have drafted in some IT expertise to send files down a broadband connection to an off-site storage solution.
I wish I’d backed up
Today when people talk about backing up their smart phone photos, they often think about transferring them to a computer hard drive. It’s true that your mobile camera is fragile and easily mislaid so the photos you take on it should be backed up somewhere. And you also want to regularly free up space on your camera roll. So, yes, don’t treat your mobile phone as a place for storage. But simply transferring your photos to your computer is not a good back-up. You are simply moving them from one vulnerable storage place to another only slightly less vulnerable place. Hard drives fail and can be stolen too. The same goes for external drives and discs.
Fail-safe backing up has to be off-site, in other words, in the cloud. And while backing-up is important, it’s not a lot of fun, so you don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. Choosing which files to back up is a waste of your precious time. Your approach should be to back up everything you produce automatically using auto-upload, and use date and time stamps to quickly identify photos if you need to retrieve them. If you post pictures to Instagram, this can help give you a time picture of when you took your photos. But you should not be use it as a back-up service. It is possible to download your own photos one by one from Instagram (via such proxy websites as Statigram) but the versions of the files are very compressed and so are not good back-ups. Likewise, iOS allows you to automatically back-up all your photos in the iCloud for free, but the file sizes are reduced and after you’ve taken your 1,000th photo, the first one will be deleted unless you buy a package. Flickr is different to Instagram in that you can download full-size versions of your own photos. And with 1TB of free storage (equivalent to around half a million mobile photos) you are unlikely to run out of space. It is also one of the services that offers auto-upload: by ticking the box, every single photo you take will be uploaded automatically to Flickr, allowing you to rest easy that all your mobile photos are backed up. Another photo-sharing platform with auto-upload is Google+. Like Flickr, this is an option if you are looking to recover individual photos, but not if you want to recover a large number. And in the cases of all these free photo-sharing platforms, downloading more than one photo at a time is very time-consuming. So they are only really good options for retrieving one-off photos.
Flickr can automatically upload every photo you take - you can hide your out-takes from your followers.
One option that gives you both auto-upload and the ability to manage your photos in bulk is Dropbox. For around £50 per year you can buy 100MB of space. Compared to Flickr’s free 1TB, this may not sound like good value. But Dropbox’s advantage is that the uploaded photo files can be managed as files sitting on your computer’s hard drive. So you can choose a block of them and move them, or create folders. This ease of file management is its main advantage over Google+ too. Google’s cloud storage solution, Drive, does allow you to replicate its file structure on your computer (as Dropbox does) but unfortunately there is no auto-upload option for photos.
Dropbox can auto-upload and let you manage photo files as if they were on your computer
Lastly, many people import their mobile photos into iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom before deleting them from their camera rolls, as a way of managing them more easily, not for back-up purposes. But if you do this and use a cloud back-up service for your computer, those photo files will also be backed up. A service like Backblaze wirelessly backs up every new file that appears on your computer automatically for around £2 per month. And if you’re in the (good) habit of deleting your entire camera roll in one block to free up space, but want to keep particular photos without having to find them each time to prevent them from being deleted, a very useful app is Private Photo Vault, which allows you to protect individual photos.
Whichever solution you choose, if your photos are important to you, please back them up.
This article originally appeared in FLTR magazine
Point and don’t shoot with iPhone 5S camera
I know the iPhone camera isn’t technically a point-and-shoot. But you’re supposed to be able to just pick it up and shoot, right? So it’s a press-slide-and-shoot. Except with the 5s, there’s a stage missing in that description. Unless you tap on the screen before you shoot, your photo will most likely be out of focus. Check out the details from two photos below, taken seconds apart. They have the same lighting conditions (very bright so no danger of camera shake interference) and were taken from exactly the same distance using the native iPhone camera, but the one on the left was taken without tapping and the right one was taken after a tap. You can see there’s a major difference in resolution, which is clear to the naked eye in the photos at full size.
The 4s didn’t seem to take out-of-focus shots if you didn’t tap. I know about tapping to focus and expose on particular points, of course, but the iPhone camera was supposed to auto-focus if you didn’t tap, right? Let’s hope Apple sorts this out for the 6. Or maybe I should use one of those camera replacement apps that I’ve been so dismissive of lately!
Instagram power users keep censoring me!
I say “keep” but actually it’s only happened twice (that I know about!) in the last few weeks. But that’s good enough for an iphoggy blog right?
I don’t generally follow power users on Instagram because it’s not sociable. They have so many comments from their thousands of followers they either don’t have time to reply or they simply don’t see your comment. That’s fair enough. But I do follow some if I like their pictures, though I know the relationship will be like watching TV - very one way. But very occasionally I feel I have something insightful to say (you remember, I had that thing I said in early February last year right, that was insightful, wasn’t it?) and I just want to get it out of my system. So, without going into details, I made a couple of comments on two power users’ feeds that I thought were making valid contributions to quite interesting debates. And they got removed! OK, you might disagree with someone, but do you have to censor them? That’s what the Stasi did, it’s what despotic regimes do. And my comments weren’t in the slightest offensive/abusive/whatever. You, dear reader, will know that my views are never anything other than level-headed and tempered, expressed in a mild-mannered and friendly manner.
So what’s going on with these guys? Could it be that, like despotic regimes, power users, with their thousands of followers eager to have some of that power-user aura rub off on them, have become too used to people lavishing praise on them? The fawning comments that accompany even the dullest photo by a power user might (understandably almost) lull them into a sense of their own unquestionable importance. Any dissenting voices, even mild ones, cause them surprise and anxiety. Could it be that the pedestal that Instagram has put them on (to further its own commercial interests) is a place (unlike real life) where they feel immune to any type of criticism? Instagram power users have genuine commercial importance as mass-distributors of advertising for brands, but do some perhaps mistake this importance for a different type?
What happened to all the mobile photo apps?
The other day I was complaining that I didn’t think there were any new mobile photo apps coming out any more. Like a middle-aged Dad complaining that pop music isn’t what it used to be, I realise this could be because I’m just not paying close enough attention any more. But I tweeted it and no-one really came back with many suggestions of what I had been missing. “Mobile has caught up with desktop!” I boldly pronounced. Well, some news about Adobe’s Lightroom this week suggested to me that mobile may actually have overtaken desktop rather than just caught it up.
First, Adobe announced the release of a “mobile” version of Lightroom. They say mobile, but really it’s just for iPad at the moment. So mobile in the sense that you can carry it around, not in the sense that it’s for mobile phones (I think they call them cell phones in the US). For me, the main advantage with that is that I can sync multiple edits to various photos at once - something I do a lot with desktop Lightroom. Second, I found out that the new Lightroom 5 has two new features that have long been very popular with mobile photographers. They are 1) spot healing for custom shapes and 2) the parallelisation (is that a word?) of lines. In the case of 1), you have always been able to spot heal with Lightroom, but only circular patches. For me, this was always a problem: often I’ve wanted to remove a cable or a mic stand from a picture of a singer on stage. On the mobile, with an app like Handy Photo, this was already very easy. Just mask, tap and boom - unwanted thing gone. For 2), this was something I’d always loved doing with Genius Scan+ and then later with Perspective Correct. The classic example given is to straighten the sides of a building, but I’d used these apps more creatively sometimes, but also just to tidy up a picture when I couldn’t quite get the right angle to take the picture from.
For me, then, and probably for a lot of other mobile photographers, I’m transferring skills I learnt on the mobile to my big camera photography.
Spending less time, effort and money on the street
I went to a brilliant exhibition of street photography recently in London called Only in England, featuring the photos of Tony Ray Jones and Martin Parr. All the photos were taken in the 60s and 70s and so were all taken on film. I was with a group of photographers, Click London, who mostly use mobile cameras. The most fascinating part of the exhibition for us mobile photographers was a wall covered with printed negatives, showing the ones that had made the cut and the ones that had been rejected. It reminded us of our own mobile shooting: they shot on film but they still got lots of duds too! On our digital mobile cameras (especially with our new burst functions) we thought we took lots of frames before we got a good one. Looking at Tony Ray’s contact sheets, he probably took as many photos as we do now. He just had to spend a lot more time, effort and money doing it.
Many of our group are avid street photographers and Tony Ray-Jones and then later Martin Parr are two of the England’s greatest street photographers. Each day as we look through our Instagram and Flickr feeds it is easy to see their influence. People are striving to capture that moment on a street where everything comes together in perfect balance, where the look on a face coincides with a gesture elsewhere in the frame. They very rarely equal the standards set by these two photographers as shown in this exhibition. To get a good street shot requires a combination of various factors: 1) a sense for when something is about to happen; 2) an eye for the right composition; 3) finding interesting subjects; 4) lots of time: the longer you hang around, the more likely it is something will happen; 5) lots of frames: we can see in this exhibition that Tony Ray-Jones used up a lot of film.
We think we get a lot better at photography thanks to our new technologies. But in fact, comparing our photos to those of Tony Ray-Jones at this exhibition, we see that it’s only in one out of five factors that we are helped.
On the street
This is a follow-up to last week’s bloggy about a big-camera photographer who said he used his mobile phone camera as a “notebook”. I wonder if he ever went back to that train platform with his big camera to properly re-take that lovely Magritte-esque image that he captured with his humble mobile phone camera? It looks at another example of big camera photographers’ attitudes towards mobile.
I follow the Instagram feed of a professional photographer who works for one of the world’s leading agencies. I really love his photography but I recently saw one of his mobile photos and I thought: I wonder if he’d have submitted that image to his agency if he’d taken it on his big camera. The image was of an ice rink, taken from probably 20 or so rows back in a stadium. The ice-rink was completely blown out in the image. Not surprising: the white ice was brightly illuminated and the stadium stands were almost in darkness. I’ve been using an HDR app for many years on my iphone (Pro HDR) and I recently found that the new Canon 5D mk iii had added an in-camera HDR option (I wrote about all this for FLTR recently). I’ve always found that Pro HDR is great for just this sort of high-contrast situation. I wondered if my Instagram friend had heard of Pro HDR. So, as politely as I could, I asked him. “That’s a striking image,” I said, “but I was wondering if you knew about Pro HDR? You might have reduced the contrast between the ice rink and the stadium with it?”. A few days later I got a curt reply saying that was exactly how he’d wanted the image to look thanks. Really?
This is something I’ve come across before. Big-camera photographers sometimes almost deliberately create crap photos with their mobile cameras, as if to say, I’m off duty now, this doesn’t really count, I’m not even going to try with this rubbish mobile device.
HDR can help
When is a photo not a photo? When it’s a note
I was admiring some lovely photos by an excellent big-camera photographer the other day and I noticed that one had been taken on a mobile camera. It was a picture of some commuters standing on a misty train station platform. In the notes to the photo, the photographer said that “often I use my phone camera as a notebook”. Which I thought was an odd comment. It was a beautiful image already. It was an image that had been taken on the spur of the moment, as the scene (reminiscent of a Magritte painting, he noted), unexpectedly unfolded before his eyes. So an image, like many, that was only captured because the photographer had his mobile phone camera with him at the time. The best camera, etc. as the cliche goes.
But in what sense is this picture just a note? Is he going to come back later with his big camera and recreate the scene? The scene was a fleeting moment, gone in probably just a couple of minutes. The mist would have lifted by the time he’d returned and the commuters would have got on their train into town. It is unlikely to ever be recreated in that exact composition and light ever again. And it was a photo that already stood up on its own as a very strong image. Somehow the assumption is that the photo wasn’t a proper photo (it was merely a “note”) because it hadn’t been planned and wasn’t taken on a big camera.
Hold that shadow just there while I get my big camera