What are you Oggling at?
This week saw the launch of Hipstamatic’s long-awaited photo-sharing app. And what have they decided to call their new app, I hear you ask? Well, no doubt after great investment in some expensive Los Angeles PR consultancy, they’ve settled on the name Oggl. OK, yes, like Flickr, Tumblr, Grmblr, they’ve missed out some letters. That’s the first five minutes of the consultant’s fee. But what about the actual meaning of the word. Or the things that people think of when they hear it. Did they road-test it in the UK? Possibly not. Did they even road-test it anywhere? Possibly not. The (presumably American) Urban Dictionary gives as an example of the word’s usage: “Dude, don’t oggle my Mom’s tits”. So far, so bad. Think a bit more and “oggle” has the connotation of looking at something without one’s brain switched on. Not very good for an app for a “Community of Creative People”.
Maybe they chose it to lure the takeover interests of Google, which wouldn’t have to do much rebranding if they decided to launch Google Oggle? (Shame Google aren’t called Goggle, as Goggle Oggle would have been a cracking name). Perhaps some additional research could also have been spent on finding out whether @oggl already existed as a user name on Twitter. It does. Poor Oscar Garcia (1 follower, me) must have wondered where all his new-found popularity had come from when he picked up his phone last Saturday morning.
But perhaps the Hipstas are one step ahead of the game (they usually are)? Perhaps it is a knowing wink to a tradition of embarrasingly named killer brands. Our own mobile world continues to suffer something of an identify crisis. Last year we saw the coining of the term “motography” (nothing to do with Jeremy Clarkson) and to untrained ears the most universally accepted term in the mobile photography world, iphoneography, raises some eyebrows. And of course my own attempt to coin “iphoggy” must - I think I now have to admit - be deemed a failure. I didn’t do any research into that one either.
What are you Oggling at?
The weird and disappointing thing about Oggl
As we take a closer look (quite literally) at Oggl, we discover some weird and disappointing things. In my blog yesterday I initially said that the pics seemed to be saving on my camera roll at full res. My good friend Brad Puet at Juxt questioned this and when I tried to find a picture that I’d published to Oggl and which I thought I had on my camera roll, I realised I couldn’t find it. I had dual-posted the picture to Flickr via the Oggl app, and it showed there at a very weak 640x640 pixels. And on closer inspection (quite literally) the photo displayed on the Oggl app (and on Flickr) was looking a bit fuzzy. So, when you post photos to Oggl, they don’t save on your camera roll and they publish in low-resolution versions.
But the totally weird thing (as discovered by my good friend Federico Sardi) is that you can produce a high res image via Oggl on your camera roll. Here’s how. You take a picture. You see it in your Oggl lightroom but it doesn’t save to your camera roll. However, if you change one of the filters on the picture, it saves to your camera roll in full resolution. Why? I’ve no idea and it looks like a bug.
So we have a workaround to save onto the camera roll. But we still have a photo stream of very low res images. Scrolling through the photos of other people on Oggl, I start to get an overwhelming sense of visual disappointment. All these photos are displaying at around a quarter of the size of most photos on Instagram. And it shows. They all look a bit wishy-washy. That’s a bit disappointing for an app with supposedly sound aesthetic credentials. And disappointing for someone (me) who is a massive fan of Hipstamatic.
A bit fuzzy and a bit disappointing
Oggl: another assault on Fortress Instagram
It all happened so quickly. Well, the acceptance of my expression of interest in joining Hipstamatic’s new photo-sharing app, Oggl, did. Of course, the actual launch of the platform was about 2 years late. The mobile world would have been very different if Hipstamatic had got there first. It seems only yesterday I was saying the same thing about the new Flickr mobile app.
So what do we think of it? First of all, there’s still a certain hipsta elitism about it. Membership is being released only slowly (via invites) although I’m sure that’s partly because they want to go easy on their servers at first (there is early talk of crashes). But already we are hearing grumbles (understandably) from Hipstamatic “customers” who haven’t yet received invites. Also, the purity of the hipsta filters is being preserved by uploads only being allowed from the app’s own camera roll. So no cropping out those frames or Snapseed-messing with the saturation. There is some surprise that the old Hipstamatic app and Oggl haven’t been connected (so you can’t upload your old Hipsta prints) but this might come in the next upgrade. The photos you take in Oggl save to your camera roll, which really means there’s not much point shooting in the old app anymore. Unless, of course, if you were silly enough to have bought any of those daft “camera cases”.
I know I bang on about resolution. And alas Oggl exports at a rather low 640x640. What’s worse, you can’t manage your photos via your camera roll. The best you can do is via one of the other platforms you can parallel post to (eg Flickr) but that’s quite fiddly. I do like the curation idea. “You can’t curate your own photos” the app tells me as I try to boost my own popularity. We’re hearing the word curation a lot now in the mobile photography world so maybe Hipstamatic have tapped into the zeitgeist. Curation seems to be like an uber-like you can give people’s photos (I haven’t got one yet). It also means you mix up other people’s photos amongst your own Collection, which is kind of nice. I also love the ease with which you can switch “lenses” and “films” and even preview their effects before shooting and copy other people’s combos. And the app itself is super slick, as you would expect from a Hipsta.
So this is another serious assault on Fortress Instagram, which has already taken a bit of a battering from first Eyeem, then Flickr and later a variety of other smaller assailants. How long can it hold out?
Assault on Fortress Instagram!
The man who doesn’t know what Instagram is
William Eggleston has no idea what (or who) Instagram is. He revealed this and a very limited number of other things in a recent interview with an illustrious panel of photographic luminaries published in The Independent.
If you’re a fan of Eggleston’s work you might also be the sort of person who puts on one of Schoenburg’s records and has a jig around the kitchen. Or are first in the queue when your local Odeon is re-running The Sorrow and the Pity. His work isn’t what you’d call chocolate-box. His most famous photo is of a light bulb. Please. There is the tiniest suspicion that people in the world of photography daren’t say anything against him for fear of being ridiculed by their peers. Yes, I get his use of colour within the context of a fine-art photography previously dominated by black and white. Yes, I get his disdain for cliched subjects. And I guess that if you spend enough time studying something, yes, you probably get bored of those chocolate box pictures of quaint cottages or horses running on beaches. If you’re on Instagram you can relate to that right, having clocked up your 1,000th view of a backlit jumpstagram? Just as well he doesn’t know what it is.
It’s the same with those architects. I’m with Prince Charles on this one. The Trellick Tower may be a listed building but does its design perhaps have anything to do with the locals’ nickname for it, Jumpers Tower, owing to the number of people who have, yes, jumped off it? Could its brutal post-modern lines and unrelentingly concrete have something to do with those people wanting to kill themselves?
So maybe I haven’t been looking at photos enough down the years. The thing is most of Eggleston’s photos are just a bit boring to look at. Of course there’s no objective arbiter of photography (and there’s also no accounting for taste) so why do journalists call people like Eggleston the “world’s greatest”? And if he wins a prize we all know that prize organisers will usually have some self-serving reason for their decisions. So why do so many people spend so much time, devote so much energy and write so many articles about his work? Oops there’s another one.
I’m with Prince Charles
Let the kids have the kameraz!
I’d almost forgotten about the app Action Shot. The easiest way to explain what it does is to look at the photo shown here.
You get the idea? I remembered it the other day because I was invited by Sport England to take some photos of one of their Sportivate initiatives, a group of Free Runners (a sport also known as Parcourt, or Parkour in its cooler version) and I thought it would work a treat.
The way you take a photo with it is to hold your camera still and let your subject jump/skateboard/fly from one end of your frame to the other. The app takes a number of shots in burst mode and you decide which ones you’d like to include in your final frame. You could achieve the same result by using an app like Quick Camera and then blending the results. (Quick Camera has the advantage over other apps, like Camera+, which also have a burst mode, that it delivers high-resolution images.) You could then use an app like Blender to merge your best shots into one. But that would be quite a long and tricky process. Action Shot effectively gives you a macro that takes those steps for you. A bit of finger dabbing on your screen and, hey presto, you have a pretty cool-looking pic to impress your skateboarding emo mates with.
Part of Sport England’s thinking with asking me to cover these events with the iphone camera is to show the kids that they could take photos of the sports they’re doing with their own smart phones. Action Shot is a great example of this sort of empowerment.
Become a filter designer
I recently did a photo shoot for Sport England. I took about 150 photos and narrowed my final selection down to around 30. Then I wanted to app them. Yes, all of them. As we’ve established many times before, apps were put on this earth to be used and the iphone camera takes pretty dull photos. So I wanted to app these photos. But I’d also had quite a hard day and I wanted to go home. Either I submit fairly uninspiring photos or I go through all 30 one by one and edit each one manually. Since this sort of shoot is probably the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done, I decided it was in my interests to edit each one manually. So using Snapseed: open, drama (I know), sharpen, brighten, saturation, subtle vignette. To keep a consistent style, I gave most of the photos very similar edits.
When I got home I did some research and discovered I could have saved myself some work. Filter Storm allows you to create custom presets, or automations, as it calls them. So, if you have 4 or 5 edits that you apply over and over, you can save those steps as one single preset. It’s a great time-saving way of not having to repeatedly go through the same steps. I then discovered that you can do the same thing in another app, Photo Toaster. There may also be other apps that allow you to do this. For me though, this was new and amazing.
The world of iphoneography has often been criticised for being “just a bunch of filters”. With custom presets though, you take creative control of your images. You decide the exact look of your photos. You effectively become a filter designer.
I call this my Cheerleader filter
I owe you one Instagram
I recently read an article by Charlie Sorrel recognising the contribution that Instagram had made to his own photography. I too must pay homage and give thanks. About a year ago, I became a professional photographer and I honestly don’t think I would have done it without Instagram.
Over the last two and half years of my Instagramming I think I’ve honed my photographic skills and learnt an enormous amount about photography. In recent months, I’ve been critical of Instagram (see here, here or here for examples). But in the early days, when it was just the four of them feeding the meter to keep the server running, I had a lot of good things to say about them (see here, here and here). Like Charlie, Instagram suddenly gave photography a purpose for me. Suddenly I had a reason to seek out an interesting shot and then take the time and effort to edit it. And so I had my photographic eye switched on nearly all the time, so I saw more photos, took more photos and crafted more photos. And so I got better at it. And I also took a lot of inspiration from other people and borrowed (or stole) a lot of ideas from some amazingly creative people.
Yes, they got incredibly rich, but they gave a lot of people (like me) a lot. So fair dos, win-win. And a heartfelt thanks. You never replied to any of my emails or ever commented on any of my blogs and I gave up @-ing you on Twitter after a while, but that’s cool, you’re busy people, running a busy (and highly successful) business. You did a great job and we will not forget you.
We will not forget
Are you ready for the advanced course?
Last week I launched an advanced iphoneography class, which, I’m very pleased to say, sold out in one day! But I’ve added some new dates so if you’re in the London area and are interested, please head over here and check it out. If you’re not sure whether you’re up to doing an advanced course, below are ten tips that I taught on my introductory course. If you know them all already, you’re probably OK to join the advanced course ; )
1) Follow the light. This works for all cameras but is particularly important for the iPhone camera. Especially when taking people, if you have some good light, use it.
2) Meter on (tap and hold on) the part of the image you’re most interested in. If there’s no particular point of interest in the image, meter on the brightest part (thereby making your screen go darker). This is because in post production, you can make dark things light, but you can’t make light things dark.
3) Use the HDR option on the iPhone for high-contast images. If you have two things in an image and one is bright and one dark, use either the HDR option in the camera, or an HDR app. They will help to even out the contrast.
4) Hold the camera still. Especially if you’re doing street portaiture photography. Don’t be shy, just go up to the person and take the shot with a steady hand. The iPhone camera doesn’t like shake: if you try and take it while moving, chances are it won’t be good. If lighting is bad, try and prop up your camera on something to keep it still.
5) Keep charged. There’s nothing more annoying than spotting Prince Charles in drag shopping in Sainsburys but missing the picture because your battery is flat. Carry around a portable charger.
6) Use the different shutter options. The shutter button on the view finder fires when you release your finger, not when you touch it. If Cartier-Bresson had used an iPhone, he would have known this while waiting for his decisive moment. Also, use the volume+ button sometimes to fire the shutter. It can allow you to get better angles.
7) Understand your iPhone photo filing system (using the Photos app). Sort your photos into albums and make sure you back-up your best photos to your PC (or use Flickr, which stores in full resolution). Put your best images in an album so that you can impress the head of Getty if you find yourself in a lift with him (=the photographic equivalent of the elevator pitch).
8) Turn your camera sideways. DSLR cameras have landscape (sideways) as default, the iPhone camera has portrait. Remember you can turn it sideways if the shot looks better that way and you can use Squaready to beat Instagram’s squares.
9) Use your feet rather than the zoom. When you see a photo-worthy thing, it’s unlikely the exact spot where you are standing is the best angle. If need be, climb over garden fences until the elements in the frame are where you like them. The zoom on the iPhone camera loses you pixels.
10) Explore the world of editing apps. Taking a photo with an iPhone is just the start. There are a million and one amazing things you can do with your photo after you’ve taken it. Sign up to my course to find out some of them.
Lies, damned lies and… Oops this account no longer exists
The social media bloggers have been firing statistics at each other since Instagram announced their now aborted TOS. One side says a) Instagram users were heading for the exits like the proverbial rats leaving a sinking ship; and the other says b) Instagram is right as rain, couldn’t be better, thanks. Vested interests aside (and I’m sure there are a lot of them), what is clear is that the arguments aren’t very clear. Some choose to talk about monthly active users (MAUs), some choose daily active users (DAUs). Of course, if you only post a few photos on Instagram (ie an MAU) you’re probably not bothered about the TOS scandal. So pro-Instagram bloggers use MAUs to show that numbers are still good. On the other hand, the people who post every day on Instagram (the DAUs) were also probably more outraged by the new TOS and so these fell more sharply. So this was the stat that the anti-Instagram brigade used.
What’s more, the MAU figure only started to be used by Instagram in December (I wonder why?). Before then, it only ever gave figures for registered users. So no real comparisons over time were possible. On top of this, AppStats, the main source for these stats only measure Instagram posts that are parallel-posted to Facebook. I beg your pardon? Yes, that’s right, it only records a photo being posted on Instagram if that photo is also posted to Facebook. OK, so like these statistics are pretty rubbish. And Instagram’s “press” center is so laughably short on data that it’s not worthy of the name.
Here’s my straw in the wind. I was rather hurt the other day when I found out two of my favourite photographers on Instagram (@dalesmith and @westatom) had stopped following me. My feelings changed, however, when I clicked on their profiles. I realised it wasn’t me they had “unfollowed”, it was Instagram. I checked out the profiles of the other users who had recently unfollowed me. Sure enough, about 50% of those accounts no longer exist (I’m calling them ANLEs for short). And that’s as statistically accurate as I’m prepared to be.
That user no longer exists