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
Is mobile still newsworthy?
In what has got to be one of the best bits of media coverage of mobile photography, the New York Times today did a piece on an exhibition of mobile photography in Paris. At the time I spotted the article, there were 4 comments online. I braced myself for the usual vitriolic outburst by the traditional photographer who after 35 years of mastering aperture and shutter speed would rather chop off their hand than take a photo with an iphone. And, yes, the first comment was from a photographer of 35 years standing, Leslie Plaza Johnson. But surprisingly there was no vitriol. Her point was that it doesn’t matter what you use. What’s important is whether the image gets an emotion from its viewer.
We’ve seen a lot of media coverage of iphoneography over the last couple of years. When I launched a course in mobile photography back in February, London’s two most widely circulated newspapers carried big articles on it. A course on mobile photography, yes, isn’t that amazing! Whenever exhibitions of mobile photography (like the one in Paris) are announced, the typical media angle is: yes, can you believe it, these beautiful pictures, all taken with your little mobile phone camera.
The nature of the genre is what it is: mobile is incredibly good at close-up photography and has allowed many more people to be creative with their image-making thanks to all the apps. For those reasons, it is a sub-genre in itself, with particular features that mean that blogs like this one have something meaningful to talk about. In the same way that water colours is a sub-genre of painting. But at the end of the day, it is just another way of making images. And one day soon an exhibition by mobile phone artists will be no more newsworthy than an exhibition of water colour enthusiasts. The only thing that will make it newsworthy will be if the images get an emotion. Which in the case of this excellent exhibition, they do.
Does it get an emotion?
Closer candid portraits then ever before
Earlier this year, I set my class the task of taking candid photos of people on public transport. To inspire the students I showed them the photos of one of London’s best candid photographers, Bal Bhatia, aka @mrwhisper. In his images of London’s commuters, he manages to capture real human emotion in beautifully composed images. Much more than just finding an interesting facial expression, his images have balance and harmony too. I’d never really done much candid before, so I joined in with the task too. And very quickly got hooked.
The iphone camera is so unobtrusive and people are so used to seeing other passengers gazing into their devices that very few people realise we’re taking photos of them. Which gives us a rare perspective. Especially at busy times, we can get within centimentres of complete strangers’ faces and photograph them completely naturally without them knowing. If they knew, their whole look would change. So although candid portraiture has a long tradition, we are now getting closer to people than ever. Smart phone photographers are doing things that were almost impossible before with traditional cameras.
When I ask my students to do this task, I ask them to first of all consider what they’re doing. Yes, we’re taking a photo of someone without their permission. That’s partly the point. If we asked for permission, we would lose their natural look. And what’s our motivation for wanting these photos? We’re not making fun of them or exploiting them for nefarious purposes. We want to understand our fellow citizens by looking into their faces and we want to share that understanding with our audiences. And we want to create beautiful images featuring something that never ceases to fascinate us - the human face.
ps thanks to Sandi Wiggins aka @ancestorsfound for the idea for this blog
Candid portraits: closer than ever
Shamless plug for my iphoggy courses
OK. No shame about this one. This is a plug for my two upcoming iphoneography courses. It’s a 5-week deal, 3 hours each week. We start out simple, but get advanced very quickly. We look at all the best weird and wonderful apps out there for the iPhone and do some thinking and arguing about photography generally. And of course, we also do a lot of iphoneography-taking. I’ve run the course three times before and (modesty aside) they were very popular. We recently had an exhibition of some of the students excellent work. And they keep on asking me when I’m going to be putting on a more advanced version - so they must have enjoyed it.
Your two options are:
1) Starting this Thursday November 15 at Kensington and Chelsea College. Five Thursday evenings 6-9pm. The course has already run 3 times here, so we have it well honed. Within the college’s excellent photography department, it can lead onto more advanced photography courses.
2) The Photographers’ Gallery, starting this Saturday November 17. Five Saturdays, 2-5pm. In a great central London location, the gallery is a Mecca of serious photography. We have a newly refurbished high tech room and will be surrounded by photographic excellence on all sides.
Both courses will be very sociable affairs. So if you’re in or around London and want to ramp up your iphoneography skills and generally have a good time, I would love to have you on board!
Thinking about improving your iphoneography skills?
iPhoggy Times to close shocker
It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce the death of that venerable publication, The iPhoggy Times. Alas, there will not many mourners at the funeral. I cannot blame rising printing costs, or competition from online blogs. No, it’s mainly because I can’t be arsed anymore. And also because it only had one subscriber, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be me. Suffice to say then that the iPhoggy Times was not a rip-roaring success.
I set it up a while back with a rebellious fire in my heart. I had subscribed to two other paper.li papers devoted to the world of iphoneography. After complaining to the editors of these papers that they featured far too many tweets in Indonesian and, more importantly, completely ignored my own blog, iphoggy-bloggy, it dawned on me that these editors were not actually poring over word before publishing, but that they were generated without any human intervention at all. I know, I’m a slow learner. But following my grandfather’s motto Non Queror Fac Melior, which loosely translates as, Shut Up Complaining and Do Something Better Yourself, I decided to set one up. To say it stretched my technical capabilities would be an understatement. But following many email exchanges with Birgit (a paragon of Germanic patience), I finally got the paper.li to point at my own blog. Yes, I admit it. It was mainly about unabashed self-publicity. Well that and partly sheer bloody mindedness to make the damn thing work.
This morning I saw that another of these papers had been launched about mobile photography. Which featured my blog! Which made me think, my work here is done, unfurl the white flag, I climbed that mountain etc. Some of these papers do serve a purpose: the robots behind them scurry around the world and pull together bits and pieces of news about the iphoneography world. I wonder how many will find this one.
Not many people at the funeral
It’s just, it’s just… why do people dislike iphoneography so much?
Some time ago I made a mental note of The Photographers’ Gallery’s use of that apostrophe in its name. To me that said: we are serious people with attention to detail. They are, and so is their audience. They love their photography and they are very knowledgeable about it. So it was with great interest that I awaited the reaction to the launch of a course in photography with the iphone. There were some positive reactions, but to summarise (and respond to) the negative - what I call the “It’s just” - ones:
It’s just for snapping. Yes a lot of people use it that way. But a lot of people are using its unique features to get some stunning street photography and are crafting some amazing images with the apps. See iphoneart.com.
It’s just a load of filters. People do start off using filters and, I agree, they’re overdone. But then they move onto to more advanced techniques and apps. And more tools at your fingertips mean more scope for you to express your creativity.
It just undermines photography learning. Not at all. The classic photographic skills (composition, interesting subjects, colour) apply to any camera. Yes, you’ve no need to use your knowledge of DSLR features. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop using your DSLR. And DSLRs do a lot of stuff that, of course, the iphone has no hope of doing. But if you want to take advantage of this new tool (which is really good at candid, street, photojournalism and on-the-go creative) yes you will have to learn some new skills to complement, not replace, your existing ones.
It’s just too easy and takes the art out of photography. It is easy and user-friendly. So it means more people can do photography. That’s good, isn’t it? It’s easy to take and to edit with the iphone but it’s just as difficult to do something that is original and meaningful. You still need vision and heart to produce good images, whatever camera you use. It’s the image that matters, not the camera. Moriyama uses a little point-and-shoot and his photos are currently hanging in the Tate Modern.
Most of the above objections come down to people not really understanding iphoneography. One person thought that Instagram was a camera! And I’ve found a lot of people have no idea about the apps’ massive crafting potential. So there’s a fear-of-the-unknown factor. But surely people can’t resent so many more people suddenly having an outlet for their photographic creativity?
I’ve been taking photos with big cameras for years and I’m a professional photographer too (with a big camera). But mobile photography has unleashed a renewed love for photography and opened up many new possibilities. And thanks to its vibrant communities, it has given my photos a life beyond my hard drive. But don’t take my word for it. I found a great defence of iphoneography here by an award-winning big camera photographer, Damon Winter. To sum up though, it’s just another photography tool.
Listen: it’s just another photography tool
Unbundling the geekiness from the gookiness
Quite a while back, I was talking to a couple of friends about doing my class in mobile photography, one of them asked if I was going to cover the unbundling of the focus and exposure meters in Camera+. What? I asked. I didn’t know you could do that, I said (I don’t mind looking stupid). Then I paused and thought about it. So, you focus on one thing in a picture and you set the light for something else? I take a photo of a man with a building behind him. I set the light so his face isn’t in the shadows but I focus on the building, which is completely over-exposed. So the face is blurred (but properly metered) and the building is blown out (but in focus). Who am I to say how people should make their images. But let’s just say I haven’t seen many examples of this in action.
I began to wonder whether this might be a triumph of geekiness over common sense. And it reminded me of Pro 645. This app, like various others, simulates the SLR experience. It fills the screen with lots of dials and data before you shoot. You even get a very scientific-looking histogram. But because you’re still using an iphone camera, you can’t actually change ISO, shutter speed or aperture. You can choose your frame size and you can add in a few filters. But all these things you can do after shooting in a 1,000 other apps. The only possible advantage I can see with is that they export high-quality TIFFs. Very useful if you print your photo 10 metres by 10 metres.
Could this be a case of SLR envy? Or some sort of iphoneography inferiority complex. Please tell me if I’m missing something (it wouldn’t be the first time).
ps Pro 645 currently seems to be suffering from iOS6itus.
Sometimes technology isn’t very good
Ghosts, fireworks and Modigliani figures
I love Slow Shutter. It’s one of those apps that no-one really knows what to do with. Ghost images, flowing water, fireworks, car light trails, Modigliani-like figures. I’ve seen a lot of cool effects. The developers have put it out there and people are still figuring it out. And I love how lo-fi these young guys seem to be (they have 7 followers on Twitter). In one of their tutorials, one of the (we presume) developers describes how he went down into his basement to take a light-trail photo of his satelite receiver in the dark. You can almost hear his Mom yelling “Brad! What the hella yer doin down there!”.
But here’s a photo I took with it. I was at the London Olympics marathon yesterday and as the leading runners (as it happens, the three medal winners) ran past I tried to track them with the camera with Slow Shutter on a shutter speed of half a second (also known as panning) and in automatic mode. So the idea was to try and get some definition on the runner but leave the background very blurred. But of course the runners were moving too (you would hope so!) so there wasn’t much definition, though at least the colour of their shirts had a chance to build up a bit. The app takes possibly 40-50 frames in that half a second so you get a glimpse of a foot here and a leg there in different positions. Which sort of gives the idea of someone running. And to improve it a bit, I blurred and over-exposed the background. Cool effect? I don’t know, you see what you can do with it.
Size matters at Latitude
Back from another music festival, Latitude. I was again on big-camera duties, taking photos of bands and general festival festivities. In the press tent, lens envy was rife as photographers brandished lenses the size of their arms (and costing one plus a leg) and strained under the burden of ruck-sacks full of expensive kit. Again the contrast between iphoneography and big camera photography got me thinking.
I was able to file my photos a few hours after taking them via a laptop. Great! But with Instagram we “file our photos” minutes after taking them. And whereas many of the big camera photos will be sitting on a picture editor’s desk waiting to be selected and then only possibly bought by magazines, iphone photos are being seen by thousands of people instantly. And while the festival posted photos up on a flickr page of the festival as it happened, how many festival goers logged onto flickr to check them? Whereas with a tag and tap, Instagramers were seeing images from all over the festival.
And whereas the photos posted on the official sites had stunningly crisp resolution (thanks to thousands of pounds worth of camera kit), the pictures tagged on Instagram perhaps gave more of an authentic impression of the festival and some of the more creatively edited ones were equally stunning.
So the Instagram photos were reaching more eyeballs more quickly and engaging festival goers better than the big camera photos. And hats off to Latitude for running an official festival Instagram account and posting up photos. But half the battle with photography is access. And the festival gave the professional photographers access to the photo pits but not to their humble instagramer. So despite being perhaps a more powerful PR tool than big cameras, the instagramer was treated as a second-rate photographer.
Instagramers left outside the tent
iPhone to the rescue at bravery awards!
The (paid) photographer with the huge lens and the expensive DSLR had worked the room, capturing the smiles and the handshakes at Thursday’s National Bravery Awards ceremony in Manchester. And overseeing the event, my good friend and media manager @natal13d decided to take a couple of snaps on her iphone camera. It proved quite a smart move. When she returned to the office ready to feed the official photographer’s images to the awaiting media, she found the disk was blank. Unable to locate either the photographer himself or copies of his photos, she checked her iphone camera roll. Not bad actually. Those 8 mega pixels did quite a good job. So with the deadline looming, she sent them off. And one of them appeared in yesterday’s Evening Standard. I’ve seen the printed version too. As you can see, it looks absolutely fine - good resolution, not too washed out (the Standard’s photo desk may have helped this a little) and I doubt if anyone batted an eyelid. As an aspiring professional photographer myself, it’s quite scary. But as in so many other industries down the ages, photographers are having to adapt and find new ways of adding value.