Update duel: Snapseed (Google) v Instagram (Facebook)
Seconds out, round 3. Ding! The two fighters’ seconds, Greg Google and Freddie Facebook, towel down their charges, slap them on the cheeks and send them back into the ring. Snapseed throws a heavy right hook with its latest update, the plucky Instagram counters with an upper-cut… OK, enough of the boxing analogy. Google’s Snapseed and Facebook’s Instagram recently brought out updates. Here are my initial thoughts:
The Googley developers (that is the correct adjective for Google isn’t it?) recently got a brand new toy to play with: Snapseed. They couldn’t have Instagram because it was too much, so they got Snapseed. They therefore perhaps begrudgingly set to work on this humble piece of software so beloved of many itogs. Here’s what they changed:
1) A new set of filters! Retrolux. I googled it and found “Retrolux: Quality Rock Band”, who, in the words of one fan, at a recent beer festival upstaged the mighty Letz Zep tribute act. A great feat indeed, but nothing to do with Snapseed, Google or photography. I hope Google got permission for the name. Or the hard-rocking Ian and Dave are in for a big pay day! Anyway, this new set of filters look like an attempt to replicate Hipstamatic, complete with light leaks and scratches, but with control over brightness, contrast, etc.
2) On my first go on my iPad, it crashed.
3) A new completely redundant stage to opening a photo in the form of an extra “use” button. What else am I going to do with the photo (there’s no alternative option to “use” apart from just going back)? You can turn it off in the iPhone setttings. Why would you ever want to turn it on?
4) Some nice new frames: the old ones were pretty weak and there is a lack of good frames in other apps.
5) The options for saving your photo now relegate Instagram to second tier “Open In…” status, with Google+ (is that still going?) promoted to top of the pile. It’s all a bit childish.
Meanwhile, Instagram’s new update treats us to the following improvements:
1) A new filter: the monochrome Willow. A bit darker than Inkwell and with a slightly transparant frame (an idea copied from Squaready?).
2) A new look to the way you choose your photos for posting, giving you a tiny preview of your last saved photos (quite sensible that one).
3) A rotate button: fair enough.
4) An ugly new IG-themed shutter button (does anyone still take photos in the Instagram app?).
5) They also say it goes faster. That’s good.
Google in training
A haircut with El Maestro
I needed a haircut. I was beginning to look silly. I was also on holiday in the beautiful little Spanish town of Vejer, where I’d previously seen a really ancient-looking barbers shop on the town’s Plaza de Espana. So, I thought, why not?
El Maestro, as his neighbours call him, chatted to me about this, that and the other, in a universal barberly way. I was intrigued by the little shrine of Athletic Bilbao memorabilia in one corner of his shop. He told me as a kid he had to choose a team and the big local team Sevilla had gone, so had the obvious Real Madrid and Barcelona, so he went for Bilbao, even though it’s probably about as far from Vejer as any football club in Spain. He also told me he’d been running his barber’s shop for 54 years and that for the last 30 years he hadn’t paid any rent. But he wasn’t worried, the landlord was a friend.
I paid for my haircut with a generous tip, on the condition, I said jokingly, that I could take a few photos. He was delighted. He wanted to try lots of different poses and angles. I recently wrote about various devious techniques for candidly capturing people shots. But this reminded me that if you just ask, people actually quite like having their photo taken. And it’s nice sometimes to get someone looking straight at the camera. Of course, the London tube is very different to a sleepy Spanish town. It can also be a very sociable and pleasurable experience taking photos of people if they’re into it. He wanted a copy to put up in his shop, which I said I’d send him (via snail mail).
Constantino Verdu, or El Maestro, in his shop, with Athletico Bilbao shrine in the background. Processed using the Snapseed Drama filter (to lift the shadows) and the Structure option in Detail to bring out all the lovely bits and pieces on his counter.
I got another shot of him in action with his next client. And with a 54-year old history, I decided to give the image an antique look with a great new app I’ve discovered called, Modern Grunge. I also used Filter Storm to brighten the figure of the Maestro in the doorway.
Constantino is going to retire in January after 54 years. Good luck Maestro! And I hope your landlord doesn’t ask for the back rent.
Digital Divas: don’t tell the photo police
I’ve posted 1,169 photos on Instagram and three of them were taken with a DSLR. But I take lots of photos that I don’t post on Instagram with a DSLR. And little by little the genres are overlapping. At an exhibition that opens next week, I’m showing a series of six images, entitled Digital Divas, at the Blackall Studios in London. The images were originally taken with a DSLR but later processed with iphone photo apps. Having been immersed in mobile photography processing for the last couple of years, somehow plain photos look a little bland. They’re a bit too close to reality. And we see reality all day long so it’s nice to app something up and get a little removed from it.
The exhibition is to mark the end of a course at the London School of Photography and my images are of six singers: Lianne la Havas, Ren Harvieu, Izzy Lindqwister, Ane Brun, Chrysta Bell and Gabby Young. The School seemed a little reticent about me mixing iphone apps with DSLR shots. It reminded of me of back in the day when people used to get very uptight about DSLR photos being posted on Instagram. I remember Instagram’s minimalist landing page specifically referred to “photos taken with the iphone”. Not any more. But for some reason, mixing up the genres makes people a bit nervous. They like everything to be in its right place.
But provided the photo police don’t hear about it, the exhibition opens on September 6th and runs until the 10th. I’ll be there all day on Monday 10th if you fancy saying hello.
Geek out at Campus Party in Berlin
This afternoon I was geeking out at Campus Party in Berlin talking about some of my fave photo apps. Here’s a quick run-down:
Snapseed: My always-by-my-side app. Great for general editing and tilt-shift. And I’m taking the detox pills to get me off that Drama button. It also pays to explore all its nooks and crannies. I recently discovered a feature called “Structure” which gives a 3D effect to a photo without any HDR nonsense or any sharpening noise.
BlurFX: Like tilt-shift but you can apply clarity to various parts of a photo. Great for adding drama or a narrative to a photo, especially for faces. The median blur feature allows you to create some weird dreamscapes.
Touch Retouch: a must-have in the toolbox. As a Mr. Fixit app, you wouldn’t know how often people use this app. I probably use it on 50% of my images: never let a white van example ruin one of your photos again. You can also use it creatively to remove things that are conspicuous (or weird) by their absence.
Filter Storm: One for the geeks. Great for changing the brightness or contrast on specific parts of images. Curves, histograms, layers. It’s photoshop in your pocket.
Image Blender: Or just straight Blender to its friends, aswell as opening a whole world of surreal blending possibilities, this is also a great stacking tool that allows you to mix and match effects from other apps.
Shockmypic: Should have been called Van Gogh. Adds that starry starry night look to your images.
Toonpaint: Extracts the lines and vectors from your image and gives you a comic-book unreality. With or without colour.
ArtistaOil: Monet or Manet?
Photosynth: The world is too wide sometimes and those fish-eye lenses are a bit rubbish. Big wow factor.
Decim8: Ah yeah man. Can you take an app to a desert island, Sue? Endless hours of psychedelic appsperimenting.
Slow Shutter: Another one where we’ve only scratched the surface. So many creative possibilities.
Diptic: Can’t choose which shot you like? Make a diptic and put them all in. Then make a new one with that one and get creative. Cubist possibilities.
Action Shot: Snap that moving target and blend.
But sometimes you just need to take a nice photo
Beware the influence of Earlybird
A billboard caught my eye as I cycled home last night. It was Sky Sports advertising the start of the new football season and I was intrigued to see that the huge photo of Fernando Torres celebrating one of his rare goals for Chelsea had a definite yellow tint. It reminded me of one of those vintage filters in Snapseed. Or even our old friend Earlybird in Instagram. Slightly faded, a touch of sepia, desaturated colours. And the ad is also being run in today’s dailies where it even comes with curved corners (again like Earlybird) and ragged edges (a favourite look of many Instagram photos).
Someone took that photo with a hugely expensive DSLR and Sky paid thousands of pounds for it. Only to add a vintage filter? What’s going on?
The photo definitely has something of a 1970s football annual look. Perhaps Sky thought it would remind middle-aged football fans of their early childhood excitement about the sport. Make us think of Peter Osgood in that Chelsea shirt and of better more authentic footballing times. In a way, they have identified the same nostalgic attraction that many of us have when we add a vintage filter to a photo. Or perhaps they have seen Instagram’s popularity and are deliberately appealing to people who they know are used to seeing their photos with filters added. Or maybe they just think it looks cool. Like a lot of us.
Please be aware of the influence of Earlybird on mainstream photography
Noir - but in colour
For a long time I wondered why no-one did what Noir does in colour. Noir is a specialist black and white app and what it does brilliantly is to give you a moveable spotlight on your image. And it allows you to make the areas inside and outside the outline of the spotlight lighter or darker. It’s a vignette technique used by a lot of people on Instagram to very dramatic effect, focussing the viewer’s eye on a particular part of the image, often a face or a figure. And I’d always wondered was, why doesn’t anyone offer the same feature in colour? Well, I’ve just realised they do. And it was under my nose all the time! It’s offered by our good old friend, yes the best all-round mobile photography app on the market, Snapseed! The mobile photography app world is full of misnamed apps and features (my favourite is shockmypic which really should be called vectorisemypic or vangoghmypic) and here’s another one: if you look hard enough, you’ll find that the “Center focus” feature in Snapseed allows you to move a “spotlight” around the image then brighten and darken inside and outside the spotlight.
If everyone knew this already, forgive me, and I know this will make me look quite silly. But I think it’s true to say that Mobile Photography Appland is really quite unchartered territory. There are thousands of small developers making these things, often ill-equipped to describe them properly and often in a rush to get them out. But that’s another thing that makes it such a fun place to wander around in. In black and white or colour.
Sometimes you just have to wait and you’ll find what you’re looking for in Mobile Photography Appland.
iphoneography 1 big photography 0
Let’s match up iphoneography and big photography. For a bit of irreverent fun. I use big cameras too, so I’m relatively independent. And iphoneograhy has taken the lead! I saw this article about how you can produce a “miniature village” effect using a function called tilt shift in Photoshop Elements. If you take photos with your smart phone, you’ll know this is a very common feature in many apps, not least on Instagram itself (my favourite is in Snapseed). And you’ll also know that’s it’s incredibly easy to apply, and with some quite impressive effects. A couple of taps and pinches and hey presto, a nice faux depth of field. With Elements, you need layers, masks, reflective gradients, CTR this, CTR that. And a mini users manual to help you through the process. And while Elements is on the cheaper side of photography software (at around £50), it’s still infinitely more expensive than Instagram (£0.00).
It’s no big deal. But I love it how iphoneography has made creative image making so much more accessible. In ease of use and in price. It’s like Luton Town taking the lead against Chelsea!
Tilt shift for all!