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The Big Picture

February 5, 2013

I love the spontaneity of the iPhone camera. It has reasonable resolution, good colour balance, and can send photos around the globe, but best of all, it’s with me most of the time. The old maxim is, that the best camera, is the one you have with you when a picture opportunity arises. The iPhone 4s or 5 fills that need perfectly. (Obviously, there are numerous Smartphone cameras for Android etc. but I use and have the most experience on an iPhone, but these notes should apply equally to other camera phones).

The iPhone is compact, under most conditions the quality reasonable, intuitive and simple to use. Or is it? In the right hands and with lots of practice, the iPhone has earned a place in professional photography. There are now iPhone photo contests and exhibitions held regularly. iPhone pictures have been accepted for resale by a major online digital picture company and more will follow. So it has come of age. Its resolution is sufficient for A4 or larger sized prints and more than enough for online viewing. However, I still see lots of bad iPhone pictures. Motion blurred, out of focus, dark. Does that mean it is too simple?

I don’t think so, in fact many of the same problems that I see with iPhones, I see with DSLRs, that feature variable metering, twice as much resolution, zoom lenses and adjustable everything. The problem is with the photographer, not the camera.

What’s Going Wrong?
it’s the same old story, the camera is deceptively simple to use and therefore easy to use badly.

The First Problem?
Image too small. Solution: move closer. Read my article Two Steps Forward, but the major thing is that the camera doesn’t have a zoom lens, so move forward and fill the frame. When you think you’re too close, move in closer. You can see exactly the same picture area that you are shooting, and it’s live, so use it to advantage.

Blurred Image.
There are a couple of possibilities. You, or the subject moved, when there wasn’t enough light. The camera takes a short time to focus and in low light or low contrast, it is a bit slow to lock on to the subject. You can help it by moving closer and allowing auto-focus to lock on, or tap the screen on the portion of the subject you want to be sharp. The camera focuses and as an added bonus takes a light reading from the subject. This is good with subjects lit from behind, which generally come out in silhouette without a bit of help. There is also a flash you can activate, but it darkens the background and the result isn’t as nice as available light. You should also concentrate on holding the camera still. iPhones are light and the grip is a little clumsy, so practice holding it steady while you touch the shutter.

Boring Image
This is the easiest problem to fix. Move around your subject. Try different angles, low down, high up. Move closer, move away. You can see exactly what you are going to get so if it looks interesting on the screen, it probably is.
I am still amazed by the number of people who are surprised by their results. You can see the result, full size, before you shoot the picture. Use this to your advantage.

The Big Picture
One of the best things in the new iPhone IOS, is the panorama function. I love it. It is at the bottom of the camera options menu. Select it and hold the camera vertically. An arrow appears within some lines. You pick the extreme left of your proposed panorama, and press the shutter. Start moving the camera to the right, keeping the arrow tracking evenly within the lines. The camera warns you if you are going too fast. Keep the camera moving until you reach the point you want the panorama to end and touch the shutter again. Select ‘Done’ and your panorama is saved and ready to view. For best results, try and ensure the light is even. Very dark, or light spots tend to cause parts of the image to be difficult to see. If there are people in the shot who are moving, you get some odd results. People have limbs missing, or strange heads that nature didn’t originally supply.

You can get wonderful group shots of family and friends if you make sure everyone is still and work as quickly as the panorama mode allows. If you move too fast, the camera warns you to slow down. With a bit of practice, you will find yourself getting some amazing panoramas.

Camera Apps
There are a range of Apps that supposedly make iPhone photography better. Camera +, 645 Pro, Camera Genius, to name a few. They all have virtues, but to be honest, for normal shooting, the standard camera is fine. It is quick to activate, convenient and easy to use. Then there’s Instagram. Why people who can’t take a sharp, properly exposed, well composed photo, think that by filtering it and distorting the colour, it is somehow transformed and turned into a great photo, worth sharing with friends. I confess that I use Snapseed occasionally, but only because I have a photo that I feel warrants specific types of filtration.

Even Better Pictures
My suggestion is, that after you practice taking well exposed, well composed, interesting shots, you process them. There are some fantastic processing Apps, which unlike the filtration Apps, actually improve your pictures, and make up for shortcomings in your photography. My favourite is Photogene. It is brilliant. It can correct exposure, crop, sharpen, fill shadows, fix highlights, change colour balance, improve contrast, generate montages and add captions. It can then post them to social media, the web, or email and save to your library. For those who demand instantaneous, effortless improvements, there are a range of preset corrections built in.
If you must fiddle, it can even change your image, not necessarily for the better, with a range of filters. As mentioned previously, Snapseed is also brilliant, as is Photoshop for iOS.

There is no shortage of image enhancing, or altering Apps, you just have to be willing to use them.

Improving Your Image
My contention is, that you should start with a worthwhile image, by doing everything you can to capture it without faults. Then processing is used for enhancement, not rescue.

The iPhone or Smart Phone cameras in general, are a great way to get spontaneous interesting pictures that give you timeless memories and creative satisfaction, with minimal effort. Try one, you’ll love it.

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2 Comments
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