What’s in your [mobile] kit?

Everyone wants a peek into other people’s private stuff.

Voyeurism is exciting. But when you’re a photographer, the voyeuristic thrill of peering into a fellow shooter’s camera kit isn’t just titillating; one hopes they’ll get an edge of some sort. If I see that you’re using a neutral density filter to heighten that sense of space, then that may be an “ah ha!” to help inspire me to new places. Photographers tend to be remarkably resourceful folk; we’re not really out to be copy cats, but we do want to know how you did that, so that maybe I can do something like this.

A Glimpse Behind my Home Screen
I got my first iPhone thanks to my tenure as Creative Director for a small but admirably scrappy digital agency. One of the co-owners became thoroughly enamored with the then-new Apple smartphone, and coveted the caché of his staff carrying them around in front of clients. That was 2008. I carried that early 2G iPhone everywhere, snapping images all the time, then emailing the best selects to myself so I could retouch on a “real monitor” with Photoshop.

As upgrades became available, and better quality photo apps hit the blogs and app venues, I held to a sort of curmudgeonly pride: I’d keep using my outdated phone until I was forced to upgrade. Besides, I reasoned, my phone is still my phone. My Nikon is for “real” photography. Well, that forced need occurred. And I’m glad for it, actually. Upgrades to networks and apps eventually eclipsed what the old 2G could handle. More and more apps simply were not supported anymore by the old iOS on my 2G, and the slowness of the device became untenable. So, a few months ago I upgraded to a refurbished iPhone 4, virtually on the eve of the unveiling of the 4S. (I’ve always been somewhat of a cheapskate!)

The iPhone 4, combined with a number of apps, now allows me to create and post-process in a way that stimulates my creativity and activity with my DSLR. My phone is still just that, my phone, however, the capabilities of the newer mobile apps are like the ultimate digital sketchbook now.

This is my iPhone's digital photo-bag

So this is my app arsenal

You’ll notice the the stock iPhone Camera app is conspicuously missing. That’s because I never, ever use it. It doesn’t provide the level of exposure control that I’ve come to demand. Before I got the iPhone 4, my camera app of choice was Darkroom Pro. I was able to control sharpness way better than using the stock Camera, and exposure in low light wasn’t too shabby. Then, I’d go to Photoshop Express, make some simple exposure adjustments and sharpening, and that was that.

Wow, things have changed.

Camera+

Camera+ has become my go-to app when a scene screams “shoot me.” It allows you to control focus point, set a single exposure area, and make a number of filter-based color adjustments on the fly.

Launch Camera+, then flash the peace sign

Here, you see a couple of toys on my desk, viewed through the lens and Camera+. As soon as I launch the app, I tap the screen with my first and second fingers, and I get 2 positionable reticles. The square one is your focus point, which I’ve drug to the little motorcycle in the foreground. The second  is your exposure reticle, which I’ve placed on Mickey’s face. You’ll see a live exposure update as you drag them both. Once I’m happy with composition and overall exposure, I tap the little camera button on the bottom.

Tapping with two fingers gives you twice the control

Camera+ allows you to use the iPhone 4’s scary-bright LED flash if you turn it on in the upper left. I never do unless I’m going for that mug-shot look, which…I never do! You can also tap in the upper right if you want to shoot your own portrait, or…be sneaky and use it to shoot over your shoulder. Great for “street” photography when you want to shoot a scene or people without them thinking you’re shooting them. It appears that you’re shooting 180-degrees away from them. Devious, I know, but as I said, photogs are resourceful!

Select the shot you want to edit

It’s a rare thing for me to shoot once then edit. I tend to shoot several images, then make the select of the best for edit. Camera+ keeps your Photo Library from being cluttered with tons of test shots by saving everything to a Lightbox, which you access by tapping in the lower left of your camera screen. As you can see above, the little red circle says I have 167 images in my Lightbox. (I have a hard time parting with images. Even mediocre ones!)

Here’s what the Lightbox looks like. It’s already cued up the last shot you took, and gives you some options. You can Edit, as we’re going to do, or you can share it, or go ahead and save it as-is to your Photo Library.

Double tap the image to edit it, or select another option

Adjust exposure first

Here we have one of the biggest shortcomings of this otherwise lovely little app: adjusting exposure after the shot.

Once you’ve selected your image, you’re presented with a strip of options for exposure, from Auto adjustment, to adjustment for Cloudy conditions or Shade, etc. It’s great that there are so many options, however, unlike all the other Effects that you can apply to an image with Camera+, you cannot select the amount of exposure adjustment. You get what you get once you choose it.

This can be mitigated somewhat once you’ve become familiar with the adjustable Effects that you can apply as a secondary step, however, this is something I’d like to see Camera+ feature in the future.

In this example, I’m choosing one of my favorite adjustments: Clarity. Clarity seeks to equalize your brightest and darkest areas. Think of it as a sort of poor man’s HDR. It can be a shot-saver, or, it can be simply too harsh, leaving you with no way to tone it down. In the case of my little desk toys, it brings out the light in Mickey’s face, and provides a nice contrast to the cast shadows on my Wacom tablet.

Choosing "Clarity" from the adjustment strip. You can also rotate, crop, or go straight to Effects.

Choose an Effect, and adjust it if you like

Camera+ allows you to select from 4 “buckets” of effects: Color, Retro (which I dip into for this example), Special, and “I love Analog,” which as you can see from my screen has a little shopping cart next to it, indicating that I haven’t purchased that set of options. Since I’m shooting images of toys with a tiny lens, I’m feeling like Toy Camera is my effect of choice.

The little thumbnail shows you what the Effect will look like if you apply it full strength, which again, is something I almost never do. But that’s the best thing about Camera+, it allows you to dial in how much effect you want.

In the Retro bucket of Effects, I'm going to choose "Toy Camera"

Dial it back if it hits ‘ya too hard

Toy Camera replicates the current trend to use inexpensive plastic cameras with their little plastic lenses, complete with all the lens flares and color aberrations that they provide.

I like the effect, but I dial it back to 71%, then tap “Done” in the upper right.

The turquoise shift goes too far for me, so I pull it back a bit before tapping "Done"

What if you want to “stack” effects?

At first, you’d think that Camera+ only allows you to choose an exposure adjustment, then choose from one of the effects from out of it’s 4 “buckets.” Everytime I wanted to build upon an effect by applying another, it just replaced the previous effect, Needless to say, this was pretty frustrating, until I discovered the hidden gem, “Commit Edits.”

After you’ve applied and adjusted an effect, and before you choose your second effect, press and hold the Save button on the bottom of the screen that shows you your image. You’ll get the following pop-up menu:

Committing the edits you just made allows you to choose subsequent effects

Now, I can choose Cross Process, which will accentuate some of the yellows in my toys, and make the image a little more saturated. But of course, never wanted to be over-the-top, I dial it back a bit. In this case, 64%.

I "scrub" the little bar back and forth until the effect is where I want it. I don't want the contrast to plug my shadows in, so I pull it back to 64%

How about Dodging and Burning?

Neither Camera+ nor PS Express will allow you to do this, however, there is another app that you need to be aware of if you want to get unprecedented control over your mobile shots. To selectively adjust color, brightness, and a whole host of other adjustments,  I save my image to my Photo Library, so I can access it with  Filterstorm. I depend on Filterstorm. It’s very powerful. I have it on both iPhone 4 and iPad. I’ve not yet tried the new Adobe Touch apps, but I can say that Adobe will have to work hard to win me over from Filterstorm.

Launch Filterstorm, and tap to access your Photo Library

Now that we’ve saved our mouse n’ motorcycle to the Photo Library, we need to pull it into Filterstorm:

Tap the camera icon in the upper left to load an image from your library, shoot directly into the software, or paste an image from the clipboard

Create the adjustment, then “scrub” it in…

If you’ve ever used Apple’s Aperture software (I do. It’s my image archiving, color processing first-stop for my DSLR images) then you know about it’s ability to create an adjustment then “brush” that adjustment in. Filterstorm offers the same kind of place-it-where-you-want-it control.

Tap the “sun” icon to select “Brightness / Contrast,” and then adjust the slider to brighten up Mickey’s face and the side of the motorcycle. Don’t be alarmed by the fact that the entire image preview goes bright. Only focus your attention on the areas you wish to brighten for now.

The range of adjustments — and the ability to titrate them — is impressive

Slide the slider, preview the effect, then scrub in

Here you can see that I’ve moved the Brightness slider will keeping an eye on Mickey’s face and the shadow side of the little bike. I pump up the brightness to 83%

Remember, I'm only really concerned about his face and the side of the bike...

Then select the brush icon on the right to apply the brightness only where you want it

This is Filterstorm’s “Masking Mode,” and it’s really quite amazing for a mobile app. The choices you’re given to apply your adjustment are wide.

After I select the brush, I can then select Options for that brush, which include it’s size, edge hardness, and it’s opacity. I choose a very soft edge, and pull the opacity of the brush down so I can repeatedly feather in the brightness. Think of it as building the brightness up in layers of strokes.

Then, just stroke on your screen where you want to apply that brightness, watching it build up with each finger stroke. When you have it where you want it, hit the Check Mark, and only where you scrubbed with your finger gets the bright treatment. Brilliant!

Configure the brush you'll use to stroke in the brightness setting you just created

…and here is the resulting “light scrubbing:”

Compare this with the image above to see how much control Filterstorm gives with it's masks

I’d like a little vignetting, but I don’t want it all black…or “circular…”

I want to emphasize these two little toys sitting on my desktop, and one of the most popular ways to do that is with a Vignette. Vignetting has become cliché these days, and the tools to provide them are plug n’ play and ham-fisted. I want to apply some depth around the edges, but I want more control. Rather than just choose a Vignette filter (Which Filterstorm does offer) I decide to increase the exposure of the background using Brightness / Contrast, and selecting the Multiply blending mode. This will deepen the greens of the Wacom tablet the toys are resting on. Then, I can choose the same brush / masking technique, and scrub in that color.

First, I select Brightness / Contrast after tapping the Sun icon, but before I adjust the sliders, I click on the top-right icon to adjust settings. I want to preview my brightness change on the left side of the image, only, and I’ll choose the Multiply blending mode to deepen the color, rather than to scrub in a typical black vignette.

Rather than preview a change using the entire image, preview using a split-screen to clearly see the change in effect

After I deepened the color, I chose the brush and scrubbed in my vignette. This is right before pressing the Check Mark to accept:

A subtle vignette using a scrubbed brightness reduction in multiply mode. Satisfied, I'll click the Check Mark to accept this

Before I share an image, I apply a watermark

Filterstorm allows you to copy and paste an image from your library as a watermark. This is always a good idea, and all of my images that I share via Twitter and my blog get the samlowephoto watermark. Once you’ve set up a watermark, you can go back to it again and again to adjust position and opacity at will.

Tap the Gear icon to get to the watermark setup buttons:

When your image is ready to be shared, hit "Watermark Setup" after you tap the Gear icon.

Tweak your watermark position and opacity

Prior to this screen, you’ll want to go to your Photo Library, and select an image to use for your watermark. I created one in Adobe Illustrator, then rasterized it and mailed it to myself. I copied it to the clipboard.

Here on this screen, you can hit “Paste Image,” which does so over the image of the grasshopper. This allows you to choose a Position, Size, Opacity, and Padding distance from the edges of the photo. Hit done when you’re satisfied.

Once you've done this, Filterstorm remembers all the settings for future watermark application

Once you’re done setting up, go back to the Gear, and hit Apply Watermark

Ta-da! All that work, done literally in the palm of your hand. Kinda mind-blowing if you’re a guy who remembers winding film on a stainless steel reel in a pitch-black room before washing it with chemicals!

Watermark applied

Raw, prior to shooting, and post-processing

Next time: HDR

HDR on a mobile phone? You betcha. Next blog, I’ll show you my app of choice, and we’ll walk through the steps, seeing just how simple it can be.

I look forward to your comments, and your own recommendations regarding apps and techniques! Please do comment, and let me know how you like to capture and process images when you’re on the go.

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2 thoughts on “What’s in your [mobile] kit?

    • FilterStorm is something I use every day. Every shot on my iPhone is taken with Camera+ and post-edited with FilterStorm. It’s elegant, powerful, and more than a bargain for the price.

      I also use it on the iPad. Costs more, but again, the power (and he real estate!) make quite the difference.

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