Apple recently released an API allowing third party apps to edit "raw" iPhone camera images. In short (and I'm sure at some level I'm butchering this summary), raw editing gives you a lot more room to edit an image's color and exposure. To my eye, the benefits of this are most evident in highlights and shadows. Parts of an image that appear to be blown out in white can be pulled back to show details, and parts of an image that appear to be blackened shadows can be pulled up to show what's there.
I saw that Adobe Lightroom for mobile was highly recommended for trying this out, so I downloaded it earlier this week and took it for a spin. It'll prompt you to sign up for a membership, but you actually don't need to in order to be able to shoot and edit with it.
These shots are mostly from around the neighborhood where I work. I tried to keep an eye out for high contrast scenes that could most benefit from raw editing.
A nice bonus from this experiment was trying out Lightroom for mobile. I had never used it before, but found the interface very easy to use. I think it's going to be my photo editor of choice for times when I want to get a little deeper than what Instagram will let me do.
One thought that occurred to me was whether or not raw editing provided an advantage over the iPhone's built-in HDR feature when it comes to dealing with high contrast scenes. I didn't side-by-side this, so it's tough to know, but the answer is probably "it depends". iPhone Life's piece on HDR notes that HDR is not the best tool for capturing shots with lots of motion, since it's knitting together multiple exposures. So in something like the above, where there are people going back and forth, the exposures could overlap poorly and there might be some blur or strange artifacts in the final image.
Parts of the clouds still blow out here, and the vignette I added certainly crunches down the shadows along the edges. But as always on the phone, it's a balance between how much editing work I want to do, and how much time I want to spend on my phone doing it. There's still an "ok, that's good enough" point, and this was it for me with this photo.
There's some blurriness here, as the phone's probably taking a longer exposure and I could've done a better job bracing it against the balcony rail.
Overall, I found raw/Lightroom a useful tool, though not one that I'll use every for every iPhone photo. In a lot of scenarios, the built-in Camera app is going to be good enough, and that's faster for me to start up than opening Lightroom and then going to the camera part of the app. I also don't want to get into the habit of building up a large backlog of unedited raw files in the app, as I have enough of that going on in my non-iPhone photo world.
But for times when I'm taking a shot that I know I'm going to want to post, and I want the best version available for editing, then I'll most likely be using this to do it.
By coincidence, I finished editing photos from New York Comic Con 2014 shortly after I got home from New York Comic Con 2016.
For more photos, you can jump into the relative future and see my shots from Comic Con 2015 here (for a while, I tried alternating between old photos and new photos while working through my editing backlog).
Every now and then, Timehop will show me a photo I took on my phone five or six years ago. Sometimes I'll be able to remember what in the scene made me take it. I imagine my past self swiping through Instagram filters, finding one that had that "something" and feeling pretty happy with the end result. But looking down at the photo now on a retina display phone, the limitations of the old hardware are evident. There's muddled looking contrast and unsightly digital grain, only slightly disguised by the kitschy filter.
I probably would have a hard time telling the difference between a photo taken on an iPhone 6S and a photo taken on an iPhone 7 (not counting the 7+'s fancy Portrait setting). But these cameras do get incrementally better every year, and per my Timehop example, those improvements are even more evident when skipping generations. So for me, the 5s to the 7 is a big jump.
It would be difficult for me to pinpoint just how much better the 7 is than the 5s short of doing shot by shot comparisons, which would likely drive me bananas. So instead I figured I would instead actively shoot and post on the 7 over the course of a week and see how I felt at the end of it.
For this post, I tried to focus on subjects that would typically catch my attention on the street, as well as a few that might be good for showcasing the new camera (such as the flowers and produce below). As an experiment, I edited in the Photos app rather than Instagram. I'm not in love with the Photos app's editing interface. I like the attempt at simplicity with the master Light and Color sliders, but I found myself almost always digging into the subsliders anyway, which makes for a lot of expanding and collapsing of menus. Things would also often get cumbersome after I cropped an image: I would crop it, and then the image would automatically expand under the top and bottom control bars to the edges of the display. So I'd have to tap the image again so that the bars would disappear and I could see the whole thing. Still, every now and then it's good to shake loose of old habits, so I like to think it pushed me to be a little more purposeful in my edits instead of following my rote Instagram editing routines.
Overall, I'm very happy with how these came out. As has always been the case with phones in recent years, in good conditions, the camera on your phone will do a great job. In more challenging conditions, like nighttime on the street or high contrast environments, things get trickier. But even then I still think they came out well. Rarely did I take a shot that I felt was unusable because of the quality of the image (i.e. it's not you, phone; it's me).
Two other neat things, apparently iOS 10 now allows you to shoot in RAW on third party apps. The f/1.8 aperture is also a nice improvement. I could imagine using a third party app to shoot in aperture priority and attempt to squeeze some nicely bokehed shots out of it. But digging into these features does run counter to the sense of simplicity that I've enjoyed while shooting on my phone this week. I like that I can point my phone at something, take the photo, and feel alright about it, and move on. The fact that it's a phone lowers my expectations on what I ought to be trying to control.
I don't think the iPhone 7 quite beats my GR II, but sooner or later I imagine an iPhone will (just as how the iPhone 7 is likely now at parity, if not better than, my old S90). And of course, the biggest advantage that it has over my GR II or my DSLR is that it is always in my pocket. As photographer Chase Jarvis has said, "the best camera is the one you have with you".
But also, it doesn't hurt when that camera also happens to be really good.
Hello from London! My wife and I are presently enjoying our honeymoon, and in anticipation of that, earlier this month I put together the below post in advance (more fun with the Ricoh GR II, this time focusing on street photography using its high contrast black and white setting).
We're still traveling for a few more days, and I've posted a handful of photos from the trip so far on the Facebook page. I'll probably put together a post in a few weeks with other select shots (most likely one with street photography, and another on signs and signage that caught my attention).
Hope you enjoy the below!
Since I post-process just about everything I shoot, I've rarely looked closely at camera reviews' discussions of in-camera JPG processing. But people seem to really like how Ricoh cameras process their black and white JPGs, so I thought I might spend a few days shooting only in the High Contrast Black and White JPG setting, with minimal post-processing. It was tough to keep minimal "minimal"- ultimately I did a lot of cropping and some adjustments to exposure and vignettes. But in the end, the time it took to edit these did turn out to be much shorter because the in-camera JPG processing actually did a pretty good job in the first place.
I don't know if I'll use this approach too often, as giving up the control of working with the full RAW file does feel wrong somehow (If I really like this look, theoretically, I ought to be able to create it in editing anyway). However, I do like the idea of using a filter like this to push me in a different direction than I would have gone if I were starting from scratch, so it will no doubt be a useful tool to shake things up once in a while in the future.
Here are a few shots from the TCS New York City Marathon. My fiancée ran and finished it this past November, completing a grueling 26.2 mile course that touches each of New York City's five boroughs. As a spectator, my own exercise was limited to standing, walking, and in times of great exertion, lightly trotting, as I went from subway to cheering/spectating point back to subway over the course of the day. The marathon is an incredible sight to behold, with waves upon waves of runners pouring through the street and spectators cheering for friends and strangers alike throughout the day. These shots don't quite do justice to the sheer scope of it, but they're at the very least a few of the sights and people that caught my eye that day.
The below shots are from my past week and a half of shooting with the Ricoh GR II. Further down is my write up on the camera, but the short version is that it's a great nearly-pocket-sized alternative to carrying around my DSLR.
My DSLR has done a great job capturing photos and memories. But its biggest shortcoming is its inability to capture memories when I've left it sitting in the closet at home. It's a big camera, and after a long day, it becomes a bit of a pain to carry around. It draws a lot of attention to itself while trying to shoot on the street or take candid photos of family and friends. I have some travel coming up, and it seemed like the perfect time to find a smaller, lighter camera. Before I picked up my first DSLR, I used a Canon S90. It was a great pocket camera, and initially took much better photos than what I could get with my phone. But as I've replaced my phone every few years, that gap had gotten smaller and smaller, to the point where carrying around a separate non-DSLR camera made little sense. In my recent search, I wanted to find a pocket sized camera whose quality would quite literally earn its weight.
Fortunately, in the time since I've bought my 60D, there has been a trend of new fixed lens cameras that are smaller than a DSLR, but offer comparable, if not better, performance. The Fuji x100 seems to have been a big step on this road. Smaller than a DSLR, larger than a pocket camera, no interchangeable lens, but with a beautiful nostalgic design and apparently excellent performance to boot. In part, this is due to its large APS-C sensor, the same size found in DSLRs like my own. Among other things, a large sensor allows for better low light performance and, depending on aperture and focal length, a shallower depth of field (subject-in-focus/background-blurry effect). More recently, there are two models that combine a good bunch of these attributes with what, for my purposes, is a killer feature- the ability to fit in one's pocket.
As of this writing, the two that currently fit that bill are the Fuji x70, released in February 2016, and the Ricoh GR II, released in 2015. For the features that I'm interested in, they are very comparable, with the exception that it seems the x70 has a slight edge in low light performance. I spent hours researching the two of them, and they are so closely matched that I reached a bit of a brick wall insofar as product research on the internet goes. A handful of photographers favored the x70, a handful favored the GR II, yet it seemed none would fault you for picking the other.
I went down to Adorama Camera and spent an amount of hands on time with both of them that was likely very amusing to the obliging sales clerk. I picked up the x70 and fiddled with its knobs and dials. It focused really quickly, and to the extent that I could gauge in the store, took really nice pictures. But my right hand felt oddly cramped cramped around the lens, and the double control ring around the lens felt a bit fiddly. I wanted to fall in love with the x70. I had already had one understated pocket camera in the S90, and I thought I might indulge in a camera with a bit of visual panache. But I picked up the GR II and after about two minutes, it felt like I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, and the shape of the camera informed me exactly how I was supposed to hold it. One handed, with my index finger on a top scroll wheel controlling the aperture, and my thumb on a back wheel controlling the shutter speed. And where the x70 required removing and pocketing the lens cover when preparing to shoot, for GR II I just had to hit a button, the cover would tuck away and the barrel would extend.
And that was it. After over twenty minutes of hemming and hawing, I conceded that the GR II was the one for me.
I kept it in my bag every day so that I could develop a feel for it and get some shots for this post. For street photography, I found that I could hold it down by my side, squeeze the shutter as I pass, and keep moving. The camera's 'Snap Focus' feature is helpful for this as well. A half-press on the shutter before shooting will focus as usual, but a full-press without pause will take a photo at a pre-set focus distance (e.g. 2 meters). I don't have a great sense of spatial relations, or the metric system, and I got many more misses than hits, but I think the camera has enabled me to take shots that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
For candids of family and friends, it works quite well. As you might expect, in bright sunlight it performed quite fine. It did fairly well at bars and restaurants, though past a certain point it would struggle (in fairness, probably about the same dim conditions that would challenge my DSLR's autofocus). I was initially pleased at what I'd get at ISO 3200, but on review I found that this was a case of them looking much better on the back of the camera than on the computer screen. Usable, but with just a touch more grain and noise than I'd like, so I reset the maximum auto ISO to 1600. If a GR III came out with better lowlight performance, I'd very much consider trying to resell the GR II and upgrade.
While editing in Aperture, I found myself doing about 1/3 less work than I usually would. Perhaps because I use my iPhone camera so frequently, the GR II's similarly wide 28mm equivalent focal length felt very natural while shooting, and I didn't need to do much cropping. I felt that the inherent color qualities of the GR III were pretty close to my own preferences, and after adjusting exposure, applying a simple S-curve and vignette, I was usually pretty close to a final product.
My DSLR still has its place, and it will continue to be the camera of choice for a lot of what I'd already been using it for. But for the days when its place is the inside of my closet, the GR II will do a great job as a camera that can go almost everywhere.
I was scrambling to find an idea for a photo blog post, and my fiancée made the excellent suggestion of shooting the New York Easter Parade (which, I confess despite living here going on fifteen years, I hadn't even known was a thing). We got on the train, then realized that due to subway work, getting to the parade would involve taking two different trains, walking two avenues over and seven blocks up, spectating/shooting, and then walking back down, over, and taking two trains back.
I intended to soldier on and shoot the parade out of commitment to the cause. Then, after all of 20 seconds of going through that travel route in my head, I got off that train as quickly as I could.
To an extent, I am lazy.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful day, and her alternative suggestion to walk to Astoria Park and take photos of budding flowers and trees around the neighborhood was perfect.
Since I had planned on shooting the parade, I had my 85 mm f/1.8 lens on me. It was well suited for the change of plans, as closeup of flower-in-focus/background-out-of-focus is something this lens does pretty well. This can get kind of tricky, though- for a flower in a tree, even while out of focus that background can get plenty busy, and the depth of field on the 85 mm can get pretty thin (so in this case, there's some blur in the branch and buds closer to the lens). It is springtime, though, so I feel I ought to include this kind of shot, and out of the ones I had like it, it was my favorite.
Sunday in the Park
I spent a good five minutes or so slowly following this little guy around.
Easter Egg Hunt
There was a sort of Easter fair for kids in the park on Sunday afternoon. We walked to the edge of area, where kids and parents were lined up awaiting the start of an Easter egg hunt. At one point, a bunch more kids ran up to join the line. The hunt had not started yet, but they ran right on through into the field and started grabbing eggs. Seeing the others going ahead of them, the rest of the kids in the line then surged forward and poured into the field, the hunt having de facto started before the whistle had blown.
Too many metaphors came to mind than can be listed here, and the anarchic moment combined with the dust that kicked up gave the whole thing a feeling that bordered on the post-apocalyptic.
I guess I have to add, though, that despite my ominous interpretation of events, the parents and kids did indeed seem to be having a nice time.
Astoria Park is bordered by the East River, so in addition to a spectacular view, you can also see plenty of sea gulls hanging out along the water.
My contribution to the Easter table: arranging our mini Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Peeps around one plastic egg containing Star Wars: The Force Awakens stickers.
On a recent episode of the podcast On Taking Pictures, a listener asked the hosts when a photo should be in black and white. One answer I recall off the top of my head was the advice to not rely black and white to fix a photo's problems (I have definitely done this, though usually in the context of a grainy low light photo at a bar). I believe the other answers were to use black and white when you want to draw focus to the composition of the image, and when color would otherwise be distracting.
For my own part, most of the time black and white is a choice I make during editing, using the same process I apply to all my photos- fix any exposure issues, and then adjust settings until I feel some kind of positive response to the image. No tears of joy or ear to ear smiles, just a slight feeling inside when I look at it that says "Ah. That's nice." Street photography usually gets black and white out of this process. Most of the pro street work that I've seen is in black and white, so it feels good to emulate that. Applying black and white can also give a classic, old timey feel, and using that on New York City imagery that's already iconic feels like a double bonus.
Also, I can't think of black and white imagery of New York without thinking of Woody Allen's Manhattan. I love that movie, in large part due to its beautiful cinematography.
Other black and white decisions for me largely have to do with texture. For example, if there's a single person in front of a heavily textured background, say, a wall of vines, then I might not use black and white because that usually draws my eye towards the texture rather than the person. On the other hand, if I'm interested in a texture itself, like subway grates or patterns, then I like black and white there because it draws more of my attention into that texture.
These things in mind, I opted to experiment this weekend by "shooting in black and white". When I run into the city to take photos, if I don't have a specific focus, I'll wind up taking photos of a lot of the same stuff, so I wanted to use this criteria to narrow my focus and hopefully come up with more interesting work (one of the On Taking Pictures co-hosts had done a similar exercise). I couldn't find a way to set my DSLR to display the images in black and white on the back, but I tried to only shoot those things that would look good in black and white. Then, in editing, I applied a black and white effect to everything before deciding what shots I wanted to keep.
Given that bit about Manhattan, it seemed perfect to shoot in Sutton Place, right around 58th Street and First Avenue.
Zooming out a bit, here's a very rough "then and now" of the shot from the film:
There are tiny parks at the dead ends of each street in this area. Each being a block apart, each view is only slightly different from the next, but I couldn't help but duck into each one to see what the park itself looked like, and how the view slightly changed. The parks must be nice for the local residents, though I imagine the locals may also steer clear of them so as to not deal with gawking photographers trying to copy shots from late 1970's romantic comedies.
Back to the bit on textures, I kept an eye out for those. So if you were in the area seeing a dude with a camera carefully photographing subway grates, that was me.
(The tree bark and pebble texture are from back in Astoria, not in this immediate neighborhood).
Some other shots from the neighborhood:
Shots up the front of building facades also met my interest because of their pattern and texture qualities.
And in a very New York sort of moment, here's a gentleman tanning himself on a bench overlooking the East River Drive.
I've been quite busy and didn't get out and shoot these past two weeks. Fortunately, my computer has a backlog of 18 months' worth of unedited pictures on it, some of which seemed worth pulling out and working on. These are from a visit to Longwood Gardens over Labor Day, 2014.
Water Lily, Black and White
Row of Flowers
This is Pershing Square restaurant, at the intersection of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. The location is historically significant because of its proximity to Grand Central Terminal, and because of its having been prominently featured in the Battle of New York.
As I've been quite busy lately, I didn't have a chance to take my DSLR out for a morning of dedicated shooting. I took this with my phone while walking through the area. In a way, it worked out well. I would not have gotten this wide angle view with my camera's 30 mm lens.
Street Crossing, Pershing Square
I like how different this image looks compared to the first one. As the pedestrians start to cross the street in the first image, they're roughly lined up left to right across the shot. Here, it's as if that neat left to right plane is broken and they're walking through it.
Do Not Enter
The block on 42nd Street between Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues has been under demolition for some time, as it will eventually make way for the One Vanderbilt skyscraper. The entire block is surrounded in this gauze looking shroud. Every few weeks, I'll notice a portion of the shroud gone, and along with it, the part of the block that stood behind it, leaving empty space and the walls of the adjacent buildings.
Since I'm not watching the work as it happens, it almost seems like a magic trick in slow motion.
Up and Over
Funny to see this handwritten sign juxtaposed next to the clean lines of the nearly brand new terminal at Hudson Yards.
Hudson Yards Subway Station
Lucky Buddha in Glass
"Brewed and bottled at the Thousand Island Lake in China fusing the finest quality malt, hops, rice and water from this pristine region delivering an Asian style lager that is truly an enlightened brew."
- Lucky Buddha: Enlightened Beer website.
It's neat to have something like a parade, or Christmas, to make a nice and easy target for photos and a blog post. But part of my deliberate effort to work harder on photography means shooting even when there isn't an obvious subject to shoot. So on a Saturday morning I decided to shoot what I could find in Greenwich Village. I liked the look of how the Veterans Day parade shots came out, so I put my 85 mm telephoto lens on my camera and headed down.
Seven and a Half
The main reason I add titles to the photos is because if I don't, Flickr automatically display the filename as the photo's title, and I always thought that looks a bit careless. Adding a written title makes the photo seem purposefully done, rather than an image that just happened to be one of a long camera roll of shots.
Of course, I'm also lazy with titles and I don't like the idea of trying to impart some other additional meaning onto a photo by using some whimsical or wordy title.
However, Seven and a Half rolls off the tongue a bit better than 2016-01-09-11-17-32.jpg, so here we are.
It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
I believe this expression says "Is that guy taking my picture?".
Sometimes I have a bit of an internal back and forth when it comes to street photography. On the one hand, there's something inherently creepy about taking photos of people without their consent. On the other, street photography is an established art form that's been around for many many years, and is able to capture candid moments that you'd never get otherwise.
But I confess that I do find myself choosing easy subjects on the street, and bicyclists are high on that list, because they're hurriedly going somewhere else, and I assume they do not want to stop to confront someone who might be taking their photo as they whiz on by.
I might someday be proven wrong on this point, and am hoping I don't someday find myself on the business end of confrontational cyclist wrath.
I think subliminally "joy" was in my head from seeing these posters everywhere.
40 5th Ave
These were really fun to watch. Tons of birds were perched on the Washington Square Arch. They'd then all swoop off, travel in a bit of a circle, and then perch back onto the arch again.
Let Us Raise a Standard
Out for a Walk
Low Overhead Clearance
November 11, 2015 was New York's annual Veterans Day Parade. My day job is not far from Fifth Avenue, so I was able to cover a portion of the parade during my lunch break. Thanks to our veterans for their service! It was great to be able to show some appreciation for our veterans in the parade, and also to see the crowds cheering for them.
I look forward to posting again on January 18 (subject as of yet TBD). Best wishes to everyone for a very Happy New Year!
While touring holiday decorations in the city, I accumulated a handful of shots that seemed best suited for a dedicated street photography post. I also had never really spent dedicated time practicing street photography, so as is the nature of this project, it seemed as good a time as any to get some hours in working on it.
I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon shooting in Bryant Park and Times Square. I find it difficult to be subtle and get candid shots while carrying a large DSLR, so part of my solution to that was to simply shoot in places where there are already a lot of crowds and cameras. The other was to use my iPhone to shoot during my daily commute and while on walks.
Hope all enjoy the holidays, and that you have a very Happy New Year. My next post will be on Monday, January 4, with photos from November's Veteran's Day Parade.
If you're still looking for that unique, beautiful gift for your friend or loved one, visit my online store by Sunday evening. Fine Art America's order deadline for standard shipping delivery by Christmas is this Sunday, December 12th at 5:00 p.m. (EST). Each item is printed and shipped on demand, so you can impress your recipient by telling them that their gift was truly made just for them.
My prints start at $19 for items in the 10" x 10" range, and go up to $65 for a 36" x 24". I've also added three more recently taken images to the store, shown below. Should you miss ordering by Sunday, the overnight shipping deadline is Friday, December 18th at 5:00 p.m. (EST).
For details on the shipping deadlines, click here. As always, if there's a print you're interested in that isn't on the store, contact me at robnguyen01 at gmail dot com and I'd be glad to help figure out how we can get it to you.