Phone Photography II
It was tough starting to write this article because it required me to retrace my steps and jot down my actions. I started by asking myself why I use a mobile phone to take pictures even though I own a mirrorless camera. What makes me grab a mobile phone before an actual camera? A camera with a far more superior level of performance would still occasionally find itself second place to my mobile phone. For most people, there`s a greater chance of a mobile phone being in hand than a DSLR.
We do everything on our phones, some might even say we do a lot of nothing on them and hence find ourselves holding and staring into it for many hours a day. Moments are constantly happening around us and there is very little time to react.
So let’s jump right in. You`ll find your usual controls such as exposure compensation, white balance, metering modes, ISO, and options to toggle grid lines on and off. In all honesty, I would very seldom change any of these. The only setting I would evaluate is the metering. I just couldn`t be bothered with white balance. Yip, you read correctly – I don`t care about white balance on a phone camera. I would trust the phone`s auto white balance. If you`re the type of person who messes with colour quite a bit in post processing, then white balance is the least of your problems. I`ll get into the apps a bit later. Gridlines – a no brainer.
I think you can incorporate the rule of thirds without those pesky lines going across your live view. If you haven`t already noticed, I really like keeping things simple and the device as transparent as possible. After all, that’s why you`re using a mobile phone in the first place, it proves to be unobtrusive in many situations.
Everything is almost instant and happens in a similar sequence such as this: see something, open camera, take picture, evaluate it, open picture in app, tweak picture in app, upload to social media, add a clever description or a few tags and wait or wonder about feedback. Yes, feedback. Why else are we posting it? Of course motives will vary depending on your actual interest in photography. Thank god for disclaimers 😉
I think camera modes are a good place to start. With the later devices, panoramas and photospheres have become commonplace. I`ve come to use panoramas in a very subtle way in that you can`t really tell it’s a pano. It looks like I`ve used a wide angle lens instead (refer to pier photograph at sunset). I prefer seeing an image in a viewable aspect ratio as opposed to an image that resembles a horizontal scroll that you`d find in the 1400s. If the aspect ratio is going to be weird then I would try my best to make the image as fun and as interesting as possible. When shooting a pano with someone I know, I would start panning a bit, ask the person to move to new spot outside of the current frame, then pan again and repeat steps until pano is completed or I have the desired composition. The result is having multiple versions of the same person in one frame without the use of Photoshop (refer to image taken at a park). Sphere images are good for still life photography. Moving subjects will be a nightmare. Once again, using it in a subtle manner is most effective (see image of statue in front of lake and mountains).
How it works is, you follow the dots on the screen and snap a series of shots and when you think you have a good final frame, you can choose to save it. The built in camera app will then stitch the images together to compose a single image using all the shots combined. Once again, no Photoshop required. Two things to note though, firstly, some photo editing apps restrict how large the image is before importing it to be processed. Second, photospheres does not work well with lines. If there are straight lines such as railway lines, power lines, barriers or stairs, there is an 80% chance it will mess it up and not stitch the lines well.
Moving onto the apps. I very rarely move beyond Snapseed and VSCOcam. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. For black and whites, I`d go to Snapseed without a doubt because I enjoy their Noir filters. I enjoy my deep blacks and washed out whites. My workflow would be somewhere along these lines: Subtle HDR filter, minor tonal adjustments, and separate vignette and if the mood strikes me – vintage colour filter. I occasionally jump between apps too. I`d push my dynamic range a bit using the HDR filter in Snapseed and then move over to VSCOcam if I`m editing street shots. VSCOcam is great for simulating the hipster film look which is very aesthetically pleasing. There are a few presets already built in for you to work from. It allows you to make a lot of further changes after choosing a preset such as: cropping, tempreture, tint, saturation, vignette, sharpening, exposure, highlight and shadow colour tints(split toning), contrast and even add grain. Something to note though, I really don`t like the quality of the compression from Snapseed. Although both Snapseed and VSCO don`t give you any options regarding the save quality, VSCO saves the image file in a higher quality than Snapseed because it doesn`t compress the jpeg as much as Snapseed.
So there you have it in brief. I`d like to end off with these remarks.
Have fun with your phone, it`s not a serious camera, no matter how the manufacturer markets it. You`re not holding a camera with a phone feature. It’s a phone, treat it like one. Take the shot and move on. Get on with life (after sharing it to social media of course). It is with this attitude that many great moments are caught and many more envisioned. Apps are vital to finishing off the work in a clean and artistic way so do not settle for apps which slaps on its own watermark when you save the file.
You deserve more than that.
To see more of Marco’s mobile work you can follow him on Instagram