News and Views from Dave Wilson

iPhone as a Photographer’s Tool

by on May.11, 2009, under Photography

I’ve had my iPhone for about 18 months now and am still convinced that it is the most beautifully designed piece of consumer electronic wizardry ever. Oddly enough, I seldom use the phone function. I do, however, use applications, location services and data access a great deal and have built up a rather nice core collection of applications that turn the iPhone into a useful photographic Swiss Army knife. I’ve peppered the post with some images I shot last weekend using the phone.

Image Capture

If I have one complaint about the iPhone it is the fact that, although it has a 2 megapixel camera built in, the lens is so awful that it’s practically impossible to get a decently sharp image out of it. That said, I have noticed that some iPhones (my wife’s, for example) are a lot better than others (mine, for example). While I won’t be looking forward to getting any startlingly crisp 10x8s out of the phone, the camera is really useful for grabbing impromptu snaps and getting them onto the web quickly.

During daylight, I typically use the standard iPhone camera app for capture but in low light situations I use another application called NightCamera (costing all of $0.99) which makes great use of the phone’s accelerometers to gauge when to take the shot and returns some surprisingly sharp images even in very poor conditions. The following image was taken inside the Texas State Capitol using NightCamera.

The interior of the main rotunda of the Texas State Capitol taken using the iPhone NightCamera application

The interior of the main rotunda of the Texas State Capitol taken using the iPhone NightCamera application

Editing

Unless the light is very bright, I tend to feel that the images captured by the iPhone camera are typically very dull, lacking in contrast and colour saturation. To help out with this, I turn to another great little app called Photogene – a kind of Photoshop-lite for the iPhone and a snip at only $2.99. It offers a basic set of tools that can really help tweak your captures almost to the point of acceptability 🙂 Features include cropping, rotating, exposure, saturation and levels adjustment. The app also includes various special effects ranging from monochrome conversion to sepia toning to the weird and wonderful negative and “totally-whacked-out colour” options. When you don’t want to bother with downloading images to a PC and editing them there, this is a super tool to have on our phone.

A sepia image of the exterior of the State Capitol processed using Photogene.

A sepia image os the exterior of the State Capitol processed using Photogene.

Photographers’ Data

The application I find most useful when doing “serious” photograpy is definitely PhotoCalc, again a great buy at only $2.99. Features I used most include a depth-of-field calculator and sunset/sunrise time display. I also includes exposure and flash calculators.

Upload

Once you have an image on the phone, you can obviously download to a PC and handle as you would an image from any other camera. With the iPhone’s communication abilities, though, you can cut this step out and upload directly from the phone to your social networking site of choice. The app I most commonly use for this is Twitterific (free with occasional advertising, $3.99 without) since I normally post iPhone images to TwitPic and associate them with tweets rather than mixing them with my “real” photos on Flickr. If you want to upload to Flickr, however, there are plenty of choices and I have both DarkSlide (which I use as a Flickr viewer) and ShoZu (which I don’t use much, to be honest) installed. Both tools allow you to view your stream including comments and your contacts uploads. ShoZu will also integrate with a bunch of other social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Photobucket, Blogger, SmugMug, Snapfish, TwitPic and just about any others you care to mention. It’s somewhat more complicated to set up but, ff you have a lot of accounts on different sites and want to follow them all in a single app, ShoZu may be the one for you. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something to keep up with Flickr and you don’t like the m.flickr.com site, definitely take a look at DarkSlide. Both applications are free.

The Texas State Capitol extension rotunda. Levels correction, sharpening and saturation increase by Photogene.

The Texas State Capitol extension rotunda. Levels correction, sharpening and saturation increase by Photogene.

Viewing

I have couple of really outstanding image viewers on my iPhone since I use it as a form of portable portfolio. The first is Fotomatic ($4.99) which offers animated slideshows with a large number of 2D and 3D transition options. Some of these are over-the-top but most are very impressive indeed and really create beautiful slideshows. It integrates with Flickr, Picasa and Facebook and lets you build albums from your own photosets or based on keyword searches from public image sources (I’m not entirely sure where these come from).

The second image view I use is CoolIris, an iPhone version of the superb PC app and FireFox plugin which lets you view large numbers of photos on a zoomable, scrolling 3D wall. The iPhone variant integrates with Flickr and gives a similar experience to the PC application but the release is still suffering some teething trouble and I do find that it has a habit of crashing on a fairly regular basis. Wait a couple of releases and give this one a try, though.

Two iconic downtown Austin landmarks. Image cropped and adjusted using Photogene.

Two iconic downtown Austin landmarks. Image cropped and adjusted using Photogene.


Overall, although the iPhone could never be considered a serious camera (certain well publicised cases notwithstanding), it still makes a great tool for photographers both as a casual image capture and upload device and also as an aid in taking and showing your images. Give some of these apps a try and you may also be convinced.

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