Roadtrip North, iPhoneography & the rediscovery of Snapseed
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iPhoneography, iPhone photography, whatever you want to call it, when it comes to taking photographs on phones I've been a little slow to jump on board. I currently have an iPhone 6+, it's awesome and yep I do take pictures on it occasionally and shoot video sometimes too but when going on a shoot would I intentionally pick it over my Nikon DSLR? Erm, no. It's not the camera or the actual image quality of the iPhone - both of which are very good - it's a little niggle, something I can't really explain, I just don't feel the same shooting on my phone. It feels temporary. I get the same feeling when it's time to edit the image. I look forward to sitting down and taking my time editing a picture to get it feeling just right but with mobile editing apps?...they all just feel a bit rushed and empty. Don't get me wrong, there are some good ones. Photoshop express is good, I used it to make the collages in this blog post but it's just that, "good", nothing spesh. Once you have a subscription to the desktop version Lightroom is very good. VSCO is cool. The presets - of which there are many - make your images look incredibly glamorous but you have to pay handsomely if you want them all plus, in the end, I couldn't help feel that it made all my images look a bit H&M advert, not the look I was going for. Recently however, I rediscovered Snapseed. I say rediscovered because I actually bought this app a few years ago, used it once, thought it would be nice with a few more useful features and then forgot all about it. In that time Google has waved its magic wand over it and it has improved leaps and bounds into and incredibly accessible and usable app.
You buy it and get an app with everything in it. No deluxe packages, add-ons or "upgrade now" just a simple usable app. I've always found most of these apps a little gimmicky and while Snapseed does have some of the gimmicky stuff, the tools you might actually need - raw file editing, brightness correction, curves, white balance correction, healing brush etc - are all there and more importantly they work brilliantly. The new expand tool, that one tool alone, is worth the money especially for Instagrammers where the nightmare "instacrop" can be the ruination of many a decent image. Just tack a little extra onto the sides and save the indignity of Instagram chopping the top and bottom out of your image. It's easy to edit and convert images, there are filters to use but they don't feel forced upon you like with other apps. It all feels intuitive and comfy, the way it should. It's brilliant.
On a recent landscape photography road trip up North I decided to indulge in a wee no pressure side proj, shoot some random stuff on my phone and edit with Snapseed...just to see what's what in this new and improved version.
This was the first phone camera image from the trip and the first to give me a glimpse as to how much better this app had become. This is the strongest argument for phone photography I can see. I didn't have my camera with me when I found this beautiful array of Chinese lanterns but I did have my phone. I was able to grab this shot and edit it right there and then in under 5 minutes. Snapseed was already impressing me even at this earliest of stages.
Colour & Texture
Rainy overcast days are always a favourite of mine for shooting. I think living in Scotland with almost year round greyness and rain you inherit a natural sense of melancholy which lends itself to photography beautifully. These images were all shot on overcast or rainy days and I was able to really highlight that bleakness within the app, dropping the highlights and adjusting the tone to accentuate texture. I also used the new double exposure tool for the first time on the bottom right image to add a sense of detachment from the subject. Snapseed is great for this type of photography though I would imagine VSCO would do a stellar job too.
Here I learned another advantage of phone photography. Getting images in a large, heavily populated shopping centre with my phone was a breeze. I had none of the self-consciousness that I would have had pointing my large DSLR around in there. Again, the Snapseed app was a joy for editing these types of shot. Simple black and white conversions, a little tone correction, a spot of vignette. Simple stuff but super effective, I love it.
This may be the most fun I had shooting and editing on my phone and definitely the turnaround moment where I realised how good both the iPhone 6+ camera and Snapseed are. Originally the plan for this night was to drive to Dundee to catch sunset at the Tay Bridges but a combo of building works at my chosen location and some fucking awful Scottish weather soon put paid to that idea. At this point I was feeling a bit flat but Dundee with its magnificent urban areas soon had dreams of images of sweeping golden sunsets giving way to bleak dystopian B&W images of concrete urban emptiness. This is where mobile photography finally made sense to me, thanks Dundee.
Although the premise of this project was to only shoot on my iPhone I had taken these images on my Nikon and so decided to see what it was like editing them in Snapseed. I noticed no problems at all in editing the larger image files from my camera, it dealt with them fine. I'm really not big on preset filters but as this was a test of the app I felt I need to try some of them out. I applied the Noir filter on the top right image, adjusted a few parameters and actually really like the end result, it has more texture and detail than the simple B&W conversion below. If you are a fan of heavy edits I would bare in mind that this isn't large desktop editing software here. It is designed and optimised for use on phones which don't have a great deal of processing power so it is very easy to destroy an image in snapseed and very quickly too. I found this to be especially true when editing images with busy skies. All would be fine and in one move the skies would become fragmented and heavily pixelated. It seems there is a limit with how far you can go so worth exercising caution. I often see images on instagram that have these problems, you can spot the snapseed editors because of them. Of course as with all editing software you have the ability in snapseed to remove edits so as to avoid any obvious issues.
Clarity & Conclusion
Sitting in the car somewhere in Dundee waiting for the rain to clear.
I shot most of these images using the ProCamera app for iPhone. If you don't use it already I strongly suggest trying it, it's brilliant. Also, all opinions expressed here are my own, Apple, Snapseed nor ProCamera are endorsing/sponsoring or offering me any incentives whatsoever to say these things however I have absolutely no probs with taking cash from them if they do ;)
So what's what? After 3 days shooting and editing with my iPhone would I pick it as my main camera over my Nikon from now on? Probably not no. I have a lot more respect for it and will definitely shoot a lot more with it from now on but it still has too many limitations for me. Clarity and resolution being the main two, as you can see in the above image. I want to be able to print my images out at any size and as you can see in the above image, there really isn't enough information in the iPhone images to do this. On the screen of my iPhone 6 they look fantastic but pixel peep and you can see how much information is missing versus a similar image shot on my Nikon. The technology in phones just isn't up to scratch with full size DSLR and mirrorless cameras yet. One day maybe, but not today. For now it's a fantastic tool for platforms such as Instagram but as a serious photography tool, I'm not sure phones are quite there just yet.