Tuesday, May 14, 2019

iPhonography 101 – Camera

Almost all photos and video on my Instagram page and IG business page are made and edited on my iPhone.
Not everyone has the cash to invest in a full camera rig (camera body, lenses, flash, etc.). Even those of us with “serious” cameras don’t always have them handy. However, most of us can’t leave our homes without a cell phone with a camera feature (or three).

In 2011, I wrote a magazine piece about submitting photos for publication. It addressed the difference between professional cameras and iPhones. All cell phone manufacturers have stepped up their game since then. The difference between cell phone images and professional camera images have narrowed considerably.
Additionally, many newspapers pay a little extra over the assignment fee to get some "atmosphere" cell phone images before a major event to post online. It's enough of an incentive to have a decent cell phone camera and arrive early. 
So, let’s address some iPhone basics to maximize the use of the camera you have in your pocket rather than the camera that’s safely stored in your closet.

Just the basics
This post is only going to address a basic iPhone (i7 and below). The information should be useful on most cell phones, but there will be differences between brands.
I also understand there are many ways to attach cell phones to other gadgets and vice versa to make them do many beautiful tricks. I have a closet full of add-on lenses and gadgets too. They’re fun, but I’ll only address the basic as-is cell phone camera today.

Base Information
All photography composition rules apply to cell phone cameras.
A basic iPhone view roughly equates to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. It’s considered to be a wide-angle of view. “Normal” is 35mm to 50mm on a 35mm camera system.
This means there will be edge distortion and objects will appear farther away and smaller than normal on an iPhone. It also means the depth-of-field will be greater (more things in the photo will appear to be in focus). You will want to get very close to the main subject if you want it to dominate the frame.

Shooting Suggestions
This section will cover the basics of how to use the iPhone. Other brands of cell phones may have more or less of these features. Please check the user manual or online.

Swipe on lock screen
By the time someone wakes up the camera, unlocks the screen, finds the camera app and tries to make a photo, the moment is normally over. Here’s the fastest way to get shooting.
Wake up the camera with the wake/sleep button on the right side or the home button on the bottom of the screen face. Then, swipe left to open the camera screen without unlocking the screen.
You’re now ready to shoot without searching for the camera app.

Use volume as trigger
The two buttons on the left side of the iPhone control volume. Additionally, either of these buttons function as triggers while in camera mode. They also work in burst mode (see below).
In low-light situations, it’s best to use these buttons to minimize camera shake. You may still have rotation if you don’t stabilize the phone, but it rotates in fewer directions than pushing on the face of the phone.
To avoid any rotation, you can attach your EarPods (hardwire) to your iPhone, stabilize the phone (see below) and use the EarPod volume as a remote trigger. This ensures there is no camera rotation or shake from user interaction. This feature doesn’t work with AirPods (wireless).

Select focus and light balance
The iPhone is designed to “average” a scene for focus, color balance and exposure (amount of light included). It will ALWAYS BE WRONG with extreme scenes (white snow, black coal, monochromatic scenes of most colors, etc.). This can be corrected if you pay attention while you shoot.
You can select where focus will be by touching that area of the frame and holding your finger on the phone's screen. A yellow bounding box will appear to let you know the area where you have chosen for focus and exposure.

Adjust exposure
If the exposure is too light or dark due to the subject (snow or coal), you can adjust the exposure. When focus and exposure above are selected, a yellow dot with tiny radiating lines also appears. This is a sliding exposure scale. Change the exposure of the whole scene by sliding your finger up and down near the sunshine dot.

AF/AE lock
AF means Auto Focus and AE means Auto Exposure. These can be locked to a specific distance and exposure.
Choose the distance you want to focus and the exposure you want and press the screen where focus/exposure should be. The bounding box mentioned above will appear. Continue to hold until the box becomes larger and “AF/AE LOCK” appears in a yellow box at the top of the screen. Now, you can recompose your camera without affecting the focus or exposure.
It will remain locked until you put the screen to sleep or otherwise leave the camera mode. Every photo you make will be at the same focus distance, exposure and color balance. If you have an adjustable color-temperature and lumen desk light, you can easily see the difference it makes.

Trick color balance
When shooting some monochromatic scenes (detail shots of roses for instance), the phone will try to “correct” the color of the scene. It often ruins the entire photo beyond what can be repaired with iPhoto edits.
To avoid this, you can view a “normal toned scene” (typically something white) with the phone. Then, lock or rapidly recompose the scene on the desired location and immediately shoot. Both have the same effect of tricking the camera into using the previous color balance in the new location.
The major difference between the approaches is focus. If the AF/AE is locked, the subject needs to be focused at the same distance. If the rapid recomposition approach is used, the iPhone sets a new focus before shooting the new scene – however, it won’t have time to change the color balance to the new scene.

Shoot too many
If your best shot is the last frame, you should have shot more.
The basic rule is to always shoot three to get one (pro ruleis 10:1 minimum). Something will happen each time photos are made. Shutter lag, camera shake, subject movement, blinked eyes, wrong exposure, wrong focus, bad color balance and more can ruin a single frame. It’s best to make several alternatives to ensure one works.

Hold down for burst mode
iPhones are notorious for “shutter lag” (the time between trigger actuation and the camera response). It isn’t a big deal with a photo of your lunch, but it’s a huge issue with anything involving action.
To give us a fighting chance at a decent shot, the iPhone has a “burst mode.” This feature makes about 10 frames per second while the trigger is held down. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a baseball on a bat, but you can get part of someone blowing out their birthday candles.
The vital part of this feature is selecting which frames to keep. Before you transfer and delete photos from your phone, you need to select which images you want to keep from the burst.
Tap the photo in your library. You will see a shadow box at the top-left of the screen that states, “Burst (7 photos)” or a different number. At the bottom of the screen, you will see an additional editorial feature labeled “Select…” Press that option.
You’ll be able to move left and right through the entire burst sequence. In the bottom-right corner of each photo is a small empty circle. Press that circle to select the images you want to keep. The circle will turn blue with a white check mark if it’s selected.
After you have selected images to keep from the burst, choose “Done” in the upper right-hand corner. It will give you the option to keep everything or only those selected. If “only selected” is chosen, all others will be deleted to save memory space.

“Chimp” before leaving
The term “chimp” means to look at your photos on the viewing screen after you shoot. While it has a negative connotation, it’s still a good idea to ensure you have more than one useful shot before you leave a scene (or eat your meal). Unless you checked each frame with a magnifier before you leave, you might have a bad surprise when you prepare images later.

Zoom to check focus
When you have a photo from your library displayed on your screen, you can touch it with your thumb and finger. As you increase the distance between those to points, the photo will zoom into more detail. As you decrease the distance between those points, the photo will zoom out to the full photo.
While you are zoomed in, you can look at the focus to ensure the image is sharp. If not, shoot it again. Then repeat.
If the shot will be vital, consider carrying a lupe in your car or bag. This will let you look at the image in minute detail to ensure it’s useful.

I’ve written an entire post about eliminating camera shake, so I won’t go over it again.
However, let’s address how to manage it with a phone that doesn’t have a post hole.
Love or hate them, everyone has seen “selfie sticks.” These are basically extra-long arms so more people can fit into a selfie or more of the background scene can be included in the frame. They are ubiquitous because they’re cheap.
While I’m too ugly for selfies, I still purchased a cheap, discontinued one to repurpose it. The part of the selfie stick that holds the camera also mounts on a tripod (or other ¼-20 screw). It holds the phone in a stable position while it is attached to any other regular camera mount screw (including flexpods and clamps).

Top Settings
Across the top of the photo screen are five additional buttons. The lightning bolt is flash, HDR is for high dynamic range, “live” records a tiny (.MOV) video rather than a still photo (.jpg), the clock is for delayed timer, and the triple balls are for different color filtration variations.

iPhones have a tiny light next to the camera lens. It’s typically used in dark forests to search for masked murderers in horror movies or to find keyholes in the dark by everyone else.
It can also discharge a brighter blast of illumination (flash of light) for photos in a dark area. It can be turned On, Off or Auto.
Before reaching for the flash, understand color quality is poor compared to camera flash units. It also can “blow out” (overexpose) parts of a subject or scene.
Leave it “Off” most of the time. The camera is fairly good in low light for casual uses.
Turn it “On” when you know the scene is too dark OR when the subject is backlit or in severe sunlight that casts bad shadows.
Use “Auto” while frequently moving from indoors to outdoors. While it hurts many images, it’s an effective safety net for extreme light situations.

HDR means “High Dynamic Range.” It has more stops than the normal 5-stop dynamic range. This setting is used when you want to add texture to the darkest shadows or the brightest highlights.
For simplicity, let’s say HDR photos are basically several photos superimposed on each other to utilize the best parts of each. It’s more complicated, but I don’t want to slow us down.
You will see in the HDR photo that there is detail in both the highlights and shadows, which wouldn’t be possible with a direct photo.
However, this magic comes with some tradeoffs. For instance, the contrast tends to be muted. Also, if there is any phone or subject motion while the camera is recording the frames, there will be “ghosting,” subjects may appear translucent in several places rather than solid in one place within the scene.

The primary purpose of the timer is to let the photographer frame the image, set the time, and race into the scene to be part of the photo. It functions fine in this mode as long as the phone is stabilized (on a tripod or leaning against something immobile).
The secondary use is to avoid camera shake (blur). It’s an image-saving technique during low-light situations. Camera and/or subject shake is most likely in low light because it takes longer for the camera to collect the correct amount of light to make a properly-exposed image.
Choose your scene, stabilize the camera, instead of pressing the shutter, use the timer on a reasonable time (3 second delay). This ensures the iPhone isn’t rotating or still vibrating from your touch while the image is recorded. It’s sharp.

I’m not a fan of specialty filters. If you’re into permanently destroying your originals, that’s your choice.
If you desperately want to use software filters on your images, send the original photo to yourself as an email, save the emailed photo (it will have a new name now), and apply after-filters to the second image. If you make images with a permanent filter, there’s no reasonable way to “undo” it.

Enough for now,

Please see Part 2: Editing 
             or Part 3: Storage

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