As a by-product of my regular 365 Challenge I was challenged to come up with 31 daily nocturnal images for January. I’m coming to the end of this additional mini-challenge and it has been very challenging indeed.
I’ve photographed with black and white film, including handholding a 5×4 camera, with my phone and with my digital kit. These latter images, being RAW files, are capable of giving both colour and black and white images. Once January is finished I am planning a small e-zine to complement the challenge but as this will be an entirely black and white endeavour I thought I’d share a few colour ones to my blog by way of introducing the subject. More will be written in due course but for now here’s a few colour images from my nocturnal rambles – or stoating about in the dark!
So, a handful of images that won’t make the e-zine … but will their black and white doppelgängers make the cut? Time will tell!
The flurry of posts here over the last few days didn’t go unnoticed in the land of the bird. “Are you becoming a Superblogger?” asked one, tongue firmly in cheek. Well, to give a serious answer to a not-so-serious question, no. Tried that, couldn’t keep up! Not just with coming up with something to say every day but finding time to write and post it. It was a bold experiment not least because I was working full time. But even noting that, I wouldn’t attempt it again even though I’m now retired.
This recent flurry, after a break of several weeks, does however serve to reaffirm that this blogger also has a life outside of social media. And outside of photography. My 365 continued, aided by the mobile phone and school run, but “serious” photography took a back seat due to unexpected and pressing family duties. It reminds me why I’m glad to be an amateur, without the demands of a professional practice. I could deal with real life without worrying about letting clients down.
For the record, I did briefly set up a portrait business soon after retirement. It was hard work albeit very enjoyable. However, the illness and death of my father, shortly followed by my uncle and then father-in-law meant that within six months I’d had to put the business on hold. When the time came to resume work I didn’t have the enthusiasm to start from scratch again, almost a year after pausing, that I took the pragmatic decision to return to strictly amateur photography – and the life of a full-time grandad!
One of, indeed probably the major, benefits of being resolutely amateur is not having to please anyone else. Not having to follow a brief, however vague, allows for full artistic freedom. I unashamedly make images for myself. Of course, if others enjoy an image then that is also fabulous; we all like to be appreciated and I’m not so self-centred that I don’t like applause from the sidelines. One thing that social media has done for me however is to introduce me to a group of people with similar outlooks, who appreciate the work that goes into an image and are always supportive even when work isn’t to their taste. I’m talking about the #believeinfilm community on Twitter of course.
I recently passed the 5-year marker on my picture-a-day (365) challenge. Belatedly I made reference to this milestone and amongst the responses was from Helen who commented on the mix of photographic methods I’ve employed over these five years:
It’s the type of support that we see daily from across the #believeinfilm community and means way more than any number of ticks, thumbs-up or heart emojis. Appreciated as these are its when people take time to engage that makes the time spent on social media worthwhile. And yes, any social media interaction worth having has to be worked at; you can’t simply post work then sit back and await the plaudits. The community works because people get involve, share ideas, provide feedback, encouragement and support. Like most things, the more you put in the more you get back.
Another great thing about the community as I experience it is the diversity of experience and ways of working. From educators and authors through to complete newbies and every level in between, everyone within the community shares knowledge, ideas and even kit. I interact with photographers from around the globe and with such a diversity of photographic practices. Can you tell that I’m passionate about the #believeinfilm community?
So, I started by talking about the joys of being an amateur but this has ended up as an eulogy for the #believeinfilm community … I’ve even had to change the title of the post! If you are on Twitter please do come and say hello!
Pressing family issues meant that the 30th October 2022 went by unnoticed yet it was an important milestone in my picture-a-day, or 365, project. It marked five years since I started the challenge. So far I’ve clocked up over 1,840 consecutive daily images having not missed a single day over the last five years.
My very first post, above, was taken with my Fuji X100T digital camera and I’m pleased to note that five years on it is still contributing to the challenge. I’ve used countless cameras over this period. Film, digital, instant cameras, glass plates and even a cyanotype. On the drawing board for 2023 are tintypes too.
If anyone is interested in checking out my daily images then head to Flickr where you will find monthly albums covering the whole challenge right back to 2017.
We saw in an earlier post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography although one area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. In the previous instalment I looked at capturing the image and here I look at a few of the post-capture options but again please keep in mind that my review is by no means exhaustive and also that I use iPhones and not Android devices.
The one area I came into this project with some limited knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available.
SNAPSEED: I will start with Snapseed because even though it’s an app I’ve used for a long while now I still learnt something new about the software whilst watching a YouTube video as part of my pre-challenge research. By default all adjustments are global but I found that it is possible to localise these after they’ve been applied through the View Edits option.
Clicking on the icon in the top right of the screen (see above left) brings up a drop down menu with the option to View Edits. Click on this and on the right hand of the screen will be a list of these edits, click on the one you want to amend and you get a new menu slide out (above, middle). The middle icon is the masking tool, clicking on this enables you to paint onto the image to determine what parts you want that adjustment applied too (above, right). A useful and powerful tool and one I might not have discovered without this challenge.
Snapseed is also available for Android users, I asked my son-in-law to download it and after a few seconds, with minimal coaching from me he was able to make basic adjustments and cropped some of the numerous images of the kids on his phone. A remarkably powerful and intuitive tool.
DIPTIC: Another app I’ve used before is Diptic which is a simple app for creating mosaics from the simple diptych to rather more complex arrangements of multiple images through the use of templates. It has a degree of customisation available but I tend to use it for presenting two to four images in simple grids. For something quick and relatively easy to pull together it is very good though especially when travelling without access to my laptop and Photoshop or Lightroom.
LIGHTROOM MOBILE: I use LR on my computer and like it’s interface and workflow. However, until a recent update I rarely used LR Mobile on my tablet as it is less intuitive and I’ve found it a little clunky. However, the new Masking options, including SelectSky and SelectSubject, have been a game changer for me and LR has become my go-to for landscape images in particular.
IMAGE SIZE: Especially useful if you want to share images on social media is something to crunch your RAW files down into manageable sizes for the web. I’ve used Image Size for a long while and saw no need to research alternatives for this project.
There are also apps which combine capture and processing in one and whilst I’m happy with my Lightroom Mobile / Snapseed workflow I did try a couple of these out too.
FOCOS: If you like using the Portrait mode on your iPhone, be it JPEG or RAW, then FOCOS may be of interest. It has a replacement camera module built in but it’s big feature is it’s image editor. Designed for the portrait photographer it enables the plane of focus to be tweaked as well as adding minor adjustments to the shape of bokeh and simulating the results from some vintage lenses. Personally I find the camera element underwhelming but the editing tools are excellent and definitely worth checking out if you regularly use portrait mode.
One unexpected benefit of Focos occurred to me whilst processing a potential “365” image a few days ago. It was a street image, with a large foreground leading to a passer-by in the background who was a small but important element. I’d not noticed that the phone (iPhone 11) was set to Portrait mode so when I looked at the image the background was slightly blurred – I swore gently. On a whim though I imported it into Focos and adjusted the aperture setting to “f20” and bingo! one image saved.
PHOTOSHOP CAMERA: Even Adobe have got in on the act with Photoshop Camera with built in filters which will appeal to some. I’ve not spent long with this and my first impression is that it’s a little gimmicky but we are all different and this will I’m sure appeal to many. I have enough tools in the box for my needs though so I doubt this will be something I play with very often.
So, this has been a quick look at the apps I’ve been using recently. Another app I occasionally play with is DistressedFX+ which enables you to add textures and overlays to your photos.
There are lots more and this challenge has encouraged me to look more closely at some of them. I’ve downloaded Darkroom, another RAW editor, to play with along with a camera-replacement called CameraPixels which is also RAW capable and looks very interesting.
I shall be back soon with part 4 of My Smart Week series of posts where I will draw some conclusions and reflect on my experience.
We saw in the previous post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography. The need to keep the camera/phone stable is a fundamental requirement however and the one area where you might need an additional piece of kit. One area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. For example, it is possible to bypass the phone’s camera module completely and install third party apps with which to control the camera, all of which offer additional functionality. I consider a few of these here but my review is by no means exhaustive and keep in mind I use iPhones and not Android devices.
The camera app built into most phones (in my case an iPhone) is designed to be easy to use which is what you’d expect as the majority of users are probably not enthusiast photographers. I’ve always found it worked well enough for my needs and as I carried a camera too the fact that certain functionality was missing was not an issue for me. Recent improvements, of which I’d been blissfully unaware, have given iPhone users RAW capability and a handy raft of manual controls together with a new “night” mode for low light photography. I have happily made use of these but once I started to use the phone as my main camera for this challenge I soon found that I wanted even more control so decided to check out some apps designed as a replacement for the onboard camera module.
REEFLEX: The first app I tried was Reeflex, a freemium app meaning the basic program is free but premium functionality is a paid-for extra.
I paid the £4.50 for the premium features all of which relate to the ability to use long exposures for motion blur or light trails. RAW support is a given and the app certainly delivers what it promises. I enjoyed how intuitive it was, how pretty much everything you need is on-screen rather than hidden in menus and how quickly I got to grips with it. There’s a fair bit on the screen which means some of it is a little small and as I mentioned in my previous post it can be difficult to read everything when the phone is close to the ground. On the whole it worked very well although I did find it froze a few times when I was out using it but I couldn’t pinpoint it to a particular sequence of events.
That said, had I not been challenging myself to explore the smartphone ecosystem, I may well have stuck at this app and not explored further. Indeed, I am still using the app despite the Challenge being officially over and that I am using my film and digital cameras again.
Given that the app is basically free, and if you don’t need long exposures it is totally free, then it’s an easy app to recommend, especially as it is extremely intuitive and easy to use.
EVEN LONGER: It’s a strange name for sure but this is an extremely powerful tool for the long exposure fans. It’s not free although there are various options including a one-year subscription for £6 or a lifetime purchase option at £18.
I have seen some rave reviews for this app so was keen to try it. The interface (left) is clean and uncluttered with the reassuringly familiar large white shutter button prominent in the usual place. The good news is that it is also very intuitive to use; I managed some test images without bothering to read any instructions!
A small point, but the built-in level is fabulous and probably my favourite feature (I know, little things).
One useful feature is the ability to save the image incrementally as it builds up. The example above was saved at 45 seconds during a two minute exposure.
I’m looking forward to playing with this app over the coming months mainly due to its ease of use. It does what it says on the tin and makes iPhone exposures even longer.
DOUBLE EXPOSURE: This is an app that does what it says on the tin. There’s a useful tutorial built-in and you can create double exposures using existing images, using the inbuilt camera or a mixture of both. I haven’t used it a lot but it’s good fun and at £4.49 for the full version, which offers much more control, it won’t break the bank. There are loads of alternatives however.
Whilst the iPhone’s inbuilt app is perfectly adequate and indeed I used it for much of this project , I did appreciate the additional functionality from apps like Reeflex especially as I enjoy long exposure photography. There’s no escaping however that you don’t need to invest in alternative apps unless you want ultimate control.
I was mainly interested in exploring ways to create long exposures with the phone but what I’ve learnt has encouraged me to explore further and see what other options there are for gaining more control of the phone camera. I will no doubt be resea4ching further over the coming weeks.
The one area I came into this project with some knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available. I will consider these in part 2.
It seems to me that being able to take, edit and post images on one device is increasingly appealing to very many people. For myself I begrudge time spent on a desktop or laptop computer and over the past eighteen months have gravitated more and more towards using Snapseed on my tablet or even my smartphone for processing the digital copies of my film negatives. However, when I decided on a smartphone challenge I wasn’t really expecting to find the mature and diverse ecosystem dedicated to smartphone photography that I did find and I’ve a sense that I’m only just scratching the surface.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and talk about the tools I started the challenge with. For this project I have access to both an iPhone 11, which is the smartphone I’ve used for many of my “365” images in the past, and a more modern iPhone 13 Pro which apparently has a much-improved camera module. During my pre-project research I discovered that much of the more serious smartphone photography I found online was taken with the phone supported in some way. In some cases the way the phone was held, with one hand wrapped around the phone and the other supporting everything, was sufficient but in many cases a tripod or even a gimbal of some sort was used. This led me to a couple of pre-project purchases in the form of a basic (cheap) phone holder and a very small tripod. Very small, basically just three short legs with a tripod screw on top. The phone holder fits directly to the mini tripod and can also be used with a full-sized tripod if required. This set up is shown below and it was with this simple configuration that I sallied forth on my quest.
The holder and tiny tripod combination worked well but with one major caveat; it was impossible to level up the composition on rough or sloping ground and in addition the phone could not be tilted to tweak the composition. The answer is of course a mini tripod with a ball head and my manfrotto pixi mini-tripod, which towers over the tiny legs, fitted the bill admirably. I still carried this tiny set of tripod legs however as they are very small and very light and I quickly found that I made good use of them both. On the day I tried long exposures I discovered that the cheap phone holder wasn’t the most stable as it flexed in the wind when extended to hold the iPhone 13 Pro. At the time of writing this I am researching a replacement and no doubt by the time I publish this I’ll have a new holder on order.
Using the phone on a full-sized tripod, or even my travel version, looked ridiculous but was very usable nonetheless and as with using a full-sized camera the act of using the tripod slowed things down and encouraged a more considered use of the phone. I also found a very useful accessory in the form of the, until now, neglected ear buds supplied with the phone. The volume control on the cable replicates the dedicated buttons on the phone so could be used to “release” the shutter without touching the phone. I also found at the back of a drawer, presumably discarded by one of the grandsons, a dedicated wireless shutter release that connected via Bluetooth. I’ve not used it but would imagine that this could be very useful if you wanted to include yourself in a composition.
Basically however, my set up for the past week or more has been as minimal as I’ve been able to make it. To me this is in keeping with the whole philosophy of smartphone photography. Everything I’ve used, including the phone, has fitted into a small bag the size of my grandson’s pencil case. Indeed, the phone, phone holder and tiny tripod also fit easily in my coat pocket without the need for the small carrying case.
By keeping the gear to a minimum and also taking a little time before heading out to acquaint myself with the relevant app I quickly found I could concentrate on making images. Initially, especially when hand holding, I did find that I was having to think a little more about steadying the phone to help with image sharpness. Unlike a dedicated camera a phone isn’t the most ergonomically designed instrument from a photographer’s perspective. The act of touching the virtual shutter button on the screen is also potential for introducing camera movement. However, this all very quickly became second nature and I found the process of working with the phone actually quite liberating.
As someone whose close-up eyesight is not the best I did also struggle at times to see the controls clearly – and yes, I was wearing my reading glasses! It wasn’t too bad on a tripod at anything from waist height and above but at ground level it was very problematic especially on the tiny tripod legs which hold the phone no more than a few centimetres off the ground.
It seems that there is no magic about the use of a smartphone for photography. Keeping everything steady is still a fundamental for the most part, there are exceptions of course, and here the camera craft you’ve built up over the years is readily transferable. Apart from a phone holder (£5 to £55) you’ve probably already got all the kit you actually need in your bag already.
So, despite the ergonomically-challenged form factor of the phone, I found using this very minimalist kit very enjoyable. I will no doubt share some more behind the scenes images in a future post. Next time however, I will talk about some of the apps that I have used and that make smartphone photography not only flexible but such a satisfying activity.
The smartphone is no stranger to my 365, I regularly use it for what I have dubbed the insurance image and oft-times the phone is what I have with me for the school run. Anyone familiar with my Flickr account will know that these school-run images regularly appear in my daily post. But what if that was the only camera I was “allowed” to use for my daily picture? That should be do-able, surely? And what if I went away for a few days with only my smartphone for company? Well, perhaps that’s taking things too far!
Sunday 27th March was chosen for the start of my “smartphone week” but for a couple of days prior to that I’d amused myself with some background research to better understand the current smartphone photography scene. Despite using a smartphone to make images for several years I’ve only ever used the inbuilt camera and the basic functionality that it provides.
What I found was an entire ecosystem that I’d previously been totally ignorant of. Online tutorials and courses, social media groups (paid and unpaid), apps, gadgets and gizmos; it was a complete new world. I spent a couple of evenings exploring this world, watching far too many YouTube videos and soaking up the newness of it all. A week with a smartphone hadn’t seemed too bad in the scheme of things and now I realised that I’d also get a chance to try some new apps too. And perhaps an excuse to buy a few more “essential” gadgets!
As I write this prequel I am seven days into the challenge and planning on possibly extending the challenge for at least a few more days as I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try out some of the things I’d planned. Alternatively I will continue the experiments alongside my normal activity as I’m keen to follow through on some of the things I’ve read and watched.
So far I’ve tried long exposures, double exposures, intentional camera movement, “normal” photos, selfies, stitched panoramas and macro photography. I’ve played with several apps including post processing apps and replacement camera apps. I’ve changed the depth of field after the event
All being well I hope to start writing up my thoughts over the coming week and I will then be able to share in a short series of posts how I got on with the challenge, what I thought of the various apps I tried (it won’t be an exhaustive list of everything available though) and what I learnt along the way. In the first of these I will also share my set-up, such as it is, because this is something that was requested when I mentioned this challenge on social media. I will close for today though with my 365 image for 3rd April, made with an iPhone 11 mounted on a gimbal and handheld for a long exposure.
Back in 2017 I accepted an invitation to attempt a 365 Challenge for 2018. I signed-up for 365, consecutive, daily images each made on the day it represented. I started in late October 2017 to get into the habit before the start of the Challenge proper, and today I reached the culmination of four, complete, consecutive years of the Challenge. Thats over 1,500 consecutive daily images.
Each month’s images are collated into monthly mosaics and looking back at the consolidated mosaics for 2020 and 2021 I was struck by the difference.
I am habitually a black and white photographer. January and February of 2020 bear this out. However, in mid-March 2020 I started shielding due to a global pandemic and something strange happened. Colour started to predominate. It’s not until November that black and white starts to reassert itself as my main photographic preference. It’s probably no coincidence that it was around then that I started to get out more.
Let’s take a look at 2021 next.
Around 90% of the 2021 images are in black and white suggesting that 2021 was more typical of my usual approach since returning to film as my main medium for making photographs. Looking back 2018 for example was very colourful and largely digitally captured. The mosaics for 2019, the year in which I moved from largely digital to largely film, is a 50/50 split.
What is also apparent from looking at the images themselves is that a larger proportion of the 2021 365 images were made using traditional film and chemicals. As I exposed well over 200 rolls of film and in excess of 100 sheets of 5×4 film and glass plates there were far more options available for daily film images. I also set up a permanent “scanning” station and was far more likely to develop films on the same day as they were exposed.
It will be interesting to look back in twelve months time and see how the make-up of my 365 changes as we move through the fifth complete year.
Back in 2017 I was invited to take part in a picture-a-day challenge on Flickr, starting 1st January 2018. I’d attempted a picture-a-day once before a few years earlier. This hadn’t been a full 365, but simply for one month … let’s just say it wasn’t my most successful project. The low point was a phone snap of my suitcase in the boot of my car at 11pm as I checked in to my hotel.
One thing that I had learnt from that earlier experience was the importance of making the challenge simply a part of my normal routine for the day and not something that needed to be specifically planned in every day. With this in mind I set myself a 63-day challenge to make a picture-a-day for what remained of 2017. I completed the challenge and reflecting on the experience was glad that I’d done it as by the time 2018 started it was almost just a part of my daily routine. It would be a few more months before it was totally embedded but the start to that first 365 was undoubtedly eased by the 63-day Challenge.
I ended 2017 and started 2018 rather unwell with pneumonia, an illness that lingered for almost three months, but somehow I still managed my daily picture. It would be two years later when a pandemic restricted me to my home for four months that the discipline and experience of those few months would pay additional dividends too. As we entered 2020 the “365” as I was calling it then was a well established part of my daily routine and it would take more than a global pandemic to divert me from the challenge. Even if I was shielding and confined to the house.
Fast-forward to 23rd November 2021 and I’ve just uploaded my 1,489th consecutive daily image to Flickr. A picture a day, in an unbroken run from October 2017. Whilst I don’t always post them on the day the rules of the challenge mean that they have to be taken on the day. Some days I only make one image, specifically for the challenge, whilst on other days I choose from the series of images made that day.
When I started out I was a bit sniffy about using my phone but I’m relaxed about that now. Since starting the challenge I’ve also returned to film photography as my main method of making images so these regularly appear in my daily uploads. I’m debating dedicating my 2022 “365” to film photography only but I’m not sure I want to commit to such an undertaking for a whole year. I’ve posted daily film photographs for extended periods from time to time but a whole year might be a step too far. Perhaps I will aim for a full month, “Analogue April” perhaps?
So, as I approach my 1,500th consecutive daily image on 8th December I’ve been browsing through over four years of daily images and reflecting on what I’ve learnt.
One thing I have got into the habit of doing most days is my “insurance” shot. An image taken early on in the day, usually in or around the house, which I have in reserve just in case I am unable to get out with the camera later in the day for a more considered daily image. I rarely use them but it is reassuring to know they are there and there have been a few occasions when I’ve been grateful for the insurance.
Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the sequence. The completer-finisher in me helps keep me going. That said, I’m only human and there have been days when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are few and far between as the 365 has become just a part of my normal daily routine. I get up each day and each day perform the routine hygiene tasks (washing, dressing, eating etc) without really considering them a chore and my 365 image has similarly become almost part of this hygiene routine.
I firmly believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind that the majority of my 365 images are taken within a mile of my house, has sharpened my eye and I see compositions and creative opportunities more readily as a result. This has undoubtedly been a major benefit of undertaking the challenge and has also been a great help during the restrictions that we’ve put up with over the last twenty-plus months.
I mentioned earlier that I am now mainly working with film and one of the by-products of this has been playing with a range of cameras and discovering genres such as pinhole and panorama (true panoramic images not simply cropped into a 3×1 format). This variety has helped to keep the interest alive and I’ve a couple of other ideas up my sleeve for the coming months too – watch this space!
So, I continue to make a daily image and continue to enjoy the experience. Many of the images I’ve taken would not exist if it were not for the Challenge BUT there are none that I would not, with hindsight, have taken so hopefully that means I have not compromised on the quality of my photography because of this apparent focus on quantity. It’s a big undertaking undoubtedly and not one for everyone but it is now as much a part of my daily routine as eating breakfast (which I never miss). I’ve just signed up for the 2022 challenge and have my eyes set on May 2023 and image number 2000!
Until then, the next milestone comes on December 8th 2021 when the consecutive daily image tally will hit 1,500!
I have mentioned in the past that I have been making an image a day since October 2017 as part of a 365 Challenge. On Saturday I wandered down to make that day’s photograph with just the Fuji X100T in my pocket and a vague idea of photographing the virtually derelict garages behind the petrol station. In the end I saw a different composition and left the garages for another day.
When I made the image of the scene for my 365 (above) I had to compromise on the composition slightly in order to mask a couple of cars behind the bushes to the right. With that in mind, when I returned early Sunday morning I was hoping the cars would be gone so I could get the view I wanted with the church tower clearly visible.
I was lucky. Not only were the cars gone but conditions were similar, if not slightly better in terms of the light. I was pleased therefore to create the version I’d hoped for.
I was actually out that morning on a mission to make four pinhole photographs. so this was an adjunct to my main purpose. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a version of this image on 5×4 film.
Not unexpectedly there is a world of difference between the very clean, almost clinical, digital images and the extremely wide version created with the Zero Image. In hindsight I could have added the other two frames I had with me to narrow the field of view of the pinhole but I was hoping for a uniform look to the pinhole series. A possibility for another morning perhaps?
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