My Smart Week – the software part 2

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.

Post-capture

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.

From global to localised adjustments

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.

iPhone 13 Pro in macro mode – processed in Snapseed and assembled in Diptic

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 Select Sky and Select Subject, 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.

Captured with iPhone 13 Pro, post-processed with Snapseed and resized for the blog with Image Size. To different images with different treatments

Hybrid apps

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.

Original image inset … check the railings in the background

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.

Photoshop Camera and iPhone 11

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.

Selfie with iPhone 11 – processed in Snapseed and finished in Distressed FX+

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.

My Smart Week – the software part 1

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.

iPhone 13 Pro – onboard camera app, white balance corrected in Snapseed

Take control

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.

Tempting … and all in a free app

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.

Long exposure with the Reeflex app and iPhone 13 Pro

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).

The Even Longer app captures a continuous stream of images that it then blends into one final image.

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.

Even Longer – iPhone 13 Pro – 2 minute exposure (check out the pigeon)

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.

Double exposure anyone?

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.

What a difference a year makes

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.

A Year in Pictures – 2020. It’s a shame I didn’t put them in order!

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.

Notice anything?

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.

365 becomes 1500

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.

30th October 2017 and the image that started it all

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.

Mosaic of images that comprise January 2018 in my 365-2018 Challenge – the first month of what would be my first ever “365”

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?

January 18th 2019 – Huawei smartphone

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.

2020 – my first “366”

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.

Horizon Kompakt and Fomapan 400 – 30th November 2020 in the rain/drizzle

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!

November 2021 – still experimenting (6×17 pinhole camera)

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!

One scene – three takes

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.

1st May – Fuji X100T

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.

2nd May – Fuji X100T

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.

2nd May – Zero Image 5×4 pinhole

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?

Lockdown not shutdown

It was mid-morning on Wednesday 18th March that I received the not-unexpected call from my consultant – please stay home for your own safety. It was an instruction dressed up as a suggestion/recommendation. She conceded that I could use my back yard for fresh air but insisted that this should be my boundary until further notice.  Like so many others with medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 I was in Lockdown before the phrase had been uttered by HM government. When Lockdown officially started and with it the concession of an hours exercise a day I got in touch with my consultant; again, I was not in the least surprised to be given a firm “No”, so I was resigned to stay at home until 14th June at least– ironically Amanda’s birthday and the day after our 39th wedding anniversary.

Random images from isolation 72
Even when I have managed a slightly more urban-looking subject I’ve chosen colour!

From the start I was determined to keep my 366 Project going.  This might be Lockdown but I was determined it would not be a shutdown photographically.   As of today, 9th May 2020, I am 923 days into my long-term picture-a-day challenge, and I was not going to let this “inconvenience” stop me from going past the 1,000-day mark; my eyes are still firmly fixed on the end of July!  I had recently been producing a lot of urban black and white images, many from around the small town where I live, and these had become a trademark of sorts, but I would need to reconsider this strategy. Looking back there was definitely a strong bias away from colour. We only have a small back yard and a tiny front yard (three metres from the front door to the public footpath – I measured it) so it was going to be challenging.

Random images from isolation 100

So how am I doing?  Well, fifty-plus days into isolation (shielding, or whatever today’s name is) and I’ve not only kept the challenge going without having to resort to pictures of my dinner, I have also posted an additional 120+ Random Images from Isolation and it is these that I have drawn on for this post.

Random Images from Isolation 111
Poppies have often featured in the past
Random images from isolation 107

I have continued to use a range of cameras for the 366, including my film cameras, and the iPhone has only featured a couple of times in my daily posts so that aspect of the challenge is unchanged from pre-Lockdown. My cameras live under the coffee table next to my armchair at the moment however which I never got away with prior to isolation.  The only major change from my workflow is that most images have been post-processed using the Snapseed App on my iPad rather than Photoshop as I’ve used my Mac only occasionally during this period for some reason I’ve yet to fathom.

Picture of the day – 3rd March 2030

I made a conscious decision today to shoot my 366 image with my iPhone during the school run (which would include a detour to get the wife’s newspaper). I took half a dozen images, two of which I liked a lot but this was the final choice for the 366 once I’d “lived” with both images for the day.

365 – 650+ images in!

October 2017, an email from Max innocently suggests I join the 365 group he’s involved with, starting with the next iteration of the challenge on 1st January 2018. Great idea! Why not?

Twenty-four hours later I remembered, a year or two before I’d attempted a picture-a-day for February, the shortest month no less, and I not only struggled I produced some really abysmal images. What was different in 2017 that I thought I could manage 365 consecutive days? I started looking in all the drawers for the marbles I was certain I’d lost the day before.

© Dave Whenham
2017 – the first 36 images of the 63-2017 Challenge


The 63-2017, as I’ve commented before, set me in good stead for 2018. So much so that I’m now well into the 2019 Challenge and over 650 consecutive daily images to the good.

To satisfy the inner geek here are year to date camera usage figures, with 2018 in brackets:.

CameraImages%
Fuji16974%. (65%)
Smartphone4017% (3%)
Drone83%. (9%)
Instant camera42%. (-)
Other94%. (1%)
Nikon– (22%)
365 August 2019 mosaic
The latest set of daily images which includes two Instax prints

It’s too early to do a complete “review” of the 2019 Challenge but suffice to say 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 quality because of this focus on quantity.

Breakfast in America

Breakfast in America … well not quite, but breakfast at an American fast food joint in West Yorkshire 🙂 We did take the long way home though (I wonder how many will get the lyrical connection?)

365-2019-228
Image 228 in this years 365 (Fuji X100t)

Todays image in my 2019 365-Challenge happens to be the 656th daily image since I started taking an image a day in 2017. Taken with my Fuji X100t its main appeal to me was the receding composition giving a sense of depth to the two-dimensional image.

Of course, I played with a few other compositions with the only rule being I could not move more than six inches from where I sat. I made a tactical error by sitting half-way along a bench seat so next time I set myself such a challenge I will think more carefully about where I sit.

© Dave Whenham
Fuji X100t

The only other successful shot from breakfast was again playing with perspective and depth this time looking upwards. I did however have one final play with this idea on the bus home but overall a mini project that ended a bit more thought before jumping in!

© Dave Whenham
Top Deck – iPhone XR + Hipstamatic

365-2019

This years 365 Challenge is doing well with only one slight wobble so far and as we have just passed the 100th daily image for 2019 it is time to update my thoughts on the project. Now, I’m a bit of a geek and love numbers so let’s start with a look at what cameras I’ve used so far this year.

CameraCount Percent
Fuji X-T32931%
Fuji X100t2526%
Huawei P20 Pro2223%
Fuji X-E11112%
Fuji X-H177%
Mavic Pro (drone)66%
INSTA 360 ONE/ONE X22%

Unsurprisingly my Fuji cameras make up the majority of the 102 daily images year to date, I moved fully to the mirrorless system in March, although the ever-present Huawei smartphone is holding its own too. The Fuji X-H1 has appeared seven times but given that I’ve only owned the camera for ten days this represents a very high proportion of recent daily images.

I maintain a spreadsheet with image details to complement the albums on my Flickr photostream

The least surprising fact from my little spreadsheet (see above) is that almost half (47%) of my daily images would be classified as urban images. The reality of a 365 is that we shoot images where we live our lives and whilst I’d love to fill my days with rural landscapes (14%) or coastal seascapes (2%) the reality is that I spend most of my time in an urban setting. Of the remaining images, a further 37% of them, whilst categorised differently, were also taken in or around my home making them essentially an urban capture too.

Tree bark - macro

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. This close-up of bark was a recent insurance shot which wasn’t used as I was able to spend time photographing one of my grandsons that day.

I wrote recently about the case of the disappearing mojo and in that piece I reflected on how the 365 Challenge can help keep the motivation alive. Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the daily image capture. Image 102 was posted yesterday but that was actually my 530th consecutive daily image since embarking on the challenge in October 2017. The completer-finisher in me helps keep the sequence going. There have been days though when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are getting fewer as the 365 becomes 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.

365-2019-102: Another grubby grandson pic! Samyang 100mm macro at f4, the IBIS in the X-H1 allowing my shaky hands to get away with 1/40th second. This is the image that supplanted the bark shot above.

There is no doubt therefore in my mind that the 365 Challenge has helped to keep me creatively motivated, especially now that we’ve got past the initial months where it was a new routine and it is now firmly embedded in my daily routines; it has become a way of life, or at least a part of my everyday life.

365-2019-101: I deliberately tilted the camera to catch the lens flare, I’ve shot this scene many times before and wanted something a little different today.

I also believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind half of all 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. Image 101 (above) is a case in point and is less than a mile from my back door. I’ve shot this scene many times but wanted to do so again because I liked the glow along the left hand side of the frame – but how to make it a little different? Lens flare was what popped into my head and with the rising sun sitting naked in the sky I only had to tilt the camera slightly to cause the extremely bright source to flare and create some colourful streaks. Flare is something I usually avoid even shading the lens with my hand at times but on this occasion it seemed to fit the image nicely. In fact I liked it so much I made it my daily offering eschewing the other more traditional images I captured on that walk.

So, there we have it. The 365 is an ongoing project and one that I intend to keep going for as long as I am able or for as long as I have the inclination. Each month I set up a folder on Flickr for that months offerings and the March 2019 folder can be found HERE.