My Smart Week – the conclusion

So, my Smart Week actually spread out a little and was almost a fortnight in the final analysis and indeed is still ongoing in the background. Did I enjoy it? What did I learn and would I do it again?

First off, it’s been a fascinating and enjoyable experience. Going away for a few days with nothing more than a phone in my pocket, a mini tripod and a holder to join the two together was a strange experience but it forced me to focus on the challenge and not get distracted by my usual photographic tools. My delve into the available software was an eye-opener and I’m sure only skimmed the surface. I tried a handful of new apps and have earmarked a few more for the coming weeks but I suspect there’s a lot more to discover.

I learnt that there is a large and evolving ecosystem out there, one that I’d been largely ignorant of. You Tube for example is awash with smartphone content (at the usual variable range of YT standards) and social media absolutely swamped with smartphone imagery. There are apps to take images, apps to process them and apps to combine images in a myriad of ways. As well as straightforward photography there is also an active artistic community that uses their smartphone as the basis of their art. A well-established online magazine, Mobiography, was a chance find but a very interesting read nonetheless.

I also learnt the importance of supporting the smartphone properly for maximum image quality; self-evident perhaps but probably not at the forefront of ones mind when using a phone. I learnt how to hold the phone more securely but also learnt that a tripod, big or small, is a basic requirement. With the choice of apps that hand the photographer full manual control of the smartphone’s camera there is no excuse now for second-rate images.

In terms of post processing I had been using Snapseed for some time and to be fair will not be changing that any time soon. However, the improvements to Lightroom Mobile were a revelation and I have added it back into my small list of post-processing apps that I will use regularly.

The acid test for a photographer would be “did I get the image?” I guess and the short answer here would be “yes”. The phone gave me all the options of a point and shoot camera in a small package that I always carry anyway. It’s no surprise the P&S camera market is in decline; based on my experience there is no need to carry a P&S when you’ve got a modern smartphone in your pocket anyway.

So, in terms of my original challenge which was to use an iPhone exclusively for seven days I definitely met and exceeded my objective. In terms of what I learnt I surprised myself not only at the amount of apps out there but at how vibrant and enthusiastic the community are. Whilst nothing will replace the enjoyment of using my full-sized cameras, certainly not my film cameras, I have to say that I wouldn’t hesitate to take just the iPhone in the future, although I would make sure I took the holder and mini tripod!

To close … no edit done post-capture

And finally, a bonus observation. It’s no secret that I love the panoramic format and therefore having a panorama mode on my iPhone is a big treat. I’ve used it both indoors and outdoors, and both handheld and on a gimbal. On the whole the results have been pretty good as this indoor example demonstrates.

iPhone 13 Pro on a gimbal

However, I’ve found it a little more fussy than my Fuji camera when doing a handheld sweep panorama and occasionally it misses the stitching. The hit rate is definitely better with the Fuji but when the iPhone nails it then it does a great job and to be fair it definitely does a good job most of the time. It does pay to be wary of moving subjects though, especially with third-party apps that take a sequence of images rather than a continuous sweep. I’m thinking specifically of the DJI Go app which I used for the image above. On that occasion I asked my wife to stay still but the example below shows what can happen if your subject moves …

Oh dear!

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.


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.

My Smart Week – the gear

iPhone 13 Pro – on mini tripod

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.

Ready for action!

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.

iPhone 13 Pro – handheld

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.

iPhone 13 Pro – macro mode

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.

My Smart-week starts here!

Apple iPhone 11 – my pre-challenge starting point

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.

Close and personal with iPhone 13 Pro

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.

Intentional movement by using a long exposure. iPhone 11

Random colour

Slightly OTT – but at least on my terms (see below).
Friday morning Salford Quays

As a follow-up to last nights post here’s a few random colour images from yesterday and this morning. The phone will capture in black and white, although I rarely do so preferring to convert the images myself in Snapseed. Still on the phone but I at least take control. The first image above is a case in point. Despite constantly turning it off the wretched phone keeps turning Live Picture on. This not only captures a gaudy HDR-style image on many an occasion but also captures a few seconds of video either side of the actual image. I converted this one to B&W for a Twitter update but when I decided to post some colour images I was torn. I liked the composition but not the colours. I therefore desaturated it and added a negative vignette to tame the image. It’s still a bit over the top for me but it kinda works I think.

I was terrified I was going to drop the phone – the hotel window was restricted so only a few inches gap to push phone into.
Thursday evening – Salford Quays

I have a love-hate relationship with colour. I stopped using colour negative film a while back as I had massive problems getting natural colours when processing the negatives on the computer. My daily urban style of working probably isn’t best suited to colour slide film although I enjoy playing with Instax instant colour print film. However, some scenes scream out to be photographed in colour, Autumn in particular, and for this I have my digital cameras.

Thursday morning – Salford Quays
Thursday afternoon – yes it is colour!
Thursday lunchtime – I also photographed this scene with my Nikon L35 AF, will be interested in seeing a comparison

So, as I was using a Nikon L35 yesterday loaded with Kodak Tri-X I also made a few images with my phone. My phone was also in my pocket early this morning when I went out to photograph before breakfast. The glorious morning light will look very nice on my Tri-X negatives but it also looked very pleasant on my phone too.

Worth getting up for whilst the wife snoozed on

When I made yesterday’s post I added a tongue-in-cheek plea for people not to judge me for using a phone when I had a fully-loaded camera with me. For clarification I’m of the firm opinion that we should make use of whatever tools we have at our disposal. Whether that’s an Intrepid 5×4, a KMZ FT-2, a mirrorless digital camera or a phone. Each of these is capable of producing images worth enjoying and I wouldn’t hesitate in using any of them. I forgot that a dry sense of humour isn’t always appreciated in the written form 😊

Checking compositions ready for the morning

Another use for the phone is in checking compositions especially when the light isn’t quite as I would like it and I’m planning on returning another day. I did this Thursday evening as we walked back to the hotel from our pub meal. I’d deliberately left the camera in our room but the phone enabled me to check a few compositions before returning before breakfast on Friday morning.

The other thing I regularly use my phone for, especially if I don’t have my Fuji digital camera with me, is behind the scenes style images for my blog. Friday morning was no exception and the final image here, already converted to black and white and inserted into the blog post awaiting me developing the films from this short trip, is a case in point.

My weapon of choice for these couple of days away.

So, there you have it. Two iPhone posts in as many days and one in colour too. Normal service will be resumed in the next day or so.

Have phone will photograph

Out for an early evening meal with the better half we left the pub to find the rain had gone and the blanket of grey above was starting to break up. I’d promised an evening without a camera … but still took my iPhone. Back at the hotel I looked at the pictures on the phone and thought that I might as well have some fun with the processing too – don’t judge me! So, for a bit of fun here’s some phone pics direct to you from my hotel room.

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.

On the street – with an iPhone

Bold contrasts for Bold Street

The ultimate street photography camera is a bit of a holy grail amongst enthusiasts. Each system has its own proponents, mine is a Fuji X100t, but despite what they may think no one system is the ultimate in my eyes. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and used correctly each can produce very satisfying results.

“Selfie” Processed on the iPhone using #snapseed

I use the Fuji X100t as my main “street camera” (in reality its my always-in-my-pocket-camera) and also when I want to shoot film a pocketable Ricoh 35ZF. Whilst I’d used my smartphone whilst out to take snaps I’d never seriously considered using it for “proper” photography. Until last week.

Some scenes have to stay in colour! Straight out of camera(phone)

The results of this experiment were very pleasing and a selection of iPhone images have been used in this post. More will follow in a subsequent post. The beauty of using the phone is that, should I so desire, I can immediately open the image in Snapseed (other post processing software is available) and create the finished image right there and then. I can do this with my Fuji X100t too by wirelessly transferring it to my phone but compared to the direct iPhone capture this is a little cumbersome.

Another candid making use of shadows and strong contrasts Processed on the iPhone using #snapseed
Not as sharp as I’d lke – but couldn’t resist the shadowy figure peering in at the two business men in their meeting. Processed on the iPhone using #snapseed