iPhone 7/7+ Raw Capabilities

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Would an iPhone 7 raw capture have produced more shadow detail, more highlight detail, and less sky noise than this iPhone 6 standard camera shot?

While the internet is flooded with negative articles about the iPhone 7 series and how little new they have to offer (a great way to get clicks, whether you have anything meaningful to say or not), there are, in fact, a number of very interesting new features, especially in the 7+. I will wait to discuss the dual cameras and what they offer for phone photography, as well as the wide gamut P3 colorspace of the new iPhones, until I actually have one in hand (the prudent way to write about any product), but in the meantime I can’t resist commenting on another feature of the new phones, or for that matter other recent iPhones, running iOS 10.

That would be the ability to shoot raw images. Not that the native camera app which Apple supplies (and which accounts for the vast majority of images shot with iPhones) offers such an option; but it is available for third parties to use. Adobe is making a splash by supporting this capability in their Lightroom camera function. But first, lets step back, and think about what raw really means.

Raw means nothing, unless there is more than 8 bits (256 levels) of meaningful data available. So the value of raw functions of any type with iPhones will depend on how much meaningful raw data is actually captured, and made available for use, from these phones.

Experience with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras has shown that ten bits of data is good, and twelve bits is better. But where does such “extra” data show up, since screens often don’t display more then 256 levels per color channel anyways?

It shows up mostly when you make significant adjustments to the file, to open the shadows, or enhance the highlights. And the peculiar way that bit depth in files works, extra bits allows us to keep much more highlight detail, while leaving more bits for further down the range. However, unless the dynamic range captures meaningful data, not noise, in the deep shadows, then the value of that extra depth is questionable.

So what we will be looking for from raw capture as we test the iPhone 7 and 7+ (and iOS 10 with phones from the 6s forward) is the ability to produce more highlight and shadow detail, and the ability to make big density shifts in editing software, without causing “thinness”, which shows up as posterization in one or more zones after the edit has been made.

How will the iPhone 7 series perform in raw mode? These are tiny sensors, which are therefore prone to much more noise, especially in the shadows, and in dim lighting. Perhaps the 7+ with its dual camera functionality will be able to reduce that noise a bit, but  don’t expect  raw capture from the iPhone 7 and 7+ to respond like a recent generation DSLRs when editing. But we can hope that this will provide at least incremental improvement on previous iPhone images.

The real question is whether the improvements by shooting with Lightroom raw, over the standard iPhone camera, is large enough and frequent enough for us to use the Lightroom camera as our default, go-to choice for shooting.

Copyright C. David Tobie

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Creative Sunblocks

Shots into the sun can be a challenge, particularly with the more recent iPhones and their sapphire lens covers, which cause a lot of flare with shots incorporating a bright light source. Using sunblocks is one solution. When an object is available that can be used to block, or at least partially block, the sun, the resulting image can have better contrast and detail, as well as reduced artifacting. A convenient tree is the most common choice, and classic, especially with a palm tree. But using foliage at a corner of the image can get good results in a less obvious manner, as can other image elements. Even sunset shots can benefit from sunblocking, as the last of these images shows. So remember your sunblock!

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C. David Tobie

Tide Pool Macros

Tidal pools are a wonderful source of material for shooting macro photos. They offer life, texture, color, and mystery. Such shots can occur above, or below, the waterline. Often it is possible to shoot underwater images without an underwater camera or housing in tide pools, since they are very shallow, with a smooth surface. In other cases, the distortions of the water movement can add interesting effects to the images. The first image below is all about detail and color, with the amazing pearl-strand-like details on the purple and orange starfish. The second image has a smoother, dreamier quality, created by the surface of the water, which is relatively flat above the anemone, but more distorted in other areas of the image.

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C. David Tobie

On the Look-Out for Color Relationships

Colors can add power and meaning to images. Color relationships are part of these effects. When an entire image is of one object, the color coordination was taken care of by the designer of that object. But when various elements in the real world form unintended color relationships, its a great chance for the photographer to step in, and manipulate color.

In the image below, the red, white, and blue motif of the trolley is a given. But the coincidence of it stopping at a traffic light behind the red and blue scooters was an opportunity not to be missed. The only question was whether there was enough time to pull out an iPhone, open the Photo app, and compose an image before the light changed. Once that was accomplished, a bit of color coordinating in Photoshop, to enhance the relationship between the various reds and blues in the image, completed the process.

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C. David Tobie

Going For the Dynamic Image

The shot below is a workmanlike architectural image of a beautiful set of doors.  Distracting elements surrounding the doorway have been cropped out, the perspective has been corrected within reason, and the exposure and shadow detail set to tell the whole story as clearly as possible.

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But is this the most interesting, and salable, image of this subject matter? Lets start with a decision to avoid the paper sign duct taped to the door. And to try to get a sense of the imposing scale of these doors, sized for a deity, not mere humans. Setting the exposure, color, and white balance to a moodier, less literal options could also add impact. And leaving the image as a part, not the whole, of the doorway creates a sense of mystery. The image below is based on these, and other, decisions. It is far more likely to sell, especially as stock, then the more straightforward image above. FullSizeRender-4C. David Tobie

Embracing the Low Res Image

We have spent so much time struggling to get the highest resolution from our cameras, our lenses, and tripods, our RAW converters, that we often fail to appreciate the artistic value of low resolution images. Low res images are the natural result of art lenses such as Holgas and LensBabies, as well as of techniques such as cropping or shooting in low light with limited dynamic range cameras. And they are especially the province of phone photos.

The image below was shot with the iPhone 6, a phone camera capable of amazingly sharp images under good conditions. Here the conditions were, quite intentionally, far from good. The loveseat that is the subject of the image was in a nearly dark room, with only foot lighting around the edges, to keep hotel guests from stumbling in the dark. The challenge of capturing the gesture of the seat, and the drama of the  low lighting was appealing. A high overhead shot provided the desired form, and post processing in Google Snapseed provided the exposure adjustment, applied texture, image frame, and lastly the radial blur (stronger at the edges) that produces the soft, textured effect of the image.

Such an image fits in the “more poetry than prose” end of art photography, and can make a compelling stock image. Producing a series of such images, with differing subject matter, is always a good idea, since an image like this is difficult to mix with other images, unless similar effects have been used.

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C. David Tobie