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

Conflicting Color Palettes

Color palettes are groups of related colors, such as primaries, or pastels. There are palettes associated with certain holidays, or seasons. Conflicting palettes can create striking images that grab the eye, and demand further consideration. This can be valuable in locations where images compete for the eye. The image below includes two classic color palettes: the hot summer colors of the sailboat, and the more natural fall foliage colors of the trees. The challenging relationship between these two palettes creates a memorable, and eye-catching, image.Sailboat-1

C. David Tobie

Amusing Signs

There are few ways to get more smiles, or more attention, than images of amusing signs. This can range from intentionally witty ones, to signs with poor grammar, to signs that seem normal in one location, but very odd to those from other places, to unintentional placement of signs. Stock up!

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C. David Tobie

Creating a Numbers Series

Numbers are in constant demand for graphics, articles, blog posts, and even book covers. Take the time to start an interesting numbers series, and remain on the lookout as you shoot, for additions to the series. Interesting numbers shots will be amoungst the most popular of your stock images with writers, graphic designers, illustrators, and bloggers. Consider creating multiple series, depending on colors, or locations of numbers within your images. Include plenty of context, and let the designers crop as desired.

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C. David Tobie

Just Add Life…

As an architectural photographer, it is easy to focus on images of empty buildings and silent streets. Such shots may well serve many purposes best. But it is also important to shoot images containing people. This adds scale, interest and, well… life. The image at the bottom below was recently used to discuss lighting for narrow streetscapes. The image above it is all of that, plus an overflowing helping of life. A wine tasting taking place in the same street a month later offered this opportunity to contrast the empty and the full. Each serves a different purpose, and each would speak to a different image purchaser. Just add life, plus appropriate keywords, et voila!

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C. David Tobie

Backlight as a Modeling Technique

Backlighting is the method that deprives the objects being shot the light they need to be clearly seen. And yet, in some instances, it can create a compelling result. Here the backlight rakes the rear and surface, providing a textured backdrop. And enough light is bounced from the arch above and to the right to provide a modest amount of sidelight, defining the teapots that form the subject.

The familiarity of these pots mean that less lighting is actually more, modeling them dramatically, and making them an interesting study, instead of the obvious objects they would be with more typical lighting. This is the very type of lighting that artists sometimes use to light subjects for still  life studies in charcoal or ink. The result is a photograph echoing a hand-drawn black and white still life. A touch of warmth in the image color, mostly to the upper right, and a cooler “light leak” mostly on the lower left add a color range to the otherwise monochrome image.

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C. David Tobie