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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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

The Mirror of Your Soul

…or at least your artistic intent. Mirrors provide a creative opportunity for photographers to make a statement, by allowing them a choice of what secondary subject matter is added to an image. Here the line of Harleys created a nice repeating pattern, but, by capturing the flag in not one, but all three mirrors, it ties in with the red and chrome blue tones of the bikes, as well as making a clear patriotic statement. ReflectedGlory-1

C. David Tobie

Freeze Motion Shots of Night Fountains

Fountains are designed to please the eye, but they often produce disappointing images when shot during the day. However, many are dramatically lit at night, and are better isolated from their background in the dark.

There are basically two types of fountain shots. One type has a pleasing soft blur from the water motion, which require a long exposure, and thus a tripod; this type of shot is excellent for including both the fountain, and a lot of detail about other elements in the image, such as architecture in the background.  The other type of image is ones that have sharp water detail. Digital cameras have improved to the point that a tripod not actually necessary for the freeze-motion fountain shots; after all, to freeze the water, the shutter speed much be quite fast, making hand-held shooting possible, though multiple shots are a good idea, so that the steadiest shot can be selected.

The shot below is a handheld image of a fountain in Zurich, with lots of very satisfying frozen water detail. The image was actually darkened a bit from the default RAW settings, to reduce the emphasis on the background, and noise in the darks. With the latest DSLRs, there would be even less dark noise, and other processing options opening up the background further would be possible.

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C. David Tobie

Tool Marks, as a Bridge to the Past

Photography is often used to tell the story of the past, through the documentation of artifacts. Often, the objects involved are known to the viewer, so searching for other facets to make a more vital link through time is important. Tool marks, in this sense meaning the handcrafted textures left on wood, stone, and metal as it is crafted, can be such a link. Here, the fronts of these ancient grave markers are not shown, to instead tell the story of the making of these markers, including the very unique saw and chisel marks on the roughhewn back of one of the stones. The flags, the maple tree, the late summer flowers, and the deep summer sky all add to the story, but the texture of the stones is the unique detail that makes the image memorable.

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C. David Tobie