Review and Sample Images: iOS Photography App “Rays”

Digital Film Tools iOS App “Rays” is currently available as a free download. But even at its usual price of ninety nine cents, its a bargain. Rays is one of those “one trick pony” Apps, that does one thing, but does it well. Its one trick is to add convincing rays of light to your images.

Rays allows you to choose the source location for your radiating rays of light; the only limitation being that the source location must be within the image, when in some cases you might prefer it to be outside the image. There are controls for the color of your light, the length of the rays, and the intensity of the effect versus the image you are applying it to.

Here are answers to the most likely questions about Rays:

Yes, its fun. Yes, its effective. Yes the effect is quite variable. Yes, the controls are reasonably intuitive. And yes, it runs on both the iPhone and the iPad, meaning you can work on your iPhone images right on the phone, and those or other images after sending them to the iPad (in addition to photos shot with the iPad, for those who do that). I’ve been saving the big one for last: Yes, the effects can be appropriate to advanced, or even professional imaging.

Lets look at a few sample images to get a sense of just how the Rays effect can be used. A few comments on process in advance: A couple of these images were shot with LensBaby lenses; LensBaby selective focus images lend themselves to Rays effects. Some of these images have been run through NIK SnapSeed before Rays was used on them. Thats  not unusual; multiple iOS Apps are often used in the pursuit of the best mobile images. And all of these images were checked for color and sharpness in Datacolor’s SpyderGallery after they were completed. There are other Apps that will allow you to zoom in far enough to check the sharpness, but only SpyderGallery will allow you to see a color managed view of your iOS images. I do both in SpyderGallery as it saves a step.

Lets get the obvious out of the way first: yes, you can add a halo, or aurora to a person, place, or thing with Rays. Buddha seemed like a reasonable choice, so here’s an example of the most blatant use of Rays. This is not an effect I envision myself using too often. Using it with backlit trees, as in the background of this image, could be a more realistic effect.

This second example is only a bit more subtle. Rays can be used to create a focal point within an image. If the image has motion blur, focal plane blur, or both, the effects blend nicely, and even create more sharpness in a blurred image that may not be quite sharp enough without it.

This third example uses a light source within the image as a point source for the rays. By matching the tint of the rays to the color of the light source, this can be quite realistic. Moving the source location around allows fine tuning of the rays that are created, allowing you to choose a particularly effective set of rays and shadows. Images which lack a clear focal point can be strengthened by this technique. Keep in mind that, as with other iOS imaging apps, its possible to run your image through Rays more than once. So if you feel that a second source location could improve the effect, try a second pass to find out.

Next comes the use of rays with a source outside the image. Here it would have been ideal to place the source location below the bottom of the image, to more closely align with the actual light source. Short of creating a copy of the image with extra white space at the bottom, generating the desired rays, and than cropping back to the original image size, this would not be possible. I compromised on a source location at the bottom edge of the image.

And finally, here is a macro image, where the Rays effect emulates radial lens blur. Especially with LensBaby macros, this can be quite convincing.

The effects in these images run from much more blatant in the first examples, to much more subtle, or at least more realistic, in the latter ones. Like makeup, perhaps the best Rays effect is the one your viewer never realizes is an effect at all…

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

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Book Review: Dan Burkholder’s iPhone Artistry

iPhone Artistry is a comprehensive guide to the iPhone as a photo tool, and at the same time an inspiration to aspiring iPhone photographers. Clearly organized, thoroughly researched, and well written, it succeeds in covering a wide range of both technical and aesthetic material in a manner that is engaging and educational. If you are going to purchase only one book to guide you though the process of becoming an artistic iPhone photographer, this one would be my recommendation.

Dan begins with a thorough and well illustrated chapter on the various generations of iPhones, and the methods of navigating them. This is followed by an introduction to photography apps, including the process of searching for them, downloading them, and using them. Once the author is sure his reader is prepared to get started, he provides sections on shooting apps, basic editing apps, creative editing apps, and  specialized apps for panoramas, image stitching, high dynamic range, layering, and other advanced techniques. All without losing touch with the artistic end that is the goal of these tools.

The final chapter pulls it all together with a series of creative workflows showing the processes which lead to the richly textured, artistically colored sample images throughout the book. A clever App appendix shows the names and icons of dozens of Apps, with QR codes for each, allowing the iPhone photographer to snap an image of any that are of interest, and use a QR code reading App to find out more about them. A perfect example of form relating to content.

iPhone Artistry abounds with clear examples of how to take the kinds of photos we all snap with our phones, and process them into the kind of artistry we would like them to be. Equal parts information and inspiration make this the perfect book for learning the “how” without losing sight of the “why.” Also be sure to look for author Dan Burkholder’s iPhone Artistry workshops, which he presents at many photographic workshop locations.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

Image below: Copyright 2012, Dan Burkholder

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The PostPC Future of Photography

At Apple’s iPad 3 event Tim Cook referred multiple times to “the PostPC era” we are living in. So immediately I started rethinking that phrase, as it applies to photography. The simplest result is the title of this article. Another element of the same Apple event has already inspired an article from me on the release of iPhoto for iOS. The two items are not unrelated. Allow me to describe why.

Apple is often the company to come up with “the next big thing”… And even when they are not, they are often the ones who take a new thing, and turn it from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Sure they didn’t invent the smart phone, or the computer tablet, but I hardly need to point out to you that they were responsibe for turning both into desirable products.

And Apple is cranking up the heat on integrated systems, where the hardware is only part of the deal: the software, the cloud storage, the automatic updating of libraries, the access from your other devices, and the publishing capabilities, are all part of the overall experience that keeps bringing people back for more.

Now Apple has chosen to move the name iPhoto to iOS. Not the other way ’round, as they did when coordinating Mac and iOS address books, or calendars, or do lists. This time the well known, heavily used Mac version’s name was the one selected. There are a number of reasons this makes sense, from the fame of the name, to the fact that iPhoto for iOS is not actually replacing Photos, it’s an App Store app, with a price tag.

Not all Apple products arrive fully completed, perfect, and waiting to blow us away. Some take time, and iterations. MobileMe was but a precursor to iCloud. AppleTV has yet to sprout a TV. iTunes has transcended the name iTunes. It’s often the complex, service-related products that take more generations to reach maturity.

So this brings us back to those two items in the headline: PostPC, and Photography. While this first release of iPhoto for iOS is a modest image editing tool, that does not stand out particularly amongst the third party editors already on the App Store, it has the potential to remake photography.

iPhoto for the Mac is not the pro photographer’s choice for image management or editing. But it is the overwhelming choice of other Mac users, who don’t have professional needs. It’s so successful that Adobe does not bother to build a Mac version of Photoshop Album; who would buy it when they have iPhoto for free?

So envision a version of iPhoto for iOS that spreads its wings. A more powerful, wider range of editing tools. Touch functionality for many editing tools. Gesture controls for the rest. And lots of integration: edited photos would move to your Mac automatically, as would albums and slideshows. Wireless printing would be the norm. Geotagging would locate and map all your images. Social media buttons would post what you want, when and where you want.

Much of this is already implemented. Those items that are not, are clearly on the way. And third party photo editing apps may well be invited to the party, with images checked out of the library, processed and checked back in, so that they continue to have the convenience of the integrated system.

Which leads to the truly PostPC scenario of users going for weeks, or perhaps forever, without a PC. Actually shooting, editing, printing, publishing, and storing images on a tablet, or a phone and tablet duo, with no need for a desktop or laptop computer at all. And for many, no need for a camera, either; since the cameras in the phone or tablet are becoming good enough for many users.

The only ones not invited to the party would be the advanced photographers, with RAW files exceeding the system’s capacity, and professional library apps they need to organize their files in. Where these cutoffs occur, and what outside solutions become available to improve the pro photo workflow will be a burning question, as the pros look longingly in through the window at the PostPC party all those Jpeg shooters are enjoying.

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The first image I edited and published on a mobile device; now it’s become a daily occurrence.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

iPad3 Event Shakes Things Up with iPhoto for iOS

There have been too many new products this month to be able to decide which to write about. The list includes Lightroom 4, Photoshop Touch, the Nikon D800, the Canon 5D Mark III, and the new iPad 3, to name only a few. But in terms of impact on the photo community, iPhoto for iOS will certainly be at the top of the list. Image editing on the iPhone and iPad has been developing over time, with applications like NIK’s SnapSeed, and more recently Adobe’s Photoshop Touch. But the default photo app for iOS has long been the free Photos app that ships on every iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad. The $4.99 price of iPhoto for iOS will change that; now it won’t just be advanced photographers, but a wide swath of iOS users who will have an advanced imaging app on their iOS device. For many, this will change the balance of where photo editing really happens.

Serious photographers have never been iPhoto users; Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and other pro apps have been their preferred applications for photo processing. But those apps don’t run on iOS, so they have been forced to use various less powerful tools there. The real question now is: will iPhoto be the most powerful, and most convenient app for advanced photographers under iOS? And the follow-up to that will be: will serious photographers be forced to start addressing iPhoto on the Mac to coordinate with iPhoto for iOS; or will they be able to piece together a workflow that will use iPhoto under iOS, but export directly to Lightroom or Aperture libraries on their desktop imaging workstations? The ability to run images through iPhoto on the iPad, and then move them directly to Lightroom or Aperture, still in their RAW format, would allow the iPad to move effortlessly into the advanced photographer’s digital workflow.

But there are some serious bumps in that workflow. The first is an apparent limit of for RAW files of 19MP in iPhoto for iOS. Given that the more advanced cameras today are producing files at 22MP to 36MP, that reduces the number of high-end photographers who could utilize a “camera to iPad to desktop” workflow considerably. And while there is some slight chance that the sidecar adjustment files for the RAW images (assuming that iPhoto even uses sidecar files to keep track of your edits) might be compatible with Apple’s iPhoto for the Mac, and possibly even Apple’s Aperture for the Mac, the chances of them being compatible with Adobe’s apps such as Photoshop ACR and Lightroom are slim indeed.

That would mean that a “camera to iPad to desktop” workflow would probably have to be rendered out, either in iPhoto on the iOS device, or in iPhoto on the Mac, before those files could be imported elsewhere. But those rendered versions would not be the RAW files… and pros demand the RAW files, not reduced bit depth TIFF or JPG versions. Alternately, the RAWs could be moved to your library on a desktop machine, but that would lose all the edits you had lovingly applied in iPhoto for iOS. No win-win option here that I can see.

So, while the ability to use your finger to brush an area of an image lighter, or darker, or more or less saturated, and other great iPhoto for iOS functions, will be tempting, they will really only fit into the workflows of point and shoot users, or that group who own DSRLs and use them like point and shoot cameras. Those who shoot RAW, and need a library of those RAW files, will gain little from iPhoto for iOS that they don’t immediately lose when the file moves to their desktop image library. This would leave iPhoto for iOS as a way to process images quickly on site, to show to the Art Director or the Client, or to down-sample and upload to the web, but this would be a side trip in the digital workflow, not a link directly between RAW capture and RAW library steps, and any quick-edits applied in iPhoto for iOS would not be part of the final editing process.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website: CDTobie.com   Return to Blog’s Main Page

Image Critique: Umbrellas on the Promenade

Umbrellas on the Promenade

I should have realized, with the popularity of yesterday’s image critique, and of the “Umbrellas” iPhone image, that the result would be requests for a critique of that image as well. That seems only fair.

Format

Square and near square images are less dynamic then more elongated forms, and are best suited to single, central subject; and perhaps for still, inactive subject matter. Here the heavy frame enhances the static nature of the image and assists in further isolating the image from it’s surroundings.

Pallette

This is a relatively controlled and consistent palette, without a lot of color manipulation during editing. The image contains a lot of near blacks and near whites, producing strong contrast. The dominant color is an autumn yellow, in the trees, the fallen leaves, and fortuitously in the architecture as well. There is a secondary series of greens, and a series of cool, light gray tones. The warm accent color is the red of the bench. The main subject of the image is the gaggle of people and their umbrellas, in high contrast black clothing and white surrounding elements. None of this was by manipulation, though such manipulation can assist in strengthening an image with a weak pallette relationship; in this case it was just there for the seeing, and triggered that “I must shoot this” response. Given the fleeting nature of the scene, the only option close enough to hand was the iPhone.

Perspective

This image contains a very strong one point perspective, with the convergence point on the center of the image, further reinforcing the square format and heavy framing. The rail and curb converging upward, and the buildings and bridge converging from the sides form key elements of the image.

Eye Movement

The movement of the eye in this image is controlled by the dominantly square shape of this image crop, the powerful one point perspective, and the strong forms of the trees. The eye is drawn towards the center by the perspective elements, takes in the subject at the center, arcs back out on the curve of the trees, and spirals around the soft edges, until the gravity of perspective Pulls it back towards the center again.

Themes

The primary theme here is the people writ small in the center of the image, with their white umbrellas. Their centering and location near the convergence point as well as their high contrast helps assure their importance, despite their small size and lack of detail in the image. The similarity of the color of their clothes and their umbrellas, package, and shoes, and their orientation away from the camera produces an anonymity which keeps them from becoming individuals, and distracting from the quiet, impersonal nature of the image.

The secondary theme of autumn foliage, above and below, and the strong forms of the trees surrounds the people with a powerful, colorful riot that contrasts to their calm walk down the promenade.
The tertiary theme is the lovely architecture sourounding the trees and the promenade. It reinforces the perspective, and reinforces the color scheme of the trees, blending these two themes into a powerful, colorful environment contrasting well with the tiny monotone group, shielding themselves with their umbrellas.Finally, the cool gray of the sky and water bleed nicely into the architecture and trees, due to the fog, and the increasing blur towards the edges of the image. The blur strengthens the focus of the composition, and the mood of the image.

Story

This as a pastoral image, calm and quiet, but it plays on the classic theme of the smallness of humans against the scale of nature or of the city. Like many pleasant images, it has that “oh, I wish I was there” effect. The viewers are drawn into the image by the promenade at their feet, and can almost smell the decaying leaves, feel the mist, and hear the babbling stream. This combination of safe, nostalgic, inviting elements can create a very powerful emotional response in the viewer, which is particularly useful if the goal is the sale of images.

Technical Information

Shot with the Apple iPhone4. Processed with NIK Snapseed for the iPhone. Published the same day, directly from the iPhone.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website: CDTobie.com   Return to Blog’s Main Page

Shooting, Processing, and Publishing Images on the iPhone

There are many different mobile photo workflows. Some involve images imported to the phone from other sources, and processed in mobile image editing apps. Other images are shot with the phone, then downloaded or emailed to a computer, where more powerful apps can be used to process them, and where printing is more straight forward. Other phone photos are run through simple “one step” processing methods, to produce predetermined effects. But perhaps the most satisfying type of phone photography is when images are shot with the phone, cropped, processed and edited on the phone, and published straight from the phone.

There is an element of risk involved is this method, since it can be difficult to know how sharp images are, with no way to zoom in on them in most editing apps.  Color and shadow detail decisions can be problematic as well.  Although it requires a separate step, a final image review in Datacolor’s color managed SpyderGallery app before publishing can help assure that the shadow detail, neutrality, and color of images are as you see them on screen, as well as allowing zooming in to determine just how sharp the image is. Perhaps these features will be integrated into editing apps in future editions, eliminating the separate step.

Once the image has been processed and proofed, publishing to Facebook, Flickr, other photo websites, or to a blog can be accomplished directly from the phone. So the time from “snap” to “publish” can be a matter of minutes, while still allowing a significant degree of artistic control of the process.

The images shown below were all shot last November during the Merano Wine Festival, in Northern Italy, then edited in NIK’s Snapseed app, and published the same day directly from the iPhone 4. Despite the wine tasting involved, they are images which, at least at small sizes, hold their own against my DSLR-based work.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website: CDTobie.com   Return to Blog’s Main Page

What will iPad 3 Mean to Photographers?

The announcement of the upcoming iPad 3 surprised no one; it would have been surprising if Apple hadn’t announced a new iPad, with a higher resolution screen and a more powerful processor. The question for the photo industry is: how will this impact photographers? Or more to the point: why should you get one?

Lets start with the key internal change. Quad-core is clearly the future of mobile devices, and offers the power needed for more powerful graphics and photo application. Its obvious that serious image editing will be the future of tablets, and this device will be the poster child for advanced editing tablets. Photoshop Touch, and NIK Snapseed will scream on a quad-core.

Next is 4G. Yes, for those who use their tablets via cell connections, and can afford the bandwidth this will entail, it will be advantageous, in those locations where higher speed connections exist, but wifi does not.

The other key feature is the “retina display”, if Apple chooses to use that description for a higher resolution iPad screen. There is no question that the current iPad’s screen is soft, especially when used adjacent to an iPhone. And for photography sharp, detailed display of images is king. Anyone who moved from an pre-retina display iPhone to a more recent model is well aware of the difference this entails, and even at the larger scale of an iPad this will be striking.

As a portfolio tool, a high rez iPad will be the most desirable image display choice on the market, and photographers will be one of the main markets for this upgrade. If there are any improvements in external presentation functions, that would add to the desirability of the new device.

Also, as a reader was so kind as to point out in the comments below, the iPad camera is currently the iPod camera, with an image quality far below what the iPhone4, and especially what the iPhone4s can manage. A camera update would be an important consideration for those not too embarrassed to hold up their great big tablet, and shoot a photo with it. Personally, I’ll use my phone whenever possible, and grab the file on the iPad.

So, to wrap up: increased editing performance, increased cell speed, improved editing and portfolio resolution, possible presentation enhancements and other, yet undetermined advances (likely to include a better camera)… plus the general appeal of owning Apple’s latest and greatest. That should be sufficient.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website: CDTobie.com   Return to Blog’s Main Page