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Instagram for Android?!? I’d Rather Not

So, Instagram finally became available to Android users today. Of course, being the app whore that I am, I scooped it up as soon as I could. I have to say, I was somewhat surprised to discover how underwhelming the app really is.

“How dare he say such a thing?!?”, I’m sure some iClone just snorted before leaving my page in a huff. For everyone else, just stick with me for a minute or two and I’ll explain.

I am a reformed Mac user. I made the conscious decision to leave all things Apple behind several years ago after spending good money after bad every couple of years when my iPods would die (as if on a timer). It was also time to replace my elderly mac desktop and I couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars for a new one when I could get more for less with a PC (so far, so good, by the way). I was already on my way out the door when the iPhone came out and I saw no need at the time to have anything more than a regular dumb phone, so I just stayed out of the iCult.

In recent years, I have been turned onto photography. I also finally had a chance to graduate to the world of the smart-phone. Unfortunately, the money to upgrade two lines to iPhones just didn’t exist. Besides, at the time, it was only available on one network and we were about to be grandfathered into an unlimited data plan with the one we had. We weren’t going to switch carriers, so we got the best Android smart phones with the best built in cameras possible that we could afford (a couple of refurbed DroidX’s which literally cost next to nothing).

So far, I’ve been very happy with that decision. Sure, there are times when I see how easily the iPhone handles certain tasks and get a bit jealous, but overall, I’m very happy with how my phone performs. I must say, however, that I have always been jealous of the gated community that was Instagram. Every day I’d see people posting incredible images and having a great time doing it, and I said, “I want to go there”. I’ve tried many different ways to get that sort of experience out of the Android, but I’ve always been left feeling a bit let down.

Well, today the storied gates finally came down and Instagram let us Android riff-raff into the pool. I wondered at the slick interface… the ease and speed of navigating the image pool… the shiny, happy iPeople holding hands as they ran through golden meadows… then came time to upload my first image. I snapped off an absurdly average image and went to work on going through the deeply textured, immensely layered and complex editing interfa… no wait, that’s not what happened…

After all of the hype, after two years of waiting, after facing all of the snobbish iElitism… it turns out Instagram has only a dozen or so bland, nonadjustable filters… no exposure controls, no ability to crop a photo (unless it’s being imported, presumably to cut off the forced border from some other bland filter app), no real enhancement features of any kind. Ok, you have the option of turning the frame portion of the filter off and there’s this weird auto-enhance button that makes most everything look like an overdone HDR photo, but that’s all you get.

So, it’s an unimpressive filter overlay generator, at best. I already have a dozen of those and most look as good or better. What’s left then? Oh, right… the social aspect.

First, let me point out that taking a photo, applying a filter (I refuse to call this editing on any level), tagging it and sharing it off to Twitter, Effbook, Tumbler and FourSquare are very easy and fast. Second, let me point out that once a photo is posted, people actually see it right away. There’s no strange minimum number of hearts or comments required (I’m looking at you Molo.me) for it to be seen by the populace, so that’s nice. The problem is that the iNazis that make up the populace DON”T WANT US THERE! To these people, being an Android user is like having digital herpes. They might appreciate our photos now and again, but once they catch sight of a sore, we’re shunned!

So, to recap… I find Instagram to be a mediocre photo enhancer made solely to funnel images into a community that wishes to segregate the “i’s” from the “I’d rather nots”. I say let them have their outdated app and their gated community. There are still plenty of options for those of us on the outside (including my new favorite, Aviary). Me, I’ll probably keep posting to Instagram for the pure joy of watching the iFrownyfaces make their faces all frowny and because it is super easy to get a photo out to Twitter and Tumbler. Of course, now that I find that to be such an important feature to my workflow, I’m sure I can find a native Android feature that does it just as well.

Oh, and if anyone does want to find me at the Instagram Country Club, I’m jedwardferguson.

Falls & Fowl: Why It’s a Good Idea to Always Carry a Camera

Falling Geese

Falling Geese

I was on my way past the waterfall next to the Assembly in Harrisville, RI last night, right at the perfect moment of sunset. The light was shining right across the water and making everything perfectly golden. I was looking at the house on the shore (this one) and debating whether or not to stop and take some snaps of the absolutely perfect reflections with my phone when I caught sight of these geese just chillin’ atop the waterfall itself. I wished nothing more than to have my dSLR on me at that moment, then I remembered I did! It was sitting in the backseat in hopes of using it at the event I was heading to.

It’s really amazing how quickly the light can change at sunset. I whipped the car around by speeding through the “village”, potentially cutting someone of in spectacular fashion, and parked across the street from the falls. By the time I’d gotten across the street, the magnificent golden glow was gone. The time frame from spotting the scene to having the camera to my eye was only 90 seconds or so, but what a difference that minute and a half made. Oh well, the geese were still there, and that’s the shot I was after. See, I’ve shot all of the landmark spots in this town so many times that It’s hard to get very excited about going back. It takes a monumental change in the scene (a forty year flood, ice feature, wildlife element, etc.) for me to even bother taking off the lens cap now.

So, the shot… I was able to walk (slowly) right up to the fence at the edge of the falls. The geese were so comfortable being where they were that I probably could have run right up on them, but why take the chance? I still had the 40-150mm, f4-5.6 Zuiko attached to my Olympus E-600 from the last time I shot. I started off in my old standby aperture priority mode set to f8, then I tried opening the aperture to f5 to get a shallower depth of field.  I was hoping to blur the fore and background and get some added definition to the geese, but I soon realized that I’d rather have the water be blurred.  To achieve this, I switched to shutter priority mode and set a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. The camera selected an ISO of 200 and an aperture of f8. I kept the lens zoomed all of the way in for most of the shoot, which gave me some stability issues. In hindsight, I probably should have sped the shutter up to around 1/30th of a second (or been lucky enough to have my tripod in the trunk!).

I spent about 5 minutes taking photos. Since there were a pair of geese, I needed a bit of patience to catch both of them with their heads up and necks stretched in a pleasant way. I spent about half the time shooting with manual focus, but finished up using auto-focus, selecting which focal point to use and then using focus lock. It had become hard to tell if the focus issues I was seeing were because of camera shake or my poor vision, so this at least took one of the factors out of the equation. By the time I shot the last two photos (the one presented here and another in vertical orientation showing more of the water), I knew most of my focus issues were taken care of and I had gotten what I needed.

Today, I loaded the set of 24 images into Lightroom. I was able to eliminate 15 or so right off the bat for focus issues and/or unflattering poses. The rest I processed very similarly; adding contrast, clarity and saturation then reducing noise, warming the shadows and adding some vignette. To be honest, I really only do this to the first photo in the set when they’re all similar, then I just paste the settings from the previous photo and hit the auto exposure button. This works out more times than not.

Once all that basic processing was done, this photo stood out as the clear winner, but I was dissatisfied by how flat it looked. The answer, as is usually the case for me, was to convert to black and white. The image still looked flat after pushing the B&W button, so I had to add some more contrast. I did that by using the adjustment scrubber in the contrast and B&W mix panels. I really love that feature in Lightroom! It allows you to grab whatever specific tone you wish to adjust right in the picture and drag it to your liking. Very slick. My last step in the process was to do a bit of sepia toning using the split toning panel.

There you have it… a shot I never would have gotten if I didn’t have my camera on me. Being able to carry a camera phone around at all times is all well and good, but there’s those moments in life where you just need the real thing.

And Then There Was Aviary

Material Bias: Wood

Material Bias: Wood

I posted last week about some of my favorite photography apps for Android. I knew at the time that it wouldn’t be too long before something would come along to render my stated preferences, for all intents and purposes, entirely moot… well, almost anyway.

Material Bias: Brick

Material Bias: Brick

It’s no secret that I’ve been harboring a deep jealousy for the photo editing capabilities of the iPhone. I never had much of any intention to reenter the cult of mac, however. Instead, I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for some of the great iPhone only app masters to get around to noticing the huge market us Android users represent and, well… exploiting us. Largest among many of us has to be the ever present threat of Instagram finally jumping over.

Over the weekend, Lifehacker.com posted this little gem about the Instagram jump finally being imminent. I couldn’t get to the article fast enough, but I took a moment to read through the first few comments and had a bit of a change of heart. One person pointed out that we’re excited over a fad that’s 2 years old. Another clarified that the post was only telling us that we could sign up to be notified when the app actually came out and not a hard fast promise of any actual imminent realease. Then someone mentioned Aviary.

Material Bias: Vinyl

Material Bias: Vinyl

For those not in the know (such as myself a couple of days ago), Aviary is very much an Instagram knock-off, just without the social aspect. It allows for very deep fine tuning of virtually every photographic aspect of the image. Details such as exposure (brightness), contrast, saturation, cropping and orientation are easily handled using a very intuitive and slick interface. Then there’s a full featured selection of available Instagramish filters (ten are incuded with two more packs of six available for a buck each). The free and paid filters are very nice and useful. Additionally, there are quirky “sticker” effects that can be overlayed, such as fake glasses or an eyepatch (which I have no intention of ever using, but which I’m sure 14 year old girls can’t get enough of).

The best part of the app, however, is that the final images are FULL RESOLUTION! I have a DroidX, which has an 8mp camera. It really bugged me when I’d edit something in another (sometimes paid) app and the resolution has been hacked.

Material Bias: Wood and Glass

Material Bias: Wood and Glass

So, I’ve had this app… wait, I keep calling it an app, but it’s really just a plug-in. Aviary isn’t accessed as a stand-alone editor like Vignette or Magic Hour. Instead, you simply send the image to the plug-in using the share button in your gallery viewer (I use QuickPic personally). It’s all very slick and easy and (so far so good) stable.

Ok, so I’ve had Aviary installed for a few days now. I purchased the available filter packs right away (I do hope there are more in the works). Up until today, though, I’ve only had a couple of photos to test drive the app on. But today, a bit of setting sun shining across the wood fence in my driveway caught my eye, and before I knew it I had a six photo, themed set of images to put through the ringer. All of the images in this set were captured using the Quicksnap camera app, by the way.

Material Bias: Wood and Nails

Material Bias: Wood and Nails

Editing with Aviary really is a breeze. Simply select the photo in your gallery, hit the share button and select Aviary as the destination. Once there, you face a very simple and intuitive interface. I started each of there images off by hitting the “Enhance” button then selecting Auto. I know this sort of thing can be hit or miss, but each of these photos benefited greatly in both exposure correction and creative enhancement. Each of the photos also got a run through the cropper, as I wanted the set to be square. From there, it was a matter of running each through the available filters until I found the one that worked best for each and finally adjusting the brightness, contrast and saturation (something that could have been done anywhere in the process, really). Until you set a default, you’re asked what resolution you want to save in (I set mine for 8mp and there it shall stay). You can also have the image open automatically in your gallery, which makes sharing to other social sites or whatever very easy.

Material Bias: Stone

Material Bias: Stone

Overall, I am having a love affair with Aviary at the moment. So much so, that I am no longer waiting for the arrival of Instagram to Android. Sure, you lose out on access to the Instagram community, but I’m already using Lightbox, which scratches that itch just fine. The only complaint I have about Aviary is that the creative components of the filter system are not available on their own. In other words, you can’t grab the border from this filter and put it with the toning of that filter and so on. I certainly won’t let that negate the fact that Aviary is a great tool to have in your phonography arsenal.

Try it. You won’t have to pay a dime until it comes time to get the extra filter packs. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Through the Frames: Why I Vignette

I’ve been threatening this post for a couple of months now, but being slow to get back into a regular shooting schedule kept me from having the appropriate selection of images to include. The stretch of unseasonably warm and awesome weather last week got me up and out with a camera in one hand and a 4 year old in the other. While it’s true that i was revisiting all of the old haunts that I’ve grew sick of already, but the hiatus helped to give me a fresh perspective.

Anyway, the reason I’ve gathered you all here today is to talk about vignetting. More specifically, the reason why i use vignette so damn much! It’s something that more than a couple of people have made snarky comments about in the past, and I readily admit I have taken the effect too far at times. What people don’t really understand, however, that i see my world in constant vignette. I wear glasses. Worse yet, thick black framed glasses. My whole world is darkened around the edges!

Seems a simple explanation, doesn’t it? From the time I take a photo all the way through the editing process, the photo just doesn’t quite look right until I move that magic slider to the left in Lightroom.

Anywho, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the photo. My family decided to start up a new tradition of a weekly nice weather evening picnic. This happened to be the end of the inaugural outing (the weather has since turned back to seasonal for march). We had spread our blanket besides the waterfall next to the Assembly in Harrisville, RI. This photo was taken on our walk back from exploring the falls. I had my longer lens (40-150mm, f4-5.6 Zuiko) fitted to my Olympus E-600 and I decided to hang back for awhile as my wife and daughter walked hand in hand towards the glow of sunset.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with leaving the camera set in aperture priority mode with f8.o selected as a standard. So far, that setup has yielded consistently useful results and I admit guilt for not pushing myself out of that bit of complacency, but whatever… it worked out here. I manually set the white balance for clouds and nudged the exposure compensation to -1 to darken things up a bit (as I type this, I realize that shooting in RAW and editing in Lightroom probably make this bit of info less relevant). Being in aperture priority, the camera automatically selected an ISO of 800 and shutter speed of 1/200th of a second.

As I said, I was hanging back quite a bit, so I was zoomed in all the way to 150mm. On the Olympus E-600, that gives an equivalency of a 300mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Even so, I still had to crop a bit in Lightroom to get rid of some distracting elements at the edges of the frame. I tried very hard to keep this a color image, but it was just too dull. I couldn’t really get much contrast into the scene until I took the color out. I made the conversion by simply pushing the black and white button and adjusted the contrast by tweaking the curves then using the scrub tool in the black and white adjustment panel.

Once that was all done, I had to deal with a bit of noise. Sadly, the E-600 is a pretty noisy camera, and this image was pretty loud. I found that by trying to remove too much of the noise in Lightroom, I was causing the image to blur. The solution was to ease back on the noise reduction a bit, then add in some film grain to mask everything. Then I added in some ever present vignetting and I was done. I did add quite a bit of vignetting in this case, as I really wanted the it to help move the eye into the photo and up into the glowing sky.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I really like the way the sunlight is outlining the girls and the overall contrast of the photo. I really wish I could have gotten them just before their hands separated. I think that small detail detracts from the overall image quite a bit, actually. They were way too far away at that point to hear me yelling about it over the passing traffic, though, and a retake would have looked too staged, so I let it go.

I have uploaded a couple of other images from that picnic to my Flickr page. If all has gone to plan, they should be appearing to the right here (if you’re reading this within a few days of posting, anyway). Please take a moment to check out some of my other photos if you like what I do.

In Which I Am Asked For Simple Advice and Wind Up With A Blog Post

Dad, with hat, shot with Retro Camera

Dad, with hat, shot with Retro Camera

Not to brag even a little bit, but I’ve become rather known in my own little corner of the world over the past couple of years for what I can do with a camera phone. A lot of people have trouble masking their utter contempt when I tell them the image they’re fawning over was shot and edited entirely with my 3 year old Droidx (not that I’ve had it that long, bought it refurbed for next to nothing). What can I say, I do the best I can with the tools I have.

I try to post (near) daily photos to my Facebook profile (sorry, the “good” photos of my kid are only viewable by friends), 98% of which are phone shots. I posted one a couple of days ago and got a message asking what software I use to edit, because they really liked the shots. I said I just used apps on the phone, but they wanted to know which ones. I started a quick reply, but realized by the fifth paragraph that I was responding with a blog post, so here we go…

I’m an Android user. As such, I can’t attest to the entire broad spectrum of phonography. From what I’ve seen, however, the stuff on the iphone makes what i use look like a fisher price toy. Like I said, I do the best I can with the tools I have, and these are a few of the standards.

Before I get into this completely, however, a brief disclaimer: I have not personally tried every available app out there, and more are developed every day. The following insights are based solely on my own experiences with the products I personally have tried or used regularly. i fully realize I may have missed the point of this or that and your own experience may turn out differently. Grain of salt, mileage may vary and all that.

On The Go, shot with Action Snap

On The Go, shot with Action Snap

I keep Quicksnap right in the tray at the bottom of the screen (you know, the ones that are always there even when you swipe through screens). It’s a pretty basic, but has enough features to put it on par with a basic point and shoot camera, plus it’s the fastest loading camera app I’ve found for Android. I edit all of the images that come out of this, but I’ll get into that in a bit. It comes bundled with the editing/sharing software Lightbox, which is pretty fun to get into, but I don’t use it as a front end editor.

My favorite creative camera app is Retro Camera. This app is like having half a dozen “toy” cameras on you at all times. The idea is that you’re shooting with a 20 year old toy film camera. What you shoot is what you get with no ability to manipulate or go back to an unaltered clean image. I really like it, so much so I paid for the plus version.

The pics I’ve posted of my kid in action lately (the 4 panel in one shots) were taken with Action Snap. I got it because it claimed to take the fastest photo on Android, and to my experience, it does. As soon as you press the shutter button, the image is being saved. No lag is a very cool feature when chasing a toddler. Because of how long it can sometimes take to save an image, however, I end up not using it that often. I do still like it for the sequential action shots from time to time, though.

Tutu Hat, edited with Magic Hour

Tutu Hat, edited with Magic Hour

On the editing side, I’ve used Magic Hour for quite awhile. It’s so easy, just load in a photo and pick your filter, or dive a little deeper and create your own. There’s a whole community of people uploading new filters all the time, which is nice, but I recommend restraint. I had to curb my use of this app in recent months, though, as I found myself becoming too complacent with the process. I had the same sort of problem with other personal favorites like Snaptastic, Pixlr-o-matic, Little Photo and Vignette. They all worked very well for me, but there’s a rut I tend to fall into with all of these apps, so I’m constantly looking for new options. I would certainly recommend trying them out for yourselves, though.

I hope this helps anyone who was looking for a touch of direction. There’s certainly many more options out there (there’s more options installed on my phone, in fact), but his sampling will give anyone trying to figure out how I do what I do a bit of a leg up.

One final note: I believe all of the links I’ve provided are for the free versions of the apps. There are certainly intrusive ad issues, limited functionality and, in many cases, reduced resolution. Give them a shot, though, and if you like them, drop the couple of bucks to upgrade. Come on, you probably paid hundreds of dollars on the phone, plus hundreds more in the monthly fees… what’s the deal with refusing to shove a couple bucks at a developer for an app you use and really like. Skip a latte if money is that tight, you cheap bastards.

Digital Gridlock and the Lost Art of Printing Snapshots

I love my camera phone. I know I’ve talked about it recently, but It’s worth mentioning again because I just love it. I love being  able to carry a single device in my pocket which covers so many wants and needs… and which happens to have an 8mp camera. I love being able to quickly edit photos while watching my kid run around the playground, then upload them instantly with the push of a button. It’s convenient… almost too convenient.

It occurred to me recently, though,  that I had nearly 1500 photos sitting on my phone. 1500 photos eating up nearly half of the camera’s memory! I felt the sudden, desperate urge to do something about it, but I stayed cool. I had posted many of the more artistic, non-portrait photos across the internet, so people have been able to see them. Those photos made up only a small fraction of the 1500, however, the rest being primarily of my (almost) 4 year old daughter. The troubling part was that, while I had been keeping up a nearly daily photo project on the Effbook since I first got the phone about a year ago, more than half of those photos have never been seen by anyone.

How could this have happened? It seems absurd to most folk that someone would take that many photos on a phone. What’s wrong with me?!? Well, I can put it in perspective pretty easily. I always get asked how I get such great photos of my daughter, despite her being a toddler and me shooting mostly with the phone. The answer is ridiculously simple: I shoot an average of a dozen photos for every one I show. While many of them get deleted immediately for being horrible, I often find myself with one standout and 3 or 4 runners-up. This can lead to some great shots, but also stacks of snaps that just sit there… piling up and begging to be shown.

So I started over-thinking the issue of what to do. I knew I wanted to get some prints made, but the thought of having dozens of print shop photo envelopes just tucked away in a box somewhere didn’t seem like much of a solution. Then I came across a submission on Pinterest that gave me all the inspiration I could have asked for. The pin took me here, and the 5 ideas the post lays out were just what I was looking for.

Sometimes, it takes someone saying something to realize how stupid you’ve been, and that was the case with me when the author said she had printed everything out so they were 4×4. “4×4?”, I pondered… “Ugh, cut out of a 4×6… F’idiot”. Then I remembered that I get discount codes all the time from my nearby mega-pharmacy for some absurd amount of 4×6 prints for some absurdly low amount of money. I loved the idea of just having these prints laying around the place where anyone could see them, and I had those 5 great ideas of how to do it, so I got straight to work.

Issue one was figuring out the best way to get the images from my phone to the computer for editing and export. At least, it was an issue before I remembered I had signed up for the beta build of the newest Dropbox, which specifically added support for instant backup of photos from the phone (it’s kind of exactly like what Google+ does). I just had to manually add the edited images that had gotten missed and I was all set.

By the time I had imported everything into lightroom, gotten rid of duplicates and rejects, I was left with about 1000 images left to deal with. So far I’ve only bothered to edit a few just for putting this post together, but I’m finding that the editing apps on the phone have done a pretty good job, because when I’ve attempted even minimal adjustments, it’s made the images worse. So I’m really only going to have to worry about cropping, which is awesome.

I’m not really looking forward to uploading everything to the pharmacy, though, as I remember that being rather tedious. With a little diligence in the future, however, I’ll be able to avoid much of the hassle by simply keeping up with it. Who knows, the next step might be just printing at home. All I know for sure is I’m really looking forward to having our home flooded with these photos and the clutter cleared from my phone.

One final thought: In case anyone is wondering, I choose not to post unfiltered images of my daughter very freely on the internet. While I do share them among a trusted circle of friends on certain sites, she’s really only appeared to the general public as I’ve presented her here. I have a post on my first (and now long neglected) blog that pretty clearly states my stance on privacy settings, but everyone is free to come to their own conclusions about what they are comfortable with. Anyway, just in case anyone was wondering if what I’ve shown here is the best I’ve got of her, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Link

In Which I Attempt to Explain Myself… Musically.

In Which I Attempt to Explain Myself… Musically.

Admittedly not photo related, yet integral for anyone wishing to “know me”.

A Rambling Diatribe in Which I Attempt to Justify Giving My Work Away for Free

I have been battling a cold (and losing) for the better part of this last week, so I can’t say I’ve shot much of anything for a while. I’ve had a couple of non-shooting posts in mind for a few weeks, though and here’s one of them:

While I have publicly written about my move away from the Flickr, I must admit that I still check in daily. Right from the beginning, I made the choice to assign the licencing of my photos as “attribution/non-commercial/share alike” creative commons. This means I allow anyone else to use my photo in whole or in part within their own projects, as long as they attribute the photo to me and provide a link back to me. As an amateur photographer, I figured it to be a useful way of getting more eyes on my work. So far it’s worked out, although some puzzling instances have occurred, such as repeated and varied links to my photos from sites that don’t appear to have any photos and daily hits from Korean language search engines.

You might be wondering how I can track this sort of information. The answer is simple, I have a Flickr Pro account. With it, you get a dearth of daily information regarding what photos are being looked at and where the hits are coming from, among other things. You can even see what search engine keywords (is “keyword” still acceptable internet jargon? I’m a bit too light headed to care) are getting you noticed. As an aside, titling the photo below “Rotten Teeth” has resulted in multiple daily views… hooray poor dental hygene! I’m just happy the photo is decent enough to stand out in the search engine line-up.

 

Getting juice from search engines is all well and good, but what really gets me excited is when one of my photos gets used as stock photography. I know, someone is getting something for nothing and I should be getting paid for my work. At this level, however, I still feel that the number of viewers who click through the photo to my Flickr page is payment enough. It falls to me now to set up a vehicle for getting those eyes through to a print ordering system or something.

Blame It on the Blue Star

 

So far, I believe I’ve had photos used on three or four sites. The one above was most recently used on an educational community website, Unfortunately, Flickr only allows you to view the past two days of data on links. I feel lucky that in all cases, the sites using my stuff haven’t been personally offensive. Each has also been good for several visits to my Flickr site per day when the post is current and a couple more per week when the article gets pushed to the archives. It’s free eye candy for the user and free advertising for me, and that’s the short of it. If I were to start producing work with the intention of selling the licencing, I might have to rethink my position. For now, however, I’m happy to share.

Of course, my Flickr Pro account is up for renewal. Now I have to decide if the data tracking is worth the $30. I’ll save that for another time.

In Which I Accidentally Show Envy for the iPhone

I don’t know what most photographers are prone to do, but I seldom walk through every moment of my day with a DSLR hanging from my shoulder. Would I love to have by my side a 50mm equivalent prime lens mounted on my E-600? Well, sure, but I don’t own that lens and the ones I do have are a bit bulky for the task.

In times past, I would have a crappy point and shoot in my pocket most of the time, and that would handle things pretty well, even if the shooting features were on the limited side. Once I got a camera-phone with an 8MP sensor, I knew the point and shoot days were over forever.

I had a ton of success doing a 365 project a year or so ago using a non-smart 2MP camera-phone, but I had to rely heavily on photoshop to help those images out, and at the end of the process, I was only left with a small image not fit for much other than web consumption. Evidence of this golden age can be found on my Flickr page in this general area. Sure, the project didn’t see a full 365 days, but I learned an awful lot about editing that summer… more than I would have shooting with a good camera, anyway.

When the time came to upgrade the phones at the end of last year, we jumped on a pair of refurbished Motorola DroidX’s that, while being a generation or so outdated, featured a huge screen, 8MP camera and access to the full array of Android apps. Would I rather have been an initiate in the Cult of the iPhone? Well, sure, but beggars really can’t be choosers and all that.

The biggest thing that excited me about this jump was finally being able to carry only one device that would cover all of the technological needs I might face in a given day. The image quality was near the same as my point and shoot, so that got shelved.

The Second surge of excitement came when I realized how easily I could shoot, edit, then upload without ever having to move the image to the computer. There are dozens of great camera and editing apps available in the Android appstore (some of which I will review as time goes on). Sure, my rate of posting to Flickr may have gone down, but I was still posting to Facebook almost daily.

Then, one summer afternoon, I ran across an iPhone Cultist who was extolling the virtues of his wondrous device and all of the photographic glory it could unleash. I absolutely hated admitting that I had an inferior product, but he could do more with a single free app than I could do with six. I have since culled together a set of apps that give me an acceptable level of creative control, but I’ve always felt on the outside looking in when it came to Instagram. As an Android user, I am without access.

While I am still waiting for the gates to open, I have found an Android alternative in the guise of Molo.me (yes, I cheated that to my own page). It’s not quite as cool and doesn’t have all of the features that Instagram boasts, but it does have built in filters and a worldwide community. The  interface is a bit on the clunky side, and you have to finagle the filter system in order to stack effects and there’s no way to fine tune, well, anything. You can import straight from your phone’s gallery, however, which means you can edit away in any other app(s) and then import.

The social aspect is what makes the whole process worthwhile. Sure, while there are plenty of Southeast Asian high school girls uploading snap after snap of nonsense, there are some true photographers sharing quality work. The thing you really need to be aware of, however, are the re-bloggers. These social parasites have infected every corner of the internet, and Molome is not immune. It doesn’t take too long to separate the wheat from the chaff, though.

So, now we get to the reason why I sat down to write in the first place… today’s photo:

The reason I got on the Molome and camera-phone tangent in the first place is that I shot this specifically for upload to Molome. My (nearly) 4 year old daughter has a healthy obsession a big bucket of plastic animals she got for Christmas. She’s been carrying these two giraffe figures around all week, but today they ended up like this on the kitchen table. I liked how the strong shadows were being cast and how the angle of the giraffes’ necks were playing against the grain of the countertop.

I edited this photo entirely in the Molome app. The first step is cropping to a square format. Like Instagram, Molome is for squares. On my first pass, I applied the “Auto-level” filter. Pushing the “next” button saves a copy to the Molome folder on the phone, which allows you to back out of the upload before committing to sharing. I loaded the new version and repeated the process, first adding the “vignette” filter, then “Slide Film”. As I’ve said before, I add vignette to almost everything (post soon, promise!) and I liked how contrasty the  B&W effect made the overall photo. Plus, I like adding some sort of quirky border to this sort of thing, so two birds and a stone. On the third and final pass, I entered a title and hit the share button.

There you have it, sort of a review, sort of a tutorial, sort of a nearly thousand word diatribe on living with an inferior camera-phone. I do pledge to do more shooting with a real camera this week so we can just avoid the whole mess in the future. Thanks for sticking around if you’re still here.

The Bliss of Ignorance

This past Friday afternoon, I glanced across the room at my trusty old Ovation guitar, just sitting all pretty in the golden glow of sunset. I admired how the strong light really made the surface cracks in the old finish pop and remarked to myself of the weathered beauty.

This old pot bellied bitch of an instrument was actually my first guitar, given as a gift from my parents on graduation day some 18 years ago… and it was old then! It was a bear to learn on, always wanting to slide off my lap when I went to check a chord fingering, but it taught me well. I hadn’t touched it in about 10 years until recently, but I’ve been using it as a stand-in while my main guitar (a Guild DC-5E something-or-other) was awaiting it’s bridge repair.

On Saturday, I finally got a chance to get the Guild off to Noll Guitars in Cranston, RI. As I’ve mentioned previously, I received a stern talking to about the importance of proper humidification with a fine acoustic instrument and was told in no uncertain terms that I had permanently ruined the guitar. They would be able to reset the bridge, but the high end tone and wood strength would ever fully return. I was dismayed… well, until I remembered that I still love how it sounds! They also pointed out how in extreme cases, when the wood expands or contracts faster than the finish, pronounced cracks will appear. Knowing that the Ovation was probably stuck in an attic for years before I got it, and that I’ve left it in a closet with a hot water pipe chase for many years more, it was no mystery what I had been looking at in the glow of that sunset.

I took about a dozen photos with the guitar on a chair or laying on the floor in slightly diffused sunlight. I was shooting handheld with a fairly shallow depth of field, so focus was a bit of an issue. Half of the original dozen were cut due to focus right off the bat. About half of the shots I tried focused on the bridge, whole the other half featured the soundhole. I was liking how the brightness of the orange glow and the blackness of the interior were contrasting, so I went towards the second set of shots. This one is actually the only one I took in portrait orientation, and it was no question that it was the best of the bunch.

To get this shot, I had my trusty Olympus E-600 fitted with the 14-42mm, F3.5-5.6 kit lens. The camera was set in aperture priority mode with the aperture set at f.8. I believe the ISO was set to auto, and the camera chose ISO800. Shutter speed was selected at 1/80th of a second. I had the lens zoomed in to the maximum 42mm, which gives a 35mm equivalent of around 80mm.

I went through my normal tweaking ritual in Lightroom. Certain defaults I used to take for granted before the hard drive fail have yet to be restored, so I was especially careful to remember to set up my copyright profile this time!  I find that the E-600 tends to overexpose ever so slightly, so I’ve been getting used to knocking the exposure back just a bit in LR, but I actually bumped it up here to brighten the overall photo. There is a small measure of cropping here, a bit of added clarity and vibrance there, some noise reduction and, of course, my ever present need for vignette (I must remember to write a post on vignetting soon). When I only use Lightroom for editing, I tend not to go too crazy.

I was really trying to replicate some of the shallow depth of field guitar shots that I’ve done in the past (here & here)by shooting at the minimum aperture, but it wasn’t working out. The previous times I’ve done this I was using my tripod and a magnification filter, and I just didn’t have the time left with the light to round those things up. In the end, I think opening things up and letting the sunlight be the star was the right thing to do.