This life in pictures.

Posts tagged “Photo

Six Strings and Dings

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I love taking shots of my beat up Guild. I might not be able to play it live at the moment, but it’s sill my go to guitar… Easy to play and incredibly warm sounding. As a rule, I adore instruments that show their use. I’m not going to say I haven’t taken care of it, but shit happens… and considering it’s been my primary instrument for years, a lot of shit has happened. Scratches, dings, chips, gouges… she’s got them all! I wouldn’t have out any other way. By the way, I shot this on my 4 year old DroidX and edited it using the Aviary app… whatever.

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Say Hi to the Newest Member of the Chicago Robbery

Here’s another blog I started up for my band yesterday. If you like what I do here, you’ll probably enjoy what I do over there, too

!Say Hi to the Newest Member of the Chicago Robbery.


Iron Star

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I really love exploring old mills here in New England (even those which have been reclaimed and gentrified), there’s always so much to shoot.


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Lyrics to Page

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Today was a very musical day, as it turned out. I managed to cap it off by coming up with lyrics and a melody to go along with a guitar piece I had kicking around.

The photo was taken using Quicksnap on my DroidX. I set the focus to macro, shined a table lamp over my shoulder and fired. The flash was on auto, and it went off. I edited using the Aviary plugin, first cropping square, then adding the “Alice” filter. Then I did some tweaking with the exposure settings until it was just so. I finished it off by sending the photo over to Lightbox, where I applied the “Instafix” filter before posting.

Not so big a deal. Oh, and the song itself is inspired by the Arrested Development television program. More specifically, by the conversation a group of friends were having in the background of the guitar recording that I was working from (which I intend to include when I record the song).


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

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

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”.