[Surfs Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Feb. 2, 2012.]
Last fall, I was talking to a friend of mine who has a talent for photography that I’ve long admired, if not envied. I asked if he had gone out for any expeditions lately with his camera.
“Not quite,” he said. He revealed that he had been leaving his camera at home most of the time, and had instead been playing with the camera in his phone.
I don’t think he’s alone. The little Nikon point-and-click that has often been my companion on walks around St. John’s now mostly sits neglected by the dish that holds loose change.
Instead, I’ve been content – far more than content, really – with what I can get out of my iPhone. I’ve often been able to do with my phone what I use my camera for (namely, a quick snap on the fly), so why carry something extra?
As well, there’s been an explosion in photo-focused apps that together are changing the very nature of digital photography. So much so that the phrase “iPhoneography” has been popping up all over, and not just as a hashtag. For some, it’s their key hobby, if not obsession.
This column is largely about the iPhone. Apologies to the Android community – I just don’t know enough about how those cameras work, although I do notice a growing number of Android apps are coming on the market. I’ve also been using BlackBerry phones for years, by the way, and while the BB camera technology has improved, I think one of the key reasons that Research in Motion lost market share is because the BlackBerry produces pictures that simply, to put it mildly, pale in comparison to the competition.
The iPhone quietly celebrated its fifth anniversary in January (Steve Jobs unveiled the concept in 2007), but the camera in the iPhone 4, which came out in the summer of 2010, is what really transformed mobile photography. The quality was a huge leap forward, and combined with an endless array of mobile sharing (users send their pictures to endless social networks, in real time), iPhoneography took off.
Yes, the quality on a phone is inferior to an SLR – but often that’s not the point. The mobile priorities are speed, social and creativity.
This week, we look at some apps that help improve and transform your pictures, and may change how you see the world (and yourself). First, a note about just how dramatically the marketplace is changing. When I checked earlier this week, there were more than 5,600 separate apps listed in the iTunes store’s photo and video category. In the last week alone, more apps were released than anyone would ever need. Remarkable.
Here are some things on my own phone. Get in touch – johngushue @ gmail.com will do the trick – with your own favourites.
Instagram: I like this free app so much I wrote a whole column about it a while back. I’m still enthralled. It’s fun, it’s social, it’s brilliant. Pick a filter that changes/distorts the picture, and see how a mundane shot can instantly pop. Build a network of other users; I have contacts down the street and around the world, together bringing me dazzling perspectives.
Camera+: Don’t forget that plus sign when you go looking for this excellent app. For just $2, you get a photo assistant that does many of the things that a powerful photo editor (think Photoshop) can accomplish. Is the lighting too bright or too weak? Select one of the options in the edit function, and see how adjusting the levels can save a pic. Brilliant.
NightCap: I’ve been using this $1 app a lot lately for strolls in the evening, and have been loving how night-time images – usually the bane of phone photography – have been coming alive.
Pixlr-o-Matic: Like Instagram, Pixlr-o-Matic is a free app that uses filters to distort your pic – although distort is not a fair word. There are several steps here. Pick an effect first, then select an overlay, and then choose a border. The combinations are mind-boggling. Some of them are butt-ugly, but playing around with a shot can produce very cool results. Have fun with it.
SketchMe: Instantly transform a photo into what looks like a drawing. Very cool, although some photos definitely work better than others. Not bad for a buck!
MobileMonet: In a similar vein, change a pic into a painterly style. Use your finger to add as much or as little colour as you wish. Cost: $1.
Diptic: I love this one. Named after a diptych, or a two-piece work of art, Diptic allows you to put two, three or more photographs together, quickly and easily, into something that you’ll want to print or at least share. Not bad for a dollar. Think of it as a great way to make the most of family or vacation shots. I’ve been astonished at how quickly I can make something that would take quite a bit longer in Photoshop.
Photosynth: I use this app to make 360-degree panoramas. It’s a breeze to figure out, and the results can be remarkable. One I took of the New York skyline was a great memento. Best part? It’s free.
Pocketbooth: This $1 app turns your phone into a photobooth – and an old-school one at that. Four quick snaps are made, producing what looks like a thin, black-and-white strip like the kind you’d get at the mall. A fun novelty item.
That’s it for now. There are others I’ve been using, some of which will find their ways into upcoming columns.
John Gushue is a digital editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue.