We all have to start somewhere. For me, I was never really a photo enthusiast before I started using my iPhone and apps to create unique photos. I started seeing amazing images online all shot and edited on a phone. I immediately thought “That’s cool.” While I haven’t been at this for very long, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no professional photographer, I’d like to share with you 5 tips to help get you started on your way to awesome photo creations.
1. Get to Know Your Camera
The first thing you’ll need to do is get familiar with all the features of your camera app of choice. I recommend starting off with the native Camera app that comes installed on the iPhone. While it doesn’t have many of the bells and whistles other apps have, it is up and ready to use much faster than other apps, and it saves to the camera roll in full resolution faster than most other camera apps as well. At the time of this writing, (iOS 4.3.3) the Camera app does not have separate focus and exposure settings. To focus you simply tap on the screen and the focus box will appear right at the place you tapped. Everything else is controlled by the app itself – which is often a good thing for a true beginner. From this point all you really need to do is start taking pictures. A great way to force your self to take a lot of pictures is to start a 365 project. That is, commit to shoot and share one picture everyday. Facebook is a great way to do that because it is so easy to upload pictures, it stores all your photos in an album for you, and allows you to get feedback from your friends. The first time one of your friends tells you that your photo rocks, you’ll be hooked!
After you are comfortable with the native camera app, buy yourself a few additional cameras. Camera+ and ProCamera are two great options. I have them both on my iPhone’s home screen, right next to the native Camera app. I use ProCamera most of the time because I like the laser-like focus and exposure elements – they make me feel like my phone is an advanced alien technology humans haven’t yet discovered. However, if you can only afford one (or only want to mess with one), then get Camera+ as it has better post-processing tools built in. Both these options have separate focus and exposure tools. This allows you to set your focus on one point in the frame while controlling the amount of light the lens lets in based on another point in the frame. When you have time to compose the shot, play with the exposure tool – it really makes a big difference on the resulting image.
2. Basic Post Processing
After you’ve mastered your camera the next stop along your iPhoneography journey is taking those plain shots (yes, I understand pictures of your darling child or the love of your life are never plain but there is always room for improvement otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this…) and turning them into works of art. A word of warning here – make sure you do your homework and stay away from apps that do not save in native resolution. Bringing a lovely photo into an app that saves in really low resolution can really ruin your day.
Your first post processing app purchase should be on one that lets you crop, adjust rotation, improve exposure, and modify saturation and contrast all in one app. If you bought Camera+ then give the “Clarity” filter a try and notice the types of changes this great auto-adjustment filter makes to your photos. Clarity usually does a great job but there are some photos that it does not improve. You could try the PerfectlyClear app, but I can’t recommend it because it bombs out due to memory issues more often than not, even on the latest hardware (iPhone 4 at the time of this writing). If you already bought PerfectlyClear you can still use it but you’ll have to shutdown nearly all your other apps running in the background (double-click the home button to get access to the multitask controls, hold your finger on one of the apps until they start to shimmy and then start closing ‘em down by clicking the “-“ sign at the top left). Clarity in Camera+ tends to open up shadows and boost highlights but sometimes overdoes it in my opinion. PerfectlyClear, when it doesn’t bomb out, is subtler and leaves more room for personal taste.
After playing around with some of the auto-adjustment features in your camera app, I highly recommend you get the free Adobe Photoshop Express app. I use it on 90% of the pictures I take. It has good crop and rotation tools, and excellent exposure, contrast, and saturation adjustments. I really like how the app works; you slide your finger left to right across the image to control the adjustments. The app is very responsive, the UI is easy to understand and use, and the resulting images are saved in full resolution. Did I mention it is free? If you don’t have this app already stop reading and go grab it now! Having an app like Adobe Photoshop Express gives you complete control over adjustments. When you are first starting out you may not really know what to do with a photo to improve it. That’s why I recommend you play with the auto-adjustment apps first to get a feel for what they are doing. Also, look at what other iPhoneographers are doing to their photos – you can learn a lot just by looking at other people’s photos.
3. Playing with Effects
After you’ve adjusted exposure, contract, and saturation to your liking you probably have a pretty great photo. But why stop there? To really make a statement or tell a story with your photo, go ahead and add some cool effects. Here again, I’m going to recommend that you start off with some auto-effect apps to get a feel for what types of things are possible before you try your hand with apps that give you total control over effects.
While there are many awesome auto-effect apps, I’ll just talk about a few here. I’d like to suggest that you start off with an app called CameraBag. It is a nice, simple, auto-effects app with a very easy to use interface. It comes with 15 filters and they are all pretty good (accept for Fisheye which is ugly and stupid). Fire up CameraBag, load your image and swipe your finger to the left or right to browse through the different looks. Find one you like? Save your photo and you are done. A recent update to this app allows you to double-tap the screen to reload the filter with some small adjustments made – really subtle (like no difference subtle) on some and a little more noticeable on others. One of my personal favorite auto-effect apps is PictureShow. This app has somewhere around a million and one possible combinations (don’t quote me on that) and the differences are very dramatic. You could spend hours playing with this app; I know I have. When you are first starting out this app can be a great source of inspiration for getting your creative juices flowing.
Once you are familiar with the auto-effect apps, it is time to grab an app or two that give you full control over effects. The difference between auto-effect apps and what I call free form effect apps is typically the approach to applying the effects. A lot of the auto-effect apps have a single click, swipe, or shake action to apply an effect and you often can’t stack different effects together. The free form effect apps allow you to apply different effects on top of each other and generally provide “sliders” to control the strength of the effect. This allows for truly unique results. FX Photo Studio is a good place to start with its 180+ effects and filters that can be adjusted before applying with easy to manipulate sliders. The effects and filters can be stacked on top of each other to provide a very unique look however, the effects are usually very dramatic so stacking more than two tends to not work that well unless you dial the strength back significantly before applying the effect. Another good free form effects and filters app is Photo FX by Tiffen. This app has over 75 filters, each of which can be applied with a mask – which means you can basically paint on the effect to specific areas of the photo instead of having to apply the effect to the entire photo. Effects can be finely tuned with sliders and stacked on top of each other.
4. Take Total Control
So far we’ve talked about simple post processing and adding effects and filters. To really take your iPhoneography to the next level you’ll want to invest in one (or more if you are like me) full-featured image editing apps. These are different than processing and effects apps in that they offer a complete suite of controls and take a one-stop-shopping approach to your workflow. These apps generally allow you to do everything we’ve already discussed like level adjustments, cropping, straightening, and filters, and also toss in frames, textures, film effects, lens effects, and so for. My current favorite full-featured app is PhotoForge2 because the UI is good, and the tool set is very complete. For this app, I feel like Pop! Cam is a must so the overall cost of ownership is a bit high but well worth it in my opinion. PhotoForge2 supports layers which is a topic beyond the scope of this “Getting Started” article. Suffice it to say that you are starting to approach desktop application feature sets at this point. These full-featured apps can be a little intimidating, especially when you are first starting out. I hesitate to mention them in this article but I want to bring them to your attention because you’ll eventually probably want to invest in at least one of these full-featured apps and you’ll find that they can save you money in the long run because you often would have to buy four or five specific apps to match the feature set of these big boys.
While PhotoForge2 is my favorite, a couple of other big players are Iris Photo Studio, and Filterstorm. I have them both and use them from time to time. Iris has an interesting color substitution feature that works well and doesn’t appear to exist elsewhere. Filterstorm has a great “Curves” implementation that can be applied with a mask. These tend to be advanced techniques so I will cover them in another article.
5. Walk Before You Run
To finish up this article, I would like to suggest that you pick a few apps to start with and take as much time as you need to master them rather than buying every app that catches your fancy right out of the gates. If you master a few apps, you will be much more productive, and likely satisfied with your results than if you buy a boat load of apps that you hardly learn how to use. The sheer number of photography apps can be overwhelming and the learning curve to mastering them all could take you months or maybe even years. You’d quickly become buried under an appalanche never to be seen from again. Here are some recommendations to get you started:
My Short List:
Camera+ (full-featured camera app + the Clarity filter is that good)
Photoshop Express (free and easy to use)
PictureShow (one touch auto-effect randomizer, near endless combinations)
Photo FX (good effects that can be applied with a mask)
PhotoForge 2 w/ Pop! Cam (all the tools you need plus layer support)
My Not as Short List:
All of the above plus:
ProCamera (see my goofy reason in the article above)
CameraBag (quick effects don’t get easier than this)
FX Photo Studio (lots of filters, can combine filters into presets)
Filterstorm (ability to apply curves with a mask)
Going Against My Own Suggestions List:
All of the above plus:
Pro HDR (capture more colors and details)
Magic Hour (community driven filters you can download)
AutoStitch (create panoramic photos by merging multiple photos together)
Noir (moody black and white pictures)
TiltShift Generator (depth of field and miniatures look
Pic Grunger (it’s fun to mess up your pictures)
I hope to provide reviews and tutorials on all of these apps in future articles. May I be the first to wish you good luck on your road to iPhoneography mastery!