There are four photo apps we use most of the time to get those great travel photos
I’ll talk about them in order of frequency of use.
IOS Camera app
IOS Camera app the native camera is the one we use the most and it produces some great travel photos. We not only take photos with it but also use its panorama feature, video recorder, slow motion camera and time lapse features. However it does lack in a few areas which hopefully long term Apple will address. Because having a Camera app that does everything well without having to unlock the iPhone to access would be like magic.
So what are the IOS cameras short falls?
In my opinion the following are the major shortfalls:
The native HDR function in the IOS camera it pretty average and possibly doesn’t do any real exposure bracketing.
- Shutter control
Shutter control is fully automated. This is great for most point and shoot situations but not good for moving targets and low light.
- Focus and Exposure
The current version allows you to focus on one point and adjust the overall exposure but doesn’t allow focusing on one point an detecting exposure from another. Nor does it allow control over near and far focus points.
There are three applications available on the app store that we use to over come these short falls with varying levels of success. Follow our flickr feed to judge how successful we have become for yourself.
HDR PRO X
HDR PRO X is our most used third party camera application. It does bracketed exposure photos in an intuitive way.
Exposure bracketing helps to bring out the natural colour saturation of the scene by creating three separate images with differing exposures and then combining them into one image. The combining of the three exposures tends to make the image appear to have both a higher contrast and high colour saturation level. However the best feature of a correctly shot HDR image is the reduction of both overexposed and underexposed portions within the image.
In an extreme case you can take a shot toward the light and still have both the foreground and background properly exposed. Being able to achieve this with the iPhone can make some holiday shots look absolutely fantastic.
By dragging the blue squares to areas of differing light level you can set the three exposure points for the HDR image. The scene here is relatively evenly exposed so the HDR process doesn’t produce an astoundingly different image. But we can notice a small increase in the brightness of the plate.
In the example below the difference between the IOS camera and the bracketed HDR Pro X application is quite significant.
The image possible with the HDR Pro X application are quite dazzling, but you do need a steady hand. The exposure process does take a little time and movement does cause ghosting and blurs. It best used on a tripod to take a stationary scene. But the the blur and ghosting effect can add to the image so don’t go racing to setup the tripod if think the scene is stable enough.
But a tripod does work out best.
That’s a Tripod
Here’s the tripod setup I use. It’s small light weight and fits almost any smartphone camera. The camera holder is part of a selfie stick we brought in Cambodia in a market for a few dollars. While the flex tripod is an old web camera tripod.
I use this one most of the time, just because I like it, but I do also carry a more versatile tripod that I often use with a dedicated iPhone mounting case. It’s just that little bit more stable in windy conditions and the iPhone5 case mean it’s far less likely to drop the iPhone if its bumped but it does take longer to setup and I can’t use the case all the time so I have on occasions used the super flex tripod with the selfie stick mount. As you can see below.
We do also carry a full size tripod and several selfie sticks but as usual they are just to bulky to have with us all the time. The little flex tripods are light, fast to setup and most importantly fit in my man bag. So they are with us when we need them. Our ultimate tripod might be the GO PRO selfie stick with its multiple configurations and tripod feature but unfortunately it doesn’t have a standard camera mount thread for our cheap selfie stick mount.
Shutter control is a difficult beast with the iPhone and I’m not sure its fully mastered just yet but there is an application called Slow Shutter that manages to do a reasonable job of approximating the function of a long exposure. It’s a heap of fun and really great for taking photos of moving water. Just the motion blur feature alone is worth owning the application. However I’ve seen some fantastic fireworks shots and light trail images created with this application. This tutorial “How to Photograph Fireworks with your iPhone” was a great help for me when I first started using the application as is the Slow Shutter instructions page.
Since we are always on the move and I often get “Come on Dad” if I stop too long to setup a shot I don’t always get the time to use this great little application.
So on the rare occasions that I have the time and more importantly the tripod to setup a stable shot I’ll use this application to create those more artistic photos. Slow Shutter is in my arsenal for the occasions when I have the time to photograph a waterfall or moving stream where I’d like to achieve an artistic motion blur effect.
Here’s how it works and a few successes and failures I’ve had with the application.
Tash refused to move so I shock the iPhone slightly to get this blur effect.
Which doesn’t look so pretty. But setting up a tripod and using motion blur is great for moving water. Getting the exposure correct is more of a challenge with long exposure shots but Slow Shutter does some black magic to help reduce over exposure in well lit areas of the scene.
We tried some very long exposure low light images to see what slow shutter could do with the default setting. It was a little disappointing we will have another go the next time we have a clear night in the UK. Don’t hold your breath. The first image is a post processed 3 minute exposure of the northern sky near Norwich. (Norwich is meant to have quite a history with astronomy so what better place to try our luck with Slow Shutter.) To take these images and not bump the camera we use the self timer feature of slow shutter set at 1 second to trigger the long exposure.
Considering the IOS Camera doesn’t see any stars this is an OK result. If you look carefully you can see the stars are slightly elongated. Not sure if thats because of camera movement or earth rotation. Probably bumped the camera ending the bulb session by touching the shutter button.
So then we tried a shorted 15 second image of the same area of sky.
Not as good but better detail than the IOS camera and the four second exposure below.
However these shots looked nothing like this as the camera was working. The image looked more like the one below of the northern horizon.
It took quite a bit of playing around with the Slow Shutter image effect tools to go from the raw image above to one without all the CCD noise (below).
Still a long way to go to learn how we can use this app to take those other special images other than blurry water effect.
Camera Plus gives me that little bit extra control over exposure, focus and triggering a photo.
The macro feature enables the camera to focus on a close subjects, with clarity while softly blurring the background. As a result the foreground subjects really POP from the image. It takes a little time to use it well and again a tripod really helps. It also helps it the subject is rather slow moving or still. I tried using this feature on a bumble bee with very little success. But stationary flowers are a synch. Pick a still day with little or no breeze if the flower is small and light weight otherwise look forward to a motion blur effect in both the foreground and background.
Let’s have a look at the IOS Camera App focus first. Below you see the normal focus. Tap the screen and IOS camera tries to focus on a broad area of the scene.
The IOS camera does a great job of finding the mid distance focus. Most element in the image are in focus or near focus. But the image looks flat.
If you focus on a close image like I did by tapping the coffee cup then we get the coffee cup in crisper focus and Tash is slightly blurred. End result the image appears to have more depth. Tash looks a lot further away.
Now see what happens with Camera Plus Marco feature.
This part of the app I find quite difficult because I have large fingers and poor eye sight. So on bright days messing with this focus control to set marco quickly is a pain. The result however is worth any persistence require to turn the feature on. It require hitting the little plus button next toe focus ring and sliding the control to macro.
Once macro is active. Use the focus ring to pic a point to focus on in the close object/subject
Camera Plus does a great job focusing on the subject while softly blurring the distant objects.
The other great feature is AirSnap, which gives Camera Plus the ability to use another IOS device as a remote control. Since my cheap remote control button ceased working I’ve use the Camera Plus Airsnap remote feature to take group shots and timed photos and its probably better than the little one button remote because I can see the image which is about to be shot. Works best with a wifi connection but can be used with bluetooth alone.
There are heaps more apps for taking photos and I’d love to hear from people about new and exciting photo apps and how they use them. The three above I found through review online and tried them so I’m always looking other suggestions, but I minimise the number I use at anyone time so I can practice using them and make faster choices. For the same reason any apps that I use often is moved to the bottom row of the home screen so it can be accessed more quickly.
So whats next? My daughter Nikki asked the other day why we take some many close up photos. She’s not traveling with us and her complaint is she can’t see what the places we visit really look like. Scenery photos are a necessary part of travel photography to help tell the whole story but how do you get everything in? Fortunately panorama photography has taken a huge leap forward in the past few years making it accessible to everyone with a smartphone. Next blog post I’m going to investigate panorama photos, all the different apps for taking great travel panorama photos with an iPhone and more importantly what to do with these large format photos. Lookout for “Panorama photography for travellers”