Color & Light
Meeting Photo Challenges
Creative Image Processing
Nature & Outdoor
Creating Better Photographics
Night & Low Light Photography
Light & Exposure
Close-Up & Macro
Digital Black & White
Color & Design
Choosing & Using Lenses
Digital Photography Equipment
Capturing The Image: iPhone & Android
Unless your sense of the photographic process is restricted to making photograms under a dim light bulb, using a camera to capture images is the beginning of your image-making adventure. Let’s look at capture apps, both the ones included with our mobile phone cameras and ones that take off the training wheels to provide you with more control.
Built-in Camera Apps
Just because the built-in camera apps are free doesn’t mean they aren’t feature rich (#2). The iPhone’s Camera includes lots of nifty ways to make your photography better, easier and more fun. Take a look.
Image (#3: panels A, B & C) shows some—but not all—of the iPhone 5s Camera modes. In panel A you have your standard camera with an aspect ratio of 3:4. For many of us, this will be where we do most of our shooting. With tap-to-focus (and exposure metering) you’re ready at a moment’s notice.
In Panel B you slide the Mode list to the left to access Square shooting, something that hasn’t seen such popularity since a Hassleblad 500 was considered a lifetime investment. Unlike the iOS camera filters that you can change or delete later (more about this below), if you shoot in Square mode, you’re permanently locked into a square image. In Panel C, besides normal, 30 fps video, the iPhone 5s also sports a 120 fps Slo-Mo Video mode that’s great for fast action recording.
There are more tricks lurking in the iPhone’s camera but we’ll tackle the others in later chapters, (but as a hint, they involve HDR and panoramas).
When you tap the overlapping circles at the bottom-right of your camera screen (# 4), you are given a grid of 9 different filters. Don’t expect anything as expansive as you’ll get in some of the post-processing apps we’ll cover in a later chapter; these are modest alterations of your image—more a tip of the hat to Instagram and Hipstamatic than a radical new way to modify your photos. It is cool that you get a live preview of what your subject will look like with any of the filters applied. Note that “None” is dead center so you can easily revert to a non-filtered capture. Better yet, all of these iPhone filters are non-destructive. That’s right, it’s sort of like the changes you make in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Apple Aperture or Adobe Camera Raw; you can select a different filter or completely remove it later.
The Android World
Android takes a slightly different approach in their camera settings. Panel A shows the top level of settings. There you can control the flash (fire or not fire), Exposure Value (exposure compensation) and cool features like Smile Shot (the camera will not take a photo until the subject is smiling). Panel B shows Panorama, Action Shot (the camera automatically concatenates the moving subject), and Cartoon, which posturizes your image. It’s important to remember that, unlike the iPhone’s filters that can later be changed or turned off completely, these effects are baked into the JPEGs saved to your gallery. In other words, don’t use Cartoon mode to take an important photo of your mother or father in law!
Note: If you are using the front facing camera for a selfie, most of the other options are disabled. I was particularly disappointed that I couldn’t use the Beauty option for my own self-portraits.
In Panel C the Scene modes are shown. Here you can prepare the camera for special situations including Portrait, Landscape, Night Shooting, Sports and Party/Indoor.
When you shift into Video mode, the settings change again, as in image (#6). The left side panel shows video shooting settings and on the right side are the expanded video resolution choices. It’s surprisingly handy to have a selection of video resolutions when you only want to email a small video of a family event. Note the HD video resolution of 1920x1080. As we prepare to enter the era of 4K video, this will soon seem tiny.
Limitations Of The Built-in Camera Apps
Touch to Focus and Meter: By default, the iPhone and Android camera apps let you tap the LCD to set focus. What you might not know is that the camera will base its exposure on that same point. This works great for many photos but falls short when your main subject (that you want sharp) is much lighter or darker than the rest of the scene. Image (#8; panels A, B & C) is an example.
Getting To Your iPhone Camera Quickly
Note: Because the camera is available without unlocking your iPhone, anyone can take photos, even without knowing your unlock password. Depending on the quality (and sense of humor) of your friends, you might find unwelcome photos in your camera roll. But fear not, without your unlock password (your phone is password protected, right?) they can’t edit or email any images in your Camera Roll. Whew!
Panel A: Here I used the iPhone’s camera app to photograph a black rubber stamp sitting on a gold leaf print. When I tapped on the iPhone’s LCD (the area marked with a red circle), the camera properly focused but the exposure was improperly biased for the dark tonality of the inked rubber. The resulting overexposure blew out the delicate gold tones in the vellum print.
Panel B: The Pro Camera 7 app behaves similarly by default: tapping on the rubber stamp focuses and meters at the same point. You can see the Pro Camera 7’s concentric focus and meter points circled in blue. The real power of Pro Camera 7 comes into play when you separate the exposure and the focus points.
Panel C: Dragging the yellow exposure-metering circle to a more appropriate area (where there’s a mix of dark and light tones) results in a better overall exposure while leaving the focus point on the important text on the rubber stamp.
Pro Camera 7 isn’t the only iOS app to offer separate exposure and focus control. Camera +, King Camera, 645 Pro, KitCam and a plethora of other camera apps will extend your focusing and metering precision.
On the Android Platform, Camera Awesome is a good option (but certainly not the only one) for advanced camera control. Unfortunately, this app will only run on some of the newest Android devices like the Galaxy S3/S4, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, etc.
PerfectShot is another popular Android app providing separate exposure and focus points. Though the developer’s website stated support for Android version 2.3 and later, my version 4.0.4 Galaxy S2 would produce a “your device not supported” message with PerfectShot. The Android world contains a lot of variation, which leads to conflicts and, occasionally, frustration. There are just so many variations of camera resolution, LCD size and resolution, versions of the operating system, CPU and GPU, that it can be a challenge for app developers to anticipate all the potential behavior problems with their apps. This “fragmentation” you hear about in the Android world is definitely not a myth.
Panel A: When you first open ClearCam, it will be in Quick mode. Though virtuous for other reasons (read about it in the app description) what we want is the resolution enhancing prowess of ClearCam’s Enhanced mode (circled in red). When you press the shutter button ClearCam will take 6 photos in rapid succession and save them to ClearCam’s internal library.
Panel C: Here’s the Original version of the image. Here I’ve greatly enlarged a round portal section on the building so you can witness the difference between this original version and the enhanced shot in panel D.
Panel D: Compare this enhanced version with the original in panel C. Notice the improved edge effects and reduced noise?
Panel E: After saving the enhanced version to the Camera Roll, we can check the pixel dimensions with the excellent Photo Size app by Danny Goodman. Notice that the image grew from an 8MP iPhone capture to an 18MP image.
“Other” Shutter Buttons?
In 2011, with the advent of iOS 5, the iPhone’s camera was updated to support the volume button shutter. Image (#10) shows the iPhone with a finger positioned over the volume-up button (you can use either volume-up or volume-down to trip the shutter). Note that holding the camera with the volume buttons on the top will place your lens at the lower-right corner of the phone so be careful to keep fingers and sleeves away from that area. This shutter tripping method is more stable as you can squeeze the camera as you push the buttons, much like you would trip the shutter on a conventional camera’s top plate.
Android version 4.3 Jelly Bean provides for the volume buttons shutter release, too. For users of older devices that don’t accept the Jelly Bean or later updates, there’s a handy app called VolShutter Camera. This app will give older Android phones the convenience of volume button shutter tripping. Note in image (#11) that when held with the volume buttons on the top (circled in blue), the VolShutter Camera app strangely does not rotate the display so all text and icon readouts are upside-down. This oversight is strange given that not many photographers would want the shutter button to be on the bottom-left of their cameras.