The Magic of Photo Editing

Originally, I planned a trip downtown to explore the 13th Avenue as one of my followers suggested (thank you!), and I believe it will be a fun expedition. However, my schedule does not seem to work out for me, and instead of having you wait till next week, it seems to me a perfect opportunity to tell you the pros and cons of post-processing.

To be frank, I have included post-processing in my list of “possible blog topic” for a long time. It is like a fire, easily taken advantage of and easily misused. See the following image edited and take note of their difference:

From bland to vibrant:

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Google Photos: Palma Effects
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original

From Cloudy to Sunny to Stormy:

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original

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Snapseed: used the “curve” function+ horizontal lens blur

If you have no idea what the “curve” function or the horizontal lens blur is, be calm: it is incredibly simple!

I use only ONE editing app: snapseed. It is extreme powerful and easy to use, appropriate for a one-minute editing or a complete repainting of your original work. It is available on both IOS and Android for free. I will not bother explaining the numerous function on its menu because it takes you less than five minutes to try all the functions out! However, if you are confused, please comment!

Even an easier alternative is Google Photos, which provides unlimited online storage of photos at up to 16 megapixels per photo. Not only is it an answer to security of photos to mobile photographers, it has a built-in “effects” that can make your photo possess a completely different tone than that of the original. The proof is above.

Here is the tricky part: the editing apps can dramatically alter the photo. In a sense, we have the power to ‘make up’ what is in our original scene. You can make the photo appear sunny or stormy, regardless of what the weather was at the time the photo is taken. As a photographer, photo-editing apps give you incredible liberty to transform a piece of the world to art, so it may evoke great feelings from the viewer. The photo can become your canvas to add more on. In my opinion, however, every editing you do to the original photo should have a definite purpose. It cannot just be justified by saying “it seems to make the photo look better.” How better? Is this really what you try to convey to the viewer? Many photography blog posts I read contain some sort of a complaint that the abundance of filters on Instagram and other apps somehow diminish the meaning of photography. If you are going to tell viwers what happened, don’t edit the photos except to highlight detail or to achieve other necessary adjustments. If you are going to make art, put thought into your every stroke.

In my next post, I will hopefully deliver you some wonderful architecture and and art photos from downtown. Stay tuned!

Fast As a Blur–Motion in Photography

I am sure you have all seen photos like this:

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Have you ever wondered what the mechanism behind the blur is? How you ever tried replicating the effect on your own camera? Motion-blur is a technique that allows still images to remind us of movement and to excite our mind.

Even if you already know how this works on an DSLR, do you know how this works on a phone? I don’t, and that’s why several weeks ago, I went near the highway to experiment settings, hoping for the magic.

I was defeated, completely defeated. It was impossible to adjust shutter speed the way I wanted to on my Samsung Grand Prime. Possible on an IPhone 6s maybe, or a Galaxy S6, but not on my phone. I reached this painful conclusion through weeks of experiment and research.

It all started with my post a month ago, in which I advised Android phone owners to try an app called Camara FV5 Lite. By having a slow shutter speed, motion-blur would be simple. This suggestion was based on research on the Web and a brief look at the function of its “shutter mode.” At that time, I have yet to find subjects that are fast and furious enough for the charm of motion-blur to manifest itself, but I was so confident the app will work well for the occasion that I recommended it nonetheless.

As soon as I decided to try the technique out on the trip to the highway, I encountered problems. The images I took look like the following:

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It reminds me of several images, successively taken, that are stitched together in a computer program. Before anyone ridicule my stupidity for trusting that smartphones have the same capabilities as DSLR, let me explain why I had confidence that shutter is adjustable by apps in Android. Unlike aperture (definition can be found here), which can be found to be fixed on all phones just by a simple Google search, shutter speed is adjustable on smartphones by many related articles I have found online. Like learners in any field, I trusted public sources and assumed what applies to them applies to me. I was wrong.

The official website of Camera FV5 stated that some smartphones are not capable of true long-exposure photos, and the app instead relied on algorithms to manipulate existing images to mimic the long-exposure effect. As can be seen in the photo above, this was done badly.

I could not help thinking, “if shutter speed cannot be controlled, how was the phone able to use different shutter speed to take different pictures?” I know this as fact because Google Photos shows that the exposure time for photos indeed varies. So far, I have not found a satisfying answer. I guess questions without answers are a necessary part of any intellectual exploration.

I began trying to indirectly influence the shutter speed by changing scene modes on the default camera. I found that, in daylight, scene modes do not influence shutter speed, which is very surprising. “Sports” mode and “Night” mode both use the same shutter speed if the subject is the same. Another roadblock. 

A thought crossed my mind. If depth of field (definition here) can be easily changed post-production, can motion-blur be somehow faked? Photoshop, the king of photo-editing, can no doubt successfully do so. Yet, I was more looking for an easier approach. That is, I hope to find an editing app more accessible and less professional than PhotoShop in order to stay true to this blog.

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The editor LunaPic blurs the entire image.

Roadblocks and mistakes are always to be overcome and to become a stepping stone to a higher level; I just have not found the way yet. Any suggestions, anyone?

To Visitors to Regina

Regina is so beautiful! To be honest, if this city of 236000 people always offers surprises and spectacles like the ones I witnessed a week ago, I might even want to stay here for rest of my life.

Last Thursday, I decided to go on a photography exploration trip, one in which I will be putting my photography skills into use. I explored one of the most beautiful spots in my city, a bicycle trail in the largest urban park in North America. Every city has something to boast, and while some small towns take pride in their INSERT HERE , Regina residents has Wascana Park, a natural park bigger than Central Park in New York and taking up half of the city. In such a big place, there are, naturally, spots that are frequented by travellers and those that aren’t. One of the latter is a section of the bike trails that are merely three meters away from the highway, as shown in the map below.

I cannot describe the feeling I had other than to vaguely state it as a feeling of happiness and fulfillment. Seeing cars whizzing by at the speed of 100 km/h and saying hi to occasional bike riders make me feel being in the member of an exclusive club.

I went to that specific spot because firstly, this is in my opinion the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen in Regina, and secondly, I went there specifically to experiment photography of fast-moving objects.  The first point is to highlight such a jewel in Regina to those residents who might be reading this. If you are not from Regina, I hope you enjoy the photos anyway (seriously, there is something spectacular in every city). DSC_0107.JPG

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Something I came across on my way to the trail beside the highway. Any guesses as to where this is?
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Something else I came across. Someone forgot their shoes?

All pictures are taken with a Samsung Grand Prime, with minimal editing (some got Auto-enhanced by Google Photos). As you can see, most amateur photographers rely on the abundance of light to stage their art. This is a good place to start learning, as there is enough light nearly half of the time every day. I recommend getting familiar with different photography techniques in sunny conditions; then, deal with cloudy conditions; then rainy ones; then night time. Why? Because the less light there is, the less freedom the photographer has over how the photo will look, and the scene is generally more difficult to work with. Last Thursday was the “sunny expedition.”

It is funny. I took the images without much process of deliberate thought, and yet, after my selection of the images to post here, I found one common quality among them: the contrast of color. The first image is mainly a clash of light green and sky blue. The second, one of grey and blue. The last, a red subject standing out in a green background. In these set of images, the contrast of colours gave them life, which, of course, is exactly how the scenery felt in those moments–active and teeming with life.

Hmm… so this is how colour affects mood.

Another thought: the fact that three different pictures of different subjects share the same theme when I did not intend them to is remarkable. My trip would be more accurately described with a gallery than with one single picture. Tell me whether you think this statement can be extended to include or occasions.

Wait for future posts to find out how successful I was in capturing the motion of cars during the trip… (hint: I never thought it would be this difficult). Thanks for your support!

What is your favorite spot in YOUR city?

How Do You Take a Picture of These?

I learned something new! I already told you about “wanderlust,” but there is still something I would like to share that will benefit your everyday photography a great deal.

These are techniques one use to photograph the common subjects of photography. Have you ever tried to take a picture of the raindrops with your phone, only to find that you can’t capture much other than the background? Here is help to capture seemingly the impossible.

Wind: Seriously, how do you photograph wind? After all, wind cannot be seen directly (unless you are in the middle of a sandstorm, blizzard, or a hurricane), but they play such a big role in influencing our feelings that it would be nice to record it through photography. I did some research and thought a while about it. I remember once reading a story in elementary school about the little girl trying to draw wind. After consulting her parents, she learns that wind, though not directly seen, influence the position and the orientation of everyday object. The waving flag, the dandelion in the air, the waves on bodies of water are but some examples.

This is supported by my striking images of wind found on the Internet.

Here is an images of a windy day.

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See the swaying leaves and the waves? Really dynamic objects make the illusion of wind come to life. On the other hand, though there is no way I can convey the comfort of the summer breeze by having wind blowing out of the photograph, the trick is to photograph yourself, since you have the emotions, and emotions jump out of photos. Consider yourself a medium through which the power of wind shows itself.

If you enjoy photographing objects, here are the tips: get really close, so that when your camera focuses, the background gets blurred a bit. In my experience, any blur contribute to the feelings of having wind around. Small and light subjects, such as leaves swaying, are especially effective in showing the breeze.

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Action: It is sort of ironic that we hope to capture motion by freezing an image. In most cameras, there is a Sports mode that prevents moving object from becoming blurry in photographs when they are moving. What if we want to give viewer the illusion of movement, as the subject gives the photographers?

We will introduce motion blur. From my experience, this effect is not directly attainable through default camera apps in android or IOS. An additional free third party app is needed. I had great success with Camera FV5 Lite on Android. On iPhone, VSCO Cam is also one that will be suitable for this purpose. I understand that it can be quite hard to convince people to download a new app, but you will soon see it makes the humble-looking smart-phone appear almost as powerful as a DSLR (in this post, I don’t want to get into the details about these opportunities just yet). Plus, you can always delete the app if you find it unsuitable.

After you have that, it’s easy… Set the shutter speed to half a second, traces any moving object, and press capture. Now do it again using auto mode. What difference do you notice? What happens as you go closer to the object?

That’s for you to try. Thank you for keeping up with my blog.

Wanderlust

When I posted my last post about the awesome quality of subjects in travel photography, I was unaware of the Daily Post Photo Challenge. This should never have been missed, since it is an important gathering for photographers on WordPress. Amateurs and professionals alike share their photos, in response to a one-word prompt, with the WordPress community. Even if you you do not consider yourself a photographers yet, I encourage you to take a look there(The Daily Post).

What a coincidence! This week, the prompt is “wanderlust.” Remember my promise to shoot a few night time pictures? When I wandered out at night, it was cold. I cannot seem to bring myself together to go outside of the warm home. I am not a night person, and the sun sets relatively late in Regina, Saskatchewan. Touring the dark easements and empty roads brought a feeling of desolation. The lights in most houses were off, I was walking alone. It was an incredible experience.

I do have some regrets photography-wise. I have underexposed the photos I took during low light conditions, resulting in grainy images, as seen below. Underexposure results in the lack of information gathered by camera sensor, so when the picture is corrected post-production to a suitable tone, spots appear on photograph representing insufficient information to fill the whole picture.  According to this post(Forbes) on Quora, a longer exposure helps reduce the graininess of the photograph, even when the camera sensor is not specially suited for low-light conditions. I only attach two pictures below, as (I hope) better ones are to come.

I will do this again. Photography rocks!

Reflection on the Lesson #1 (Shaw Academy)

Hi everyone! Have you been taking pictures lately? I hope you have, because what’s the point of learning photography if you do not try it?

I have launched an “Other Resources” page. It’s a result of hours of searches on the internet, and if you feel like going beyond what I tell you on this this blog, take a look there!

Yesterday, I watched a video smartphone photography on Shaw Academy as part of a online course consisting of more than eight videos. It was so fantastic I cannot help but want to share something brilliant.

Travel photography: One thing the video talked about is the styles of photography. What makes travel photography different from regular photography? Does travel photography not include landscape and portrait photography? Caroline Callaghan remarks that travelling gives people a open mindset and that on a trip abroad, people are more curious about their surroundings(Diploma). If you had been on a trip to a new place, you will know what she is talking about. It reminds me of a photo I saw of a scene in Europe, which, at first, struck me as being completely new and interesting, but really, little effort is used to take that picture: the “spark of life” in that picture lies completely in its subject. Can’t we do the same with our city? Going out of our daily routine, treating the city as completely new, and exploring a new neighborhood, just like a tourist does, will often bring pleasant surprises.

IMG_20170427_222854Even the buildings you know well give off a different light at different times! 

I have an idea: I will go explore when it’s dark outside, and I will tell you about this experience in my next post. This is my “going out of my routine.” What about yours?

Did you know there are many ways to take a picture other using the “capture” button? For most phones, you can take a picture by pressing the volume UP button. If needed, you can even use the volume keys on the earphone cords. For Android phones specifically, pictures can be taken when you shout “cheese” or “capture” in camera mode (I am not kidding; many phones have these features enabled on default). Because of these features, one can use camera to take a picture at more than an arm’s length away, offering a different perspective.

Camera Toss: This is a failed concept, but one worth sharing. I admit, Callaghan’s actual subject is drone photography, but this reminds me of the possibility of obtaining aerial view through tossing the camera(Smith) (in this case–my phone) that I’ve read. I used a headset with volume control, and tossed my phone upward in sports mode (suitable for capturing objects in movement), capturing the image when it reached its highest point and faced downward directly. Besides having little value unless you are on a soft bed(which is where I experimented the technique), this method does not work unless you manage to spin your phone so that it faces directly downward. A more practical way of photographing the aerial view would be to attach it to the highest object you can find, and use the self-timer to capture the image 2, 5, or 10 seconds later.

Did you know? To go to the camera app quickly on iPhones, just swipe left on your home screen. 

The link to Shaw Academy can be found on my Other Resources page.

The Least You Need to Know about Phone Camera Functions (Part 2)

After the temporary tangent onto the philosophy behind photography, let us direct our attention back to the capabilities of basic smartphone cameras.

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Panorama: One of the features I always hope to have in a camera is a wide view of the surroundings. You see, I usually try to match the picture I take to the image my eye sees it. The existence of peripheral vision in humans and the lack of it in cameras, however, mean that one cannot easily capture objects on the edges of a photo. I felt this limitation this weekend as I traveled to Meadow Lake. The endless group of trees surround the huge lake before, and at that moment I felt the vastness of the land. However, this vastness cannot be conveyed with a single photo because the photo simply would not be big enough! That’s where the panorama mode would come in. In this mode, pictures are taken as the user rotates on the spot, and these pictures are stitched together in the end to form a picture that contains 360 degrees of surroundings. Here is an example of one.

iOS-6-Panorama1“IOS 6 Panorama.” IPhone Photography School, IPS Media LLC. , 14 July 2013,                                                                              iphonephotographyschool.com/panorama-photos/. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.

See how pano mode can be helpful to us? A critical artist might have picked up still another imperfection of the picture above: It appears too long and narrow. The problem is that to capture the horizontal length, the final image appears to lose its vertical height. The camera simulated the left and right of our peripheral vision, but not the top and bottom parts. The solution to this requires using special apps to take 360-degree-pano, which I will cover another day.

Another interesting thing I note is that in panorama mode, the camera fails to re-adjust the exposure as the camera moves. This makes sense because if the same object appears to have different brightness in two photos, the phone would have a hard time stitching them together. Still, it seems like an interesting approach to overcome. I have been trying to take the scene as continuous shots and stitch them afterwards, but I have not found appropriate software. Any ideas?

Did you know that you can take panoramas vertically, too? Just move up or down instead of sideways. This is especially good for tall buildings, mountains, or just something awesome that has you looking up and down! (This has been tested on both Android and iPhone, but on an iPhone one might need to rotate the phone.)

Continuous Shot is simple enough. It is the mode in which you can, by keep holding onto the “capture” button, take many images in quick succession. It is extremely useful for taking pictures of quick-moving people, sports events, animals, and so on. After the burst of images are produced, you can choose the best of all images. I love this comment on the burst mode I found: “All you need to do is hold the shutter button down while the person takes a few steps, and you’ll have plenty of images to choose from”(Zappa). If there is one mode that illustrates the importance of timing in photography and simplicity of it, it is this one.

So that’s it for this week. Soon I will be adding an “Other Resources” page in my blog that hopefully will broaden your horizon of cellphone photography. Also, the ideas and feedback I received from you are valuable. I will be alternating between these ideas in my next posts. Stay tuned!

Art Knows No Boundaries

The post about Auto and  Pro modes of phone cameras paves the way to discuss what this blog is truly about — the making of art with ordinary equipment. Before going through the auxiliary functions of the phone, though, let me tell you a story about this picture above.

I was doing homework on a winter night. The wind was blowing quite coolly outside. For no reason other than to… let me see… take a break from my work, I went out for a walk. Winter skies are clearer than summer ones because the lack of moisture means there are less clouds in the sky, and that usually makes a star-gazing opportunity. That was not the case where I was, though. Instead, imagine a dark, cold night, with lamps lighting the streets (quite poorly, I have to say) and groups of clouds hiding the half-moon and stars. Why would I want to stay out? Because there is a charm to the night. To me, anyway. Clouds get blown across the sky, and the scene is very tranquil. Then, suddenly a star appeared across the moon, emerging from behind a cloud. I snapped a picture of it with my phone. The picture is plain, and I went home without thinking much about it.

It wasn’t until much later that I dug the picture out from my gallery and applied some Google Photos effects on it. And there you have it, the picture that encompasses, contains, and represents all the feelings and experience that take the last paragraph to explain. It seems we are not very diligent about art at times. We think a picture is only what it is, only wonderful patterns attractive to the human eye. What about mine? It is very crude, but to me it has a special meaning. Where it might have failed is that it does not have such meaning to you.

What makes good art? What makes a good photograph? Everybody can press the camera button to take photos of their friends or the beaches they visited, but they remain meaningless unless you convey some feelings though them. Photography at its best, in my opinion, is when you capture the essence of the scenes and people around you so that those who see your work will feel just as how you feel at that moment. When done correctly, a picture is truly better than a thousand words.

The best part? You can do this, no matter where you are.