Monday, April 4, 2016

Photography Magic with a Tablet or Smartphone

Often the difference between an OK picture and a WOW picture is just a matter of angles, the composition. The great thing about using a tablet or phone to take a picture is you have that screen to view the potential picture before snapping that picture. Don’t be afraid to move your camera around, change the angles to get a more pleasing view. Don't worry about what you look like, right then, all that exists is you, your tablet or phone, and your subject.

Here are a couple of tricks I use to get better pictures, first I get as close as possible to the subject, tablets & phones are not known for their ability to zoom, sometimes I end up forgoing a shot that would be terrific if I had a camera with a zoom lens, but that doesn’t happen very often. Make sure your settings on your camera app are set to the maximum quality, that way you can always zoom in and crop on the resulting photo if necessary. The photo examples I include here are in grayscale so you can focus on the composition.

I fill the frame with the subject, sometimes that means I have to get up higher (climbing on something) or getting lower, on the ground, having a tablet that has a voice activated camera app comes in handy about then.

If you can’t get in close, but still want to get the picture, then my second trick comes into play, I use a prop to “frame” the shot. One of my signature styles is to use an old fence post up close and personal on the side of the shot, the older, gnarlier and covered with wire the better, I get close enough to the post that you almost get splinters, then I have the subject of the shot in the rest of the picture, usually a mountain, sunset or some other equally scenic scene.


Sometimes I get lucky and have something to frame the scene on both sides, for me that usually ends up being trees, I walk around, holding up my tablet, gauging the scene as it moves across my screen, once the picture is what I want to see, I snap the picture.

Don’t be afraid of snapping lots of pictures, it’s not uncommon for me to go out for a short time only to discover I took 100+ shots. I then spend time going through the shots and pick out a few of the best and delete the rest. Sometimes I get nothing, none of the shots are worth keeping, but that’s OK, it’s all part of the game, and it’s only digital, no film was injured in the process. :)

Wretha Smith

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I have a secret to share, I use a tablet to take pictures

I love taking pictures, as you can see, the job I have (that pays the bills) is merchandising, I get to drive all over west Texas to service the dollar stores in our region. On average I put 500-900 miles a week on my truck. As a result, I get to see some beautiful countryside, at all times of the day (and night), in all kinds of weather and mostly by myself. Since I don't have a concrete schedule, it's usually OK if I take a little longer to get to work, or to get home, I sometimes stop quite a bit to snap pictures.

I don't have an expensive camera, in fact I don't really have a camera at all, I take all of my pictures with a tablet, shocking but true. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, it's an 8 inch size screen. The camera it has is pretty good for a tablet, and even with the stock camera app that comes with it, I find I can take pretty decent pictures. It's only limitation I have found is it doesn't do zoom very well, it can zoom, but it quickly gets pixelated and can't really zoom in very far at all. For the most part, I don't use the zoom feature, rather I take pictures at the maximum quality, then I can enlarge & crop later as I need to.

After taking all those pictures, I still need to edit my photos, tweak them and make them pop, I discovered a FREE app called Snapseed, I know they make it for Android, and here for IOS. This app does some really fantastic things to photos, there is really too much for me to describe here, mainly what I use is the HDR filter, it really makes my photos pop! Since it completely free, not even as much as an annoying ad and nothing to unlock, it's worth your time to install it and play with it, if it doesn't thrill you, you can always remove it.

The other app I recently ran across is called "A Better Camera" (link for free version) (link for unlocked version), I know it works for Andriod, not couldn't find anything for IOS. They have a free version that lets you use most of the features and allows you to take a small number of pictures using the premium features, I didn't even use up all of the free photos before buying the unlocked version. It's a really good bargain, even at full price, I believe it's under $10 to unlock, and you can put the unlocked version on more than one device, I don't know what the limit is, but I paid for it once and have it on 3 devices.

You use that app instead of your standard camera app, I have been using and learning about this app and absolutely LOVE it. It allows you to take HDR pictures, and it has a feature in the regular picture part called "DRO", it allows the device to see closer to what you see with your eyes, colors are bright, contrast is better, even in low light it takes great pictures.

You can do video with this app, but it doesn't work right with my devices, honestly I don't care, I bought it for what it can do with photos, it apparently isn't an issue with many other users, I don't see very many comments about that bug on their Google Play page.

When you take pictures with this app, it gives you the opportunity to save the unaltered images so you can choose between them, sometimes I prefer the unaltered image, but most of the time I love the tweaked image. When you choose HDR, it takes 3 pictures, one light, one medium and one dark, it then combines the images into a composit using the best of each image. The nice thing is you don't need a tripod, or even have to worry about being perfectly still, it seems to be able to deal with slight movements between frames, obviously the more still you can hold the device, the better the end result.
I did go in and tweak some of the settings, on the HDR settings, I knocked back the amount of color it enhances so the photos have a more realistic look, I also made the "noise" less. I set all the images to save at the maximum quality, it takes up more room per picture, but that is fine with me, that's what that extra memory card is for, right?
I have discovered that most of the time, I have to use one or the other, Snapseed taken with regular settings on my device camera, or take pictures with "A Better Camera" app, so far if I try to run a photo through Snapseed that I took with "A Better Camera" app, it tends to look worse, so when I am out in the field, taking pictures, I try to remember to use both the camera apps, so I have the most options for the pictures when I'm done.

Now you know some of my "secrets", I'll write a few more posts later on explaining how to get better pictures from your phone or tablet, of course this will also translate to those using real cameras too.
Let me know what you think about this blog post, too long? Not enough? Any questions are welcome and will be answered if I can.