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Editing RAW on the Go with Lightroom Mobile by Simon Abrams

I had an awesome time at the Afropunk Battle of the Bands at the Knitting Factory the other night. All of the performances were incredible and dynamic (of course I think my friend Gbenga's band, Olu Bliss should have won, but I’m biased like that).

Anyway, it was a fun opportunity for me to indulge in a little bit of concert photography in an intimate, low-pressure setting. I got some great images, and I thought I’d use this as an excuse to write a bit about how I use Lightroom Mobile to begin processing a shoot like this on the go.

Lightroom Mobile is Adobe’s free mobile companion to the desktop version of the software. It has a ton of powerful editing features, and If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, it syncs back to the desktop, so you can continue editing on the big screen when you’re back at your computer. There are a lot of plusses about this workflow, but there’s also at least one significant downside, which I’ll get into later. With that said, let's get into it.

Import and Review

The show was in Williamsburg, which meant that I had time during the longish subway ride home to download my photos to my iPhone, using the handy SD to Lightning adapter that’s usually in my bag. I popped the card in the reader, connected it to the Lightning port, and opened the Photos app, (which is the only way to get images off an SD card onto your phone). Next, I tapped Import, then Import All. Boom - done.

Once the images were downloaded from the card (it took a while; I entertained myself by people-watching on the train), my next step was to open up LR Mobile and create a collection to hold the images from the event.

Now that I had those images in Lightroom on my phone, I was able to easily swipe through and do a quick review of my shots from the event, adding “Pick” flags to the shots I liked the most, and then filtering the view to focus on just those flagged images. Just as I was finishing up, I got to my stop. Nice.

One of the major advantages to a workflow like this is that I can now easily share a couple of my favorites from my fancy mirrorless camera (with its big sensor and great low-light performance that few mobile phones can match - I'm sorry, but them's the facts) on social media in a very immediate way. And since I’ve already done some initial rating/triaging of images, when I get back to the desktop, a big chunk of the work is already done. I can then spend a little more time and process the rest of the images from the shoot more carefully. Plus, it's a great way to kill time while traveling. Sweet!

The Caveat: Color Profiles

Okay, so this part is gonna get a little technical, but I feel like I have to talk about it. We all know that RAW images are great, because they give you more control over how you expose the highlights and shadows of your image. Lightroom has a default recipe called Adobe Standard that it uses to apply specific color, hue, saturation, etc. to every RAW file you import. On the Desktop, you can choose from a range of built-in profiles; you can even go as far as to set a specific RAW profile to be applied on a per-camera basis, but this option isn’t available in LR Mobile.

Okay. Stay with me; I realize that I'm off on a tangent here. The preview image you see on the back of your camera when you’re shooting is generated by a built-in, secret-sauce profile that your camera automatically embeds in the RAW files it saves. Why this matters, is because I’ve noticed that sometimes when I import images into LR Mobile, the second I start tweaking sliders and making adjustments, LR’s default profile (Adobe Standard, remember?) gets applied, and suddenly my image looks dramatically different than it did a second ago. Whaaaaat!?

Note the solarization, aka distorted colors, in the performer's face. It looks kinda cool, but that's not what the scene looked like when I shot it.

This happens to me especially with low-light images, with funky lighting—aka concert lighting. As far as I know, the only way to fix it, is to hop over to the desktop version of Lightroom and apply a profile other than Adobe Standard to your images. In the Develop module, scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel and choose something other than Adobe Standard. If I’m using my Fuji X100S (as I was the other night), I usually choose PROVIA/STANDARD, because I believe it’s similar to the internal profile Fuji cameras apply, so it should bring it back to something close to what that original preview image looked like. Phew.

 Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Oh look - no more solarization! 

The good news is, this change in profile syncs back to LR Mobile, so you can continue editing there if you like. I know it makes for a clunky workflow, but judging from the complaints on Adobe’s forums, this seems to be a known issue. I really hope they figure out a way to fix it in a future version of the app.

Wrap it Up

Okay, this turned out to be a lengthy, tech-heavy post, and it has quite a large caveat, so take that into consideration. But I can definitely recommend this workflow as a way to get a jump-start on importing and triaging images while on the go. And it's a great way to quickly share some favorite shots on social networks - as long as they don’t need to have a different color profile applied (which you can only do on the desktop).

Good ➡️ Better: Food Photos by Simon Abrams

I recently had dinner with my wife and friends at a great restaurant in DUMBO, and like basically, everyone these days, I wanted to document the delicious food I was eating. For posterity, or whatever.

That night, I happened to have my fancy Fuji X100S with me, but as is often the case, it was just more convenient to use my iPhone. Here's a picture of my entree:

 Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

It was the duck and it was delicious. You might even actually believe me, just from seeing that photo, but... let's just be clear, here: food photography is an art, and requires tons of skill and preparation, and at minimum, proper, balanced lighting to make it look good. It's really, absurdly easy to go from appetizing to nauseating when taking pictures of food, particularly with a mobile device, in dim restaurant lighting, which is one reason I rarely post my food shots on social media in the first place. Be realistic with your expectations, y'all.

That said, here are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success:

  • First things first: give your lens a wipe with the corner of your t-shirt before shooting. That's an easy win - your image will be much clearer if there's not a schmear of crap on the glass (that's photographer-speak for "lens").
  • Also, know your equipment. I'm shooting with an iPhone, and no disrespect to Tim and Jony, but iPhones (and most mobile devices) are happiest in bright sunlight, not the carefully curated ambience of a restaurant. Because of that, in low light situations, make sure to hold your phone as still as possible to avoid camera shake before tapping that shutter button.
  • Speaking of avoiding blur, make sure your subject is in focus. Soft edges on food = a pile of gross mush. On iPhone, tap to focus and expose a region of your scene; tap and hold to lock in those settings so you can recompose the shot if necessary. You can slide up or down on the screen to brighten or darken your image.
  • Lastly, composition is crucial. Frame your photo at an interesting angle, being sure to keep the clutter out of the frame, and create some depth.

Okay, now that I have my photo, as seen above, there are some basic tweaks to be made in my editing app of choice. If you have an iPhone, you can start with the built-in editing features in the Photos app (bonus: the edits you make will be synced with iCloud, so you can call continue to edit in Photos app on the desktop or other iOS devices).

 Tap here to edit! 

Tap here to edit! 

One of the first things to do is boost the exposure of the image. Almost any image can benefit from a little pop of exposure and/or contrast. Be judicious, though.

The Photos app tries to automatically help you out by offering a "Light" slider that, in many cases will figure out the right combination of exposure, brightness, shadow  and highlight tweaks to make your image look good. Just by moving that slider to the right, I'm already in a better place than where I started.

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I could stop here, but there's still room for improvement. By tapping the list icon on the right, I can edit individual properties of the image, and have more fine-grained control. Awesome. 

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Indoor lights — usually incandescent — can make everything yellow, which isn't great for food photos. A quick tweak to the white-balance, or color cast, under the Color slider,  should help.

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So here we are, just using the built-in tools that come with iOS:

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Again, miles better than where we started. Now, because I'm a fancy photographer-dude, I sometimes like to go beyond the default tools in iOS, and use one of the myriad editing apps that are available in the App Store. One of my favorites is Lightroom Mobile, because of its advanced editing tools and desktop-syncing features (the app is free on iOS/Android, but a Creative Cloud subscription is required for syncing and some of the editing tools). Snapseed, free on iOS and Android from Google, is also a fine choice.

 Lightroom Mobile's interface

Lightroom Mobile's interface

Here's where I ended up, after correcting the white-balance, performing a Curves adjustment and cropping out some of the distracting highlights on the bottom of the plate: 

I also messed around with the hue and saturation of some of the individual colors. Another thing to remember is that, much like a skilled chef cooking a meal would never use every spice in their cabinet, we must resist the temptation to be heavy-handed and use every slider available when editing our photos. Less is very often more.

Anyway, still not quite ready for Bon Appétit, and there's certainly areas that could be improved, but I think it's way more share-worthy than before. And before you ask, yes, I did snap a quick shot of my caramelized banana dessert:

So there you have it: while you probably still won't get hired as a food photographer based solely on tweaks like the ones I've made here, these simple steps you can take to get your food pictures from Good ➡️  Better.

Buying Apps in the Age of Free by Simon Abrams

 You know you wanna buy some apps...

You know you wanna buy some apps...

When I like stuff, I'm the worlds goofiest, most enthusiastic evangelist of said stuff. I'm always recommending an app, a restaurant, a piece of camera gear, etc.

Often, especially when I'm talking about a mobile app, I get stopped mid-spiel with the same question: "is it free?". If the answer is no, then the pitch usually fizzles shortly thereafter due to loss of interest.

So many people have a strict "I don't pay for apps" philosophy, which I really don't understand. I mean, yes, who among us couldn't stand to be a little more fiscally conservative, and even small sums add up. But on the other hand, our devices - specifically our mobile devices - are such an integral part of our daily lives now, so expecting to only ever pay once (outside of the monthly cost of whatever the carrier's charging for your plan) to effectively extend the value of those devices is perplexing to me.

Let's take a mobile app that costs $5 as an example. If you're going to balk at the cost of the app, ask yourself a few questions first:

  1. How will that $5 impact your quality of life in the forseeable future? If the answer is "dramatically", then forget it - discussion over, don't buy that app.
  2. In your day-to-day life, how many other goods or services can you name that would you spend $5 on, and expect to have support and upgrades for, continuing in perpetuity? If Chipotle changed the recipe for their carnitas burrito tomorrow, would you expect an upgrade to the one you had yesterday? Maybe a better comparison would be a Starbucks latte, since that is probably closer to $5 in value.
  3. Speaking of value, do you think you would get any value from the app in question if you bought it? How much value? Would you use it once? Daily? If you ammortize that value over the amount of uses you expect to get out of it, or over time, doesn't it seem like a better deal?
  4. Will using this app/software in any way help you to earn your income, and thereby keep the lights on and a roof over your head? Will it in any way contribute to your peace of mind? How much do you value peace of mind? How about entertainment? $5 seems a small price to pay to be entertained, even a little bit.
  5. The most obvious question to ask yourself is, if you made that app - if you had worked hard, stayed up late, researched new techniques, pulled your hair out and bashed your head against your keyboard squashing bugs and figuring out new API's and cross-platform compatibility issues, and sacrificed time spent with your spouse and kids and pets, and skipped out on going to current movies in the theater to create this app - would you not want to be compensated for your effort?

One of the reasons I don't mind paying for an app, is because part of what I'm paying for is an implicit agreement with the developer. If I'm not happy with the product, or if the quality or functionality (aka value) changes after an update, then I believe my payment for the app entitles me to voice my opinion at least a little bit. Well, maybe a little bit more than if I'm just some free user. I could be wrong though. Conversely, I feel that having paid for the app, I'm probably more invested in its continuing evolution and improvement, so I'm more likely to offer reasonable suggestions and feedback to the developer - and they will probably take me more seriously, because they realize that I'm invested. Again, I could be wrong.

I totally understand the impulse to get the free version of an app that's "just as good". If it really is just as good, then sure, why not. But a lot of the time it's not just as good. Or there are ads, or your giving up privacy in exchange for "free", or the developer might just abandon the app.

Incidentally, I guess my exception is that I will almost never pay for any of those god-awful in-app purchases for games like Clash of Clans, or even my beloved Real Racing 3, where they make the game suck and hold your fun hostage, but oh, look - if you just cough up some doough, you can play some more. Eff that. I'd rather pay for the game outright (eg. Super Mario Run).

Here's an incomplete list of apps and services that I happily pay/paid for, because when I ask myself some of the questions listed above, at bare minimum, the answer is that I would easily get value for my money, whether in the form of peace of mind (Backblaze, 1Password), or saved headaches (iCloud, or even pure entertainment (Netflix):

Of course, my financial situation is different from many people. I don't have kids, and my wife and I both work full-time jobs. Our rent is reasonable (by Brooklyn standards), and for the most part we live below our means. Being the more responsible of us, she doesn't have any credit card debt, but I'm almost there too. Her student loans are paid off, and I never had any (because, being an international student, I wasn't eligible for them - at least that's how it worked in the olden days, I'm not sure how it works now). We don't have a car either. I think the point I'm making is, the next time you come across an app or service, and your knee-jerk reaction is "It's not free? I ain't paying for that", ask yourself why.

Thoughts on 1Password and MacID by Simon Abrams

 MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

Now that I have two TouchID-enabled devices, entering passwords by typing them feels like what I imagine it would be like having to write prose with a chisel and tablet after getting used to using a pen - especially now that iOS 8 allows for 1Password integration throughout your i-device. Quick recap: 1Password is a password manager that securely stores all your passwords to everything, obviating the need for you to remember - or even come up with - any passwords except for the one that protects its database. It's cross-platform and works with all your favorite browsers. Amazing.

Anyway, before extensions allowed for 1Password's iOS integration, if you're like me, and don't know any of your passwords to anything, logging in to a website or app on an iPhone or iPad went something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Grit teeth and sigh resignedly
  3. Go back to Home screen and tap 1Password
  4. Enter your long and secure 1Password Master Password
  5. Find password to app in question (or create a new entry in 1Password for said app, and let it generate a suitably secure password for you)
  6. Copy password
  7. Hop back over to the app in question (yay, multitasking!)
  8. Type in your username, paste the password, and try to remember that despite your current state of annoyance, we're still living in an age of technological miracles and wonders. Everything is amazing.

Now that iOS 8 Extensions are a thing, the process goes something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Tap Share button and swipe right to 1Password extension
  3. Tap the icon, then use your finger to unlock 1Password
  4. Oh look - 1Password knows your credentials for the site/app you're trying to access. Tap to fill in your credentials, and be on your merry way.
 Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

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It is a downright joyous experience compared to the old way, and it's no exaggeration to say that simplifies my life a lot, especially since I am doing more and more with my iPhone and iPad. I tweeted the good folks at AgileBits a few months ago, wondering if something like this was possible on the Mac - ie. could I use my iPhone/iPad's TouchID to unlock an app on the desktop. It turns out, it is at least partially possible: MacID lets you designate an iOS device as a touch-enabled "key" for your desktop machine, and unlock a password-protected lock screen when you return to your computer. Sweet!

I've only just tried it a couple of times, but from my first impressions it seems really promising. I'm not quite paranoid enough to be able to thoroughly think through any negative security implications of this. MacID never connects to the internet, so the chances of your login password getting hijacked that way are zilch. I can't wait for this to grow into a fully-supported technology that becomes something baked into iOS 9/OS X Big Sur (or whatever the next OS X ends up being called).

The current state of computing and devices still forces us to choose between security and convenience, but apps like 1Password and MacID, and technologies like TouchID are at least getting us part of the way towards the convergence of those two ideals.

iPad Art - Morgan Freeman Finger Painting by Simon Abrams

I'm genuinely surprised that there are still people who bring out the "iPads are for consuming content" trope.

On another note, this got me remembering something from my old art school days. The abstract expressionists, if I remember right, were all about boiling down a medium to the essence of that medium. The things unique to painting that make it essentially painting are paint and a canvas (and maybe a brush). They weren't keen on one medium emulating another, and as such, weren't into photorealistic painting. But here's Kyle Lambert taking it a step further, using a virtual canvas on a digital thing to emulate photography. Interesting stuff.

Undercover and Espionage: Peace of Mind For the Tinfoil-Hat Set by Simon Abrams

Since security and privacy are on everyone's mind these days, I thought I'd share a couple of security-related products for the (justifiably) paranoid and tinfoil-hatted amongst you.

First, Undercover is a tiny, ingenious app by software maker Orbicule which runs innocuosuly in the background of your computer until you report it stolen via your online dashboard. At this point, Undercover kicks into gear, watching for your computer to connect to the Internet by any means, including ethernet, wi-fi or even Bluetooth. It then begins reporting your computer's location, its IP address, screenshots and keylogs in a comprehensive theft report that John Q. Law can use to recover your Precioussss for you. Particularly for laptop users, it's sneaky little supplement to Find My Mac that can give you an extra layer of peace of mind. It's $50, but if you use the link above to let 'em know I sent you, you'll get 25% off.

Next up is Espionage, by Tao Effect. This little gem encrypts files, folders, email - whatever - allowing you to use multiple master passwords to keep your files secure. Plus, they insist they haven't given those nosey Parkers over at the NSA any back doors into their encryption software, so you can be confident your data is safe from prying eyes. Espionage is $29.99, but you can save 10% by using the code UNDERCOVER10 until October 31st.