iphone

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.

Moment by Simon Abrams

I got a nice little surprise when I got home today - the new Moment Wide lens and Photo Case that I backed on Kickstarter arrived in the mail today, rather than on Saturday, as i was expecting.

 Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

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I've only just gotten this kit, so I don't have much of to say in terms of performance yet. I do like the new case - it's slim, and textured on the back, which gives it a bit of grippiness. Once the lens is attached, though, the added weight tweaks the balance of the phone a little, and could make it a somewhat spill-prone. The case does have a spot to attach a wrist or neck strap—several styles of which are available for purchase on Moment's online store—which is something I might consider getting. 

 The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

One other thing: my first-gen Tele lens never fit well on the Moment case I got for my iPhone 6. It always seemed like it was on the verge of falling off, since it never locked into place, but rather kept spinning, as though the bayonet mount was stripped. Luckily, the new adapter that came with my Kickstarter reward (also available at the Moment store, for $5), was easy to attach and provides a nice, firm connection to the case. 

 

 Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

I'm looking forward to spending some time with these two lenses, and will definitely post again with updates once I've had a chance to do that. 

MacSparky on Apple AirPods by Simon Abrams

A reasoned first take on Apple's AirPods from David Sparks, aka MacSparky. His take confirms my expectation that they won't work for me, as the current EarPods that Apple ships with every iPhone fall out of my ear with the slightest movement of my head, so I never use 'em. Plus, I like something that has a little noise reduction, if not noise cancellation, so I can block out the annoying chatter on the subway.

I'm still bullish on the tech, though, specifically Apple's W1 chip, which improves pairing and wireless sound quality. I have personally tried the new BeatsX wireless headphones, which also feature the W1 chip, and will probably get a pair of those when they're available.

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.

The Big VSCO Cam™ 2 Review by Simon Abrams

Last summer, I wrote a review of the first release of Visual Supply Company's fantastic VSCO Cam app, so I thought I'd follow up with a review of the newly released - and newly free (with-in-app-purchases) VSCO Cam™ app.

Apologies in advance for the length of this review - I know I got a little wordy here. The fact is, every time I was about to wrap this up, I thought of something else to say, which should be an indication of the depth of this seemingly simple app. And in case you hadn't figured it out by now, I'm a huge fan. There are still some interface quirks, but in many ways, the app is a substantial improvement over the original, and for the first time, something other than Camera+ has taken the number one spot in my iPhone's dock.

The camera view in VSCO Cam, with the square guide and split focus and exposure reticules.

Shooting

Shooting is pretty standard in VSCO Cam. Like the original app, it's designed for shooting images in succession, and editing them after the fact, as opposed to apps like Instagram, which force you to shoot, then edit and share before being able to shoot again.

New in this version of the app are advanced shooting modes. Tapping anywhere on the screen with two fingers splits the focus reticule into distinct focus and exposure locks, as is possible in apps like Camera+. Double-tap on the screen to re-unite the two reticules.

The shutter is triggered by tapping anywhere within the grey area surrounding the camera icon (other than the thumbnail of the most recent image, which opens up the app's photo library). If that's not a big enough target, there's also a button in the camera settings that toggles "big button" mode, allowing you to tap anywhere on entire screen to trigger the shutter.

There are a few other nice additions to the camera settings: on-screen guides that divide the screen into the either the standard rule-of-thirds grid, or into a square composition, which is nice for previewing how your image is going to look on Instagram.

There's also a low-light setting, which, when enabled, allows the app to take advantage of the iPhone 5's high ISO mode, and a button to enable the use of the LED flash. Finally, there's a white balance lock that lets you lock in the white balance of your subject, then recompose and shoot.

I noticed an intermittent bug when shooting where the photo sometimes gets auto-rotated to landscape mode. I couldn't reliably reproduce that bug, but it seems like it may have been occurring if the iPhone was tilted forward beyond a certain angle. Hopefully, this is something that gets fixed in an update.

Editing

The presets in VSCO Cam are what set it apart from the multitude of other camera apps out there. This makes sense, because the careful emulation of classic film looks is literally Visual Supply Company's bread and butter, in the form of their flagship VSCO Film presets for Aperture and Lightroom.

The new version of the mobile app sports a very nice, diverse selection of free presets that many users could be perfectly happy with. Those seeking a greater variety of looks, however, can tap over to the new store, where a wealth of additional preset bundles, which are available via in-app purchase, for the very reasonable sum of .99¢ per bundle. The store is nicely presented, too - each bundle has a very useful descriptions of the of the types of images they're best suited to, as well as sample images which illustrate the look of each preset. This is a huge improvement over the trial-and-error approach of the previous incarnation of the app.

There are currently a total of 48 presets; they can be filtered by category, such as "black & white", "portrait" or "vivid"; or alternatively, they can be sorted by "popular" and "recent", making them easier to browse through and pick from.

To get to edit mode, tap the edit icon - it's the one with the little paintbrush and wrench on (or double-tap a photo's thumbnail). This brings up the preset menu (don't forget to swipe from the right to see additional presets, which could be easy to miss). Each preset's button now shows a tiny preview of what the effect will look like on your photo.

Slide up from the bottom of the screen, or tap the little arrow below the presets, to reveal additional editing options. Tapping on the wrench icon brings up the Toolkit, which allows you to do things like color-correct, crop, sharpen, tint, add a vignette, and adjust shadows and highlights; while tapping on the paintbrush icon brings you back to the presets. Tapping the third icon repeatedly steps backwards through the edits that have been made to the photo in the current edit session (that is, before you hit the Done button), and the last button is the "bring me back to the original photo" button, aka the nuclear option.

One of my issues with the original app was that it took forever to export full-resolution images to the camera roll. Well, there's good and bad news on that front. The good news, I'm happy to say, is that there have been exponential performance improvements in this version of the app - saving to the camera roll is blazing fast, as is sharing to the various social sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Weibo (another great feature: you can choose which of these services show up in the Sharing menu via an option in the app's preferences). The bad news is that I experienced several nasty crashes requiring a hard reset of my iPhone when epxporting more than a handful of photos at a time - another issue which will hopefully be addressed soon.

Using the App

Using the app is a lot of fun. As I was taking notes for this review on the subway, I actually spotted a fellow passenger using the app, and when I asked him about his impressions, he said he was obsessed - he just couldn't stop playing with it. And a woman on the train who overheard us gushing about it later tapped me and asked me for the name of the app and downloaded it on the spot as soon as the train emerged from the tunnel and cellular service returned.

In addition to the beautiful presets at the heart of VSCO Cam, the numerous other details, like the ability to rearrange your presets, or to set your preferred licensing options for your photos (all rights reserved, or creative commons) are a testament to the thought the developers put into this offering. Then there are the filtering options for your Library - tap to display only edited or flagged images. (It would have been nice to have a "not edited" or an "exported" option as well.) Finally, there's the Discover section, which is full of videos, articles, and tutorials for inspiration.

The app's only (minor) drawback might be its interface. It looks really nice, and you can tell that a lot of thought went into the visual design of the user interface elements. However, those pretty icons take a little getting used to, since they don't look like the standard camera app icons we're all familiar with. And though the mini previews that accompany each preset button are definitely appreciated, the color-coding within each bundle of presets seem a tiny bit arbitrary, and doesn't give any indication of what you might want to use those presets for. Also, from editing mode, it takes at least three taps to get back to camera mode - it would be nice to have a faster way to get shooting again.

It also took a little while for me to remember that the X icons are used for returning to previous menus, rather than for deleting images. Then again, when an image is selected in the Library, a trashcan icon (that does delete the selected image or images) appears right where the camera icon used to be. That could be seen as poor interface design (or I could just slow down a little when using the app).

Again, I consider these drawbacks to be fairly minor, after a week of using the app, I've already pretty much gotten over them.

 VSCO Grid

VSCO Grid

VSCO Grid

One of the biggest and most ambitious new features added to VSCO Cam is no less than a publishing platform. That's right - the good people at Visual Supply Company had the gumption to develop a "minimalist publishing platform", as they describe it, and toss it in along with the new version of their app. They state pretty clearly that they're not trying to be a new Instagram (in fact they actively encourage sharing to that platform). Instead, VSCO Grid is a stripped-down venue for curating, publishing and discovering beautiful photography. It's not available to everyone right away (in fact, I'm still compulsively checking my email for my activation notice), since they're still working on ensuring that the platform will scale properly with heavy usage.

Conclusion

My minor gripes aside, there's a whole lot to like about this app. It's available for iOS only, and there's currently a huge launch sale on all of the 48 of the available presets for $5.99 (which is around 70% off of the price you'd pay if you bought each bundle separately). Additionally, if you were a user of the original VSCO Cam app, and you ran the last available update of that app, you got a nice little gift of the original presets for use in the new version of the app.

Get it now; highly recommended.