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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.