I gotta tell you, I always hated the term iPhoneography (and its variants). I find it a bit ridiculous and somewhat elitist. So I won’t even dare some disturbing neologism mixing the words “Android” and “photography”: let’s try to stay serious instead! This little post is meant to share a couple of apps I love and find very useful, plus some tips.
Focus & exposure lock.
Focus locking on Android is not possible: the autofocus is always active. By locking the focus I mean focusing on something, then moving the camera while keeping the focus exactly at that distance we focused. I accidentally found a way to do it with my Note 2 running Android 4.12, and it seems this is possible on other Android versions and devices, so give it a try! In few steps:
1 – click the screen to focus on something
2 – now touch and keep touching the shutter button
3 – the exposure and focus are locked and you can move around
4 – if you release the shutter button you shot, or…
5 – … if you slide the finger back into the screen you cancel the shot
This can be very useful and opens all kind of creative chances; for instance you could lock it on a known distance (your arm length, or approx 2 meters from you, etc) and then go and take some street photography with no need to auto-focus on your subject, and shoot in a super fast way.
ISO manual switching
Smartphones are usually pushing the ISO level much above the actual needed value; this means you will have more digital noise than needed and you’ll probably burn the highlights and some other parts of the photo. So my advice is (if your camera app / device allows it) to select the ISO manually and drop it to the lower acceptable value. Sometimes you’ll have to decide if to lose data in the shadows or in the highlights, but keep in mind that an app like Snapseed or VSCOcam will usually help you getting some data back, so you should only fear extreme situations.
Keep the phone still
In smartphones you can’t usually control the shutter speed, and the phone will adjust it depending on the amount of light it detects and the ISO you selected. So you want to keep the phone as still as possible; use a tripod if you can, or put the phone on a support/plane and keep it still. If you can do nothing like that just try to stop breathing and keep the phone as stable as possible (there are a lot of tricks for accomplishing that, in the photography field).
Backup your photos!
At some point for some mysterious reason I lost all of the photos in my DCIM folder; I suspect it was for a system cleaner. Whatever. In that moment I was very sorry I didn’t use a backup feature for the photos, and I decided to use the one provided by Google Plus. I did set it to only sync when I’m on wi-fi so that if I don’t want some pics to go to the backup I just keep the wi-fi off when shooting (well I have wi-fi off most of the time when not home or offices) and move them out of the camera folder before connecting to wi-fi. You can also set it to backup only when you are charging, for instance, and decide if to backup other folders too. Believe me, you never know when you’ll feel stupid for not having a backup! If you don’t want to use a cloud service you can schedule periodic backups on your pc of course, but I think that having something automatic is a much better solution, especially in a world where we have hundreds to things going on at same time. And about the fact that cloud is potentially dangerous for our privacy.. all we do is in some servers somewhere. Our e-mails, our chats, our profiles and info, our sms.. our privacy went to hell quite a lot of time ago.
The apps I use
I tried tens of both free and paid apps since I started using Android, and I ended up using only
three five of them for 99% of my mobile shooting and editing. Here they are:
This is the most “professional” app you will find on Android, when it comes to creative filters and photo editing. It has almost everything you could ever need, the filters are having an amazing quality and nothing is a gimmick. No surprise since the app was developed by Nik Software, the makers of some of the best professional post-production filters. You can do things like adding control points to only edit a part of the image, apply multiple filters in sequence, apply film grain, light leaks, increase the perceived dynamic range of the photo and much more. And I repeat, this is a solid app made for photographers, not a gimmicky app like the hundreds that are harvesting for easy money in the app stores of iOS and Android.
Picsart is both a very complete editing studio and an optional social network. The editor is very useful to combine multiple images, add logos, text, borders, frames, graphics and watermarks, paint, annotate, combine multiple images into one using a very flexible grid system, apply filters with plenty of parameters, and so much more. The social network part is very interesting because the users of the app are often posting great everyday snapshots and the level of smugness is very low: if you are like me and you found Instagram to be a bit too much crowded by smugs/elitists/hipsters, you’ll love Picsart take on the matter. You’ll also find lots of garbage and some people posting photos taken with a 20 mpx dsrl or some photos they found on the net, of course, but it’s up to you to understand which users are deserving to be followed and which ones you can ignore. The platform isn’t very pretty yet and it’s missing something (a better bio where you can say something about you ala Twitter and a private messaging system to get in touch with other users without using public comments) but it’s already quite good.
You can find me there if you want: http://rublev1360.picsart.com
After Focus Pro
When I first installed it I thought this was just some gimmicky app I would erase in a moment. I ended up buying it after few minutes of usage. The way it works is simple: by painting (or using a feature called smart select, or by taking multiple photos) you decide what is in focus, what is out of focus and what is between the two. Then you decide the level of aperture to simulate, the bokeh shape and other stuff. If you put enough care selecting things & calibrating parameters you get very good results. You can even apply photo filters that sometimes rival the ones of Snapseed and Picsart in quality. What else can you want?
No need to introduce this app of course. I use it mainly beacuse I do upload many of my shots to Instagram (you can find me here) and because some of its features are coming handy, like the tilt-shift effect and the various filters which can sometimes work wonders. I’m also a fan of square format and Instagram forces it on you, so…
I discovered it recently and it changed the way I do photography on the phone, pretty much the way Snapseed changed it when I discovered it. VSCO cam is having a wide range of tools that sometimes overlap Snapseed ones and some other times complement them; what sets VSCO cam apart is the quality of the output and the beauty of the presets you can buy and tweak to your liking. The folks behind this app are also providing high quality filters for Photoshop and Lightroom and this shows in the care and quality of their app. While Instagram gives you a bunch of filters VSCO cam hands you lots of power so that you can produce exactly the photo you have in mind. The only lack of VSCO cam are the tilt-shift ala Instagram and the amazing selective edit tool of Snapseed, from my point of view. That being said, this app is absolutely a must and buying all the presets is also highly suggested.
A last note about camera apps: I tried many of them but I shoot most of my smartphone pics with the default Samsung camera. That’s because third party cameras are offering lot of features but not every feature is supported by he various phones, so it’s a bit of hit and miss. The only secondary camera app I use is Camera FV-5 because it allows me to shoot long exposures and change the shutter speed, better frame the shoot, and some other cool features; it’s a very good app but I still can’t get used to work with it instead of the default one.
Some more of my smartphone shots:
Taking photos with a mobile can be a precious activity, because it lets you record images you would otherwise miss, and we got to the point when you can do some quality post-pro on the go and share your photos with the world in a matter of minutes. And no, you don’t need an iPhone for all that
I posted some of my smartphones shots in here, if you want to see more of them you can add me on Instagram (I’m andrejrublev there) or check my website andreabianco.eu.