Shooting iPhone

It's somewhat ridiculous that I should even have one. It's a luxury expenditure where the actual price of the phone is wholly incidental. Rather, the real expense of the iPhone for most people is the monthly 'iBill'. I'm fortunate enough to pay it, without strain - yes - but I really don't talk much on the phone, you see (ironic to many). At least not with the same death-grip devotion as most people in The States and now, increasingly, in the UK.

In fact, only a close circle of people have a cell number for me - or any personal number at all, for that matter. I'm a private man, you see - or one who seemingly exhibits what a friend refers to as a "sociological aloofness". I, on the other hand, see it as a natural response to the world in which we live ... and the people who occupy it. Yes, it may seem unusual for one buffered with this psyche to have an Internet presence at all, but the beauty of the web is that it allows for communication on one's 'own terms'.

So, why would I pay a premium for the most expensive cell phone (more commonly, 'mobile phone' in the UK) as an object that I innately hate, both conceptually and philosophically? As it relates to the iPhone, I was naturally drawn to Apple's always exceptional industrial design as part of the company's entire product ecosystem. And yes, it further functions as a 'pocket computer' of sorts, in addition - as well as being an iPod, and all that ... As to 'The Chosen' - they could always reach me on any one of my old Motorola phones, in any event. That was the incidental part.

Still, I would feel obligated to actually use the thing. But I can only surf the Internet for so long at the airport with it. After a time, I get bored, and truly prefer a more sizeable MacBook for such perusals, in any event - or to simply pass the time by making fun of people at the terminal in my mind. And yet, for those times when you don't want to be burdened with a laptop, it's ... nice. I also use it to tune guitars and shit. So it earns its keep, I suppose. Kind of. I guess.

But I also did recognize its potential as being among the slimmest of pocket cameras for when I didn't want to dangle a digital SLR from my shoulder. A visual note-taker of sorts, yes. But also something of an 'art tool', always at the ready, that further inspires by its very simplicity. One simply focuses on composition, light, and color (or non-color, if ultimately preferred).

Every tree should have its own cloud.

I wouldn't be the only one to see the iPhone camera as such, by any means. Entire websites are devoted to 'iArt'. Advanced applications also exist to help in the endeavor, most notably that created by photographer, Chase Jarvis, with the 'Best Camera' app, allowing one to execute a number of PhotoShop-like changes within the iPhone, itself. And the technical limitations of the iPhone become an integral part of the medium - it's very 'look', much like art students shooting with cheap, plastic Holga cameras. Deficiency, itself, is the signature brush stroke.

So, for those who are somewhat familiar with photography, here are some considerations and observations as it relates to iPhone photography  ...

As with most 'cell cameras' the iPhone camera is comparatively limited in dynamic range. The highlights blow out easily to a state of 'irretrievable white' where no trick in PhotoShop can bring those back. Ironically, the iPhone likes a lot of light falling on the subject where these problematic highlights will most commonly occur. As such ...

Expose for the highlights - much like older slide film - and let the shadows fall where they may. This is sage advice for most digital cameras, in fact. More so with the limited range of smaller image sensors. The 'selective focusing square' on the display (from 3G-S model, forward) is also the area the camera uses to determine exposure. It would be nice if these two functions - focus and exposure - were separated, but I wouldn't expect it in this type of 'easy-use' camera.

One must remember that the 'shutter button' is on the actual screen. Initially, there's a natural tendency to hit the soft, mechanical 'Home' button to release the shutter. It doesn't. Use a light finger in any event. The light weight of the iPhone is not your friend in this instance. Same for endeavoring to hold the feather-light camera steady. A bit of practice goes a long way.

While there were those who were initially disappointed with the iPhone's 'pixel count', it's entirely appropriate for the size of the sensor. Trying to squeeze more pixels onto its small substrate would have reduced image quality. In actual execution and practice - with the deft use of PhotoShop - one can coax an image that yields a serviceable 8 x 10 print. Once matted in an 11 x 14 frame, say, visitors to your home will actually be quite accepting of the image, not really conscious of the fact that it was shot with a cell phone.

As it remotely relates to the above, while I have great admiration for Chase Jarvis' 'Best Camera' iPhone application, I prefer to work the images in PhotoShop. While 'Best Camera' is a wonderful thing for those who don't own PhotoShop - or who simply want to tweak in the field before they send the image to FaceBook - I find it somewhat difficult to make critical judgments on the iPhone screen. Moreover, the ambient light surrounding the small screen may not be entirely suitable for such tweakish refinements.

If you're on a Mac, you can make some very nice adjustments without PhotoShop by way of iPhoto - yes, but also by just using 'Preview'. In fact, here's a quick, dirty - and yet effective means to sharpen up the iPhone image Open the file in 'Preview', Go to 'Tools', then select 'Adjust Color'. In the translucent pop-up window, you'll see a sharpening slider  ... As it relates to iPhone images, pull the slider virtually all the way to the right - yes, towards maximum sharpness. While this may seem hyper-aggressive to PhotoShop users, be mindful that the slider in 'Preview' has a far more gentle slope than PhotoShop. Pulling the Preview slider somewhere towards maximum sharpness will look just about right for iPhone images at 100%. Scaling the image down for the web involves other considerations. In PhotoShop, I tweak with 'Smart Sharpen'. But no matter what you use - from 'Preview' to PhotoShop - always remember to sharpen as the last step, following any other adjustments.

So when you're not particularly in the mood to talk ... shoot instead. Remember the credo of one picture speaking 1000 words? Well, for most cell phone users, I suppose they'd still require roughly 575 images to fully convey their spoken, non-compelling, no-interest bullshit ...

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 original contents copyright © joseph bambach