So a new week begins. Last week, I was on a training course in lovely Slough. A week off from my computer, and evenings spent waiting for the course to finish.

However, it didn’t stop my photography though, and whilst I wasn’t prepared to lug my 50D all the way down south, I did take my iPhone.

The thing about using a phone camera, is that all of a sudden, you lose control, and are presented with something where the results are somewhat unpredictable. I must confess, I was always someone who looked at iPhone users with disdain. “Never catch me having something like that… All I need to do is make calls with my phone”… Oh how hypocritical now.

The truth is, the camera phone really does free up creativity. All you need to do is look at the various Flickr groups, and sections of photographic forums devoted to “iPhoneography”. It’s popular, and it’s something I always snorted at with derision. The snob though, has now fortunately gone, and I’m a happy iPhone snapper.

The basic camera that comes with the iPhone is pretty… well… basic. However there are a ton of apps out there – some paid, some free, that can really transform your experience. I’m going to walk through a few here and illustrate how they can really transform your photography from the technician, to the artist.

Standard caveat: “I don’t know about art, but I know what I like”, said the late great Lux Interior. Art is subjective. If I like my shots, that’s good enough for me. If you don’t like them… Well… that’s your prerogative.

Also. These aren’t the “5 best apps you NEED”, but more the 5 apps I’ve actually kept on my iPhone.

So let’s start with the freebie.

Instagram for the iPhone (free)

Instagram does two things, and I’m not sure which it’s trying to promote more… In my mind, the primary aim of the app is to allow you to automatically share your photos on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and other social networking sites as well as Instagram’s own site . However before it does this, it asks whether you want to modify your image with a range of pre-processed filters. And these filters are really quite professional in appearance. Currently, the app has approximately 14 filters that can apply varying effects to your photo.

Instagram is a social network almost all to itself, but it is completely photographically driven. You can upload any photos to Instagram, not just ones taken through the app, or even on your iPhone. Some nefarious individuals have been known to upload DSLR images to their iPhone for onward forwarding to Instagram,  (presumably with the aim of garnering more followers), but it’s all just a bit of fun. In fact, Instagram has no website to speak of (only a registration page) so the only way to follow people is through the app itself. It’s a very phone orientated social network in those terms. Be aware though, that you do need to register before you can use the app. Registration is painless, and so far, I’ve had no spam-mail from them. However, there have been some sites that have used the Instagram API to create their own online websites displaying Instagram user images. Instagram have since privatised their API, but I keep reading that Instagram “online” galleries do pop up occasionally.

Actually posting your images to Facebook, or Flickr  is all set up very easily, and is pretty much a “one-touch” solution for getting your images from your phone onto the web.

So – why would you have Instagram installed?: It’s a great solution for posting your images to your favourite social networking site, and if you have lots of iFriends, you can follow each others Photographic journey with consumate ease.

Best of all… It’s free! I’ve tried a lot of free apps for the phone, and generally always been dissapointed. For the price of half a pint, there are many other apps that do things better. Instagram though, has no real downsides apart from the registration requirement, and the fact that the images aren’t that secure. Considering the resolution I’m uploading at, I’m not overly bothered if someone decides to use my image. Let’s face it. If they wanted to, they could lift if from Flickr.

CameraBag for the iPhone (paid)

I’m not too sure about this app. As the reviews state, there are other apps out there that apply better looking filters for free (Instagram above for a start!) but this app doesn’t require registration, and has no ads that are usually associated with free apps.

So what does it do? Well it takes an image from your image library (or you can use the camera in-app) and apply 13 different filter sets to it. From B&W conversions to fisheye views as well as authentic-ish looking antique effects. You can then save the image as a new file without over-writing your existing pic.

It does what it does simply, efficiently and quickly. In my humble opinion, it just doesn’t do it very well…

TiltShift Generator for the iPhone (paid/free)

This little app is a great toy. The free version has limited functionality, and doesn’t allow you to use an image from your camera roll. You can only apply the effect to a photo taken through the app. It’s certainly good enough for you to trial the software though and decide whether you want the paid version.

So what does it do? If you’re familiar with tilt-shift photography, you’ll know that it’s when the lens is moved on various planes whilst the camera remains stationary. Tilt-shift lenses are extremely expensive normally (unless you opt for something like a Lensbaby Composer) but this app allows you to simulate it for a ridiculous fraction of the cost.

The resultant photograph taken with this app appears to make the scene look like the image is of a toy landscape, simulating the really narrow depth of field associated with macro photography.

Riu Karamboa with an Iphone and TiltShift Generator app

The above image isn’t the best depiction of what it does, but I do quite like it.

TiltShift Generator has several controls available too.

– You can alter the blur to be circular or on a flat plane.

– You can alter brightness, contrast and colour saturation too.

– Finally you can add a vignette to the image (a darkening of the corners and edges).

All in all, this is a fun little app, that can produce some really pleasing results.

Slow Shutter for the iPhone (paid)

So what happens when you want some manual control over your iPhone (i.e. you get sick of the flash going off when you don’t want it to!). I started searching apps, and came across this absolute gem.

To be fair, operating it is a bit “trial and error” but the results can be very interesting.

What this app does, is give you a degree of control over the shutter speed and aperture of your iPhone camera. This gives you a bit more creative freedom to experiment with a bit of night photography (for nice light trails) or do longer exposures in daylight.

There are three capture modes with this app. Automatic, Manual and Light Trail. Also, in the options, there is the option to set a self-timer allowing you time to find a place to stick your phone so it doesn’t move before the shutter fires.

Automatic seems to allow you to set the exposure time, and it will then capture light for the amount of time the app thinks is right.

Manual allows you to set the shutter speed with no intelligence.

Light Trail allows you to enter both the shutter speed, as well as the “Sensibility” (it’s basically the aperture, or the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light.)

Manual and automatic modes are useful, but don’t have much in the way of creative freedom (especially the automatic mode)

It’s “Light Trails” where things get interesting.

The exposure seems to be close at all times. What you seem to be controlling here is the amount of movement you capture in your scene.

As an example, I was waiting for my train at Euston and balanced the iPhone on my knee (hence not re-publishable here!). What you can see, over a long exposure, is that people move and disappear from the lens.

Shutter speed is self-explanatory, but “Sensibility” seems to refer to “how open” the aperture is. 1 being wide open, and 1/32 being barely open. For more control over your highlights (i.e. not blowing them) you need to set the sensibility to as small as possible and the shutter to as long as possible. It’s really all about experimentation though. The below image is from a glass of water filled over a 4 second period with a sensibility of 1/8. With it set to 1, the water was just completely whited out and with it set t0 1/32 everything was a bit overly grey. This was my middle ground.

Moving Water with Slow Shutter for the iPhone

So you can see how when you arrive at that waterfall, (or crowded tourist attraction that needs the people removing) without your DSLR (or if you forgot your ND’s or tripod) you can now get those moving water shots with your iPhone! You do need something to steady it though, but a rolled up jumper might just do the trick.

Lastly, my favourite app.

Hipstamatic for the iPhone (paid)

Or… Fun With Your Clothes On.

This app basically just applies filters to your images. But it does it in such a cool way, it seems that everything you shoot with this app looks great.

So great in fact, that I’ve put together a gallery at the end of this post. These are just snaps, not great compositions, but they look so good…

Hipstamatic is… well… hip! Everything about it, from the user interface, through to the end product just works so well.

It’s based around toy cameras. Within the app, you can choose to customise your lens type, film type, and flash type. These three combine to give you your final image. It is also possible to set the app so that if you shake your iPhone, all three are set randomly. The descriptions of each of the lenses, flashes and films is useless. There is no attempt to explain anything to help you judge the effect, other than a snapshot of the sort of image you can expect to produce. And even that is unreliable.

Take for example, the “Alfred Infra-Red Film”. This, apparently “picks up the light that other films can only dream about.” Useless.

But things are looking up. There is now a Hipstamatic Field Guide, which is only accessible over the internet, so you’ll need an internet connection on your iPhone to be able to use it (wifi, or 3G).

The only down side to this, is the expense. The app comes with a small amount of free lenses and films, and you then purchase additional “equipment” from within the app itself. For me though, this expense is relative.

It’s a true “fun” camera app for your iPhone, and you’ll probably be very surprised with the results.

 

In this article I want to talk about hyperfocal distance.

What is Hyperfocal Distance?

Do not let your eyes glaze over, it’s really interesting and can improve your landscape photography over night. I promise. Or your money back?

We’ll also review some cool apps for your iPhone that will help! (I only own an iPhone, and nothing else, but I’m sure these apps are available on other smartphones!). We’ll take a look at some online calculators too.

Before we begin though, I’m assuming you know something about depth of field. This is the term used to describe the bits of a photo that are in focus, and is closely related to the Aperture of a lens. If you have no clue what I’m on about, please consider buying Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” which is an amazing resource on understanding how the camera deals with light. In terms of sharpness though, if you imagine refilling your wine bottle with leftover wine (stay with me…) without using a funnel (a wide aperture of say f1.8), you end up with wine everywhere. Mostly over the bottle, the carpet, your hands… If you use a narrow aperture (f22), then all the wine goes in the bottle and nothing is spilled.

Now imagine wine as light, and you can see that with a narrow aperture, we have all the wine where we want it – in focus. Using a wide aperture, we only have a tiny amount in focus, and lots splattered everywhere else (out of focus, known also as Bokeh).

That’s the simple view.

But there is a way to measure how much of the front-back area of an image will be sharp in relation to where you are focussing. By understanding this relationship, and being able to calculate it, you can very roughly know how much of your image will be in focus.

Let’s explain further. The below image shows our cat – Oscar, as a playful kitten (rather than the miserable lazy curmudgeon he is now)

Cat demonstrating depth of field

As you can see, his eyes are nice and sharp, but his front paws and the carpet at the back of the image are blurred. If you’ve been photographing a while, you’d expect this. What I can tell you from a mathematical point, is that if I assume his nose (my point of focus – it’s an old photo and should have been his eyes) were half a meter away from the lens… I have 39mm (millimetres!) of focus beyond the nose, and 33mm of focus in front of it. So his nose, whiskers and eyes are in focus, the rest is blurred.

Had I used f1.8 instead of f4, I would have just a 30mm of sharp focus and the eyes would probably be out of focus… Conversely if I’d have used f11, I would have 79mm in front of the focal point, and a massive 131mm beyond.

So you can see that from a creative standpoint as well as a technical one, knowing the rough hyperfocal distance gives you an idea of where to focus. In terms of portraiture and sports, it’s not something everyone has the time to calculate. Also, some people are limited by available light. Aperture after all is a key component in getting light onto the sensor, and in dark lighting, a wider aperture often is neccessary.

However for landscapes, the term Hyperfocal Distance is used to represent the distance at which you need to focus in order to ensure everything beyond that point (out to infinity) and half that distance back towards the camera is in sharp focus.

So, let’s look at this scene.

An example of hyperfocal distance

Where would you focus in this image? Before I learned about proper focussing techniques I would have aimed for the tree on the left. Maybe the “middle” of the picture.

Let’s look at the setup. This was taken at f14 with a focal length of 35mm. That tree is about 80m away from me. My Hyperfocal distance extends from about 5m in front of me, off to infinity. So those reeds in the bottom right hand corner are only a few meters away, but they would be blurred and out of focus.

So where do I focus?

I focus at the Hyperfocal Distance. I know, that if I focus there, everything beyond it, and everything (roughly) halfway between me and it will be sharp. I also know that that is the best place to focus for maximum sharpness through the depth of field. With the settings above (35mm, f14, 70m to my main subject), I can focus at 4.6m and still get everything sharp. So instead of 5m to infinity, I now have 2.3m to infinity. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But it’s true.

Imagine these distances multiplied by kilometres as you focus on that big mountain in the distance, and you’ll begin to understand what I mean.

How Do I Calculate Hyperfocal Distance?

You don’t. You let something else do it for you. This is where the iPod, iPad, iPhone (and other smartphones) come into their own. They are portable, and handy for little applications such as this. There are many online free hyperfocal distance calculators, but out in the field, you tend not to have a computer to hand. So these apps are very useful.

And they’re cheap!

A Paid Hyperfocal Distance Calculator

Hyperfocal distance calculators are common. It’s a mathematical equation, so there are many free apps out there. However the ones I tried had little niggles that left me wanting more. But I couldn’t complain – they were free! So I plumbed for a paid app, and PhotoBuddy was the one I went for. Not only did it have the Hyperfocal distance calculator with a handy visual guide (that you can drag with your finger), but it has a host of other little functions too. Sunset/Rise times, phases of the moon, a bulb timer for your long exposures, WB lists etc etc. The list goes on… Just click the link and read “More”…

Other paid apps just didn’t have the functionality and/or useability of this app, (to be honest, all the little extras did it for me) and since downloading it, it’s been worth every penny.

A free App…

I haven’t reviewed all the free apps out there, but if it’s not costing you anything, what harm is there in downloading them all and trying them for yourself. Of the ones I tested, I found iDof Calc to be the best. It has a simple, fast, easy to use interface that does exactly what is says on the tin. No adware, and smooth functionality.

So next time you’re out taking landscapes, have a think about your hyperfocal distance, and focus on something a bit closer than the mountain in the distance. It’s surprising (at middle aperture ranges like f11) how close you can focus and still retain front-back sharpness.

Online…

You may be determined to look online, in which case I can recommend the excellent DOFMaster website for further reading and interest as well as an online calculator. As an aside, they also have an iPhone app – cunningly titled DOFMaster.

-Sc