rule of thirds

iOS rapid #photog workflow

I don’t always lug my DSLR around with me, but I almost always have my old iPhone 4S on hand.  I’ve often commented at how amazed I am by the image quality from such an antiquated mobile device.  Recently a friend was asking how I got my images to come out so great from the iPhone, so I thought I would share with everyone with a short blog post covering everything from taking the photo to post production on device.


  1. Camera (built-in iOS camera app) | alternatively, but I rarely use anymore: Camera+
  2. Photoshop Express (free!) | theoretical alternative would have been Lightroom mobile, but on my iPhone 4S it’s so slow it’s unusable, and I get most of the features I need from Photoshop
  3. totally optional – for posting/sharing, I use Instagram which I’ve further linked to auto-post to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare.  Yeah, sorry, all those friends who think I actually log into my Facebook account, think again.

Workflow: Taking the photo

This part is pretty straight forward – I just follow the rule of thirds as much as I can and I take a lot of photos – practice really makes a difference.  Hold the device as steady as possible – the closer you are being a human tripod, the closer your images will be to being tack sharp.  In contrast, any shake you introduce it going to blur your photos.  Oh, and I cheat – I enable the grid on the camera display.

iOS camera grid display setting

iOS camera grid display setting

rule of thirds

rule of thirds

Basically the rule of thirds says to split up the scene by drawing two vertical and two horizontal lines.  The four intersections of those lines are the points of interest – that is where you want to line up with the subject in your composition.  In my case, when I’m taking a portrait I try to put one of the centers of the subject’s eye in one of those intersections.  The worst thing you can do – and also what most people tend to do – is center the subject in the frame.  That makes for the most boring of all possible photos.  So, since most people take boring photos, following this simple rule will instantly raise the level of your photography (mobile or otherwise).

iOS exposure adjustment

iOS exposure adjustment

99% of the time these days I just use the built-in Camera app on my iPhone.  I usually leave the HDR setting off, because taking HDR on my old phone takes more time, which allows much more opportunity for camera shake to be introduced.  Also my style is to take candid photos, and that’s a lot harder to do if you have to ask the subject to stand perfectly still while your phone takes it’s time to snap the photo.  I used to also use an app called Camera+ – it’s nice because it gives you a lot more manual control when you are taking the photo, but updates in iOS like being able to change the exposure just by dragging up on the screen (on that little sun icon next to the focus lock) has made using Camera+ unnecessary.

Workflow: Processing the photo (Photoshop Express)

Once I’ve taken the shot, I process it in Photoshop Express right on my iPhone.  I use the manual settings and quickly apply a number of adjustments.  Other than the last adjustment (noise reduction), these are in no particular order.  With all adjustments, you want to be careful not to add too much, and just how much you adjust is something you need to figure out on your own over time.  At the end I’ve included a screen capture video from the app to demonstrate the effect of each adjustment additively.  The video was made from the app running on an iPad air – the main difference is the processor on the iPad is much faster and so there is less waiting.

  • clarity – for objects, I increase this, for people / portraits I decrease.
  • vibrance – increase for more color pop.  At the extreme it will start to introduce a color shift and/or fringing so beware.
  • shadows – reducing shadows brings out a surprising amount of additional detail in your photo.  On portraits it removes shadows on the face (like under the eyes) which is usually quite flattering.
  • highlights – I generally reduce these, especially after brightening up the photo overall with shadow reduction.
  • sharpen – this makes the photo much more crisp.  It also introduces noise, the more you sharpen the more noise you get; noise reduction helps compensate for that.
  • The one adjustment I paid for, and I feel that it’s well worth it, is the Noise reduction filter.  That is always the last adjustment that I apply.
fuji x100s

Why I think my next (non-iPhone) camera will be a Fuji

I currently shoot with a Canon 5D Mark I with a 50mm 1.2L (and occasionally a 35 mm 1.4L).  My other camera of choice and convenience is an iPhone 4S.  I’m actually frequently amazed at just how good shots I can get with such an old iPhone camera…I can’t wait to upgrade to the iPhone 6 plus, just for the photography capabilities.  The thing is, my photography style, when it comes to portraiture, is candid shots.  I’ll throw out photos where my subject notices the camera – usually their expression changes and it just isn’t natural.  The problem with that, and using the 5D, is that the mirror on the 5D is incredibly loud.  They do that by design – every camera manufacturer has a distinctive shutter sound, it’s part of what makes up the personality of the camera.  Loud shutter makes it hard to grab those candid shots, though.

Not only is the X100s quiet, but it has a tilt-able viewfinder, which makes it possible to take off the hip shots and still see what you are shooting.  With the Canon 5D I have to shoot blind for those – the Mark I doesn’t have live view.  And while iPhone can be muted to make no sound at all, and it has a big LCD viewfinder, for some reason I feel really conspicuous pointing a phone at somebody.

Not to mention the size and weight difference between the Canon and the Fujifilm cameras is huge.

Here are the original articles that got me interested in the Fujifilm cameras:

In-Depth: The New Fujifilm X100s

FujiFilm X100S Test Drive in Istanbul with Zack Arias

And here are some recent ones.  Thierry Nguyen’s portraits are awesome.

One Year After switching to Fuji

Fuji X-T1 – Why does it get more use than my Canon 5d3?

cycling in and around Lost River State park

Velocipede Bike Camp – three days of struggle that made us stronger

Team Velocipede organized a three day bike camp in Lost River State Park.  Apparently the river is called ‘lost’ because it disappears underground somewhere and comes back up, or at least that’s what I think based on a big wooden sign we blew by on the bikes.  We didn’t stop so it was hard to read.  This is what a bit of googling brings up, I think the bridge we passed over the river where the sign was, is somewhere near where the river disappears or reappears.  While I’ve been on 70 and 80 mile rides with them, I’d never done three days of back to back cycling at this level before, nor do I think I’ve ever done this much climbing in my life. Read More

X100 vs EOS M

“what camera should I buy?”

I recently forwarded an article about the new Canon M2 to a friend of mine who I know has been shopping around for a camera for quite a while.  He wants a good camera and a limited budget is a strong factor for him.  I previously (and still do) recommended he get a Fujifilm X100s.  Here’s what he wrote back to me about the M2 and my response: Read More

Crumplepop Finisher

Crumplepop Finisher plug-in for Final Cut X – a real-use review

Crumplepop makes plug-ins for Final Cut X, as well as for Final Cut 7 & 6.  I picked up a bunch of their plugins for Final Cut X a while back.  The effects they apply have a great look, but that’s not really what this review is about. To see what plug-ins they offer and before/after demos, you can have a look at their website.   In this review, I want to look at the impact of using one of their plugins, Finisher, has on  the FCP edit and render workflow, as this may have a more relevant impact on whether or not you choose to use this plugin. Read More

Triggertrap Mobile iOS app

Triggertrap Mobile Review: Part 1

I’ve been meaning to write a review up on Triggertrap for quite a while now but a number of things have been getting the way of letting me do it. Part of the reason is the task was quite daunting – Triggertrap is not a simple app or a tool with just one or a few use cases. Rather this combo of app and hardware is so versatile, I feel you could write a book on the many ways and techniques for using it. I’m not exactly up to writing a book on the subject just yet, so I decided that rather than delay any longer, I would break up the review into small, focused bits.

In this first part, I just want to cover one feature of the iOS app – Facial Recognition! But first, let me explain exactly what Triggertrap Mobile is.

In a nutshell, Triggertrap is a cable release for your camera. A very, very fancy cable release with a plethora of applications and use cases. There are two components: (a) an iOS application, which on it’s own is an awesome standalone, must-have app even if you only shoot with your iPhone and nothing else, and (b) a dongle that connects your iPhone to your DSLR camera (there are actually two parts to this – the dongle itself and a standard camera cable). Once connected, you can then use your iPhone to trigger your camera shutter, just like a regular cable release. You can also use it to trigger the shutter based on a huge number of functions, such as audio cues (a clap, whistle, bang, etc), time-lapse, motion detection, facial recognition, vibration, and many, many more. You can use all these functions with your dslr or standalone just using your iPhone camera.

Triggertrap Mobile iOS app

Triggertrap Mobile iOS app screenshot showing a partial list of features, including facial recognition

So – facial recognition. I own a number of iOS camera apps, but none of them offer a facial recognition feature. Triggertrap’s facial recognition feature is flawless; it tracks faces with uncanny precision. The facial recognition module features a slider that lets you set the number of faces to trigger on (1-5). Perfect for setting up a shot where your phone is mounted on a tripod and you want to get yourself and possibly others in the photo.

For more information on Triggertrap Mobile, visit their website and also be sure to download and try the free version of the app!

The only downsides I’ve seen with the Triggertrap system so far:

  • the dongle fits into the headphone jack of the iPhone, but it won’t fit with some iPhone cases, including my favorite, the Vapor Pro from Element Case. In the case of the Element Cases, you need to use a special tool to remove the case. This is a major pain when you’re on the road or on location – I usually don’t carry the tool with me, so if I have the case on the phone at a shoot location I’m stuck with not being able to use the TriggerTrap dongle (this actually happened to me). TriggerTrap could resolve this by improving on the connector pin design so that it’s slimmer and follows the profile of most headphone connector pins better.
  • you need to mount your iPhone onto your tripod along with your camera. This might seem obvious or a minor point, but I think the folks at TriggerTrap could have made a wireless version of there dongle. I would have much preferred this. Then, I could put the phone anywhere, and not necessarily have to mount it on my camera. This might not make sense for things like facial recognition, where you want the phone and camera to have as close a perspective as possible, but for other triggers like sound, vibration, etc. there is a good use case for it. I would like to see them offer a wireless dongle setup, even if it cost more – it might be a nice second option for some.

UPDATE: Triggertrap has a new , slimmer dongle design which solves my above comment.