Paintings as Inspiration

I’ve found that when I’m taking pictures for fun my favorite genre is street photography.  I define street photography as “photography taken in a public space of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.  The scene is never set up, it must be real.”  I find the unpredictability and random happenings on the street to be both challenging to photograph and rewarding when done well.  Just the act of seeing and not getting the shot of a special moment in time whether it’s an expression, gesture, emotional moment, street humor or a juxtaposition is enough to train the eye to perhaps anticipate it in the future and be better prepared with the camera the next time something happens.  It takes constant practice and attention to detail to get a good street photograph.

I found inspiration regarding the right expression, gesture and emotion within a street photograph in an unlikely place.  In the halls of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam I had a chance to see in person masters of Golden Age Dutch painting.  Unique to the time period of the early to mid-17th century, in that area of the world, the style of painting changed to include less religious subjects and more of ordinary life as the subject of many paintings.  For example, in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, the subject is a domestic servant pouring milk from a jug into a bowl.  The scene looks spontaneous and not posed or set up. Another example is Jan Steen’s The Merry Family, another spontaneous looking scene showing a boisterous family having a good time.  There are gestures and emotions on the subject’s faces that look like what one would see on ordinary people in ordinary life. Yes, there’s an allegorical meaning behind the painting warning the folks of the day against the vices of drink, gambling and gluttony, but the way the scene is painted is similar to how a street photographer would want to capture the image.  Even Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is a scene that looks spontaneous.  It marked a break from the common portraits of groups of men, known as burgermeisters, that donated their time and money towards protecting the general population.  Prior to Dutch Golden Age paintings, burgermeisters were rendered as static portraits of seated or standing men staring back at the viewer.  As portraits they’re finely done with good composition and lighting but to the eye of a street photographer they seem too lifeless and not engaging. Rembrandt painted the men in action getting ready for an altercation with body gestures and emotion on the watchmen’s faces.  Similar paintings of burgermeisters by other Dutch masters show men gathered around a document or items on a table and looking up expectantly as if interrupted by the painter.  The effect has a very similar look to street photography when a picture is taken of someone at the exact time they look up and realize their picture is being taken. The Dutch painters of the time perfected this spontaneous look that tells a story about the subjects.  Hands and bodies are usually angled with gestures at important allegorical items, eyes are looking at the viewer or at other important elements of the picture.

What I learned and found inspiring in these Dutch paintings is the importance of gesture, spontaneity and emotion in a street photograph.  A set up portrait of a street musician can be a nice portrait but lacks the elusive quality of a spontaneous street photograph taken when the shutter is released at the same time eye contact is made. The static posed picture of a street musician usually lacks action and gesture. Similarly, the ubiquitous photograph of someone crossing the street in an intersection is just a person crossing the street in an intersection unless there is a certain gesture of the body or emotion on the face that gives the picture a story.  Like Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, the mundane act of someone pouring milk into a bowl lacks interest unless there is an emotion on the face of the milkmaid.  Her lips are pursed in concentration and eyes cast downward concentrating on the task.  The lighting from the window sculpts the scene to draw the eye towards the subject. The story Vermeer intended is unknown, but the viewer has the ability to connect the elements of gesture, emotion and body position to invent their own story.  That’s the difference between a well done picture of someone crossing an intersection and a regular picture of someone crossing an intersection.  Good street photography has a story to tell. The story could be obvious or could be one each different viewer of the photograph creates based on their own experiences.

Many more examples of inspiring Dutch artwork hang on the walls of the Rijksmuseum and other museums closer to home.  I encourage you to open your eyes, clear your mind and approach paintings as sources of inspiration that helps you hone your skills in your favorite form of photography.


Putting out a Fire

You may have heard about the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I didn’t have the opportunity to get within the path of totality but the sight was amazing anyway.  I’ll make a better effort in April 2024 for the next pass in the good ‘ol USA.

Below is my favorite set of images from photographing on the National Mall in DC near the Air and Space Museum.



Well, that’s ONE way to put out a FIRE!


Self Taught Photographer

Good Reading

“Self-taught photographer” – this is often read in an artist statement or in the bio on the About Me page of a photographer’s website.  What does that mean?  To one extreme it could be the photographer had no outside influences and learned photography through trial and error.  Imagine this, someone finds or is given a camera with a lens and all the accessories needed to capture and charge the battery but no instruction book.  This person then teaches themselves the craft of photography by experimentation and self-evaluation.  This is highly unlikely and probably closer to impossible.

The more accepted definition of self-taught photographer is someone that does not have formal training such as a MFA degree but has “taught” themselves photography by doing rather than studying.  Even this definition has its flaws. It’s not giving enough credit to those teachers that came before them that shared their photographic knowledge through classes, seminars, workshops, articles and how-to guides.  A truly self-taught photographer participates in a community of photographers, even if it’s not in person, through a magazine or website to learn techniques and craft by evaluating and learning from the words and images of others.

Recently, Popular Photography announced they have ceased publication.  Along with Pop Photo, Peterson’s Photographic and Modern Photography have all gone away as a resource for photographers.  Only Shutterbug remains, for now… For at least a few generations of photographers these magazines have contributed to the education of many self-taught photographers.  The articles in magazines were in-depth, the reviews did not seem tainted by manufactures advertising, and the how-to guides were well developed and instructive.  Even better, the letters to the editor were not inhabited with internet trolls and the advertisements within the magazines did not trigger popup windows and run the risk of downloading malware!  I understand there are business reasons photography magazines are not sustainable enterprises these days, but I wonder what the effect will be on the future of other self-taught photographers.

I believe the need for photographic education will continue but I don’t believe websites or online zines can fill the void of the traditional photography magazines. That education need will be filled with more person to person contact at seminars, workshops, classes and camera club participation.  In recent years there has been a flood of seminars given by professional photographers as they broaden their revenue stream.  Photographic Meetup groups are expanding and it seems there is more participation in camera clubs by younger folks.

The only constant is change.  Perhaps the downfall of photography magazines will expand the opportunities for person to person community and create more self-taught photographers.

1600 millimeters

Kodak Signet 351600 millimeters is the length of a 36 exposure roll of film. This includes the leader and the small portion at the end of the roll that attaches to the spool. I measure all 1600mm rather than 36×36, or 1296 mm, because all 1600mm is needed to have the roll “work” for 36 exposures. Not sure why 36 is the standard, some people on the internet suggest it started as a marketing ploy because consumers are conditioned to buy things by the dozen such as eggs, bagels, roses, etc. Another competing theory I’ve heard is that around 1913 1600mm, or 63 inches, happened to be the arm span of a Leica engineer that was tasked to measure off a length of movie film to be used in a prototype Leica. Whatever it may be, marketing or coincidence, the fact remains 36 exposures of 35mm film is 1600mm and long enough to give a photographer a feeling of anticipation before seeing the images when opening a developing tank.



That’s right, developing tank! I’ve decided to start shooting black and white film again and developing it myself. The inspiration came when I was shooting and processing an image with my iPhone. Within Snapseed are many filter effects that can be applied to images such as Vintage, Grunge and Retrolux. I realized Snapseed is emulating two other popular apps that are built around filtering images. Both Instagram and Hipstamatic are apps that can transform images into a quirky, low-fi, vintage looking product that lacks sharpness and saturation. So, based on the user’s app settings rather than shoot and save, then altering images in the phone, these two apps process immediately, then save. The apps are taking the artistic process out of the hands of a photographer and just making junky images. I believe Oskar Barnack, the optical engineer for Leica that developed precision lenses and the father of the 35mm camera would be horrified to see what these two apps do to images.


Don’t misunderstand; I have no problem with grunge effects, enhanced grain, a vintage look, or soft focus. But, I think we are moving backwards with Instagram and Hipstamatic. The process should be in the hands of the photographer, not the app. Only the photographer knows when enough is enough. Each image deserves a different effect; the effect can range from nothing, to something that borders on graphic art. Going through the photo and camera apps on my iPhone I realized many of the apps have filters built in that mimic the Instagram or Hipstamatic effects. The point is, the photographer chooses how much and when to apply the filters.


Rather than apply a digital filter to an image I decided to go back to the analog experience and embrace the retro look of film and apply grain by choice of film and developer. I’ve never liked the light leak or scratched look of pictures. That was usually an indication something went wrong and that something needed to be fixed before using the camera again.


I still have a few 35mm film cameras I could use but all are SLR’s. I wanted a small compact rangefinder to carry and use for street photography. Purchasing on Ebay was not an option because I wanted to see the lens, feel the winding lever travel and hear the shutter click. Eventually in an antique store I found a great little camera. It’s the Kodak Signet 35 and it works like a charm. The lens is very sharp, the body is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and the camera is great conversation starter when shooting on the street.

Here is a short checklist I used to select my camera:

  • Lens – no mold, spots, coating flaking, scratches
  • Shutter – not dried out, flexible, no pinholes
  • Film advance gears work
  • Viewfinder clear of mold and dirt


smokin santa

One thing about this camera I like is it forces me to really look at the light. There is no light meter in the camera so I can either rely on an app or carry a separate light meter. The light meter app for the iPhone works fine so I don’t use a separate meter. But, shooting outside requires little more than using the Sunny 16 rule and paying attention to the light. Changing stops as the light changes is easy but occasionally I’ll check the light meter app to make sure I’m in the ballpark. B&W film is very forgiving with a huge exposure latitude. It’s very rare I get a negative that is unprintable because of exposure.





he lights my fire

Why I shoot manual BW:

  • Makes you slow down
  • More of a process
  • More careful about each image because it cost money
  • Rely more on composition, textures and shapes
  • More about lighting and contrast – lower dynamic range
  • Forces you to see things differently thereby making you more creative
  • Pay attention to lights quality, quantity and direction
  • Highlights shape, form, pattern and texture
  • No screen to chimp, get it right
  • No editing in camera, just shooting
  • Happy accidents can’t be repeated. Expired film, light leaks, film stock differences, developing variables


The process of creating images, 1600mm at a time, is reigniting the sense of wonder and excitement that has been dulled by the instant gratification of digital photography.

Henryton Tunnel with WSP

Getting the Shot I led a workshop for the Washington School of Photography to Henryton Tunnel, located in southern Carroll County, Maryland.  Henryton is the third-oldest tunnel in the world that remains in active railroad use. Constructed in 1850 by the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad , it was the first tunnel constructed on the B&O’s Old Main Line. In 1865 the tunnel was widened to accommodate double track however today it’s a single track. It was rebuilt into its current form in 1903. The tunnel has brick portals and an all brick lining.  Since this is a busy section of track for freight trains we were able to experience the rumble of a train as it chugged past us.

This was the second group I’ve taken to this historic tunnel on a photographic outing, the first was with the iPhone Photography Meetup group back in March 2014.  While I was not shooting much this time since I was the leader and helping others with their photography I was able to grab a few shots while everyone else was busy experimenting with long exposures, closeup, panoramics and abstracts.  The folks that attended this workshop were great.  They had enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things.  I sincerely hope they were inspired to continue experimenting and see the world through their lens a little differently.

The next class in the series is a civil war reenactment in Waynesboro Virginia.

Here is the blurb from the Washington School of Photography website:

The Battle of Waynesboro – September 12, 2015 | Noon – 3pm

Step back in history to the Civil War and experience the sights, sounds and aromas of the Battle of Waynesboro in Virginia.  We will photograph the battle reenactment as soldiers from the Union and Confederacy fire their artillery as the cavalry charges forward.  Before the battle we will experience camp life of both armies and have opportunities to take portraits of the soldiers and their families as well as photographs of life as it was in 1864.  Approximately a 3 hour drive.

Below are few more shots from the day; Continue reading


Milky Way in SagittariusSpruce Knob, elevation 4,863 feet, is the highest point in West Virginia and the location of a recent motorcycle trip with a friend to photograph the Milky Way. I have never previously been successful at astrophotography. The main reason is lack of patience and light pollution. This trip forced me to overcome both excuses. Who wants to sit outside well after midnight, on an evening before work, usually when it’s chilly outside, to photograph a few stars? Not me! I also discovered the few times I attempted astrophotography, and failed, were partly because I had the wrong camera equipment.

My Nikon 18-105 f/3.5 kit lens was not bright enough to capture the light of stars within the usable ISO of my camera. The light pollution in the area I live also overwhelmed the few stars I could capture.

For this trip I decided to get a different lens and purchased a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 based on many favorable reviews on websites that offer tutorials for astrophotography. I was not disappointed! The lens is only manual focus so that takes a little getting used to. But the focus ring has a solid feel and moves smoothly along its range. It felt like the good old days of Pentax K1000 era photography. The lens is very sharp and has minimal distortion wide open at f/1.4. Bokeh is pleasing and shooting close-ups wide open really accentuates the razor thin plane of focus. DoF is about 5/32 of an inch front to back at one foot focus distance.

The timing for the trip to Spruce Knob was to coincide with a New Moon to get the darkest sky possible. There would be minimal light pollution from the ground as we were in the Allegheny Mountains in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest and there would be no light pollution from the Moon.

Now with the right lens and the right time aligned the only impediment to success was the weather. As it happened, the forecast of 50-60% rain matched reality. All day it rained an hour or so at a time between bouts of bright sunshine. We made it to the top of the mountain around 7:00pm just as it was getting towards dusk. It was raining and foggy. Visibility was a few hundred yards. Suddenly the clouds moved by, the Sun broke through and produced a magnificent sunset.

Spruce Knob WV Sunset

This lasted about half an hour before the fog and rain moved back in. At this point I was seriously thinking of hopping on the motorcycle and getting off the mountain before it was so dark, rainy and foggy that riding the narrow switchbacks would be too dangerous. Then just as my riding buddy and I were weighing our options we saw what we thought was a star. It was actually Venus and soon Saturn was visible in the sky. And then, magically, all the clouds above us cleared and the entire sky was twinkling with stars. We decided to setup the tripods and wait for the Milky Way to rise above the horizon.

At 10:40pm I shot the lead image and finally captured the Milky Way! Exposure was 8 seconds at f/1.4 with ISO 3200. Processed in ACR to bring out color and reduce noise.

I’m not the only one that likes the resulting image, NASA included this as one of it’s favorites on the NASA Flickr page. Check it out.

Macro with the iPhone

Think Spring!Think Spring!  The Conservatory at Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring MD is displaying it’s collection of spring plants.  Vibrant colors and sweet fragrances inside offered a welcome respite from the winter outside.

According to Brookside, flowering plants such as orchids, African honeybush, fireworks flower, snapdragons, primroses, Amazon lily and Bird of Paradise are some of the many plants on display.  I know very little about flowers but I do know every color of the rainbow can be represented in flowers and were on display for the Meetup group to photograph.   This was a great challenge for mobile phone photographers to isolate details, eliminate distracting backgrounds, work with selective focus and balance exposure to capture lighting nuances.  Perfecting composition, focus and exposure when photographing subjects such as flowers transforms an ordinary textbook documentary image into a creative artistic expression. This is what my iPhone Photography Meetup group is all about, so photographing at Brookside Gardens was a natural place to go and at the same time to think Spring.

While looking for new compositions I decided to use a very low cost accessory as a macro lens.  Many former and current film shooters, stamp and coin collectors and hobbyists have this accessory laying around. It’s a film loupe!  In my case I used a dual loupe made by Carson Optical.

photo credit:

photo credit:

It’s both a 3x and 12x loupe and is very easy to use with the iPhone.  I simply held the half of the loupe I wanted to use in front of the iPhone lens and snapped away.  The 12x half gave me extreme magnification with good color and minimal distortion.  The 3x was perfect for throwing the background out of focus thereby giving me great Bokeh.  This is usually unattainable straight from the camera without using tilt/shift effects in apps.

As you can see, iPhone macro photography can be done with a an inexpensive accessory if you just think a little different about what you already have available.  It may be unnecessary to purchase expensive add on lenses if you can get the same results with less expensive alternatives.

The lead image of the yellow flower, sorry I don’t know what it is, was taken using the 12x half of the loupe.

The same loupe was used for the following image of the red flower.


This is an example of an image shot with the 3x loupe.  I really like the Bokeh here!


Click through for a few more images taken that day.  Some are swipes and some are more traditional shots enhanced with apps.

Continue reading

New York City Photowalk

New York SkylineNew York City, known as the Center of the Universe, Capital of the World, the Melting Pot or perhaps Gotham or Metropolis to some, the Big Apple is also home to some of the best street photographers to ever pick up a camera. On this Meetup I walked the same streets as Alfred Stieglitz, Joel Meyerwitz, Elliot Erwitt, Martha Cooper, Mary Ellen Mark and Saul Leiter, to name a few, to capture images of life on the streets of New York. The variety of scenes available supplied ample photographic material for any style of photographer. If you like urban portraits, humorous situations, amazing architecture, nature, social commentary, urban landscapes, abstracts or just about any other genre that you can think of, New York is the place to see it all, usually within the same block!

The photo walk covered the mid-town Manhattan area that includes Times Square, Bryant Park, 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center and lower Central Park.  Since I was using my iPhone the walking was easier and much lighter than if I was toting a traditional DSLR.

This particular day in NY was colder than an icebergs tip, like 0-10 degrees cold, with a brisk wind. Shooting street photography was painful so I decided to see an exhibit as a way of doing something to stay warm.  However before giving up I was able to capture a few images.  More at the end….

Now on with the show..

Scooter520 pages, 8.2 lbs and 10×14 inches. This is Sebastiao Salgado’s book that complimented the exhibit Genesis at the International Center of Photography in NYC. I was lucky to be in NY on January 11th, the last day of the show. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Salgado, only seeing posters and signs on the outside of the ICP building on previous trips to NY.

First of all I don’t usually go to landscape photography exhibitions it’s just not my photographic passion. I’ve seen several Ansel Adams exhibits and sometimes I feel other photographers just seem to be making copies of work that has already been done. Especially if the work is exclusively in black and white as is Genesis. Well, it was cold, I needed to get warm and a quick search of Google on my phone indicated the show had many good reviews. So in I went.

The first of more than 200 beautifully printed photographs took my breath away. It was a landscape, actually a seascape, of an iceberg in black and white but it was printed as a 5×3. That’s five feet across and three feet high!! You felt like you were stepping into another world that has never been seen before. The lighting, composition, and exposure of this image were all perfect. The emotion conveyed by this iceberg was a sense of wonder and loss. This iceberg has been carved by ocean waves as well as the wind to a form I have never seen before in a photograph. The top was carved by the wind to appear as a castle. A thin bridge of ice forming an arch, looking very much like a draw bridge, connected the castle to a more traditional looking piece of ice that was severely carved by the water. The lighting on the “castle” centered the eye here for a moment before moving around and across the “bridge” to the “real” iceberg. Knowing the challenges of global warming and its effects on the world’s ice sheets made the “castle” appear as a last vain attempt to ward off the inevitable melting process. Here is a link to the exhibition page so you can see it for yourself.

We’ve all seen pictures of icebergs, mostly in color with deep blue water and a nice sky with cumulous clouds. Some pictures even include the underwater portion giving an admittedly dramatic effect but at the same time they appear as if they were constructed pictures not directly taken. Salgado’s iceberg looks like he was in the right place, waited for the right light and composed thoughtfully to tell his story.

The next 200 or so images were no less amazing. However, unlike Adams and other landscape photographers the images in this exhibition included wildlife, indigenous peoples, action scenes, and portraits. Virtually the entire Earth was covered as Salgado photographed over eight years to produce this project. He calls this “my love letter to the planet” as he explores every region of the planets landscape, people and wildlife. The exhibition was split among many rooms as the images were grouped geographically. The sections of the book mirror the shows groupings of Planet South, Sanctuaries, Africa, Northern Spaces, Amazonia and finally Pantanal.

Upon exiting the exhibit through the gift shop, I decided I wanted the book so I could look longer at the images and gain inspiration from many I saw but could not get that close to because of the crowd. The bookstore was sold out of the hardback format I wanted so another quick Google search on my phone let me know a bookstore downtown in Soho had them in stock. I called to verify, jumped on the subway and away I went. As it turns out the bookstore was a Taschen store, the publisher of the book, so they had plenty in stock. I picked the book up off the shelf and started to page through when I noticed it was signed on the title page by Salgado himself! At checkout the person helping me confirmed the signature was real and the price was the same as the unsigned copies. So, for no extra price I bought a signed copy of Genesis to cap off a wonderful photography exhibition all because it was so cold outside I needed someplace to get warm.

Cab Pile UpOhhh No!!Moving Up

Alternative Process – Photogram

French PhotogramOkay, something a little different.  Over the summer I bought a pack of Solar Print paper in the gift shop of the NRAO in Green Bank WV.  It’s designed for kids to experiment with making photograms using objects placed on the paper and then exposed to sunlight.  This is similar to the process Man Ray used creating his Rayographs.  I thought this would be fun to experiment with myself but I wanted to take it a step further.

My idea was to make a photogram of a photograph.  The lead picture was chosen for its Parisian connection as the location of the invention of photography and the graphic yet “old world” qualities of the image.  I shot the picture using my iPhone but I wasn’t in Paris!  I shot it in Florida. At Disney. In Epcot’s France world showcase. Through a model 8×10 view camera.  Pointed at a fake Louvre and Eifel Tower.   Snapseed for conversion to monochrome, a frame and a boost to contrast.

Here is the image after processing:

France at Epcot

First I sized the image on the computer monitor and taped the unexposed Sun Paper to the screen.  I was hoping the light from the monitor would expose the paper.  Hours later, nothing!!  No exposure at all, just a blank piece of paper.

Next attempt I printed the picture, taped the unexposed paper to the surface of the print and set it on a lightbox.  I checked the paper every 10 minutes, then 20 minutes and then every hour for 5 hours.  Still nothing!!  I was thinking I bought a dud pack of paper so I decided to read the directions and check the internet for suggestions.

Turns out the paper is only sensitive to the UV of SUNLIGHT, not monitor light or lightbox light but SUNLIGHT.

So, I taped a new piece of unexposed Sun Paper to the print and set it outside in direct sunlight.  Voila, 15 minutes later there was a latent image on the Sun Paper.  Next step is to wash the paper in water for about 5 minutes to dissolve the unexposed blue UV sensitive molecules leaving the white base of the paper.  The water also oxidizes the remaining sensitized blue molecules and turns them a deeper blue.  What I was left with is an image that looks like a cyanotype that was taken with an ancient view camera in the late 19th century.

I like the look and decided to try another image that had strong graphic qualities and would benefit from the soft focus look.

Here’s an image taken with the iPhone and processed with Snapseed before the Sun Print process.

Do Not Enter

And after the Sun Print process.  I flipped this one when scanning so the text would be readable.

Sun Print - Do Not Enter

This was fun exercise that brought back memories of early grade school classes when I was learning about photography in an educational environment.  Making photograms was one of the first assignments to introduce the effects of light on sensitized paper and the action of developer and fixer on that paper.  It’s a little sad knowing today’s kids will likely never experience a chemical darkroom and think the effect I achieved was done with an Instagram filter.  Oh well, c’est la vie!

Gadget Bag of Apps

Camera+ and Snapseed

Nature Visions Photo Expo in Manassas Virginia this middle of November has no less than three presentations specific to iPhone Photography. Also many of the descriptions of the other 37 presentations offered mention that the skills learned can be used with a smartphone camera.

This leads me to believe that this whole taking pictures with a smartphone, be it an iPhone, Samsung or any other brand is here to stay and not just a fad. I doubt a few years ago the organizers of an Expo such as Nature Visions would consider acknowledging smartphone photography even exists. The gear required for the genre of nature photography, professional and amateur alike, is usually thought of as big pro grade cameras, carbon fiber tripods, heavy long lenses, graduated ND filters and a bunch of other gear stuffed into a backpack the size of compact car.

Because of advances in technology, today’s amateur nature photographer is not required to use all the traditional gear but now have smaller lighter cameras, lenses and tripods available that enable more photographers the ability to photograph nature with great results. I’m not suggesting the pro quality cameras etc. are not needed, they most certainly are! The better build quality, bigger sensors, glass quality and other quality enhancements are necessary if you’re making a living as a nature photographer.

As we have seen with software such as Photoshop, transforming a decent picture to incredible is not as hard as it once was. Likewise, with the proliferation of apps available on smartphones, higher pixel count and space age lens technology, capturing a beautiful nature picture with a smartphone is not outside the realm of possibility. No wonder Nature Visions acknowledges this change and now offers seminars designed for the smartphone photographer.

I have been asked many times what my favorite camera app is while either leading my iPhone Photography Meetup or just out and about shooting pictures with the iPhone. Hands down my favorite camera app is Camera+ by tap tap tap software. In fact, the lead picture of the young lady with baby was taken with Camera + while on the Kelby Photo Walk in Leesburg VA. The reason I like this app is simple; all it does for me is shoot pictures with an uncluttered UI that’s easy to understand. I’m not the type of photographer that likes using filters BEFORE taking the picture. I just want a full frame, not square!, capture at the highest resolution capable of the camera. The app gives me the ability to choose focus and aperture independent of each other, the native app on the iPhone, before iOS 8, did not allow this. Apple recently changed the game now that they updated the OS to allow separate focus, aperture and ISO. This now also applies to 3rd party apps, such as Camera+, as the OS updates will enable the enhanced functionality. I will continue to use Camera+ over the standard app because I like the UI. The app has a separate section for processing including adding filters and other “enhancements”. I choose to not use this and send almost every picture through my other favorite app, Snapseed.

Snapseed by Google is an image processing program that is similar to Photoshop. Originally designed and sold by Nik Software the app uses the familiar U-Point technology found in Viveza, Silver Efex Pro and all other Nik applications. The controls and rendering of images in Snapseed is unmatched in quality and refinement by any other app I have used. I use Snapseed to adjust contrast, exposure, shadows and image sharpness. Adjustments are made to either the whole image or a targeted area using control points. Also, effects such as drama, grunge, retro and a few other things can be added. Snapseed also has a camera module but I have never used it.

I like to keep it simple, Camera+ for capture then Snapseed for processing. After Snapseed there are a few other apps I like to use that offer some special effects. Again, these effects are similar to what can be found in Photoshop’s filter menu.   I use such effects (and apps) as oil painting (Glaze), water color (Aquarella) and sketch (Power Sketch) occasionally to process the picture to what I “saw” when the image was captured.

Similar to Photoshop’s ability to handle plugins that expand functionality there are also special effects apps that I like to use. Tangled FX creates a fractal electric appearance to an image that gives it a unique look. The effect can be tailored with multiple controls so one size does not fit all. The resulting image is truly unique to how you process it. Percolator is another unique app that renders an image using bubbles! Multiple controls change the size of the bubble as well as the opacity, color shift and tonality. The result is VERY different than any other app out there.

There are others apps I use for the standard processing of images that Snapseed cannot do, such as HDR stitching, image overlay, adding frames and text and even using a cloning or healing brush. While there are apps out there that claim they can do it all, such apps as Filterstorm, Leonardo, Photo Wizard and Photo Forge2 to name a few, I feel they do not do everything well. I prefer to use an app that’s made for one purpose as long as it does that one thing better than the “do it all” app. Those single use apps are Image Blender for layering and image overlay, Retouch for healing and cloning, In Frame Photo for multiple images in one picture such as a triptych, Pro HDR for combining two exposures into a HDR image and finally A+ Signature for text.

So there you have it, a brief picture (1000ish word article!) to show you that I don’t have one favorite app but a multitude of favorites that each serves a specific purpose. Rather than figuratively painting with a large brush by shooting an image cropped in square format with a pre-applied filter, I like the artistic process of processing an image from the original file to reflect what I saw in my minds eye.