Lesson 35: Do the Time Warp

In Lesson 32, we downloaded Fast Camera and discussed using Fast Camera to take pictures of moving subjects. We also exported a series of photos as a movie. What we didn’t do was talk about time-lapse photography. That is what we are doing when we take a series of still images and then string them together into a video. When the video plays so that the photos are shown closer together in time than they were taken, that’s a time lapse.

This used to be (and still can be) something complicated and difficult to do, but Fast Camera makes it very easy. There are two tricks to creating interesting time-lapse videos. First, the camera must be still through the entire process of taking the photos. This is what happens when you follow a moving subject around and then try to create a time-lapse video from them:

It looks more like a series of photos of my dog than a time-lapse. While, technically, it is still a time-lapse video, because the background keeps changing, we lose sight of the fact that we’re watching a scene unfold. Instead of following a subject around, place the iPhone on the tripod we used back in Lesson 25 and again in Lesson 34. Or, refer to Lesson 34 for other ways to stabilize the phone. For this exercise, I used the tripod:


Notice the headset plugged into the iPhone. I used the volume up button on the headset to start and stop taking photos so I wouldn’t knock my precariously balanced iPhone over.

Putting the iPhone on a tripod for time-lapse photography also implies that there needs to be something moving in the frame while you take a series of photos. For example, you’ve probably seen some really awesome time-lapse videos of a flower blooming or of city traffic. In the first case, the subject remains in the frame the entire time but moves. In the second case, the subject is the city itself and the traffic driving through it provides the motion.

Another great subject for movement is water. When I chose the river as my subject, I was hoping for a nice big barge to go by or perhaps a low-flying Great Blue Heron. I didn’t get that lucky. The only boats that went by were so small and far away that they’re very hard to see. However, the movement of the water still creates interesting motion. As a side note, the small tripod on an uneven rock wall makes it rather difficult to get a level photo.

Here is a time lapse taken under a bridge:

And another looking down the river:

Could you spot the boats moving through the video? These were both shot with a 5 second delay between photos.

Another great subject for time lapse is any astronomical body. For the iPhone, the sunset is a safe bet. A couple of problems happened during my sunset time lapse. First, I used a 10-second delay between photos. Because of the lack of cloud motion, that was too fast. Second, the sun popped through the cloud coverage in a couple of frames, causing sudden overexposure. Finally, failing to take my own advice on making sure I had a fully charged phone before heading out to shoot, I ran out of juice before the sun had gone down. See Lesson 28 for tips on conserving battery life when you’re out to get a time-lapse–it is battery intensive. This is what it looks like:

The final thing to think about is what frame rate you want to create the video at. The frame rate is how many of the photos will be displayed per second. 30 frames per second is the rate that most movies are played at, so if you want a really smooth looking video, that would be the rate to choose. Since I took a smaller number of photos, I slowed things down a bit and exported my videos at 24 frames per second. Think of it this way: if you want 1 minute of video at 30 frames per second, you need 60*30=1800 photos.

Your Assignment: Open Fast Camera (and stop the photos if you have it set to start taking photos at launch) and follow the instructions below to set the time between photos. The faster the movement, the less time you need between photos to create a sense of movement. I used a 5 second delay for the river and a 10 second delay for the sunset. I would suggest using a 1 minute delay for the sunset instead, but it depends on whether the clouds are moving rapidly or not.

Now decide on your scene. If you don’t have one, you could try setting the phone up in your living room during a time when people (and/or pets) will be coming in and out. Time-lapse videos of families moving in and out of a room can be quite amusing.

Save and export your movie using the instructions in Lesson 32. Choose the frames per second based on whether you want it to look like a real video or whether you’d rather slow things down. You can also export the video and then go back and export it again at a different speed so you can decide what works best later.

What do you think? Is this a medium you could get into?

Lesson 34: When You’ve Got the Shakes

In Lesson 31, we talked about how adding the iPhone flash can help reduce the blur of slow-moving subjects.  What we didn’t talk about was another way blur can be introduced by movement–the movement of you holding your iPhone.

One way to reduce movement of your phone is to hold it very still.  For tips on how to hold it as steady as possible, see Lesson 6.  Sometimes, it’s hard to hold your phone still–especially if you’re shooting in low-light conditions when holding it still makes the biggest difference.  In those cases, using a tripod would be ideal, if a little silly looking.

In Lesson 25, we looked at using a telephoto attachment from Photojojo that includes a mini-tripod for your iPhone.  You don’t have to use the telephoto attachment to benefit from the tripod.  If you are taking landscape photos, especially in low-light, and you purchased the telephoto kit, try using the tripod without the telephoto lens to see how it improves your landscape photos.

There are other options if you don’t have a tripod for your iPhone.  For one, you can find a place to set the iPhone if you can balance it or prop it against something to eliminate your shake.  If you are a die-hard iPhone user, you may also find some of the various attachments for the iPhone that are helpful for keeping it stable.  For example, a car holder that doesn’t block the camera, a mount on your bike, or even the LifeProof life vest I showed in Lesson 19.  The large block size of the life vest makes the iPhone easier to grip securely.  It also makes it easier to stand on edge.  As a bonus–if your iPhone falls off its perch, there’s not much chance it will get damaged!

But let’s say you want to take a photo when there is no way to prop up your phone, or, the only place you could prop your phone would not result in getting the photo you want.  Another option is to use the “image stabilization” feature provided in many camera apps.  Unfortunately, not the default camera app from Apple, but, yes, it is one of my favorite features in the Camera Awesome app.

Unlike expensive gear that comes with image stabilization features that work mechanically, the Camera Awesome app uses the gyroscope in the iPhone to determine if the phone is moving.  If it is, it waits until a moment when you’re still before taking the photo.  This works great in that pushing the volume-up button or touching the shutter button on the screen creates most of the motion.  This setting allows the movement to settle before the picture is taken.

The downside is that the pause can cause you to miss the exact shot you wanted when your subject is fickle (like my dog) and decides to walk away while you’re waiting for the photo to take.  I highly recommend it when you’re taking photos of subjects that are either still or cooperative.

Here’s how to turn the image stabilization feature on in the Camera Awesome app (downloaded in Lesson 7):

Your Assignment:  Get out the Camera Awesome app and turn on the image stabilization feature.  Take some photos of a scene that isn’t moving.  Now, turn it off and take the same photos.  Do you notice a difference?  If so, you might want to make it a setting you use a lot.  If you happen to have very steady hands, you might prefer not to use it because of the delay it can introduce.

Lesson 33: How Far Can You Flash?

In the past couple of lessons, we’ve been talking about how to deal with moving subjects with an iPhone camera.  I showed you how to use the flash both in the traditional “flash” mode and in the flashlight mode in Lesson 31.  I made the comment that the iPhone (4S) flash will do you no good from distances more than 5 feet.

Afterwards, I suffered from guilt because I haven’t actually measured when the LED light that passes for a flash actually ceases to be effective.  So, today, I thought I would rectify that.

I set a glass with flowers in it at one foot intervals and took a photo with the flash set to on using Camera Awesome.  There is no difference in the effectiveness of the flash based on the app you use, so this is app independent.  However, I also wanted to test whether the exposure was any better using the flashlight mode versus the “flash” mode just to see if the app compensates for the extra light of the flash or not.

So, here is what I discovered:

At one foot away, the flash caused over exposure and “hot” spots.  As you can see, the effect gets better as the subject gets further back from the phone until you get to about 5 ft.  Then, the subject falls outside the circle of light cast on the floor.  However, notice that the shadows in the background all the way back to the door (at 10′ 6″) are lighter with the flash.

This is good information–while the flash may not be good for lighting a subject at more than 5′ away, it can be used to cast light into shadowy areas up to 11′ away.  Also notice the bright circle on the floor and how distracting it becomes when the subject is outside of that circle.  Raising the phone up and away from flat surfaces will help to reduce this effect.

As for whether the flashlight vs flash setting work better, well, let’s try some side-by-side comparisons.  Here is the flower vase side-by-side with the flash setting versus the flashlight setting (at 3 feet):

As you can see, the exposure looks more even with the flashlight setting than with the flash–the circle of light on the floor is far less pronounced.  So, unless you want a more pronounced circle of light, if you have enough battery life to turn the flashlight on, do it.  However, bear in mind that the flashlight setting consumes more battery life because the light is on longer.

Your Assignment:  Try using the flash at various distances in different lighting.  The flash will make a more noticeable difference in near-dark situations than it will in well-lit scenes.  It’s often enough light to get a photo in a totally dark room if you’re in range.  Also, using the flashlight setting will help the camera find focus when the scene is very dark.  Make sure you have a fully charged battery!

Do you like the flash or flashlight setting better?  If the answer is “it depends,” what are the circumstances where the flashlight setting helps the most?

Lesson 32: Fast Camera

Seems like it’s about time to download a new app–it’s been quite a few lessons since we did that.  Since yesterday’s lesson was about dealing with moving subjects, let’s continue with that theme and give Fast Camera a try.

Fast Camera is an app designed to take a bunch of photos really quickly.  That’s its forte.  There are settings in other camera apps that will take bursts of photos in rapid succession, but there are 2 particular features about Fast Camera that made it worth the $1.99 to me:

  1. The default setting is to start shooting as soon as you launch the app.
  2.   You can take a series of still photos and then export them as a video from the app.

Let’s talk about why I like these 2 features so much.  First, when I’m out with my dog and he does something cute, it’s pretty standard that he stops doing whatever it was by the time I get my camera app out and start shooting.  The only thing that would make it better is if I could set the camera button on the iPhone lock screen to launch this app instead of launching the default iPhone camera app.  None-the-less, it’s still a time saver to launch the app and point.  I can adjust the settings while it’s shooting if needed.  It just keeps firing away.

Second, I love making movies from stills.  I don’t know why.  There’s just something fun about the gap in time created by stills being run together as a movie.  Here’s an example of a movie from stills of my cooperative husband jumping up and down:

Isn’t that much funnier than if I would have recorded it as a video to start with?

But here’s the thing, whether you like the instant launch or not (you have to remember to stop it if you’re not ready to keep shooting or you’ll end up with 1000 photos–this setting can be changed if you don’t want it to start shooting on launch), the fact that it fires lots of super-fast photos helps ensure you get at least one good shot of a moving subject.

It’s really hard to stop motion with an iPhone camera.  But, as you can see in these photos of my husband jumping, there are often moments when a moving subject is moving slowly enough that the motion can be stopped.  Here, when my husband reached the peak of his jump and gravity took over, there is a moment when his momentum is switching from upward to downward.  In those moments, I was able to get relatively sharp photos:

Similarly, when my dog walked into my frame and stared (bewildered) at my husband’s antics, I caught him in the moment he was holding still.  Compare that to the photo on the right when he turned his head quickly to figure out what I was doing.

You’re Assignment:  Consider if you’re willing to spend $1.99 for this app.  If so, download it and go chase something moving.  Launch the app and stop it when you have enough photos of your moving subject.  Here are a couple of settings to check out:

After you’ve taken a series of photos of a moving subject, try exporting them as a video.  To do this:

Lesson 31: Blur and Flash

Something we haven’t talked about yet is how to deal with motion.  There are two sources of motion to deal with when shooting with a smart phone:  1)  Subject motion, and 2)  Photographer motion.  Today, we’re going to talk about subject motion.

When it comes to subject motion, if we were using fancy cameras with lots of manual controls, we could stop the motion pretty easily.  Since we’re not, we have limited control over whether subject motion will show up in a photo or not.

Since my dog will never hold still when I try to take pictures of him, I thought I would use him to demonstrate how to deal with a moving subject.  Of course, for once, this is the day he chose to fall peacefully asleep on the couch and not move a muscle!

In any case, one of the easiest ways to deal with motion is to add light.  The more light you can get on your subject, the less motion will show up in the photo.  I could explain to you why this is, but I promised Gina, the inspiration for this blog, not to talk about stuff like that, so you’ll just have to trust me.

Sometimes, we can’t control whether we have light on our subject or not.  When a subject is moving, it’s pretty hard to run around turning on lights without missing the moment.  Fortunately, if we’re able to get up close to our subject, the iPhone comes equipped with a built-in “flash.”

To be honest, the LED light on the iPhone is not great, but it can make the difference between getting a photo and not getting any photo.  Just remember that it’s not going to do you a bit of good if your subject is more than about 5 feet away (give or take).  It will just waste your battery.

Most camera apps have different choices for how you use your flash.  Today, we’re going to look at Camera Awesome.  First, let’s try turning the flash on.  Here’s how to do that in Camera Awesome:

In the traditional “flash on” setting, the flash will turn on and off quickly with each photo you take.  I like to turn the flash either on or off rather than using the Auto flash mode–I don’t usually agree with the camera as to when it should use the flash.

There’s actually one other option I like a lot, however.  That’s the flashlight setting. This turns the light on continuously.  This is not a great option if your battery is running low, but it’s great if you’re literally shooting in the dark.  I also feel I get better exposure when I set the exposure with the light on, but I haven’t done apples to apples comparisons to prove that.  Here’s how to turn the flashlight option on:

Your Assignment:  If you don’t have a dog to work with, try following a human around in the house and seeing if you can get some photos of them where their motion doesn’t show.  Note that the iPhone flash isn’t bright enough to help freeze rapid motion, but it can help with slower movements. Also remember that you have to be very close.  (WARNING–if you’re photographing a human (or canine) subject, be careful not to shine the flashlight directly in their eyes.  This may cause enough discomfort at close proximity that your subject will never agree to model for you again.)  Can you see a difference in the amount of blur in your photos?

Lesson 30: Awesomely Hip Portraits

Let’s talk about different kinds of portraits–or, pictures of people.

To keep it simple, let’s use 3 general categories for the purposes of our discussion:

  1. Traditional Portraits – “It’s all about you”
  2. “You were there” portraits
  3. Landscape portraits.

In the first category, traditional portraits are all about the person and any background is just a “mood setting.”  In the second category, there’s a balance between a setting and the person (see Lesson 22).  The difference being that a “You were there” portrait puts a person in a specific place that isn’t where they would normally be found.

In our final category, there’s the kind of portrait that’s more about the scene and the people provide more of a “mood” or sense of scale.  I thought I made up the term “landscape portrait,” but it turns out there’s a group on Flickr on the subject.  Great minds.  😉

If you’re in a setting that’s worth photographing and you also have people with you, it’s good to think about these 3 choices.  Since my husband, dog, and I took a hike to a beautiful waterfall this weekend, I created examples using a couple of different combinations of lenses and films in Hipstamatic to show you the differences.

For a more traditional portrait, the Tinto 1882 lens we used in Lesson 24 works quite nicely.  As you can see, the facial recognition does a good job of keeping the face sharply in focus while the rest of the scene blurs.  To keep the background from getting too distracting, I took these in front of some stone steps instead of the waterfall.  I used the Black Keys Fine film (available for free download from the shopping cart in the app) for the photo on the left and the Kodak XGrizzled film we used in Lesson 13 for the photo on the left:

I like the Black Keys film for a crisp black and white look.  The Kodak XGrizzled film makes for a color photo with character.  I would have also used a neutral film, but my model was starting to grumble about mosquitoes.

To get more of a balance between the setting and the “people” (including my canine kid) for a “they were there” portrait, I positioned myself much closer to the people.  I also switched from the Hipstamatic app to the Camera Awesome app to get a “normal” photo:

For the landscape portrait, I did two completely different looks.  First, I used Hipstamatic with the Helga Viking lens and D-type film. Second, I used Pro HDR.  In both examples, I included the entire waterfall and had my husband looking away from the camera.  My dog was not so cooperative about where to look.

In both photos, the clear subject is the waterfall and having people in front of it creates a sense of scale as well as a different mood than, say, the waterfall by itself.  Compare a similar Hipstamatic photo with the same lens and film side-by-side with the one with my husband and dog:

How would you describe the difference in the feelings evoked by the two photos?

Your Assignment:  Take a cooperative person with you to an interesting setting.  It doesn’t have to be a waterfall–an interesting building can make an equally compelling photo.  Try using the different combinations of lenses and films in Hipstamatic in the different styles of portraits we discussed.  Try with Camera Awesome and Pro HDR, too.  Compare the photos.  Which do you like best?

Lesson 29: Hipsta-Classic

In lesson 13, I introduced the Hipstamatic App.  In lesson 24, we used the lens from the tintype pack.  Today, we’re going to use Hipstamatic with the D-type film and the Helga Viking lens.  The Helga Viking lens is part of the Williamsburg Starter Hipstapak; refer to lesson 13 on how to purchase additional hipstapaks.

I am particularly fond of this combination–I tend to like virtually everything photo I take with it, no matter what the subject is.  As someone who does a lot of landscape photography, I appreciate the front-to-back depth of field the Helga Viking lens provides–it works great for big landscapes.  Add to that the look of black-and-white tintype and you have instant classics.  Take a look at the gallery at the top of this lesson for examples.

Lesson 13 also explains how to change the lens and film in the Hipstamatic app.  One thing I didn’t explain in lesson 13 is that Hipstamatic has a feature that will select the lens and film for you when you shake your phone.  I do not like that feature–it causes me to end up with a different lens and film than I wanted when I least expected it.  So, let’s turn that off:

A handy feature that I use is setting a combination of film and lens as a favorite so it’s easy to pick that combo when I’m in a hurry.  Once you have the D-type film and the Helga Viking lens set, click the curved arrow at the lower right to turn the camera around and you’ll notice a star at the bottom of the case.  Here are the steps to save the combination as a favorite:

Now that it’s saved, to pick this combo, just tap on the star and then scroll through your saved favorites and pick this one.  It saves time in that you don’t have to switch to the back view of the phone and scroll through the lenses and film separately.

Now that you’ve got the Helga Viking lens and D-type film, it’s time to go shoot!

Your Assignment:  Try this combination in both indoor and outdoor settings.  Compare the photos you take to the ones you took in Lesson 24 with the Tinto 1884 lens.  Notice how what’s in focus is dramatically different?  What kinds of subjects do you like best with this lens?  Do you like having everything in focus compared to the Tinto 1884 lens?  Are there some subjects that work better with the Tinto 1884 lens than with the Helga Viking and vise versa?