A weight off the shoulders

At weddings I used to shoot with a full frame camera and strobe hanging from each shoulder. When using one of them, I’d always hunch the shoulder that was holding the other one to stop it slipping down. Worse still, when using neither, I’d do the same with both shoulders. This was such a subconscious thing that I barely even knew I was doing it. Years went by and I coped with a little pain here and there but never addressed the problem.

That was, until one day, after a particularly busy wedding photography season. I was staying away from home on a futon for just one night, and I awoke to severe pain in my left shoulder.

By midday after a few hours of agony I resolved to book my first ever private medical treatment (the NHS had done me well until that point, but this was pretty urgent).

I’m sure, dear reader, you must think I’m silly. How obvious the cause!

In my defence, and fellow wedding photographers will totally understand this, one’s mind during a shoot – not to mention the night before in preparation – is applied in its entirety to the job at hand. During the day one can easily forget to eat, drink water, and one certainly isn’t thinking about how one holds one’s camera. No wonder you need a full day to recover after a 16 hour day!

Long story short, I needed a way to get the weight off my shoulders and down to the hips. The legs still ache after a long shoot, but legs tend to deal with weight better than the delicate muscles in the shoulder cuff.

So the product I fell immediately in love with was the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0.

Pro-Speed-Belt-V20-ML-4

Image published with kind permission from Think Tank

Let me tell you about it.

Think Tank is the name of the company that make it. This US company has a fabulous range of wearables and luggage for cameras, each item designed to perfection by people who understand the challenges photographers face (unlike some other very well-known camera luggage brands whose products are mediocre in comparison).

The Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is one of three belts they make. It’s essentially the mid-weight one with padded edges and buckle stops. There’s a “skinny”, which is definitely not enough to hold 2 full frame cameras plus lenses and a third lens, and a “steroid” which is enough to carry quite a bit more.

Think Tank also sell a wonderful range of things you can put on this belt, called their modular component system (see the range here). They twist and rotate, you can get different types and sizes of lens pouch, covered adjustable size holsters for camera plus lens (the “digital holster“) – these also have a load of little pockets for mobile phone, tiny pad, rain covers, etc., and full-on camera bags that can be carried on the waist. Brilliant!

Problem is they don’t do a gun-holster style attachment, like the Spider Camera Holster (a different manufacturer). The latter is a great product, which includes the belt, but I’m addicted to my Pro Speed Belt. and they also do an adapter version for the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt, problem is in the UK at least it costs £140, essentially for a piece of metal that securely clips on to your belt.

Enter the Eggsnow. This little puppy costs £23 on Amazon. It comes with its own belt, but with some careful modification I discovered today it can be used with the Think Tank. Hurrah!

61i6-x8W2cL._SL1110_

Here’s how I did it.

What you’ll need:

Firstly I removed the retaining screws and plastic washers on the Eggsnow. The screws are not “structural”, they don’t take the weight, they just prevent the holster from sliding upwards. The plastic washers are next to useless, but you can replace them if you like. I didn’t bother as my solution below didn’t require it.

When you remove the screws, slide the holster away from the Eggsnow belt. Measure the screw locations carefully, I used a Vernier gauge and made the screws 25mm apart and 36mm down from the top edge of the belt.

Now use a bradawl or something very sharp to mark holes in the Think Tank belt in the right place. I’m right-handed, so I marked it at 90 degrees to the right of the belt clips which I keep at the front. A bradawl won’t make it through the Pro Speed Belt – it’s very tough! So I used a 3mm drill to get all the way through. I used a proper drill press because I have one, but careful use of a hand-drill would work. It does of course break the webbing, but not catastrophically so.

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-drill

I needed to replace the screws provided with the Eggsnow, as they aren’t long enough to go all the way through the Pro Speed Belt. Luckily I had some M3 machine screws (3mm diameter). 22mm long worked for me. I bought mine on ebay, a couple of quid for 50.

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-screws

If you were to push the screws the Speed Belt and attach them to the holster, the heads would get lost in the rubbery insides of the Speed Belt. So I cut out a section of the Eggsnow (yes, it’s good for nothing now!) as follows:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-cutout

Actually I didn’t need this shape, I just needed the rectangle around the screws. You’ll see what I mean below.

When cutting the Eggsnow belt, you’ll see there are 4 layers. I discarded all but the toughest layer and put that layer around the back of the Pro Speed Belt like so:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-rear

Getting the screws through the belt took a bit of work. The material inside the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is rubbery and the holes drilled seem to close up, so I used some needle-nosed tweezers to open the holes up a few seconds before getting the screws in. I shoved the tweezers in so far that the handle of the tweezers opened the hole up.

After a little shoving, we have a very secure holster attached permanently to the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-front

Right – add to this the digital holster and a lens drop, and we have ourselves a mean camera carrying machine! The holster makes for super-fast shooting, that extra 2 seconds it saves compared with pulling a camera out of the belt case makes all the difference!

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-kaboodle

Claire, shot with the iPhone in a coffee house in Amersham

The secrets of iPhone portrait photography

In this article, I’m going to tell you how to get the best possible portrait shots from your iPhone. I’ll also share with you some software I use; these apps are very well-loved by amateur and professional photographers alike.

There was a time I lugged my primary DSLR around with me everywhere I went. Out for dinner with friends, out and about in town, everywhere. The camera lived on my shoulder constantly but, the more time I spent shooting professionally, the less I was inclined to take my DSLR, opting instead to take various other smaller cameras for everyday photography; Canon G6, my beautiful old Nikkormat with 50mm 1.4 lens and a roll of Fuji BW film, even a twin lens reflex was smaller and easier to carry around!

Now I’ve been a professional photographer full-time for 4 years, and the only camera I ever take out with me when I’m not shooting for a client is my iPhone 4S.

The iPhone 4S camera is nothing to write home about, photographically speaking – of course. Without a large piece of glass in front of that sensor, it never will be.

But the point is: it’s good enough. Good enough that shooting portraits can be an enjoyable affair – quick, instant, and good results. The lens and the quality of the sensor are no more than adequate, which is precisely what you need from a tiny take-everywhere camera. The barriers to taking good portraits have mostly been removed; the process of shooting is no longer cumbersome as it was in previous generations of the phone, and I’m always able to predict the optical and digital quality of the images will be good, unlike many other camera phones I’ve used.

Here’s a shot I made yesterday on an unexpected visit to a coffee house in Amersham, where I unexpectedly met Claire and friends:

Claire, shot with the iPhone in a coffee house in Amersham

A portrait shot with the iPhone

4 Steps to great iPhone portrait photography

  1. As with all natural-light photography: find the light. Most of the time I don’t go out looking for it, but instead I see it and think “this is gorgeous light for a photo”. This usually happens when you aren’t expecting it: hence keep the iPhone to hand!
  2. Get an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5. The camera is far superior in the 4S to previous models. Also ensure you update your iPhone’s operating system. The latest version of iOS brought in some killer changes when it comes to shooting quickly. Read up here for more info.
  3. Adopt the mindset of a portrait photographer. Take fewer photos, delete all photos except the best version, start to think in terms of editing every shot as part of the process.
  4. Get the right apps. Process every photo you keep. This takes time, thought, and invention. The iPhone camera is not magic, it’s an automatic camera that makes assumptions about exposure. Every shot you take will require intervention with some kind of processing or photo editing.

Some apps I use

iPhonography is a fast-moving thing, so make sure to keep-up with the latest apps. I’m an incessant reader of reviews in the app store, and I research apps online a lot.  Over the years I’ve purchased, downloaded, and tested tens of photo editing apps, but here’s a quick summary of the ones I always come back to.

Snapseed

Mat Smith Photography - Photolife Blog - Snapseed IconI’ve used this app every day over the last year.

This has been my favoured go-to app for almost every photo I’ve shot on the iPhone. Made by Nik Software, who have a good pedigree in professional photo editing software, the app combines some of the toy-like features of Instagram with some really decent manual editing functions. The Instagram-like photo filters are actually fully manual functions with presets and a randomize feature, which does provide some ‘playability’ if you aren’t sure what look and feel you are going for.

On the whole I avoid using Snapseed’s “vintage” or “grunge” filters as they are way too ‘Instagrammy’ – they detract from the purity of the image. My style is to accentuate and to make the image pop. I use “drama”, “crop”, “selective adjust”, and “tilt shift” a lot, though. I also use the “straighten” function to rotate images although I do find that a bit fiddly. More on how I use this app later.

Big lens

Mat Smith Photography - Photolife Blog - Biglens IconWhereas Snapseed is about bringing out the best qualities of your photos, Big Lens is basically a naughty app for cheats. Don’t get me wrong – you have to put a lot of work in, and the results are very good, but it essentially emulates the look and feel of a big lens where you might stop-down the shot to reduce depth-of-field. Put simply it blurs out the background of your image. (Plus it does a whole load of other things.)

Every great portrait has a good separation of subject and surrounding.

By blurring out the background of your image, you are accentuating the subject and drawing the eye in to the photo. You are removing distractions from behind the subject which is something you can only usually do with a big piece of glass on the front of your camera. The app actually has “aperture” settings to emulate f stops (f3.5, f3.2, f2.8 etc.) although clearly these are to be ignored as, technically speaking, they are nonsense. Add to this the fact that it’s technically not a great idea to mask out a subject using a pen tool, and you’ll see why this app isn’t for photography purists – but I like it because it does give 95% great results a lot of the time, at least for portraiture.

What about camera apps?

The above are great for post-processing, but what about replacement apps for the iPhone’s camera?

Personally I don’t use one. I have a number of theories on this one, not least the fact that there’s a good chance you will inadvertently begin using an app that doesn’t support the resolution of the latest iPhone. It’s a huge flaw, but I’ve seen it before. App developers tend not to make a big thing of such flaws.

If you do prefer to use a special app for taking photos, instead of iPhone’s built-in app, then make sure you do your research. Find an app that definitely supports your iPhone camera’s resolution, and one that doesn’t attempt to make your images brighter. Apps that claim to make the image brighter are actually pre-processing apps; all they do is remove the options to fine-tune your photographs in post-processing afterwards.

How I  process photos

The greatest thing about instant mobile photography is taking your image from start to finish without getting your desktop editing software out! You can do it all on the bus.

I’ve settled on a process I like, which gives my images a certain look and feel. I’d encourage you to find your own process to make images that suit your own eye – this is the key to becoming a great photographer.

That aside, here’s my process:

Settle on my image

I settle on my favourite image version by doing quick mock-up edits of a few different versions, cropping accordingly. I delete extra versions of the same shot and set about editing the chosen image.

Edit in Snapseed

I load the image up in Snapseed and straight away use the “drama” filter:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Load

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Drama

Use Drama filter

I’ll get the filter strength as high as possible without it looking to hyper-real (it gives a surreal bad-HDR effect if over-used).

I bring the saturation UP as it’s usually too low by default. Here I’ve used +54.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Saturation

Set the saturation and strength of filter. Experiment with options.,

I make a note of the numbers and then try out different combinations of the two settings for this filter. I press-and-hold the top compare button a few times to decide whether I went over-the-top:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Compare

Always keep stopping to compare as you go

Then I apply the filter:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Apply

Click to apply the filter, before moving on to the next filter

Sometimes the image isn’t nearly bright enough. To fix this I tend to prefer using the “Tilt Shift” filter (instead of the “tune image” filter), as this has a really nice brightness algorithm. Although the image is exposed nicely here, I still use it to slightly push-up the brightness:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Tilt Shift

Use Tilt Shift instead of "Tune Image" - nicer algorithm for brightness

I use two fingers to pull-apart the Tilt Shift area, so that the diagonally opposite corners get a tiny amount of blur, and I tend to leave the other settings as they are. Perhaps I will tweak the saturation a little.

Next up, crop:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Crop

I prefer to crop and straighten as last step in Snapseed

I usually double-check my edits using the compare feature from the main screen (this time, press-and-hold the image. The compare button shown above is only when you are in one of the filter views).

All done! Now I save the image out to the camera roll.

Edit in Big Lens

Next I load the image into Big Lens. Always use “advanced” to mask the image:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Splash

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Advanced mask

Always use the manual / advanced mask technique

Now draw the brush around the subject. Then click Auto to tighten up the edges:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Draw

Make a rough drawing

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Auto Fail

Auto helps get your edges half good, but you need to edit them more

Zoom in to erase the mask where it shouldn’t be, and use the brush tool to re-apply if you removed too much:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Zoom and Mask

Pinch to zoom, pan with two fingers, use brush and eraser

To pan around, use two fingers.

Be patient, this process takes a long time. If you mess up, it won’t look good. There’s an undo button you can use for brush strokes. You really need to be a little bit anal about this process. Don’t worry though, you can try it out and go back and edit the mask if you like.

Use the arrow top-right to move to the next stage. Now apply your aperture size.

You can see here, I’ve gone too far. This makes it look unnatural, and you can also see masking artefacts more, if you look around the edge of the subject:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Dodgy Masking

Dodgy masking - either re-mask or lessen the blur effect

I went for f3.2 in the end. I also used the ‘pop cold’ filter, which only applies to the backdrop, to further draw the eye in. I turned the filter strength down to about half:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Filter

Add a filter if you like, but dial-down the settings

Again, use press and hold the compare function. Play around with the other options.

But there you have it: a great looking portrait from a tiny camera in your phone.

Before and After

Here’s a quick before and after comparison:

Mat Smith Photography - iPhone portrait photography comparison before processing and after processing

Comparison of image before and after processing

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - business partner Chris Bianco

Chiswick’s newest restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Union Jacks

Mat Smith Photography Photolife Blog - Chiswick - Union Jacks lights

I’ve been pretty excited about the opening of Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant Union Jacks for a while, and as an avid local tweeter for Chiswick / accidental restaurant advisor / general photo and food blogger (usually on other sites), I took my camera along to the soft opening today.

Some background: I don’t have a TV and I’m only familiar with Jamie through his books, website, and other restaurants which I love (Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge and London W12, where I’ve dined more times that I can remember).

Sadly I just missed chatting to Jamie, but caught Jamie’s partner in the Union Jacks venture, Chris Bianco, who is a passionate foodie and restaurant entrepreneur from the US:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - business partner Chris Bianco

Back home his restaurant Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona is reputedly a great success with food critics, not to mention the fact he’s opened up other restaurants from Italian to Mexican, he grows and packages a range of varietals of tomatoes in California (sadly he won’t be exporting them for use in this restaurant) and he obviously cares dearly about his ingredients. I’m hoping the Union Jacks venture will attract similar critical praise. Certainly his amazing positivity comes across within just a few minutes of meeting him. I love how he has done-out the restaurant with little bits of local life – some framed prints from a much-loved nearby bookshop Fosters of Chiswick, to mention just one.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Interior layout

 

The interior itself is a nod to 50s/60s café dining with formica-style tabletops or roughly-painted wooden tables, funky lighting, traditional unfussy menus, and lovely tiling work on the walls – the same tiles as you are likely to see on the London Underground.

As with all of Jamie’s restaurants, staff are superb; their enthusiasm is palpable and even though Chiswick Union Jacks was not fully open, they were really on the ball, chatty, excited…

Mat Smith Photography Photolife Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks Restaurant Chiswick - Waiting Staff Outfit

Whilst Union Jacks probably won’t compete with the excellent Gelato Mio across the road for serious ice, are not putting out cocktails like Sam’s or Charlotte’s, and probably don’t put pizza to the core of the menu as much as the nearby Franco Manca – which will always hold a special place in my heart – nevertheless the restaurant’s main strength is that it serves up an impressive range of food styles.

The Woodman Pizza (they call it a “Flat”): a topping with mixed field mushroom base and an aftertaste of aniseed:

Mat Smith Photography Photolife Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks Restaurant Chiswick - Woodman Pizza

Although in many ways Italian – at least the style of the interior – Union Jacks isn’t a traditional pizzeria by any means. It’s more like an “Italian-inspired English tapas restaurant”; the palate catered-for is very much the English one.

How so? Think mini Yorkshire puddings, Indian spiced chicken with Bombay potatoes, Bubble and Squeak, Treacle Tart, selection of great cheeses.

Below, Indian spiced chicken. What an amazing gravy it came with. Typical of Jamie: bursting with surprising flavours. And a delightful marinade.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Empire Chicken

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Empire Chicken side shot

The other thing I love: you can stop-by for a quick Builder’s Tea on the seats outside, or bring a group of friends for a whole evening out.

Below, the “Damson Gin Fizz”:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Damson Gin Fizz Cocktail

Below, “Roobarb & Custard” and “Union Mule”:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Cocktail - Union Mule

 

What they do, they do very well. “Earl Grey and biscuit” and “bitter chocolate” ice cream scoops:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Early Grey and Biscuit, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream scoops

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Red Badge

The dough is made right in front of diners, so you can see the action! Smells amazing.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Making Dough

The restaurant is apparently not taking bookings until May, however I believe it will be possible to walk-in and dine at any time.

Can’t wait to spend some more time there!

iPhone 4S Lock Screen with Camera Icon

iPhone 4S Camera Review – in-depth

Having braved the upgrade queue – a decision driven mainly by my current iPhone 3GS and its pitifully depleted battery (lasting around an hour into the day) – by 9.30am Friday I was a proud new owners of the iPhone 4S.

Mat Smith Photography - O2 iPhone 4S release in Chiswick

O2 iPhone 4S release in Chiswick

There are myriad features on the new iPhone that I love; after 24 hours of testing Siri to its limits, playing with notifications, the integrated Twitter features, the location-based reminders, and more, I’m in no doubt the ‘phone will enrich my life albeit in some small way.

Rather than focusing on these features, however, here I’m reviewing the iPhone 4S camera from the perspective of a professional photographer.

Summary of improvements

Here’s a list of improvements you’ll see in the iPhone 4S camera, whether they are down to the iOS5 upgrade (which can be installed on older models) or to the iPhone 4S itself.

This review expands upon all of these improvements.

  • Ease of access
    • Quick access from the lock screen (iOS5)
      • No access to existing photos if iPhone was locked with passcode
  • Ease of control
    • Quicker camera-ready time (especially compared with iPhone 3GS and older)
    • Vastly reduced shutter lag (un-noticeable delay in taking shot after pressing button)
    • Increased ergonomics: use side button to shoot (applies to iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S under iOS5)
    • Optional grid for rule of thirds
    • Flash (improved on 4S) – photographers: keep that flash off at all times!
    • Quick Edit after taking photo
      • Crop / free-form rotate
      • Separate 90 degree rotate function
      • Manual red-eye removal
      • “Auto Enhance” – photographers: avoid!
    • Vastly improved focus and exposure seek time
    • Pinch to zoom – photographers: avoid!
    • Photo Stream (iCloud)
  • Redesigned sensor
    • Increased resolution (7.99MP: 3264 x 2448)
    • Lower noise despite increased resolution
    • Increased sensitivity: especially great for low-light photography
  • Redesigned lens system
    • 5 elements: sharper images
    • Wider aperture: f/2.4 – brighter and more impressive images. Reduced DoF for more ‘artsy’ photos

Some background – a personal disclaimer

As a professional photographer, there is a small part of me that despises the concept of a cameraphone. This ubiquitous device has landed in the hands of The Many, which has led to an explosion in the number of photographs taken across the world in any given second (which should be good), yet a proportionally huge reduction in the average quality of a photograph.

If this sounds a bit abstract, just consider what you see on Facebook. Every minute detail of our lives is now captured on our mobile phones in poor light, at low definition, and with little thought. Every moment, including the seminal moments – a child’s fifth birthday party, a graduation, the first dance at a wedding. These seminal moments are being lost in the sea of photos that we take, their significance diminished in our memories.

facebook-photo-with-permission

A Facebook Photo...

However this problem is not because of the technology itself; we can’t blame technology. It’s how we have adopted the technology. But then, neither can we blame lack of expertise; it’s not only the average Joe who doesn’t realise that ‘less is more’ when it comes to curating our lives’ photos, I have seen professional photographers who take the easy line and offer clients quantity over quality.

No, let’s not focus on the effect that ubiquity is having on the social function of photography. Let’s focus instead on the camera itself.

I wish I could attribute the following quotation to someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson, alas it’s a modern idea;

“The best camera is the one that’s with you”

The History

As a cameraphone, the iPhone has long been behind the competition. Users of the original iPhone, the 3G, and to a lesser extent the 3GS, have bemoaned the poor camera.

The iPhone 4 brought the ‘phone’s camera up to modern expectations.

The iPhone 4S, released yesterday, greatly exceeds expectations of a camera phone, and many are saying it’s the best camera on a ‘phone to date.

What makes a good cameraphone?

From the perspective of a photographer, here’s what I believe makes a good cameraphone.

Ease of access: capturing ‘the moment’ is difficult if you have to navigate through menus and buttons before the shutter is even ready

With iOS5, it is now possible to access the camera from the lock screen. This may be done by double-clicking the home button, either when the lock screen is already showing, or when the phone display is off altogether.

And for those who protect their iPhone with a passcode, there’s no need to worry that this could be used to circumvent entering the passcode to view existing photos:

iPhone 4S Lock Screen with Camera Icon iPhone 4S Phone Locked in Camera Mode

Controllability: how responsive is the shutter release? To what extent can focus and exposure be controlled? Is it quick to change the settings? What about other tools like composition guides or in-app post-processing?

One of the main issues with the iPhone 3GS was a delay when entering the camera app. The shutter animation would hang for a second or more, which really affects your ability to point and shoot. The iPhone 4S has an upgraded processor, and there’s no more waiting.

Another major gripe was that you had to use the software button on the screen to take a photo. The iPhone 4S now has a physical button for shutter release: the up-volume button on the side. This is a lovely button which provides a good level of physical feedback without jogging the ‘phone in the slightest when pressed. Great for macro shots, where the tiniest movement can throw the focus off.

Most importantly, something that angers most photographers about cameraphones – and indeed small point-and-shoot cameras – is the shutter release delay. These inferior cameras usually use autofocus; even if you have pressed the button, that shot isn’t taken until the camera thinks the image is in focus. This can lead to a delay of a second or sometimes more, and we professionals (or anyone with an SLR camera!) absolutely hate that!

The iPhone 4S has an instantaneous shutter release – like an SLR.

The result is that inexperienced users may end up with photos that are out of focus – but let’s face it, in many cases if you leave the camera to choose your focus point then you won’t be getting the best results anyway. At least this gives power back to the real photographer.

Combine this with the new face recognition feature, and the new super-fast focusing, and it’s actually very difficult to end up with photos that are out of focus.

The new iPhone 4S sports a grid for composing a shot according to the rule of thirds. Of course, this grid may be turned off, but it’s great for shooting landscapes. Here it is with the options screen:

iPhone 4S camera review - grid - rule of thirds

Naturally, of course, we have the ability to turn the flash on or off, or set to auto. For a professional photographer, this switch is set to the ‘off’ position 95% of the time. If there isn’t enough light, the last thing we want is a horrible harsh flash lighting the scene. There are some occasions it is nice to switch the  flash on, such as … wait for it … when the sun is shining. Why? This is called fill flash, and if the subject is close enough to the iPhone, the bright LED light is just enough to take the harsh edges off the shadows that are cast on the subject’s face. Similarly the flash is useful for more ‘functional’ photographs, e.g. if you are trying to read a number from the rear of a box and you can’t quite reach it otherwise.

Other than that: turn that horrid flash off, and leave it off!

From the above screencap, you can also see the switch camera icon (top right). This allows you to use the front-facing camera on the iPhone instead. Whilst this might be great for that narcissistic shot of yourself, it most certainly won’t do your photography any good. The front-facing camera on the iPhone 4S is still pretty horrid, and should be avoided for anything except its primary intended use which is video.

Another brilliant boon to iPhone photographers in the release of the iPhone 4S is the quick edit function. This is where, after taking a shot, you can quickly crop, rotate, or fix red-eye. There is also an option to ‘Auto Enhance’, however this should be avoided if you are serious about the photo. Apple have mercifully avoided any other ‘artistic’ editing functions, as well as manual post-processing control over exposure or contrast, and stuck to the basics: crop, free-form rotate, and red-eye. This is a good thing.

iPhone 4S Review - Mat Smith Photography - Accessing Quick Edit  iPhone 4S Camera Review - Mat Smith Photography - Crop and Edit

The focus and exposure control offer a similar interface to previous generations – tap anywhere on the screen to focus on that point – however they are noticeably faster and more accurate. iPhone 4S now also has a face recognition feature which assists when focusing on a single subject or taking a group shot. The focus can of course be overridden by tapping the screen to focus on another point.

Unfortunately, there is no separation of exposure and focus control, which means the point you focus is also the point which you choose for correct exposure level. Personally I think that separating these two controls would indeed have been one step too far for the average user. If you require this kind of functionality… there’s an app for that.

The zoom control now uses multi-touch pinch rather than the slightly fiddlesome zoom scroll-bar on previous generations. However, as this is digital zoom as opposed to optical zoom, the result is that you are cropping the image rather than actually zooming-in. Therefore, never use digital zoom; it’s a bad idea because it reduces your options. If you need to see something close-up, you should crop the image afterwards using the new iOS5 in-app editing (mentioned above) or using other software e.g. on your computer. (The same applies for any camera with digital zoom!)

One final point of interest about the improvements to photo handling in iOS5 worth noting is the integration of photos into iCloud. A new folder appears within the pictures app when you upgrade to iOS5 (or by default on the iPhone 4S) called photo stream:

Mat Smith Photography - iOS5 iCloud Photo Stream folder

iOS5 iCloud Photo Stream folder

If you have upgraded to iOS5 (whether you restored a backup of your older phone to a new iPhone 4S, or just upgraded your non-4s to iOS5), you have the option of using the photo stream function. If you switch this on, all photos you take from that point onwards will be uploaded / backed-up to iCloud, and will appear in both the camera roll and the photo stream folders.

This is a real boon for those who use desktop or laptop computers (Mac or PC) as your iCloud photo stream can be synchronised with your computer. No more emailing yourself files, or uploading them to Dropbox! Windows users will need to download the iCloud control panel application (download link here) for Windows, and Mac users will need to upgrade to OS X Lion and switch on iCloud. The windows client allows you to set the location of your photo stream, if you choose to have this downloaded to your computer.

The Lens and Sensor: more important than megapixels

Everyone knows how futile the ‘megapixel race’ is; this is where camera manufacturers play on the general public’s lack of knowledge and get them to focus on meaningless specifications such as the megapixel count. Of course, it’s not an entirely meaningless specification, but in many cases over the last decade, cameras have been released with dog-awful lenses and a high megapixel count; all this does is to show you in even higher resolution how terrible the photograph is!

It’s like matching hi-fi speakers with an amp. No use spending a tonne on lovely speakers if the amplifier doesn’t do them justice.

iPhone 3GS resolution comparison 3MP

iPhone 4 resolution comparison 5MP

iPhone 4S resolution comparison 8MP

As long as the megapixel count does justice to the lens and the quality of the sensor, that’s all the matters.

Apple upgraded the iPhone 4S camera’s megapixel count (this is a function of the new sensor itself, of course) to 8MP. This resolution definitely does justice to the upgraded lens and sensor. It’s worth noting at this point that the video function does not use the full resolution of the sensor, and as such the image is cropped. Therefore, it’s no longer possible to take such wide angle images in video mode. This is a great shame, and it would surely have been possible to use the full sensor frame but reduce the resolution on-the-fly.

So – onto the good stuff: the lens and the sensor.

Apple stated that, despite having a higher resolution, the new sensor is 73% more sensitive. This essentially means the lens performs better in low light, which means that there is less blur and less noise. Let’s take a look. This is actually a comparison of images from iPhone 3GS rather than the iPhone 4.

The image from the iPhone 4GS had its resolution reduced in Photoshop to match that of the 3GS, for comparison’s sake. The images were taken in the same light.

Comparison of 4GS camera with 3GS camera - Sensitivity and Noise

Comparison of 4GS camera with 3GS camera - Sensitivity and Noise

The brighter image is from the iPhone 4GS.

As well as poor response to light and higher noise, below we can also see the increased JPG artefacts from the iPhone 3GS, however this may be due to the fact the image was not reduced in size, whereas the 4GS image was reduced in size, for this comparison.

iPhone 3GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise

iPhone 3GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise

iPhone 4GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise

iPhone 4GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise

If you can look past the noise and the JPG artefacts, it’s also possible to see that the image has a greater clarity of edges and increased detail in the blacks. Compare the cat’s eyes and nose; on the 3GS version they are blacker and with less detail.

As well as this revised sensor, the iPhone 4S has a completely redesigned lens setup, with a wider aperture (f/2.4, as opposed to the iPhone 4’s lens aperture of f/2.8). This wider aperture allows more light in, and as you can see from the below test images, it reduces the depth of field; this is something many photographers will enjoy about the new lens, as it can slightly improve the feel of portraits.

Note that the aperture of f/2.4 is not equivalent to that of the photographer’s standard measurement based on the 35mm film. The equivalent aperture would be much higher, in the order of f/18-22, as is appropriate for a fixed-aperture and fixed-focal-length lens.

Of course, the focal length of the iPhone 4S has also changed, and it’s now 4.3mm as opposed to the iPhone 4 focal length of 3.85. Whilst it may seem at first the image should appear zoomed-in in comparison to the iPhone 4, remember that the crop factor may be slightly different if the sensor has been redesigned. Very little detail has been released on the dimensions of the sensor itself.

The below two images show the effect of DoF (depth of field) of the iPhone 4S as compared with the iPhone 3GS. The images are shown here uncropped; the iPhone 3GS image is taken at a slightly higher elevation to compensate for the different focal length. These images are not intended as technically accurate comparisons of DoF.

Observe the bottom horizontal stick (a thin bamboo skewer) in both photographs. The focal point of both images was the middle stick. The iPhone 4S version shows the bottom stick to be much more out of focus.

Depth of Field test - iPhone 3GS

Depth of Field - iPhone 3GS - More of the image is in focus - Less 'artsy'

Mat Smith Photography - Depth of Field test - iPhone 4S

Depth of Field test - iPhone 4S - Less of the image is in focus - More 'artsy'

The reduction in DoF is not severe, however it will have a noticeable effect on portrait shots, where backgrounds will appear that little bit more blurry and out of focus, thus accentuating the subject. A lesser proportion of the iPhone 4S image is in focus, which results in a more artsy photo. Great in most cases.

For example, here’s a picture of an avocado in the foreground, with me in the background…

iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Mat

iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Mat

And Apple has proven the DoF point with a slightly less attractive model, and a pretty flower…

iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Apple

iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Apple

The new lens consists of 5 elements, one of which Apple has stated is a ‘hybrid infrared filter’. This is presumably due to the increased sensitivity of the sensor to incident infrared light.

Summary

Please do see the summary of improvements listed near the top of this review.

Hopefully I have covered the main improvements to the iPhone 4S camera. As always, I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading!

Exclusive Preview Dinner at the Commonwealth Kitchen

In the heart of the Westminster Bubble, a stone’s throw from Downing Street (and trust me, I threw stones*) and Trafalgar Square, and on the slightly undesirable pink Monopoly board square of Northumberland Ave (£160 to buy the whole road**), lies a historic monument to the Commonwealth history of our nation. Actually, they lie all around, but the one I’m talking is the Commonwealth Club. This private members’ club has recently thrown the doors of its kitchen wide open to the general public. They even let women in now too!

* metaphorical stones

** in real life, it’s an extremely desirable place. In fact, I hazard it’s one of the loveliest walks around the block you could take of an evening in central London, and certainly one of the most romantic, save for the omnipresent nature of the police clustering on every corner.

I rarely blog about non-photo things, but sometimes life and food are so good that they deserve a little space on here (hence the ‘life’ part of my blog title ‘photolife’).

Last night I was kindly invited by Qype (my favourite foodie reviewing site) to sample the tasting menu at Searcys at the Commonwealth Club – or the Commonwealth Kitchen. And what a find this place is.

At 6.30pm we checked in for a Champagne reception. I say checked in – they took our coats and we techie types hit a button on our iPhones to signify our arrivals… (it’s all the rage – honest):

You would be forgiven for walking past the Commonwealth Kitchen without even noticing its existence. It has none of the street presence you’d expect from a London restaurant (e.g. Prezzo next door has a big blue neon sign…) and such hidden gems are often the best.

The tasting menu consisted of four courses plus a perfect picking of palate cleansers and matching wines.

I absolutely love a tasting menu as it’s the chef’s chance to take the diner on a journey that he has thought about in great detail, and it’s his chance to show-off. In my perfect utopian world, people wouldn’t be allowed to choose dishes in restaurants at all. I have this sneaking suspicion that choice is the nemesis of genuine food diversity in the world of good dining.

I digress – here’s what we were given to start the evening’s food journey: scallops!

LJ had the non-fish option of a broccoli velouté:

Smoked Wild Duck with Curried Lentil Soup and a Pomegranate Salad. Duck and pomegranate is a clever combination.

Onto my favourite savoury course of the evening, a superb North Scotland Monkfish with Mussels and Orzo Pasta.

Monkfish is one of those foods that can be very bland indeed, and can be forced to rely on its surrounding ingredients, but the plus side is that it has an amazing buttery (excuse the cliché) melt-in-the-mouth texture.

The Commonwealth Kitchen really got it right here. Great variation of textures within the plate, perfect sidekick of shellfish, some zesty greens, and a creamy pasta.

It looks so innocent and beautiful here, but I photographed monkfish a week ago at Selfridge’s Food Counter and can confirm it is the ugliest beast imaginable. Google Images it.

And here’s the monkfish with baby gem purée, the alternative dish to the above for those selfish shellfish spurners:

Onto the more serious stuff of venison.

Ever since a fatal high speed encounter between my car and a deer on an unlit stretch of the M11 last year (fatal for the deer, thankfully nobody human was hurt), I have approached venison dinners with more glee than usual. It’s a shame, I’m sure not all deer are stupid as hell, but I was most pleased this one was cooked in more than one way; roasted and braised.

Chard Farm Venison ‘roast and braise’, Confit Celeriac, Red Cabbage and Bitter Chocolate Jus.

Or as I like to call it, “Take that, Bambi

This next dish was another alternative to the one I ate.

So jealous. (of the bark. I wanted bark.)

Butternut Squash Risotto with Iron Bark Pumpkin Purée.

There’s a fine line between minimalism and vacuousness when it comes to this kind of food. I have especially found that wedding catering companies working to please a sophisticated palate often try way too hard, and end up producing mere fashion food (“H2O jus served on a bed of essence of lark’s vomit with an accent of deep sea fish shoulder” etc.)

Well, this gorgeous side dish of Romanesco Broccoli was exactly the right side of that line. It’s little details like this, when I bite into them, that make me understand why I am not a real cook, nor should I ever try to be one. This mathematically interesting vegetable (an example of fractals in food) was probably the tiniest most sumptuous thing I have eaten this year so far.

Perfection.

How to follow that? Here’s how. A pre-dessert dessert. Sorry, palate cleanser. (But we all know it’s a pre-dessert dessert.)

Blood orange sorbet with candied ginger. Two perfectly-formed bullet shapes of sorbet: tangy, but not sour and no strong aftertaste.

Despite the exceptionally well-controlled portion sizes (I mean: small), I am by this point happy.

Of course, we all know humans have a different, special stomach, though. A stomach that has actually remained completely empty throughout a filling meal. A reserve stomach, if you will.

Thank god.

Next up, a delicious Spiced Apple Cake with Blackberry Variations specially designed for the reserve stomach.

The photo speaks for itself; this dish was brilliant. The chef is a guy after my own heart. A dish that tells a little story.

I should like to recommend a new name for the menu (I don’t like the way the dish’s title fades away into the word “variations”. Rubbish!) It should be named: A Boat of Blackberry Sets Sail from Spiced Apple Island upon the Shores of Jus, Past the Rocks of Crouton, Guided by the Scent of a Blackberry Sugar, Alas, the Crunchy Sharks Are Biting at the Hull of the Ship! What to Do!

There’s so much going on visually here. The little rocks of tornaway Spiced Apple Island near the bottom of the plate. The delicious crunchy sharks surrounding the ice cream.

Virtuosic presentation, I think you will agree.

Wine Tasting Conversation

Who needs a dessert wine for afters when you have Ice Cider? The Leduc-Piedimonte Ice Cider is a Canadian treat, aged for 24 months and fermented, and was a huge hit with fellow diners.

It had a strange sweetness profile; a strong apple nose which was very dry in the mouth, but similarly there were medium-sweet vanilla notes and pleasing spice oak. As such it makes for a wonderful replacement of a dessert wine. You could almost imagine you are drinking a sweet wine if it weren’t for the overpowering apple.

As a huge fan of artisan apple juice, this hit the spot for me.

It tasted of real-real apples, I don’t mean your bottled-fresh-real-apple-juice-from-the-store, I mean your sourced-locally-and-found-in-farmers-market taste. If my knowledge of apples were better, I could doubtless have distinguished what varietal we were drinking, I don’t think it was a blend.

I met some lovely fellow London foodies. Here’s Chris, Qype’s resident London Guru. I fully understood the significance of this Guru status had when I indicated I liked cigars, and he began to reel-off his favourite twenty or so cigar lounges and terraces in London. (Maybe I exaggerate with twenty, but Chris is certainly the London food and drink equivalent of a London Cabbie; he has The Knowledge.)

Here’s a link to his blog.

I must admit I’m not a fan of New World wines. I know people who swear by them, but maybe my tastes haven’t matured enough for them yet. (I’m trying to be diplomatic.) There is no question the wines here were of a good standard, great clarity and depth, and they will leave drinkers with a happy organic glow as opposed to a slight headache. It’s just the flavours, they are a little unsubtle. Actually the Chardonnay was good, and I really enjoyed the superb Champagne (Champagne equivalent?) presented to us on arrival.

Either way, great line-up, and of course well-matched with the various courses of food.

And the aftermath of my tasting…

Aftermath of the Wine Tasting

The service and hospitality we received as a large-ish group was wonderful, waiting staff and restaurant manager took time to chat with us about the origin of the foods and the restaurant’s values. Looking at the menu prices I will definitely be paying the restaurant another visit, and I cannot recommend Searcys at The Commonwealth Club highly enough.

Thanks Qype for an evening of great food and wine, and it is lovely as always to meet new lovers of fine dining in London. To the Commonwealth Kitchen, thank you for your hospitality.

Wedding Photography and Copyright

“Can we get the copyright to the photos?”

Let’s say you hire a photographer to capture your wedding.

You are keen to know exactly what you are getting, and you want to ensure that you will get the copyright to the photos at the end. Perhaps you have heard that not all photographers will allow this.

Firstly you must understand that no professional wedding photographer will ever hand over the copyright to your photographs.

Secondly you must understand that copyright and licensing are two different things. A photographer almost always retains copyright, unless they have explicitly signed this away, for example if they are taking photographs under the banner of a company which owns the work of its employees. Or in some rare cases that the photographer signs a contract with a client such as an agency who requests ownership of copyright. (Many photographers will refuse to work for such agencies.)

Even if you have no formal written contract with your photographer, UK Intellectual Property law (specifically the Design and Patents Act 1988) states that when a photographer clicks the button, at the point the work is created, the photographer owns the copyright.

You don’t need to worry about that, though! Read on.

Instead, most photographers will provide you with a licence that allows specific things to be done with the photographs; for example they may allow you to keep low resolution copies on a DVD and print them for personal use.

Some photographers still prefer not to release digital versions of images – or to release versions with large watermarks that prevent printing by obscuring a large portion of the image – for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the photographer has a more old fashioned revenue model whereby the majority of profit comes from selling prints, alternatively the photographer may have exacting standards for photographic printing that most consumer print services do not allow for.

It is arguable that this practice is changing, and photographers are charging more and more for the photography time rather than prints of the images that are received at the end. In this sense, wedding photography has become more similar to corporate and commercial photography.

However it is also arguable that a photographer operating nearer the higher end of the market wants to maintain full artistic control and will therefore not allow for a situation where couples can make their own prints.

“So we’re not Victoria and David Beckham”

Either way, a professional photographer will always retain the copyright – except in extremely rare circumstances.

Of course, it is technically possible for a photographer to hand over the copyright, however this would allow you to sell the photographs for a large sum of money to an agency. Or worse still, put those photographs on Facebook; did you realise that a third party could legally sell those photos onto an agency without your knowledge?

You may be thinking “we aren’t exactly Angelina and Brad“, but if you think photos of your wedding might not be worth that much, think again. What if the photographer even so much as happens to snap an object quickly from the perfect angle with the perfect light, and there is a company out there who require that exact image for marketing purposes? A professional photographer is defined as someone who makes his/her money from taking photographs, and it therefore denies them the ability to continue making a living when other people get revenue from their works. That’s why pros don’t do it.

“But wait, these are photos of me!”

Secondly it helps to understand the word copyright and how this differs from intellectual property, licence, and goods.

Copyright doesn’t just mean the right to copy a photograph. The word copyright covers a whole host of things by inference: the right to email, publish online, upload to Facebook, sell, print the photograph out, even the right to crop a photograph!

The goods are the photographs themselves, in whatever form they happen to be; this could be on disc, as a download on the photographer’s website, in print, in a book.

Intellectual property (IP) is a term that describes the original idea of the work, and because it is unusual for a wedding photography idea to be capitalised on, this is something that is rarely discussed; IP is rarely transferred from one person to another in wedding photography. However it is still worth talking about, because it ties-in with copyright: the IP of a photograph is owned by the photographer. This means that even if a photograph doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, even if it has already been posted online, even if the IP is not protected in any other way (e.g. trademark), the IP by default belongs to the photographer. Even if the photograph is of someone famous, even it was taken by a freelance photographer and sold on to a newspaper, the IP belongs to the person who produced that image, the photographer. As long as there is no explicit transfer of copyright, the copyright will also remain with the photographer, even if a copyright notice is not written anywhere.

“So what does this mean?”

  1. If your wedding is shot by a professional photographer, intellectual property and copyright almost always remain with the photographer.
  2. When choosing a wedding photographer, ask what licence to the images they offer. Please respect those photographers who offer no licence at all, as this will be built into their revenue model and they will most likely charge a lot less for your wedding photography.
  3. Many photographers will assign a licence to the wedding couple that allows them to keep photo files on DVD and print for personal use. A licence needn’t be worded in legalese. A licence can be implicit upon an action: this means that if the photographer gives you a DVD with full size images, then you arguably have the licence to keep this DVD.
  4. A licence is usually specific. Assume that you are not allowed to do anything other than what is written or communicated to you in this licence. Therefore if you are given a licence to store images on DVD, disc, and print for personal use, this means you may not edit, crop, or change those photographs in any way. This would count as transforming or adapting the work. Furthermore you may not email photos or upload photos to Facebook, as this would count as publishing or distribution.
  5. Some photographers may provide a mechanism to allow for common modern usage. For example, they may provide a heavily watermarked version of the photographs for sharing with guests by email, and uploading to Facebook. Ask your photographer.

Mat Smith is a commercial, portrait, and wedding photographer based in London, UK. The above does not constitute legal advice. Always consult a member of the legal profession. Visit Mat’s portfolio here: www.matsmithphotography.com

Lightroom 3 Beta 2 – Tethered Shooting

Within the last week Adobe has released a second beta of their photographer’s digital darkroom tool Lightroom.

Here’s one of my favourite new features of this release:

Tethered Shooting

Tethered shooting is the instantaneous, automatic transfer of image files from the camera to the computer when a photograph is taken. This happens either via a direct (e.g. USB) connection from camera to computer, or using a wireless file transfer function provided by the camera.

Illustration showing simplicity of tethered shooting workflow in Lightroom

The process allows the studio photographer to immediately assess an image on their computer using advanced controls in digital darkroom software, and is commonplace in a big budget studio shoot because it allows an art director or client to see exactly what they are getting at the time. Tethered shooting also speeds up the photographer’s workflow, removing the need to replace full memory cards during a shoot and having to transfer images in bulk after the shoot.

Tethered shooting to Lightroom has been possible for a while, however the new native support within Lightroom will simplify the workflow for studio photographers, and provide a number of benefits:

  • No need to install or run camera’s own software in the background (e.g. Canon EOS Utility)
  • No need to match import settings in camera software and Lightroom: reduces points of failure
  • Control the tethered shoot from one piece of software rather than two
  • View camera settings and operate shutter release within Lightroom
  • No need for a watch folder. Automatically import images according to your existing folder and file naming convention
  • Automatically add photographs to a Lightroom collection
  • Automatically apply develop settings: very useful if you have 15 minutes spare before the client turns up to create a custom develop setting for the specific lighting setup. Note: you can swap develop settings mid-session on the tethered shoot control bar
  • Apply any metadata to the image files on a per-session basis

How to set up. Previously, the method for tethered shooting depended on your combination of camera and camera software. Thanks to the native support in the upcoming release of Lightroom 3, tethered shooting will work with pretty much any camera straight off the bat. And it needs no instruction other than to say: Ctrl-Shift-T (Win) or Cmd-Shift-T (Mac) > enter your session name > start shooting.

The above keyboard shortcut is equivalent to selecting the menu File > Tethered Capture.

I have tested tethered shooting in the recently released Lightroom 3 beta 2, and it works like a dream. It’s super fast with my Canon 5D Mark II shooting RAW images on full resolution (average file size = 22MB), even on a relatively slow laptop.

Each time you start a tethered shoot, you can set the name of the session and select automatic metadata settings from the metadata preset library.

Here’s what tethered capture doesn’t do right now:

  • Doesn’t support all cameras yet: only newer digital cameras
  • There are reports that the 64bit version of Windows XP is not supported, however these have not been confirmed
  • Tethered shooting will not support any live view function your camera may have