Monday, May 16, 2011

Generating or avoiding "leaning" images with your iPhone

Copyright John Edwin Mason, 2011 - QuickPix / iPhone 4
Knowing your camera is perhaps one of the most important aspects of generating great photos.  I'd contend that a really great photographer, as long as he or she knows their camera well, can generate incredible images with just about any device. 

When it comes to the iPhone we all know there are limitations.  Significant ones to say the least - two in particular that are very annoying to me are that they have no optical zoom and have poor low-light performance.  That being said, there are some amazing photos being taken from all over the world with iPhones.  Just take a look at or for some of that evidence.

Previously, I posted here about some tips, really a tip, for generating dramatic depth of field photographs using the iPhone.

In this post, I'd like to explore the lesser known effect of leaning in action or sports photography.  This post was inspired by an excellent article about using an iPhone to photograph a racing event written by John Edwin Mason you can find here.

So what do I mean by "leaning"? 

Copyright John Edwin Mason, 2011 - QuickPix / iPhone 4
It's probably best described by taking a look at one of the many incredible photos that John captured above.  If it isn't obvious, the poles in the scene are actually straight up and down in the real-world.  So why are they leaning so dramatically here?  And why isn't the car doing the same thing?  First I'll offer a simple explanation of how you can control this unique effect in your photos.  For those interested in the details, I'll go on to explain why this happens, why some cameras have it, and why some don't.

To achieve this effect you simply need to take a picture while panning your iPhone from left to right or right to left while holding the camera in LANDSCAPE orientation.  In this particular case John was panning the camera from right to left at the same speed the car was moving to keep it sharp.

To avoid this effect you could take the exact same photo with the phone in portrait orientation.  Keep in mind that this can generate different effects of compression or expansion although I don't think it is quite as dramatic.  Or, for less interesting and challenging shots you could simply not pan the phone and keep the camera perfectly still and all should be as expected.

So why does this occur?  It all boils down to something called rolling shutter.  The sensor in the iPhone uses a rolling shutter.  In contrast, if they had used something called a global shutter, generating this effect wouldn't be possible.

The reason is that in a rolling shutter sensor, lines of the image are captured one at a time.  If the camera is panning, then the first line of the image is going to be captured while the camera is pointed in one direction.  The second line will be captured slightly later when the camera is pointing in another direction.  Eventually, the last line of the image will be captured while the camera is pointing in yet another direction.

In the case of John's picture above, the lines at the top of the image were captured while his camera was pointed more to the right of the scene (which is why the top of the pole shows up more to the left).  The lines at the bottom of the image were captured while his camera was pointed more to the left of the scene (which is why the bottom of the pole shows up more to the right).  Because the car was moving with the camera, it doesn't have the same leaning effect.

In a global shutter sensor, all the lines in the image are captured at the same time, so achieving this effect isn't possible.  That being said, I believe most consumer and professional cameras available use a rolling shutter.

Copyright John Edwin Mason, 2011 - QuickPix / iPhone 4
So now you might be thinking, how can I possibly capture a great photo while panning my iPhone?  Won't tapping on the screen at the critical moment cause significant blurriness?  Well, that's where QuickPix comes in (shameless plug).  Just hold the still button to rapidly capture a series of full resolution shots as you pan the phone.  They won't all be perfect, but your chances of getting a keeper go up dramatically.  Email me at and if I have any extra promo codes / free copies to hand out, I'll be happy to do that.

Thanks so much for your support!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

QuickPix now available!

For support or questions, email or find me on twitter or instagram @twoteethtech

Why QuickPix?

As my daughter has grown, I've been amazed by how easy it is to take photographs and videos of her anytime, anywhere.  With a 5MP / HD Video camera in my pocket at all times,  I haven't missed much in her first 17 months.  But I certainly learned the limitations of iPhone camera apps.  The slow startup of the default camera, the cumbersome controls of the pro apps, and everything in between got in my way of capturing the moment far too often.  Nothing met my needs.  So I partnered up with 4WordSystems, and we set out to ease our frustrations.

And we made this list! 8 Apps That Should Have Been Part of iOS and Apple Should Now Buy

What does QuickPix do differently?

The project to develop QuickPix initially came from my frustration in choosing between taking photos or video.  I'd choose to take a video, and my daughter would make the perfect pose for a picture.  Or I'd be trying to take a picture and she'd do something amazing I wished I had on video.  So as I looked into the latest Apple API's, I learned there was no reason for this to continue to be a limitation.  Thank you Apple!

Take pictures WHILE shooting video

So, QuickPix takes pictures while shooting video.  The first app that does this that I know of.  But that wasn't my only frustration I wanted to deal with...

Another was the need to capture several photos in a row without having to go through cumbersome menus.  When my daughter is moving quickly, I can't predict when she's going to strike the perfect pose.  So I want lots of pics in a row quickly without having to think twice.

Take rapid bursts of photos by simply  holding the still button

And finally, I had reached the end of my rope with slow and/or complicated cameras that get in the way of capturing the moment.  Many I know stick with the default camera because of it's simplicity, but give up the speed pro apps can offer because of their complexity.  Along those lines, I based the UI design on the default camera but engineered it from the ground up to give it pro app performance - actually way better in most cases.  Many people have commented that this one is actually easier to use than the default camera, but more powerful than many of the pro camera apps available.  Couldn't be happier to hear that!

       So, it's also fast and easy!

Get it here: QuickPix

We hope you enjoy it!  Contact us at for support.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Why I love Instagram and why it makes a separate iPhoneography movement even more important

So I've gotten slightly addicted to Instagram since downloading a few weeks ago.  It's the first app I've seen that makes it easy and practical to find great photos and see what others think of yours.  That's why I love it.

Initially I thought, wow, this changes everything about iPhoneography and how iPhone photos are shared.  After using it for a few weeks, I've come to a very different conclusion.

My conclusion is this:  Instagram changes a lot, but it makes the existence of a separate iPhoneography movement even more important rather than less.

Why?  Primarily because the photos on Instagram are from all sorts of cameras.  DSLRs, point and shoots, iPhones, iPods, etc.  Posted here are two of my more popular Instagram pics that were taken with a DSLR.  There is no way to know, as it exists today, what is from an iPhone and what is not.  Which raises an important question - do people care about this?  It's clear from the comments that people make that at least some do.  And I'd guess it's more than a few although definitely not all.  It's not uncommon to see things like:

"Why are people posting non-iPhone photos?!?!"

It screams frustration from those seeking true iPhoneography.  Personally, I think there are two groups of people using Instagram.  One group prefers to see iPhone only photos (the true iPhoneographers).  The other group doesn't care and just wants to see cool pics.  I like to think that I fall into both groups and decidedly have a need for both a Instagram (show me any cool pics) and my iPhoneography (show me what you can do with an iPhone) fix through top sites like LifeInLoFi and iPhoneography.

How does Instagram feel about it?  Based on the fact that they could easily enforce an "iPhone photo only" policy with a just a few lines of code that check the EXIF, I'm guessing they aren't trying to be an iPhoneography targeted site.  In fact I'd be shocked if they weren't hard at work on Android and other OS versions of the app.

 I really have no idea what percentage of Instagram users would prefer iPhone only pics, but I would love to know.

How do you feel? Post a comment and share your opinion...



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Saturday, October 23, 2010

ClearCam Demo

A while back I created a ClearCam promotional video when I got the app working on the iPod Touch. Since that time, enough people have told me that this was useful in understanding how to use the app, especially for comparing enhanced vs. original images, that I thought I'd post it here as a demo of how to use it.



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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting the most out of ClearCam

When I partnered with Occipital earlier this year to bring ClearCam to the App Store, one of the primary reasons was that I was completely frustrated by how many poor pictures I took with my iPhone - even my iPhone 4. Sure, a lot of them came out great, but a lot didn't. The real problem was that I couldn't get myself to the point where I actually trusted the camera to capture the moment.

What's most interesting to me, as the developer, is that all the hype around ClearCam has been about Enhanced Mode (generating sharper images with less noise and much higher resolution - up to 11MP). Don't get me wrong, I use and love enhanced mode for those once-in-a-lifetime photos, but the fact that it takes time to process means I don't use it for everyday shooting. So for that reason I thought it might be appropriate to create a blog post about how and when I use the different modes of ClearCam.

Quick mode I think seems pretty boring to most people. It captures a handful of photos and keeps the best. Big deal right? You can do that yourself! At the same time, it's one of the best tricks I know to get great photos on my iPhone consistently. Why? In the past, the way I'd get good photos is by taking a bunch and then later deleting the bad ones. The problem with that is that I didn't always do it because it was a pain. If I took multiple shots every time, and had to go through my photos and delete the bad ones every time, it wouldn't happen. ClearCam's quick mode is perfect for me for a couple of reasons:

1) Every time I take a photo, it is the best of a burst. By design, you can't do worse than the stock camera, and by our testing, you'll usually do much, much better. By using Quick Mode as your default, the quality of your pictures will go up dramatically - at least they do for me.

2) Blurry photos on the iPhone are a common occurrence. Why? Because the shutter on the sensor stays open to get enough light in and any movement in the scene can cause blur. This can be due to shaking the camera, but it can also occur if the subject in the scene is moving. Anti-shake sensors deal with the camera shaking, but for me trying to photograph my crazy 1 year old, it did nothing. She moves constantly. Quick mode analyzes the scene rather than the camera shake so it will only keep the shot where she was reasonably still (i.e. the clearest shot).

I use quick mode for almost all my iPhone photography. And I've bought and tried almost every other app out there. There are some good ones, but none that let me start with the best picture possible besides ClearCam. If it doesn't work for you, email me at twoteethtech at, and I'll invest some energy in the app to make sure it does.

Enhanced mode is good too - 11MP on your iPhone 4!?!? It's been validated as being legit at this point. We have many incredible reviews you can google. At the same time, it's a complete pain in the ass for me - it takes too long to be useful as a mode for everyday shooting. Keep your eye out for tweaks to make that mode easier to use.

Finally, when comparing ClearCam with the stock camera or your favorite photo app, keep a couple of things in mind.

1) If you compare two identical photos, make sure you zoom in on the detail. That's where you'll see the difference.

2) Any old app can take good pics in great light. To really see where ClearCam performs optimally, try taking some photos without perfect light and comparing.

The app is shaped by feedback from our users. Please email me at twoteethtech at with your input. I want better pictures from my iPhone/iPod and I know you do too.

Thanks for your support!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tips for capturing the moment

How many times have you missed that perfect moment fumbling for your iPhone and trying to quickly snap a photo only to end up with a blurry picture that was taken too late anyway? Fortunately there are some common sense preparations that can help you to capture those fleeting moments.

Fast camera start-up is key, but it isn't what you might think

To some this means having a camera app that starts up quickly and is immediately ready to take a photo. That's certainly part of the equation, but there is a lot more to it.

Leave the camera app running when the phone is locked

No matter what camera app you use, the time to go from turning the phone on to snapping a photo can be greatly minimized by locking the iPhone while the camera is running. When you do this, as soon as the phone comes on you are ready to snap a photo. This is one of my favorite techniques for being ready to capture those picture perfect moments.

Turn off the security code

If you have to enter your security code every time you power your phone on, not only is that going to disturb the moment while people try to figure out what you are doing, it takes valuable time that can make the difference between capturing or not capturing the moment. If you must have a security code enabled, consider disabling when you suspect photo opportunities may arise (Settings/General/Passcode Lock).

Disable features like anti-shake that might delay the capture

Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for an anti-shake feature to give you the go ahead as a moment slips by. My advice is to disable it by default. There are certainly times where it is useful, but when you are trying to capture a fleeting moment, I find it just gets in the way. Instead of relying on anti-shake to minimize blur, take several quick photos. It is the most reliable technique I've found to minimize blur with the iPhone cameras.

Don't use zoom

If the iPhone had an optical zoom, I wouldn't be saying this. Unfortunately, it only has a digital zoom which does nothing more than throw away pixels and take valuable time to setup. It is a convenience function that allows you to crop your image while taking the picture. Sometimes that can be nice, but when you are in a hurry it does nothing but slow you down. You can achieve the exact same effect by using apps like Crop For Free or Photoshop after the moment has passed. Not only that, but you'll be able to take your time to make sure you get the framing of the image exactly how you'd like it. And perhaps that one photo really has several nice photos that can be cropped out. None of that would be possible if you ask your camera app to throw pixels away right away by using the zoom feature.

Take lots of photos and don't worry about getting some blurry ones

If you quickly snap just one photo with your iPhone, unfortunately there's a high probability it is going to be blurry. One of the best ways to eliminate blurry photos on the iPhone is to take several as I discussed in a previous blog entry ( I've found that taking 3 or 4 quick photos almost always can eliminate blurry shots. And even those blurry shots can be turned into something interesting with the cool post-processing apps out there like Percolator and Toon Paint.

Use an app with fast shot to shot times

If you are using a camera app that takes a lot of time to save or process photos before you can take another one, the chances of getting a nice photo of fleeting moment is greatly reduced. Fortunately many of the apps available now allow fast shot to shot times. Just make sure that your app of choice does as well.

Don't waste time framing the perfect shot

Getting close is usually good enough and post-process cropping can work wonders on the framing of your shot. Often, some of the better shots I get are a result of just pulling out my phone and shooting without even looking at what is framed in the viewfinder.

Don't make it obvious you are shooting a picture

If you're too obvious about the fact that you are taking a picture, the moment is likely to be disrupted. It may be in just a small way, but sometimes that can make the difference. Again, sometimes shooting without knowing what's in the viewfinder is okay. Shoot from the hip and see what you get!

Keep your phone handy!

Finally, a very obvious tip, but how many times have you seen someone fumbling through their bag trying to get their camera out to capture a precious moment? My advice is to reserve a front pocket just for your iPhone and be ready to pull it out at any time.

These techniques have made a big difference for me. I hope they do for you as well!

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Dramatic iPhone photos using depth of field techniques

One of the things that always fascinated me about photography is that the difference between a good photo and a really amazing photo is usually very subtle. I always felt as an amateur photographer that if I could figure out what those subtle things are and understand the tricks and techniques to include them in my photography, I could get some really great photos I'd be proud to display.

There are obviously a lot of factors that come into play in taking great photos. For many of the best photographers I think getting things just right is very instinctual. But instinct alone is not enough. It is absolutely essential for them to understand what effects are possible, and how to achieve them with the camera they are using. And understanding these things can make any of us better photographers.

A common difference I have noticed over the years between good photos and great photos is the use of depth of field. Great photos often have a shallow depth of field where the only the subject is in focus and everything else is blurry. Good photos on the other hand often have a large depth of field where nearly everything in the photo is in focus.

Often, the reason for this is that great photos are taken with great lenses that have a very large aperture and cost thousands of dollars. Most of us don't have the option of using these lenses, and when it comes to the iPhone, we're even more restricted because we're all stuck with the same lens. However, that doesn't mean you can't achieve amazing images with the iPhone by taking advantage of depth of field techniques.

With the iPhone camera being relatively restrictive, there's not a lot you can do, but that doesn't mean you can't capture some amazing images taking advantage of depth of field techniques. How? The technique I use is to get the camera very close to the subject of interest and use touch to focus. Note that this obviously requires an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 with touch to focus capability. Simple, yes, but using this technique can provide some dramatic images. A couple things you can try to experiment with this:

1) Take a picture at the dinner table. Perhaps the subject of interest could be a candle, or an amazing plate of food. Get the camera as close as possible to the subject, touch to set the focus on the subject and see what you get. For best results, make the subject only a small part of the scene and make sure you get something interesting in the background.

2) Take a picture in the grass. Get the camera as close as possible to the ground and touch to focus on the grassy area directly in front of the camera. Again, have the area of interest that is in focus take up only a small portion, maybe 1/3 of the image and make sure you have something interesting in the background. Perhaps a colorful structure, trees or a sunset.

The good news and the bad news is that there isn't much more to it. While the iPhone doesn't offer the same control that a DSLR camera or even a point and shoot can offer, it also means there's not a lot to think about when taking advantage of this technique.

I've had a lot of fun taking photos like this and hope you do to!

Thanks for your support!