Everybody is a photographer — Part 3

Tools


Photography forums and chats are usually very boring places full of people that talk about equipments, sensors, compositions, tech stuff. But isn't photography supposed to be something quite easy to understand in the end? It’s something we can all see and appreciate, more or less. Why does it have to be surrounded by all these words? An explanation might be that photography is an art and therefore it’s composed by a visible part and by an hidden nature, that must be explained. Another explanation is that there’s really a lot of technical stuff involved and sometimes it is worth talking about it.

I presume eventually that we talk a lot about it instead of just doing it and watching it because photography starts in many cases from reality but it something different from it.

Photography is not the reality, it’s an interpretation of it. 
Therefore it has to be explained and understood.

Nonetheless, it’s useful to talk a little bit about the equipment.

I started to photograph on film a long time ago. I eventually switched to digital around 2003. Back in those days digital cameras were more or less the same as their analogue cousins: heavy and bulky pieces of hardware able to deliver — at least in the early years — poorer outputs than their analogue counterparts. The digital revolution was about to become hugely popular due to the decreasing in prices and the offerings from many brands.

Over the years and after the coming of mobile photography I started to use less and less the camera and more the iPhone. As I’ve already said million times, it’s the perfect camera because it’s always in my pocket. And it’s been keeping in improving year after year. From a certain point in time on, I kind of quit using my heavy Canon 5D. From that day I shoot almost everything with my iPhone. Its quality is not (yet) comparable to those of professional cameras, but many times it’s close to and I often don’t need really big files. I guess this is quite common to many photographers.

What went missed in terms of quality was gained on other sides, like post-production: I’ve noticed that I’ve been spending more time on it than on getting the perfect shot at the highest resolution possible. I always prefer to get a decent shot instead of getting any because I’m not carrying my 5D when Jesus materializes in front of my years.

Some may say that I’m just too lazy but I see it from a different point of view: the time and effort spent years ago to photograph with the right equipment turned into something different. Right now I’m much more focused on the photo itself: its composition and post-production in particular. Even if I’m no fan of overworked pictures (I actually don’t like them) I’ve come to realize that

Post-production is not meant to make a picture look better or prettier but to render the idea I had in mind while I was shooting. 
It helps me to be clearer in terms of mood and meaning of the picture.

Why am I spending so many words on post-production then? Because this series of articles is based more on mobile photography than photography in general and, talking about mobile photography, there are few words to spend on the camera itself: it’s just an app that mimics an automatic camera. Human intervention is pretty limited therefore: you can’t set speed, nor time, neither apertures (there are actually some apps that do allow you to set some of these parameters but I’m not dealing with them here). You just rely on your phone camera app and you have to be confident.

Photography in two steps

Photography isn’t limited to the simple act of shooting a picture but is much more than that. However, to put it simply, we can say that photography is a play in two acts:

Taking a photo + post-produce it

After the act of taking a picture comes the post-production and most of the times the output of the camera app (the file of the picture) is not the final photo: it’s a file that needs some editing, that is the post-production (more about it on part four). Ever heard of filters? I guess so. Well: filters are a kind of (very simple) post-production. They are meant to add nuance and flavour to the picture, by simply pushing a button.

To shoot a photo you need your camera app, that’s it. Just fire it and press the shutter. What kind of app are you supposed to use? I personally find the native camera app a little bit limited and that’s why I shoot 8o% of the times with some other app, like Halide or Lightroom. They’re basically the same thing: they both shoot in RAW, but Lightroom has some very good editing tools too. Halide is, on the other side, a camera app: when you open it it’s ready to shoot, while the other one required some turnarounds to snap a picture. Wait: RAW? What is that? RAW is an uncompressed file: it means that it gathers all the informations captured by the sensor without any compression (or, in other words, without loosing any detail due to the software compression). You can find more details about RAW photography and why you’d better shoot in RAW here.

Since the phone is nowadays our camera, I’d like to focus just on the more useful apps instead on the camera itself from a technical point of view. You need in fact some apps to take a photo and then (see next part) to edit it.

Here are the apps I use more often:

From left to right: the iPhone Camera, Halide, Lightroom and Focos. The last one is the perfect companion for portrait and close-ups because it’s far better that the iPhone Camera in managing the out of focus effect that it possible to add with the secondary lens of the iPhone 7/8 Plus and the X (that means you need these models to use it).

The output files of the first and the last (iPhone Camera and Focos) are jpg, while the others are RAW files. Therefore you need to post-produce them and — don’t be afraid — they will look ugly when open for the first time: dark and with few visible details. It’s fine, it has to be like this. We’ll understand why in the following part.

How and when to shoot in jpg or RAW

I have a very simple rule:

Things to remember (numbers, where I parked my car, grocery list) -> jpg
Images I will later use as photos -> RAW.

I always shoot in RAW also in low light conditions because there are more chances to come up with a good image shot in low light starting from a RAW file instead than a jpg.

Are you ready to shoot?

That’s it. Really. You don’t need anything else to take your gorgeous photos, just your camera, that’s… your phone.

Summing up: in part 1 we talked about the birth and rise of digital photography and its explosion thanks to social networks and the decreasing price of digital cameras; in part 2 we saw how to recognise trends in order to avoid them and be eventually original. This part was about the basic equipment you need to take photos. The following is about what to do with your files, or in other words: what we talk about when we talk about post-production.