App of the Week: VSCO

Here’s the app you need to make your iPhone photos good enough for Tim Cook to share!

By Martha Tesema of Mashable

It’s World Photography Day, which means Tim Cook is celebrating in a very Tim Cook way: sharing #ShotOniPhone snapshots.

On Sunday, the Apple CEO tweeted the breathtaking work of John Bozinov — a photographer who focuses on wildlife and portraits. Bozinov is a master of iPhone photography, and the images that Cook shared are breathtaking examples of his work capturing life in Antarctica.

But it’s kind of hard to believe they were actually shot on an iPhone, especially when you compare them to the smartphone pics we normally see on our timelines.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume Bozinov attached a newfangled lens (perhaps from the masters of iPhone accessories, Moment), but as he told Mashable in 2016, there are no extra gadgets involved when he takes pictures. It’s just good, old-fashioned editing with an app that has revolutionized iPhone photography: VSCO.

 

The app has been quietly improving your Instagram feeds for years, with easy-to-use tools that adjust everything from color saturation to exposure. For those less formally trained in photography (no shame!), VSCO also offers a bevy of presets that do the job for you.

VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, was founded by Greg Lutze and Joel Flory in 2011. Since its inception, it’s grown into a community hub offering grants along with editing tools and presets. The app also doubles as a platform on which to share your work (every user has “journals” they can post images to).

Seven years later, the app’s impact is obvious. The internet is saturated with how-to-guides on creating the perfect image and maximizing the tools on the app.
That said… VSCO can’t fix what’s already broken. If you’re looking to be Cook’s next featured tweet on #WorldPhotographyDay, here are some things you can do to make your iPhone photos sing before opening up any app.

1. Focus on lighting

“A lot of my work is outside, and the iPhone works really well with that, because there’s lot of light around,” Bozinov said in his 2016 interview with Mashable. That abundance of lighting is what makes his photos stand out compared to the pics on your personal camera roll.

 

Keep an eye out on how much light there is next time you whip out your phone. The more light, the clearer the image – and the easier it will be to make the technical adjustments that you need to transform your iPhone pics into masterpieces that you’ve always wanted.

 

 

2. Don’t forget to maintain stability

“Whether I’m shooting in portrait or landscape mode, I like to hold the iPhone with my left hand and release the shutter with my right thumb. I recently learned that the camera shutter isn’t released until you take your thumb off the shutter button on the touch screen,” photographer Cotton Coulson told National Geographic.
Since that’s the case, making sure you have as steady of a hand as possible when capturing a shot is key. You have to be a human tripod.

 

 

 

3. It’s ultimately all about composition

Composition is essentially just how you arrange the photo, so next time you’re walking down the street, pay attention to the colors, shadows, colors, and scenes — and frame it up in a way that looks interesting!

 

 

 

 

What’s your favorite photo editing app for your phone? Tell us in the comments below!!

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Tips and Tricks: for Better Smartphone Photography

For many, phones have completely replaced dedicated digital cameras, but even pros reach for their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones to snap images from time to time. Here’s how to take better pics with your smartphone.

 

By Jim Fisher of PCMag.com

Your smartphone is always with you, a constant companion that can connect to the web to look up any tiny nugget of trivia, and generally keep you in constant contact with the outside world. It’s one of the key items you grab before leaving the house, and the last time you (probably) turned it off was at the movie theater.

This also makes your phone your take-everywhere, shoot-anything digital camera. Just a few short years ago, making images and video with smartphones was a compromise, with poorer image quality but a heck of a lot more convenience than a good point-and-shoot camera.

But times have changed and phone cameras have gotten better and better. The latest models offer superior imaging and video to budget point-and-shoot cameras, and offer nifty software tricks to blur backgrounds, just like an SLR and f/2 or f/1.4 lens.
Check out these tips to get the best images you can get from your phone. But remember, even with the latest tech, phones aren’t as versatile imaging tools as modern interchangeable lens cameras.

Start With a Good Camera Phone

Smartphone camera quality has enjoyed a big leap forward in quality over the past couple of years. If you’re using an older handset, chances are the camera isn’t up to snuff. If camera quality is a priority when shopping for a new one, make sure you peruse our list of the top camera phones we’ve tested. But remember that you really can’t go wrong with the latest Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy devices.

Look for the Light

Smartphones have very bright lenses—the Samsung Galaxy S9 has one that opens up all the way to f/1.5. But sensors are much smaller than you find in a premium compact camera with a 1-inch sensor like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. That gives them a distinct disadvantage in image quality in dim lighting. To get the best shots, look for opportunities where your phone’s sensor can shine. If you’re indoors, try to set up your shot so there’s light falling on your subject—some window light will do more to improve your photos than a new phone or camera. It’s always a better option to find good light as opposed to using your phone’s underpowered LED flash.

Adjust Exposure

Smartphones are the modern point-and-shoot, but the apps that run their cameras typically offer some level of manual control. The most basic adjustment you can make is exposure—brightening or darkening a scene—and using it effectively can turn a bland image into a head-turner. Use it to brighten the shot of your fancy dinner to make it perfect for Instagram, or to darken shadows in a portrait for a more dramatic look.

The feature isn’t always labeled the same. On an iPhone you’ll want to drag the sun icon, to the right of the focus confirmation box, up to brighten an image or down to darken it. Android phones typically have the more traditional +/- icon for exposure adjustment.

Turn On Your Grid

Pro SLRs typically have framing grids in the viewfinder window to help you better square up shots and conform to compositional guidelines like the rule of thirds. (For more on composition and other photo basics, read our tips for basic photography, which apply as much to smartphones as they do to pro cameras.)

You can turn on the same thing in your phone’s camera app. Adding a grid line gives you help in keeping the horizon straight and is a big plus for portraits in front of famous landmarks. With the notable exceptions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s generally a good idea to keep upright structures perfectly vertical in your photos.

Learn Your Camera’s Features

The imaging capabilities of modern smartphone cameras are staggering. We’ve seen advances in computational photography that allow you to blur the background of images, mimicking the look of a wide aperture lens and big image sensor, and some handsets can also capture insanely slow-motion video.

Your phone probably has a good burst mode too, and it’s never a bad idea to take a few images in a sequence to get the best one—just make sure not to post all of them. iPhone owners can check out Live Photos, which mix still images and video together.

Try an Add-On Lens

Your phone’s camera certainly has one lens, and some models offer dual rear cameras with the second lens capturing a tighter or wider angle of view than your phone’s main eye. A quality add-on lens will cost you—the bargain-basement ones we’ve reviewed have been universally terrible. Go with a trusted brand like Moment or Olloclip.

Picking the type of add-on lens is important too. I think a macro adds the most versatility to your phone’s camera, but you may prefer an ultra-wide, a fish-eye, or a telephoto conversion lens.

Focus Close

Even without a macro add-on, your phone can focus pretty close. Use it to your advantage. You can snap a shot of your fancy dinner and get close up, but keep the whole frame in focus. That’s something you can’t do with a big camera shooting at f/1.4 or f/2, and one of the areas where small image sensors have a practical advantage over larger ones.

Get a Gimbal

It’s not all about images. Entry-level compact cameras are stuck at 720p, but if you’ve got a recent smartphone you have a 4K-capable video camera in your pocket. Flagship models include optical image stabilization, but that can only go so far. If you want truly smooth, great-looking video, think about a powered gimbal to keep your phone steady. Our favorite is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, a $130 device that steadies video, can track moving subjects, and also supports time-lapse and panoramic stitching.

Add a Microphone

When shooting video, good audio is more important than sharp footage. Your phone’s internal mic is meant for making phone calls—not recording high-quality audio. Headphone jacks may be disappearing from phones, but you can get a microphone that plugs directly into your USB or Lightning port, or one that works with your phone’s audio dongle. Just make sure to read some reviews to make sure the mic is compatible with your particular phone and its operating system.

Edit Your Shots

Your phone is a powerful handheld computer, just as capable of making basic image adjustments as a high-end laptop running Photoshop. You should download some image editing software—my favorite is VSCO, a free download for both Android and iOS—or use the basic image editing tools built into your operating system.

More advanced photographers can enable Raw capture, which will deliver much more leeway in editing. And if you have a dual-lens iPhone, you can add an app like Focos, which allows you to adjust the amount of and quality of background blur in your Portrait Mode shots.

What tips do you have for shooting quality pic on a smart phone? Tell us in the comments below!

App of the Week – Pixelmator

 

Better selective editing and a new Apple Photos extension, the improvements cement Pixelmator’s position as the top affordable alternative to Photoshop.

 


By Jeff Carlson of Macworld

 

As you start moving beyond the basics of editing images—past general exposure and color adjustments—you’ll discover a semi-secret truth: a lot of your time is spent selecting specific areas for editing. Making a foreground object brighter, for instance, can reveal a telltale halo if the selection doesn’t match well with the object.

 

Selections have traditionally been a strength of Adobe Photoshop, but the granddaddy editor is overkill for many people who don’t need its extensive feature set, or don’t want to pay a Creative Cloud subscription fee (which starts at $10 a month with an annual plan, and can cost up to $80 a month for the full CC suite).

Instead, Pixelmator 3.6 Cordillera (Mac App Store link) has been a popular and inexpensive ($30) Photoshop alternative. The main improvements in version 3.6 make it easier and less time-consuming to create good selections. This version also brings selective editing to Apple’s Photos app by introducing a new Photos Editing Extension, Pixelmator Retouch, that brings many of its retouching tools to images in your Photos library.

Selective service

The challenge when making selections is that there isn’t always a clean line you can follow by drawing with the Lasso tool—and even when there is, defining it by hand is painstaking. Let the software assist in a big way.

 

The Quick Selection tool (which replaces the Paint Selection tool) detects edges and shadows, and pays attention to the direction the mouse pointer is moving as you drag to figure out which areas to select. In general, the tool does a pretty good job of selecting only the areas I want, even when the tones are similar (like a metal barn roof against a gray cloud background) and when the tool’s brush size was larger than the item being selected. I also like how Pixelmator highlights the sections using a red swath of color, which is immediately identifiable as you work.

 

Don’t expect the Quick Selection tool to work miracles, though. It will do a good first pass in difficult situations, like hair, but you’ll need to refine the selection later.

 

For areas where you do have well-defined lines, the Magnet Selection tool helps you avoid a lot of work and frustration. Click a starting point and then drag (without holding the mouse button) along the edge of the item you wish to select. The selection automatically clings to edges.

 

As you might expect, the tool can be thrown off by similar tones, and sometimes it jumps away from where your eyes think it should go. That’s why you can refine the line as you go: click to set a point, press Delete to remove a previous point, and, when the line starts to stray like a puppy learning to walk, hold Option to temporarily switch to the Polygonal Lasso tool and define your own line; doing so doesn’t abandon the magnetic selection work you’ve done so far. Overall, the tool works well and provides plenty of flexibility to make a selection while the Magnetic Selection tool remains active.

 

 

Ultimately, making good selections doesn’t happen with just one or two tools. As you do more, you’ll combine the program’s other tools, such as painting in Quick Mask mode and using the Refine Selection command, for better selections. But the Quick Selection and Magnetic Selection tools in Canyon make the process much easier.

It’s worth mentioning that the company has also implemented the Quick Selection and Magnetic Selection tools into Pixelmator for iOS. One of Pixelmator’s strengths is the ability to synchronize editing projects between Mac and iOS, complete with layers and adjustments. Being able to make better selections, especially in a touch interface where you can immediately see what’s being selected, is a helpful addition.

Pixelmator Retouch extension

Most of the editing tools in Apple’s Photos application apply to an entire image, so if you keep your photo library there, you may feel like your options are limited. (Although to be fair, it’s a more powerful editor than most people realize; see “The hidden editing power of Photos for OS X.”)

That’s where Photos extensions come in. The new Pixelmator Retouch extension gives you several controls for editing selected portions of a photo, without having to export the image to edit it in the Pixelmator application. Lighten or darken areas, adjust color saturation, heal imperfections or remove unwanted items, clone sections, and sharpen or blur areas.