iPhoneography fever

Apps and advice to make the most of that amazing camera inside your mobile Biggest growth area in App Store is picture editing

A remotely controlled shot using Bluetooth.
A remotely controlled shot using Bluetooth.ULY MARTÍN (EL PAÍS)

Over 350 million people carry around a camera with an internet connection. It might not be the model with the most megapixels, or the brightest lens, but it is definitely the most popular one on Flickr, the largest picture storage site on the world wide web. The iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 are the three most widely used cameras in the world. They have forced traditional manufacturers to reinvent themselves: they are either creating high-end products with exchangeable lenses or else models that are waterproof, shock resistant, wi-fi enabled and with long-lasting batteries, as in the case of Casio’s compact models.

So what is it about Apple’s cellphone camera that beats the pants off the competition? The obvious point: it is always handy, and with a little bit of training can be used for more than just remembering a moment. Besides the A6 chip and its eight megapixels, the secret lies in the software, those famous applications. According to the company, photo apps is the category that has experienced the greatest growth at the App Store. Of the more than 900,000 apps on offer at the site, 20,000 are photography-related, providing everything from mere touch-ups to advanced editing services.

The trend is known as iPhoneography and it has simplicity on its side. There are no buttons, no complicated adjustments to make and no long learning processes. Tips for improving your results are not too different from those issued to regular photographers: it’s always better to have the sun behind you, and the focus is sharper in bright light. It is better to hold the phone with both hands, horizontally, unless the scene really requires a vertical composition. One of the things few people know is that you can take the shot by pressing the volume up button. It also works by pressing the volume up button on the headphones (provided they are by Apple, too).

Focus and exposure can also be changed in a pretty intuitive way: it is enough to touch a specific spot on the screen to adjust the focus. Once the right focus has been found, keep pressing for a couple of seconds to lock it into place — an indicator will appear in the lower part of the screen. This is very useful when taking a picture of a face, for example. Touching the screen again unblocks the new focus.

Get yourself on camera for 60 euros

One cannot always get the right angle. Or maybe we want to be part of a group picture, or stand in front of a nice landscape. Independence exists, and it costs 60 euros. It comprises a device called Shuttr, which is sold through the mail for 39 dollars (under 30 euros) and a tripod for cellphones for the same price. Both complements work with iPhone and with Android, although in the second case the shutter is not automatically compatible with all models. This can be corrected by downloading an app.

The shutter connects via Bluetooth without any trouble and works for both pictures and videos. The tripos is a Gorillapod, very popular among photography fans. Its legs remain mobile and grab on to many different types of surfaces. It can adapt to the size of one’s cellphone screen and can hold – albeit with some difficulty — even the latest models with five-inch-plus screens.

If this collection of photo-editing apps is simply not enough, there is always the option of modifying the lens itself. Olloclip is a three-lens combo that uses a magnet to hold on to the camera; it works like a wide angle, a fish-eye and a macro, which is very practical for people who like to take shots of food. It can be ordered online for 69 dollars (50 euros).

An excessively dark area near a foreground shot can ruin a shot of a memorable moment. The camera’s options — or in iOS 7, the upper portion of the screen — includes the acronym HDR (for high dynamic range). When this is activated, the phone yields a double result: the “normal” photograph and the result of combining a very light and a very dark version of the same. The result is usually satisfactory, even if it has trouble with skin nuances and occasionally comes up with blurry shots.

Wondering how to take a picture of that stadium filled to capacity? Or of the peak that it took so long to climb? It can only be done with iPhone 5 or the S and C models, which will hit Spain on October 25. By choosing the panoramic shot option on the main menu, you shoot and follow the arrow, which acts as a reference for a straight line so that the phone can later reconstruct the various shots into a single image. These may be horizontal or vertical, for fans of high-rises. The result is photographs of up to 28 megapixels, which guzzle up internal memory but can cover 240 degrees.

The iPhoneography phenomenon has already created its own star system and the iPhone Photography Awards (IPPA). Some of the most famous iPhoneographers were already doing photography previously: such is the case of Benjamin Lowy, of the Getty agency, whose cellphone shot of the effects of Hurricane Sandy made the cover of Time magazine. In this publication he explained that shooting with his cellphone gave him access to places where he could not go with his regular photographic equipment. Meanwhile Brooks Kraft of Time Magazine covered the 2012 campaign race in the US using nothing but an iPhone. His picture of Obama campaigning in the rain earned him the White House News Photograph Association’s “Political Photograph of the Year.”

Dave Webb’s work is much more artistic. The apps Photo Forge and SnapSeed help him edit his shots. Brad Mangin, a photographer from San Francisco, has published his iPhone work in Sports Illustrated. Kevin Russ, Martha Cooper and Rick Rocamora are other leading lights of iPhoneography. Lisa Bettany was so passionate about it that she decided that the built-in tools were not enough, and co-produced a new application called Camera +.

Among some of the most interesting apps is Mextures (1.79 euros), ideal for lovers of grainy pictures with lots of light effects and texture. The free app Over is a poster lovers’ best friend, adding text and drawings to the photographs and a link to social networks. Lens + (89 cents) is a nostalgic take on analog photography: it turns the screen into a traditional camera, with all its parameters for focusing, exposure, zoom and more. This can be completed with Camera Bag 2 (89 cents), a collection of filters that create unexpected results. It is ideal for people who view Instagram as nothing more than a toy. Who could resist their own profile inside a circle? Medallions are the latest fad. Krop Circle lets you create and modify them for free.

But the real lab, whether on the cellphone or the computer, is called Photoshop. The mobile version costs 4.49 euros. Snapseed does much of the same for free. If none of it works, there is always Perfectly Clear (2.69 euros), a correcting app that recognizes the type of scene and proposes rather accurate improvements.

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