In my previous column I wrote about how the ultimate travelling camera is your smartphone. In this column I will review some accessories and apps that will help take you to another level in your iPhonography. (I will be referring to the Apple iPhone but many of these will also apply to other brands of smartphone.)
Firstly, there’s the ubiquitous selfie stick. These are hand-held extenders that let you take a photo of yourself from a greater distance than the length of your arm. They’re generally about three feet long but some can extend much further. However, you must have really steady hands, for the longer the extension the more likely that you will create camera shake and produce “fuzzy” images. Some selfie ticks can be turned into a monopod. Here you hold the stick vertically on the ground and rest your weight on the head of the stick to give you greater support and steadiness to your shots. (You’ll see pro sports photographers with these when you watch TV sports.) And, monopods are great for taking panorama shots. For some serious steadiness you’ll need a tripod. You can find some very small and light table-top tripods for iPhones or you can go with what’s commonly called the gorillapod. These have flexible legs that allow you to adjust the camera to any angle. You can even wrap the legs around a handy pole or small tree to get a steady shot. For the really serious iPhonographer there are special heads for smartphones that attach to full size tripods, but these can be heavy and bulky for travelling.
The iPhone 6 has a lens that is equivalent to about 30 mm for a 35 mm camera. With the Apple camera app you can zoom into your picture to get a closer shot, but that is a digital zoom — meaning that the camera app is actually cropping the image on the sensor to make it appear larger. Digital zoom can create “fuzzy” or “noisy” images since there are fewer pixels in the image. Optical zoom is best as the lens does the telephoto work using the full size of the sensor. There are all sorts of add-on lenses for iPhones, starting from 2 x zoom to as much as 12 x zoom and perhaps soon even longer. You can also get wide angle or even fish-eye lenses and for real close-up work, macro lenses. Prices for these vary considerably, as does quality. Look for glass lenses rather than plastic and look for lenses by a reputable lens or camera manufacturer. However, be aware that the longer the lens the greater the chance of camera shake affecting the quality of the image. For long lenses always use a tripod or a monopod.
Since the touching of the release button can itself cause camera shake it is also useful to have a remote release. In the last article I mentioned that the Apple earpiece volume control can be used as a remote camera release. However, with the Apple earpiece you’re limited to about a three-foot distance. For greater distance you can purchase a bluetooth camera remote trigger that is about the size of a car key fob. These will usually work from a distance of up to about 30 feet. Later versions of the iPhone have a built-in flash. This flash is good for about 10 to 15 feet. For flash shots at greater distances you can purchase external flashes that either plug into the earpiece plug of the iPhone or connect by bluetooth. Look for flashes that are battery powered as those that use the iPhone power will quickly affect the battery life of the iPhone. A really nifty gadget is the Seek Thermal XR, an extended-range thermal imager that plugs into the earpiece plug on the iPhone. Its heat-seeking sensor can capture temperatures from 40 to 300 degrees Celsius. You will be able to see heat at 2,000 feet away and as near as 8 inches. This would be a great toy for any up-and-coming spy.
All these accessories help you take better images. But you can further enhance your images with photo editing apps. My favorite is Adobe Photoshop Express, a free iPhone photo editing software which helps you retouch your photos with ease. Photoshop Express provides simple and advanced editing features to make adjustments, crop photos, etc. by just swiping and dragging your finger across the screen. A bit more sophisticated is Adobe Lightroom for iPhone that has all the photo editing features of Photoshop Express (and a few more) as well as a photo management function that allows you to easily sort and find photos. I also like Camera+. This free app comes with an easy-to-use interface and offers great image editing features like fipping, rotating, borders and cropping, as well as many exposure effects like Sunset, Backlit, Cloudy, etc.
Instagram is actually an iPhone photo sharing app with some really neat photo editing and enhancement features. To use it, you first need to create an account and then you can follow friends and view their shared photos and add photos from your iPhone photo library for your friends to see. Lastly, FX Photo Studio ($1.99 in the App Store) offers some basic photo editing functions like cropping and photo colour adjustments, but most importantly comes with approximately 181 photo effects to enhance photos instantly. Using these apps will require some reading and lots of practice. You will need to know how all the features work and how — and more importantly, when — to use them. Smart photo editing can change some so-so shots into amazing images. Most professional photographers use post processing on their images — which is why their shots are so great.
So there you have it. A few accessories and apps that will take your iPhonography to the next level.