Things I Enjoy – Smartphone Photography

Many of us have a lot of equipment.

Since I’m preparing for a trip, I may be a bit more aware of how much I have right now than other times of the year. On this trip, I’ll be carrying a primary and backup body, as well as a Micro 4:3 camera because it is small and easy to carry. My brother is coming with me, and for at last part of the trip, will be using my backup body as his primary. As a result, I’ll be carrying at least 8 lenses, vs the normal 3-4.

Sometimes, I just need a break from swapping lenses and use something that is as simple as possible. Enter the smart phone, something I carry with me at almost all times. It only has a handful of options, which means you don’t need to focus on if you should swap out the big lens for a macro because it is a bit annoying to swap with all of these people around and it is raining.

With a smartphone you generally only have a few options, 4:3, Square, Pano. And the entire device fits easily in a pocket.

When I first started using a smartphone, it was to get a quick picture on FB or for SMS to a friend or relative.


Haha you are at work and I am here!

Or one of my favorites, “Here is my camera ready to take a picture tonight”.


This is the setup for taking a photo at Bandon Beach, Oregon at Sunset

And of course a “Well, that was dumb” type of image.


The result of being caught in a rainstorm with my camera

The entire camera is designed for much worse than this.  It looks kind of bad, but, everything is weather sealed and I’ve had it in worse conditions.

For a long time, I never really thought of a smartphone as a real camera. Then I was out on a rooftop deck in Seattle during an amazing sunset, and my phone managed to capture this image.


Seattle Sunset

Oh wow, that is actually really nice.  I also enjoy wide angle photography, and, while I’m not totally certain, I think this image is fairly wide angle.

The real turning point for me was when I posted a photo from my iPhone and it was mistaken for a photo from my DSLR.


Photo from an iPhone 5S, Fisherman’s Bridge, Rovaniemi Finland

I got far too many ‘wow, but you only got this photo because you have a nice camera’ comments.

One thing that I really enjoy about the iPhone is the automatic panorama stitching.  I’m sure it is available on Android, BB, WinPhone, etc, but I’ve only used the iOS version.

Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State

Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State

Yes, one could take a dozen photos with a DSLR and stitch them later, but there really is something amazing about the instant results.  Plus, my phone handles ghosting really well.

After some practice, I took a quick panorama during my trip to a volcano and a beach in Costa Rica.

Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica


Tortugas Island, on the Pacific Side of Costa Rica

I really started to enjoy the panorama format.  And I enjoy how easy and fast it is when using my phone.

This last fall, I was boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming, and managed to capture this photo on a very clear day.


Boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming

This is by far my favorite panorama to date.  I also would likely not have been able to capture it unless I used a phone.  I doubt the people boarding the plane would have had the patience to wait for me to unpack my camera, swap lenses, take a series of photos, and repack the camera.  But 20 seconds using a smart phone?  Yeah, I definitely had that much time.

Like any camera, a smartphone is a tool to capture images.  It is also a very light and simple tool which most people always have with them.  I enjoy the simplicity of taking the photos as a change of pace from setting up tripods and carrying around heavy cameras with multiple lenses.  Is the quality the same as my DSLR?  Nope, but that’s ok.


Cannon Beach, Oregon, at Sunset

For this post, I would like to talk about how I created a photo from Cannon Beach, Oregon, last year.

Before I left on this trip, I read about a new technique that can create interesting patterns in the sky when you stack a series of photos taken about 5-10 seconds apart with fast moving clouds.  (The technique is described on PetaPixel, among other places, and it tend to resurface as a ‘new’ idea every few years)

I wanted to try it.  But the clouds were not moving very quickly and the sun was setting very quickly.

So I thought, since I was on a beach, why not try the same concept, but with waves.  Either way, it was too late to move to a new spot, so my choices were to work with what I had or give up and ensure I walked away with nothing.

I set up my camera and took a series several series of photos.  One particular group of about 20 photos is what I would like to discuss in this post.  Of this group of 20 photos, this was the first:


First Photo!


Ok, not too bad.  There’s a lot I really like about this photo, especially in the color of the sky and the sea stacks in shadow.

I opened up the series of photos in Photoshop and stacked them on top of each other with Darken as the blend mode.  Darken, like Lighten, are really nice for working with this kind of scene.  In the earlier part of this post I linked to an article which talked about using ‘Lighten’ as your blend mode for clouds.  I have found that Lighten works best for lighter objects, and Darken works best for darker objects.  This is all subjective and mostly about what you like best or what just works best for you.

However, 20 photos was a bit too many.  So I turned layers on and off until only about 6 remained.  These 6 felt right, so I performed a merge visible on all but the bottom layer and set this new layer to ‘darken’.


Oops, I left a little too much of the transparency on. That just won’t work right.  (See the Sun for what I mean)


Ahh better.  I’ve masked out the area where the sun sits in the image.  This means that the bottom layer’s sun is now showing through.

What is left do do on this photo?  2 major things.  In Photoshop, I want to create a mask for the Oranges.  I feel like this color is just not where I want it to be.  So I’ll create a quick mask and adjust the Hue to make it a little more orange, and also underexpose the area a little to bring the brightness down.

Next, I’ll do the opposite for the waves.  I feel like they need to be made brighter, as well as have their colors saturated a bit more.

Finish it all up with a sharpening layer and we have:


After this image had been published, I noticed that the orange in the waves that I so liked was actually due to me forgetting to turn off the transparency of the layer.  Once that was turned down, we get:


Now we are nearly at our completed image.  I am really liking where this image is going.

There is still an issue with this image that I would like to correct.  Do you see the area between the sea and the sky?  There is a small color halo.  This is an easy fix.  We create a new Darken layer and using the paintbrush tool, we sample a nearby color and paint our way across the image.  The result is a subtle change, but, it eliminates the annoying halo.


And there it is, the finished image.  By stacking images, we can make a relatively calm ocean look like a much more active ocean.