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365 Cellphone Pics, Day 19-24: Aug 19-24

A bunch of new pics to talk about today.

The first is kind of a request pic. My friend Vic asked me about using a cellphone to take pictures of drinks in bars. Bar photography creates a very obvious problem. Bars are poorly lit and since cellphones lack flashes to create additional light there’s not a whole lot that can be done about that. The best we can hope for in situations like this is to get as clear a picture as possible and try to make it interesting other ways.
What I’ve done on for the August 19th shot is put both drinks we ordered, a margarita and a sangria very close to each other and gotten as close to them as I could with the phone so that I could fill the frame. I rested my elbows on the table and the iPhone against my chin in order to steady the camera as much as I could and tried to take the image at a striking angle to kind of draw the viewer in towards the drinks. Even with this, a fair amount of digital noise was created due to the camera going into a very high ISO mode in order to contend with the darkness of the room. This can be minimized somewhat by with a denoising filter pass in Photoshop, but there’s still a fair amount of digital grain. This simply has to be dealt with and accepted.


For August 20th, I decided to take a shot that was uniquely Pittsburgh. A closed down steel mill here in town is now the site of a large shopping center. While most of the plant has long since been cleared out in the name of stores, restaurants and a movie theater, a line of smoke stacks has been left standing and restored as a monument to the city.
The nice thing about the smokestacks is that as a monument, they are prelit. Even late at night, the spot lights at it’s base provide plenty of light to get an elegant picture of the structure. The camera in the iPhone has a nice feature of automatic exposure compensation. While you can’t directly control the exposure of the image, it does try to evaluate light based on the point of focus of the image. In this case, I told the phone to focus on the lights at the base of the scene, this meant that it stopped down the exposure to the point where ambient light in the sky was minimized and appears as pitch black in the final image, save for the glow of the moon above, which in and of itself adds a pleasing element to the negative space of the image.


Originally I had a different shot planned for August 21st, but while I was out driving, I happened upon this scene. I wanted to shoot it not only because I thought it made an interesting shot, but also because it illustrates a very important point about the nature of cellphone photography.
An SUV was speeding along a local city road, not far from my home, missed a turn and rolled and crashed. At least one person was killed and others were injured. The police and fire departments were called in to the scene. While this was tragic, it definitely calls into view the main reason I wanted to do this project i the first place. With the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, we are ALL photographers now. Photojournalists ready to capture an event as it happens. While in the past a reporter would have to be dispatched to the scene of an accident when it happened, today a first hand account of an event can be documented by just about any passerby.


On August 22nd, I was taking a walk through the woods near my fiancee’s parent’s home. I came across a stack of firewood that her father has precut and left under a tree. For some reason the arrangement of the deadwood against the upright trees spoke to me and I decided that dichotomy would make an interesting shot.
The main challenge here was that it was a particularly bright day, and even with the point based exposure compensation I mentioned earlier, there was no way without artificial lighting to light the scene as evenly as I might have wanted to in a controlled environment.
What I opted for instead was to expose the wood and trees, my subjects, correctly and let the background of the shot overexpose and fall off into white. This has the nice effect of drawing attention away from the cluttered background of the street, even though the hotpot created there is somewhat distracting in and of it self. The point being, photography, like most styles of art, is a game of making choices. Sometimes the most ideal situation will not present itself and so we make do with what we can.


I had not intended to do two nature shots two days in a row, however the rainy season is just beginning in my area and we had a nice downpour that I noticed was creating a very vibrant wet look on the leaves in my yard. The August 23rd shot was taken on the steps that lead from my back patio to my swimming pool.
SInce there’s no way to really do macro photography with the iPhone, getting the correct distance for something like this is of key importance. As we’ve discussed in the past, there’s no optical zoom in the phone and since digital zoom will not give us the effect we want, care must be taken to move the fixed lens as close as you can to get the texture of the leaves but far enough away to allow it to actually focus. Furthermore you want to make sure you maintain a pleasing composition as well. In this particular shot, I decided to frame the image so that the the edges of the stairs lined up naturally on the one third lines of the frame. The top most step is smaller than the others, so I angled things to make the bottommost step seem a little larger than the others. This creates a ladder effect that has the sense of “pulling” the viewer through the picture.
This is is as much a study in post processing as it is in the composition of nature photography. In order to really bring out the vibrant greens and the wet look of the pavement, I took the image into photoshop, applied my usual level of unsharp mask sharpening and then duplicated the layer over itself as a semi-transparent (about 40%) hard light layer. This had the effect of lighting the highlights while darkening the shadows as well as adding quite a bit of saturation to the greens of the image. I find the effect rather peaceful and ethereal.


From natural to industrial. I wanted that contrast so specifically went out looking for something more hard and man-made for the August 24th shot.
The nice thing about this electrical generator is it’s use of angles. Not only of the generator itself (which is actually subdued and in the background of this particular shot that I chose) but in what really stood out for me, the elaborate lattice work of a simple chain-link fence. Repetition can frequently be pleasing to the eye and causes the viewer to pay more attention to pattern and texture. In effect, this stops being a photo of a scene and becomes a photo of an idea.
This idea is further pushed by the text of the sign, much like we’ve seen on previous images. In this case, the sign is on the other side of the fence which it warning the the reader not to cross. Since the latticework of the fence fills the entire frame the boundary between us and the “perceived subject” (the generator) becomes even more prevalent.

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