Category Archives: art/photography

More from my phone camera

A couple of nights ago I played around some more with the camera in my new phone, taking photos out of the back bedroom window. The weather was rather grey, showing promise of a good sunset but not producing one. It did however produce some nice clouds, which in my book are much better to look at than the featureless blue sky described by many as “lovely weather”. (Apparently, weather is “good” when it saps your energy and makes you permanently uncomfortable as a continuous stream of sweat runs down into your eyes, soaks into your clothes, and makes your hands sticky; the weather in which your nose runs non-stop, the air becomes steadily less and less breatheable and everyone gets skin cancer from the direct sun . . .)

Yes, I’m glad that the hot weather of the beginning of last week has now subsided. I don’t like the summer.

I initially decided against posting these photos, but people on Twitter seemed to like them so I’ve changed my mind.

Unfortunately the silhouetted skyline in the first one isn’t as sharp as it might be. Maybe I forgot to set the focus to infinity, or maybe the camera moved. I like the sky though:

Clouds over Manchester

Clouds over Manchester

The second one is a lot sharper:

A more in-focus skyline

A more in-focus skyline.

To produce these photos, I first found an exposure setting which showed as much detail as possible in the clouds, and took the photos. Then I used the phone’s built-in picture editor to adjust the brightness and contrast, so as to make the skyline (nearly) black and highlight the cloud detail. The next step was to adjust the setting the phone calls “colour balance”, which I think is actually the saturation level (it has grey at one end of the scale, and unnaturally strong colours at the other). I wasn’t aiming for a realistic picture: I wanted to show the shape of the clouds as dramatically as possible, and to show the viewer why I think they’re worth looking at. Finally I did some cropping to get the composition how I wanted it. (On the phone for one of them, and in Windows Paint for the other.)

For reference, this is how the weather actually looked. It’s the original version of the first photo above, before I adjusted the contrast and colour.

How the weather really was: unedited photo

Original photo, before enhancing the contrast and colour

Don’t complain about the “bad” weather. Enjoy it, and point your camera at it!

From my new phone

A few days ago I got a nice new phone, with a nice new camera in it. It’s a while since I last posted here, and I want to show off the photos, so . . . 🙂

The phone is a Sony Ericsson C905, which has some idiotically advanced features. For example, the 8Mpx camera has an option (as yet untried by me) where it waits for someone to smile before it takes the photo, and another where it looks for faces in thee picture and focuses on the nearest one rather than on the centre. No doubt in 18 months’ time they’ll all seem very primitive.

Be warned: if you click the photos for the full-size versions, some of them are pretty big.

First we have an elder tree/bush which, sadly, is no longer standing (it seemed better to cut it down before it fell down on its own…) This was photographed using approximately 2x digital zoom:

Elder trunk

Elder trunk showing signs of age: original photo

The interesting bit:

Zoomed detail of the same photo

Zoomed detail

The high resolution is quite freeing when taking pictures. Being a phone camera, it only has a digital zoom, not an optical one. With my previous camera (Sony Ericsson k750i), I had to be very careful about using the zoom, because the loss of image quality would be quite significant. With this one, it’s possible to use an appropriate zoom setting while taking the photo, then zoom some more to see the part of the photo I really want, or to improve the composition.

These flowers are behind the kitchen sink; I had to hold the phone at a rather awkward angle to take the picture, and couldn’t easily see the screen to compose it.

Original photo, using macro mode

Original photo, using macro mode

The phone has a very nice built-in photo editor, with a very silly name to make you think it won’t be any good (“PhotoDJ”). So as well as selecting the part of the picture I would have taken if I’d been able to see what I was doing, I used the editor to increase the contrast slightly. This made the colours a bit less bright, so I adjusted them back to how they originally were. (If you get confused comparing the two photos, the photo has been rotated 90 degrees.)

Zoomed, contrast slightly increased

Zoomed, contrast slightly increased

Just the one flower:

Zoomed some more

Zoomed some more

And lastly, for no particular reason other than that it was the nearest small object to hand, a photo of the charger plug, in macro mode. If I’d been using a “proper” camera, i.e. a manual one, I’d have used a wider aperture to make the background fuzzier, but I was still pleased to see that the camera doesn’t force me to have everything in focus all the time.

Sony Ericsson charger plug

Sony Ericsson charger plug

I’m pretty pleased with the camera 🙂

It does have weaknesses too though. As far as I know, all camera phones suffer from them.

Firstly, there’s no viewfinder: you can only use the screen. That might not sound like much of a problem. However, I discovered from my previous phone that it is: in bright light — e.g. outside in the sun, taking a picture of the nice sunny scene–the screen is much less visible and you find yourself wishing there were a viewfinder so you could see properly.

Second, there’s basically no manual control. You set things like brightness and zoom, whether the camera focuses on the middle of the picture or uses face recognition, the kind of lighting you’re in and so on. But you can’t say “Well I want the ugly background to melt away into fuzziness, so I’ll use the maximum aperture”. And it doesn’t tell you what settings it’s using.

The tiny lens is both a strength and a weakness. It basically means that compared to a standard SLR with a 50mm lens, the camera is living in a much bigger world. For close-up photos, this is great: one of the biggest difficulties taking them with a normal camera is that the depth of field is very shallow. That is, only a very thin slice of the scene is in focus. For a tiny lens at the same distance, the situation is more like photographing something some distance away, and more of the subject is in focus. The weakness, though, is that it’s quite hard to get things out of focus.

Now that phone cameras are turning into, well, real cameras, I hope someone will soon think of giving the user real control over them. It’s nice having the amazing resolution and all the clever electronics, but a bit good old-fashioned artistic knob-twiddling would be helpful, even if the knobs to be twiddled are virtual ones on a screen. Add a tripod bush, a viewfinder, and a way of attaching filters, and you’re just about there I think, at least for a compact camera.

New photos from an old camera

Sadly, not my camera or photos.

April 4th had many people up and about in the dead of night, taking photos of their surroundings and deserted streets for the 4am Project. Among these was Rachelcreative, whose art and photography blog I’ve mentioned before.

One of Rachel’s interests is old cameras. She not only acquires these but also uses them. So as well as her digital photos taken with a modern SLR, she took some others using a 75-year-old Box Brownie.

Here is a sample, to encourage you to go and look at the others:

Box Brownie photo of Minster Pool

Minster Pool, Lichfield, photographed with a Box Brownie
© rachelcreative.wordpress.com

What stage was colour photography at when the camera was made? Was usable colour film even available? If it was, I’m pretty sure it was still at a very experimental stage. But these photos show what an antique, very basic camera can do.

It’s interesting to me the way that photos such as these, and others from Rachel’s old cameras, conjure up the atmosphere of old photographs. For example, some of the others remind me of the results I got from my old Ensign Ful-Vue before the red viewing window fell out and I stopped using it. (The window was there to let you see the numbers on the backing paper of the film, so you knew how far to wind it on before taking the next photo.) Obviously in this case that could be partly an illusion caused by the yellow of the street lighting, but I think other effects are important too: the quality of the lens, maybe the way light is scattered inside the camera, and the fixed aperture and field of view.

Anyway do visit Rachel’s post—the rest of the photos are well worth a look too.

Another beautiful photo blog

Ninebark Imagery has been on my blogroll for quite a while now, and I thought it was time I brought it to your attention. It’s the photoblog of Debbie Campbell, a web designer in Colorado who also describes herself as an “amateur nature photographer”. Here’s one of her recent photos:

Poudre River. © ninebarkimagery.com

Poudre River. © ninebarkimagery.comUsed with permission

One thing I like about the site, apart from the pictures which I find very restful, is the simple page layout with one picture to a page against a nearly-black, unobtrustive foliage background and minimal text. This lets the photos speak for themselves, one at a time, as they should. The mood of the photos is mostly quiet and reflective, with a feelling that a lot of care has gone into the composition. (And yes, reflections in still water do feel reflective mentally, so allthough I wasn’t trying to create a pun it’s quite an apt one.)

These aren’t photos for looking at quickly, in my opinion: one needs to linger and enjoy them, as you’d enjoy being in a peaceful place. I hope you’ll visit the site and see the others.

Thanks to Debbie for permission to use the one in this post.

Beautiful bird photos

Sometimes when someone comments on your blog and you follow the link to their home page, you get a good surprise.

Yesterday, Little Brown Job, aka Paul, commented on my recent post about Dabr. (In case you’re wondering, little brown job is a birdwatcher’s name for a small, unidentified bird.) I followed the link to his blog, where I discovered that Paul is a bird photographer and takes pictures like this:

Goldfinch © http://littlebrownjob.blogspot.com

Goldfinch © littlebrownjob.blogspot.com

I occasionally dabble in photography but haven’t done for quite a while. I’d love be able to take this kind of photo. I enjoy photographs of nature, but mine tend to be of things like trees, which have the big advantage that they don’t run away when they hear you coming—and of being big enough not to need a particularly long-focus lens.

The other photos on his site are equally stunning and I do urge you to visit it at http://littlebrownjob.blogspot.com/. The site really is too good to miss. Visit and enjoy!