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Shoot Now, App Questions Later, with Dan Rubin


iPhone Photography, from Shooting to Storytelling

with Richard Koci Hernandez

Video: Shoot Now, App Questions Later, with Dan Rubin

(Applause) Dan Rubin> A little about me first. I am a lover of Instagram. I was beta tester before it launched, which I feel very lucky about, because it's done something for me as a photographer that nothing else has done, and I love photography. It's a fairly new thing for me. I shot a lot on film when I was in my teens, then went away from it and become a lover of typography and graphic design and the web.
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Watch the Online Video Course iPhone Photography, from Shooting to Storytelling
1h 45m Appropriate for all Feb 21, 2012

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In this course, Richard Koci Hernandez celebrates the art of iPhoneography—how to shoot, enhance, and share photos with an Apple iPhone. The course covers an actual iPhone photo shoot and includes details on how to select and edit photos using a variety of iOS apps and how to interact with the vibrant iPhone photo community by sharing photos using the popular Instagram app. In a bonus chapter, Koci and a lineup of iPhone photography enthusiasts and journalists meet at the 1197 conference in San Francisco to discuss shooting techniques, photo-enhancement tips, and inspiration in the art of photographic storytelling.

Topics include:
  • iPhone shooting techniques and tips
  • Using apps to get the look you want
  • Combining apps to refine your photos
  • Telling a story with images
  • Sharing photos on Instagram
Richard Koci Hernandez

Shoot Now, App Questions Later, with Dan Rubin

(Applause) Dan Rubin> A little about me first. I am a lover of Instagram. I was beta tester before it launched, which I feel very lucky about, because it's done something for me as a photographer that nothing else has done, and I love photography. It's a fairly new thing for me. I shot a lot on film when I was in my teens, then went away from it and become a lover of typography and graphic design and the web.

And I got back into it, thanks to Polaroid discontinuing their film. I bought myself an SX-70 and started shooting every pack of film that I could scrape up. Which got me then into shooting with a DSLR, which then got me into shooting other types of film, medium format, 35mm. I've got tons and tons and cameras. However, the camera I shoot with all the time is the one in my pocket, just like I'm assuming most of you in the room. Instagram has done, I think, a marvelous job of allowing us to share so much that we get all this feedback so we keep wanting to give and it gives us this instant connection with people who are looking at our pictures.

I don't know about you, but a lot of the pictures I shoot on my DSLR stay in like Aperture and never get shown to anybody. I am lucky if I look at them. So we are in a very, very special time I think for photography in general. It just happens to be thanks to, as Jessica kind of laid out for us, the iPhone. Mobile photography in general, also yes, but it's because of the iPhone that we are I think seeing this amazing amount of momentum behind mobile photography.

I'm a huge fan of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Any other fans of his work? He has said so many things, but one of the core ideas that was behind his approach to photography was this idea of the decisive moment. That there is a moment at which if you are ready you can capture something special. Thanks to the iPhone and any other, really, any other mobile device that has a good enough camera to actually make sense to take pictures with all time allows you to basically have as many decisive moments in everyday as you feel like, as you are aware of.

Now this can be a good and a bad thing. So the philosophical part of my talk is about what I think we want to make sure we avoid with our photography. We have to remember what it is that we are looking at and not hide behind our lens. We have this wonderful thing that Steve gave us and just like with a lot of cameras, the tendency can be to walk around looking at the world through this viewfinder.

The world is all around us, but we spend our time doing this. I was actually at the photo walk. Who else is at the photo walk? We had a load of people there this morning. It was awesome! Anyone who wasn't there missed it. That was a perfect morning for it. And I was kind of surprised, because I think I knew this about myself, but I wasn't aware of it, the way I shoot with this is I have it in my pocket. I don't have it on, I don't have it fired up, I am not holding it all the time. I'm looking for the opportunity, for the thing that I want to shoot for the moment that's about to happen.

And I've had to train myself to do that. There are a lot of other people-- everyone has their own shooting styles but I saw so many people on this photo walk who had their phones on, not on auto off, not switching off, just like on all the time like this constant at the ready kind of thing. And I think it's something that has been led to by this idea of decisive moments. So this idea of capturing everything we possibly can, which is something also it's led to by shooting digital. If you shoot with a DSLR you probably shoot hundreds of images in one outing in a day.

I find that my photography has become better and better the more film I shoot, because I shoot film very, very slowly. I've started to shoot my digital, my DSLR or my iPhone, in the same kind of way. When I know I've got ten exposures on a medium format 6x7 camera, it takes me forever to get through those ten exposures, because I will not trip that shutter unless I know that the exposure is right, the depth of field is exactly what I want, the shutter speed is exactly what it needs to be.

And because of that, the number pictures I'm happy with go up, which is a good thing. That's a good side effect, percentage of good shots. I know we all probably spend a lot of time deleting crap shots in out iPhones. But more importantly I spend a lot of time looking around me and I think it's really important that we don't get lost in the apps. I love apps. I am going to talk more about them later. This is nothing against apps and filtering. We'll get to that.

But it's important to remember that we're experiencing a wonderful world around us. And the more we experience it through a device instead of just sometimes putting it down, I think the more we are missing out on. It also affects our pictures, because like Cartier-Bresson said, it's about understanding the world around you and what's happening, to be able to find those particular moments. You have to be actually just looking. You can't be looking for them. You have to be looking at everything, seeing the systems that are working around you and preparing for that moment.

Which brings me to kind of the filtering thing. How many of you shoot when you shoot with something like Instagram? Well, I guess Instagram is the big one that where you have to actually choose your filter. How many of you shoot directly in Instagram? Well, really a small percentage. Okay good, so all of you are kind of already ahead of me on this. The less that you worry about your filtering and post-processing and everything else at the time that you're taking the picture, the more engaged you can be with everything that's going around you, which I think is supremely important.

Even with something like live filters, which are awesome, I like that in Instagram. But, you're still kind of forced into this flow of making a lot of other decisions that you wouldn't necessarily have to make with any other camera. I like to think that filtering and post-processing are kind of our film and darkroom. It should all happen sometime later, afterwards, whether it's as you are falling asleep, which I love to do, or waking up, which I love to do, or on a plane, which I love to do.

I basically, I've spent so much of my little spare time doing like my filtering and post-processing. So that when I'm taking my pictures I don't have to think about anything other than looking, framing, snapping, so that I make sure that I don't also miss what's going on around me. I used to be one of these guys, where I would actually spend, in the first couple of months of using Instagram, which is when my iPhone photography used like soared. I would sit and I'd process one, and I figured out some tricks on how to process without posting to Instagram. So I prossessed one, have it-- make sure it's saved to the photo album, process another one, process another one, agonize over which filter I was going to use.

And very quickly I realized, what am I doing? This is not how you tell a story. The filters, if you approach them like film -- How many of you have shot film before? Okay. And of those who have shot film, how many of you have a favorite stock or two, that you just know helps you tell the story the way you see the world? And after a time you kind of see, if you like shooting a nice ILFORD black-and-white film for instance, you see the world exactly how those tones are going to be represented by that film, and I think filters should be used the same way. Whatever your post- processing approach is, it will make you a better photographer the more you can hone in on what allows you to tell your story the best.

Start using one or a handful of filters or approaches or processes over and over and over again to the point where you know you see, you don't even have to pull up your phone. You kind of know the framing, you know what it's going to look like, you understand more about what that capture is going to be. So the combination of that kind of understanding of the darkroom and the film and forcing yourself to put that phone down at least. Or if you're shooting with your DSLR, not chimp constantly, will help you engage I think a lot more with what's going around you.

So that's kind of a little bit of the philosophical side of things. Getting back to the idea of that decisive moment, we all have our different styles of shooting. But if we're getting away from focusing on what's happening on the camera and looking everywhere else, there can be a disconnect for some people on -- like how do we actually, how do we actually do that, how do you compose, how do you plan for that shot without lining it up? I am just going to share a couple of thoughts that I have on this that work for me.

I find that these things are consistent no matter what piece of photography equipment I'm picking up, whether it's analog, digital, mobile, iPhone, whatever. Learning to watch the light is super, super important. Understanding how light moves. There was a documentary I got to see at the SFMOMA actually a couple of years ago on Richard Avedon and one of the things that struck me most was this comment about how one of his favorite pastimes was watching light move.

He would spend entire days just sitting in one place, watching the clouds, watching the sun, watching the patterns of light. And it can show you I think a lot about how to anticipate where that next great shot is going to come from. Because I don't know. I don't like shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting and then having to go and edit and find out of 30 different pictures what one was the best. That's one of the things that's frustrated me about digital photography. My 5D Mark II takes amazing pictures, but when I've got 300 of them to sort through after like two hours out, I'm not going to do anything with that.

So I shoot less and less and less now and I'm happier with the time I spend outside, or with my friends, or wherever I happen to be, because I'm engaged with them and not with my camera, but I am also happier with the output. And I think that's a huge thing, understanding light. Sometimes it can also be about having patience. I like to shoot a lot of structures, I like to shoot a lot of places where people usually are in busy times of day when there are no people there, which is a really, really difficult thing to do.

I love stairways apparently. This is one -- if you've ever been in any Apple Store, you'll know that they are never empty. I had to wait like probably 25 minutes for there to be no one on this, which was a short wait. And applying patience to what you do, again it ties into Cartier-Bresson's approach and this idea of engaging with the world around you. It can be a struggle for some people to wait, especially in this age of everything being instant, everything happening right now, but it can be incredibly rewarding.

This is, it's either St. Pancras or King's Cross. I think it's in King's Cross station in London and right in the middle of the day, busy, busy station. The wait to get some of these shots can turn into a little bit of a meditative thing. You get to watch people. I like watching people. And you get the opportunity to take shots that most people wouldn't get because they would be too impatient and you actually see things while applying patience to your photography that you wouldn't even see if you were just hanging out and waiting, because you're looking at the world now in a different way.

You don't have your camera up in front of you, you are not completely waiting, you're not at that ready, but you're taking extra time, not just lining up your shot, but kind of seeing all these other details about wherever you happen to be. And I know we do it all the time when you do photowalks and stuff. It's one of the great things about it. If you've never been on a photowalk, it's fantastic. Get like one or two other people and suddenly you are in this environment where no one is waiting for you to catch up; you don't feel like you are lagging behind. You can actually take your time and get great pictures and enjoy whatever you're looking at.

And then the anticipation part, which can be the toughest part. But I think again it's really, really rewarding to start understanding what's happening when that moment is about to happen. Watching what's going on, who's moving where, and seeing the patterns that start to evolve, where those natural pauses occur in crowds, where the-- if you've ever been in Grand Central Station in New York, like find one of the elevated areas up one of the stairways and just watch for like 15-20 minutes, watch the center of activity and you actually can feel the rise and fall of the pace when a bunch of trains arrive at one time and you hear kind of the sound as people are coming to the hallways.

And you start to realize whenever you pay attention enough in those kind of situations when those excellent moments are about to happen. And that's whether it's a big group, or if it's small. I get a kick out of finding a certain framing that I think feels like something is going to happen here in the time that I am going to be there. Like this sitting on a bench waiting for a train and it was actually a family that was standing there. This young girl was the daughter of the family and the family was just being really, really active and really alive waiting for this train and then all of that kind of energy started to burn off and the young boy who was with them kind of ran off to the left and both the parents kind of shifted towards him because he was younger.

And the girl just kind of stood there and as her energy died down, she just kind of put her hands behind her back and bowed down, and I felt that coming, so I kind of slunk out the phone and I was just waiting. I knew what the frame was going to be. I didn't have to like be sitting there like a creep. It was creepy enough, taking a picture of a young girl on a train station. But it tells a story of some sort and it's because I was ready. The second I took this picture, she looked up and like she was back to her normal self.

And it's this idea of anticipation and seeing kind of all the moving parts around you, can create some really, really wonderful compositions. And I'm certainly not saying that that they're best. I mean I'm thankful that people even look at my pictures and I've been asked to speak here at all. I shoot because it allows me to interact with the world around me in a different way. I like the way that I see the world because of photography and the fact that anybody else likes the way I see the world because of that, it just humbles me.

And opportunities for like anticipation, I think make everything more exciting and more interesting in some way. Like as another example, I was on a train trip from Newcastle in the north of England down to London and train trips can be boring or exciting. I like staring out the windows, but I was noticing that on that particular day there were a load of freshly baled hay and stacked in all sorts of different ways, sometimes in round bales, sometimes into rectangular ones.

And it's really hard when you're going about like 80 plus miles an hour, like those trains go, to snap anything, especially on an iPhone without everything like bending, like you are at warp speed. So I actually started taking a couple of test shots, figuring out where I needed to focus to get like the right shot and figure out how I could make the iPhone do something that it wasn't really meant to do, to like capture something flying by at high speed. And then it was kind of sticking my head not out the window, because that would be horribly dangerous, but like looking as far ahead as I could out the window to see when that thing would come that would be with an empty field behind it, all the elements that I knew and I wanted. I pictured the composition ahead of time and I was lucky enough to be able to capture something that looks kind of all right.

So I am going to do a very quick live demo here, which I've never done before, so this will be very interesting. We are going to see first of all how this manages when you rotate -- ooh, it does, cool! Sid from Bolt Peters was nice enough to loan me her iPad 2 so we could actually do this, so I could do a quick little demo. Because one of the things that I get asked a lot, but I actually ask people more often is how they take their -- how they process their pictures? This is why I said I am a fan of apps as long as it's done outside of the capture process.

I have a couple that I love and I am not going to show you all of them, but one of the things I wanted to show you was just a little window into how I take pictures and how I process them, because maybe it will help you. I love, as a designer and as a photographer, I love seeing how other people do things. So hopefully by sharing a little bit of this with you, you might learn something. So, this morning on this photo walk, one of the last spots that we were right down the street with the highway and the train tracks, this is kind of just a quick way to show you one of my techniques. I always use the HDR on the iPhone 4.

I think it's brilliant. And with the 4S, it shoots even faster which is great. It's one of the only times that I'm okay with shooting more than I have to, because the camera is doing it for me. And I actually find that it's one of those little hacks that helps sometimes produce a better picture. So in this case we've got the regular exposure here, which is super blown out, which sometimes I like, but in this case I didn't. And then a more kind of even-toned HDR exposure. And most of the time my process is look at which exposure is better, quickly delete the one that isn't, because I don't want it taking up space, I don't want to be seeing it, I don't want to think about it.

And then sometimes I will pull it into Camera Plus and tweak the Color Balance or things like that. I don't like things being overly filtered. I also don't like spending a ton of time on things. Sometimes I'll do-- I am not going to show you retouching, but if you haven't played with TouchRetouch and you the automatic healing functions of Photoshop and Aperture and all those things, it's amazing. It's mind-blowing. The fact that that thing kind of works the way it does on a phone is amazing. It's one of my little cheats. Most of the time, I actually like what CrossProcess does, except for the fact that when you launch it, it always launches into Camera mode.

So, this is kind of all I typically do. I love the-- I prefer the green cross-processing. It has a ton of different features, but this has been my thing, playing and playing and playing with every single filter and feature and everything else and a ton of different apps until I find something that I really like, that suits my style. It just so happens that the way I look at light and the way I look at framing and composition, works really well with CrossProcess app and what it does and it feels very much like film.

I mean it has tons of options like every single app does, but one of the things I love is that you don't have to interact with those options to use it. Once I've found this thing I know it's my style, I know 9 times out of 10 it does exactly what I want it to do. And I just kind of load the image in and it outputs it immediately and I am done. A little bit of cropping later and if you haven't played with Square Ready, I recommend it because so many apps crop. Square Ready just does it in this really awesome simple kind of way. "Did you know you can tap the ad banner to--" No.

Well, the only downside here is it doesn't show you what I am tapping. So if you tap those four arrows down there in the bottom, it will automatically square it up and if every -- if there are any iPhone app developers in the room who develop apps for camera stuff, Tom, someone? This has one of the best features ever. Like I'm dragging at full speed here, but it by default, do you see this little walking man icon? Not the best iconography here, but you can adjust in a course way, which moves really, really fast like every app on the planet does, but by default it's got this fine-tuned adjustment.

So if you are like a pixel-precision based guy like me and you really, really like to line up all your diagonals into the corners and be really precise about your crop and your framing, it allows you to do that and allows you to constrain your movement. Maybe it doesn't seem like a huge thing, but for me, since Instagram is my canvas, the square is a big deal to me. I know how to anticipate the square. I know how to shoot for it on a wider format, because I shoot a lot of square format film. I shoot it on a Hasselblad and a Mamiya and all these things that shoot 6x6.

And if you shoot and crop and pull into Instagram a lot or Hipstamatic or anything else, you know that as well. And you can start to see even though you are using a longer, wider rectangle or a taller rectangle you can anticipate. So having a good cropping app actually is a really important thing. Then you just pop it out in Instagram format. Every app should do this kind of thing. So what I get is this kind of really streamlined process where most of the time now when I shoot, I know exactly that it's going to look like this.

I've got that in my mind when I'm looking around, before I put the camera up to my eye. The same is if I have my Bronica with me, this is a big 6x6 film camera. I've got Kodak 400TX, beautiful black-and-white film. I know exactly how every picture that I take is going to look with it and I frame them and I look for the lighting because of that film. I don't know. It makes me feel a whole lot better about the work that I produce and this is fun for me. This isn't work. It has to be fun and it allows me to have more fun. (Bless you!) So, that's the quick little demo just to show and tell because I didn't want to take up a ton of time.

My last thought that I am going to leave you with is learn to see what's around you by putting your camera down sometimes. As much as we're tempted to kind of always have it at the ready, always have it on, be kind of half looking through it all the time, you'll have a whole lot better time with this device in your pocket, with all those moments, when you can actually experience them for real and capture the ones that matter.

So thank you very much. We missed you, Gotham, we miss you.

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