Part II – Extending the Basic iPhone Photography Toolkit

I have been spending time on the basics and learning a bit of the included iPhone camera application. It does a lot by itself but there are some things when you wish to extend the toolkit it will not do. If all you want is the processed JPEG images you can stick with the default app. One of the nicer things not present on regular cameras though are applications you can get that extend the envelope a bit to maximize different parts of the photography experience. I’ll focus on two basic things and then build them up in followup posts. Since I am just a beginner at this, I start at the basics:

  1. Halide App. The IOS Halide App is pretty easy to use and setup. Purposefully I think its so. It will take regular photographs in processed JPEG images and save them to your camera roll. It lets you change exposure and manual focus and gives feedback at a haptic level when the camera view is level. Here is the biggest thing for the beginner though. It shoots in RAW format by default. RAW means you can take the basic images from the camera without processing and apply your own customizations with an application that does that. Halide also supports “depth” shooting for photographs of people and things that will suitably blur the background in some nice bokeh. It even works with the iPhone XR which out of the box does not do depth photography for dogs, plants, flowers. It will only do people. What this leads to is a second application that will take the images that are RAW or processed JPEG images and let you edit. The most intuitive application I have found has some integration with Halide and that’s Darkroom.
  2. Darkroom App. The Darkroom app is pretty easy also to setup and use. It wants some permissions and also has some custom filters you can buy into which I did. It will let you tone the image, use curves, crop the image, and export and save or mark the RAW image as one being edited. There is much more to it but this is all I have explored. The app is a one time purchase and for me suits the purpose more than a Creative Cloud Adobe subscription which costs over and over again.

My take is that with these two apps that are premium apps and can be bought on the IOS App Store, you can extend your photography to some new levels, apply filters, edit the images, save them off to the camera and then be able to share the images as you wish which is my final goal. There’s nothing inherently complex or detailed about either app and Halide basically satisfies some basic simplicity rules for me that I should be able to hit the ground running or walking in my case and shooting photographs. There is the thing you accept that you may want to then edit the photographs that come out in RAW format on some device or other. For Darkroom, I suspect the iPad app is very nice! Its very tempting to move toward something like the 2019 iPad Air with the keyboard instead of a Macbook.

Extending the photography on an iPhone is not terribly daunting. One of the features is the difference of applications you can find. I will be working with ProCamera next which does a lot!

If you have ever thought about simplifying the use case and what you carry and your needs can be satisfied with a camera on a phone, this is a good time to make the move. Camera on smartphones are just so good these days and lots of professional and amatuer and other people like me that noodle around with an iPhone 7 Plus want a simpler thing to take photographs suitable for sharing on a blog, on Instagram, Facebook, Mastodon, or whatever.

I’ve only featured two apps and I decided that I would move to a camera app which offers more functionality, a learning curve, and also pairs up with an editing app that I could learn. There are others like Snapseed and you could grab a creative cloud subscription for Lightroom Mobile or use a laptop or an iPad or something. It really depends on your workflow or lack of one. Here is a sample workflow that i have adopted and even documented a bit on Bear Notes (BTW, plug for Bear Notes if you are on the Apple ecosystem!)

Workflow basics

My workflow is in only a few parts and I’ll try to write it up that way without creating undue complexity in what I do.

  1. Photography with an application that I choose. I have chosen for day to day use the application Halide on my iPhone 7 Plus. I will go out and take between 30 and 50 photographs each day of things I find. I just shoot the images with the defaults because I know I can do things with exposure, brightness, contrast later. This frees the first part of the workflow to just being somewhat creative.
  2. Stop for lunch or a smoothie and review the RAW images and decide which ones I would like to work on. I don’t edit everyone of them. Some just appear good to me as is but others there is something there like the play of clouds and buildings, a small boat on the river shadows, or highlights or color I wish to subdue or bring out more. I may work on the images at the coffee shop for awhile. I then export the image to look at the processed JPEG image. If I don’t like it, I go back and play more. I should mention I have the 128mb version of the iPhone so I have some room to play.
  3. I get back and look again on the iPhone at the images in RAW format that I have chosen to edit and then review those I did not. I do not delete images right away but some are obvious mistakes like a picture of my hand or fingers which leave. I may edit a few more images or work on the edits I have already done. I export the images to new files and review them again.
  4. I then switch on wifi and back up the images to Google Photos which is my home for everything since its unlimited and the IOS Google Photos app works very nicely to backup and sync images and even delete those already backed up.
  5. Share the images I choose to my social media sites. This only includes Facebook, this blog, and Mastodon. I chose to give up Instagram and Twitter and I’ve explained that before. Once the images are shared, they are backed up, images are deleted from the phone, I’m done.

Now I can repeat the same thing day after day. I may create new photo albums and share the entire album or I may just share groups of photos on Google Photos. For me, Google Photos is idea for my workflow. For you, something else may be.

Summary of Part II Basics

The ability to replace a dedicated camera with a smartphone camera may not be for you. You may have a desire to take photographs for audiences that purchase those photographs or there are effects or complexities which work on your needs. Or conversely, you may desire or need to carry a mirrorless or other camera. I decided I did not need to carry a camera for my basic needs because the needs were met and even exceeded with taking photographs with the Halide App and then editing and finally sharing the images as in my workflow above. Yours may not be amenable due to desires you have to learn a digital camera. Each one of us has drivers and limitations.

If you are interested in iPhone photography, consider checking out the default camera app first. It will do for you and I have gotten some nice photographs with it. For me, I desire to learn another step so I started looking for IOS apps that extended the framework, let me do different things, and also explore how well an iPhone camera can work to take travel photographs. For me, it works very well but I have no desire to sell, have my images on National Geographic or travel magazines, or maintain a professional visibility and call myself a photographer.

You have to answer the questions for yourself and see what will work. It’s also okay to use a combination of things as long as you feel good about it at the end of the day. The whole thing to me is being happy with the results. No one else’s satisfaction even matters to me any longer. I am in this to only record what I see and then share it on some social networks I have selected.

Vietnam thoughts, Blog Themes, Other Cool Things that do not go bump in the Night

I’ve been pretty consistently writing on this blog since I left last year. It seems amazing that a year ago I was in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam and that’s where I am going back to in a few days. I’ll swing through Vietnam for about 2 months give or take a day or something. I could have stayed longer but I designed the trip to Vietnam for a shorter time since I already spent 6 months there and went basically north to south then. Now I am going in reverse and will not go back to a few places that I went before. I won’t see Da Lat again or Nha Trang. I will see Can Tho and Phu Quoc Island. I have not been to either of those before. Then I will jet off to Da Nang which is my favorite place and end up to see a few people in Hanoi.

I already know what I shall eat my first night in HCMC (trying valiantly to not write Saigon). I will have Pho. Down the street and around the block is this little Pho stand I shall visit where the broth is steamy and its a nectar of taste and wonderful sensory overload. For three weeks, I’ll walk around again in the beautiful, crazy, sometimes wierd city of HCMC and its districts. I’ll visit the Ben Thanh Market and try not to buy anything and take pictures with my iPhone. Talking about the iPhone, I am working on my second report on explorations with it and should post it before the weekend.

I don’t have a set itinerary there in HCMC. I will get back to Vincom Center and have Bud’s Ice Cream. I mention this because only time did I feel down or depressed being alone in the last 1.5 years. I ended up eating ice cream in the Vincom Center Mall at Buds. It was a moment where things swung around and I saw so many people walking, talking, some arguing. Those lower feelings soon dissipated and I have not felt that way since. Perhaps I am just built for solitude but I remember what someone said once,

Loneliness is being alone and hating it. Solitude is being alone and loving it

I don’t know that I’ve lived those words but I have come to realize that I am not a terribly social person. I have bad traits. I am selfish, narcissistic and I set a high bar for friendship. Perhaps all those things have combined to make the last years mean even more and some of it is destined every so often to come out in blogposts which let me revel in the backwash of 20 years of blogging or so.

Blogging or so…

It has been over 20 years of writing these things. Most people I met doing this have moved on in many ways. Others have stormed in. What once was a means of expression and creation has become something else. Perhaps it serves those new bloggers in some way. I am a dinosaur though. I still write these things for the joy of creation. Someone could offer me a kazillion dollars to write a sponsored post and I’d decline. I’m just not that willing to set such a low bar for myself to accept money for something I love to do.

In other moments of blogging, since getting the business account, I have been trying themes but not many plugins. I am now on the free Twenty Sixteen theme that Automattic does. I like the theme. Do you?

I think it looks pretty nice on mobile devices and its simple. I don’t like themes with lots of grids or boxes with featured images or themes made for small businesses or lifestyle blogging or selling things or ads or whatever. I want a theme which does a thing well and what it does well is show my content. I don’t need it hidden behind READ MORE… or kludgy boxes. I want you to see all the crapola I write so you can decide whether its worth to read. I don’t really care if you do or don’t but I do enjoy you finding something perhaps that strikes a chord in your life.

I also read a lot of blogs. Okay. Maybe only a few. I try to read the blogs that like my blog. I am not good at following and I apologize in advance. I hope though you do find something in this stuff that lets you see that living life at a slower pace, seeing places with no itineraries or instagrammable moments, or ads is something you maybe like. I like throwing it out there whether you do or not.

Wrapping it all up…

So now I do what I usually do. I wrap all this up for you in a few concise or not so sentences. Life has been damned good for me traipsing all around in slow motion. Ive found ways to enjoy the day to day which was so missing before. Someone asked me once if I missed all that work. My question is,

what the F is work?

I have forgotten. Hahaha.

International Foods, Local Foods, I love all foods!

One of the truly fine things (and there are many) about Cambodia is the food. If you are a foodie, appreciate international scope so you can spread the love but also want a taste of American comfort food, Phnom Penh is a nice destination. I found today another place that I never knew existed. Today while wandering around the Russian Market, which is kind of an oasis of shopping, food, specialty shoppes, and coffee, I found Carolina BBQ. No sooner than I got in and looked at the menu I met Drew from South Carolina. We talked for a long time about food and how it is to run an American restaurant in Phnom Penh. Its interesting he had first thought about setting his place up in Siem Reap but there was competition there in the form of another American BBQ house. I don’t know that place there and I have a feeling I would have found it or heard of it from other expats. Anyways, I am glad he settled for Phnom Penh, because I was able to find him today and have the truly American BBQ plate! I had pulled pork with coleslaw on it, great french fries, and a coke. The food was wonderful and sometimes its the American touch that brings it all back and being able to talk with a fellow American and foodie about our great foods in the states. Finding this place with wonderful menu made me realize how truly lucky and blessed I am to find places by wandering that satisfy in so many ways.

Back in Hanoi it was the S&L Diner which is American owned. In August, I will get back there too and I hope it has not changed. Their hamburgers and breakfasts were really good. It stretches back to Da Nang for me too. Back to the Happy Heart Diner with their wonderful American breakfasts and their social mission to help young Vietnamese that are hearing impaired find work and learn hospitality and food preparation and serving. Even farther back was Sparky’s Diner in Chennai India. This truly was an oasis for the expats that lived and worked in India. I went numerous times and met the owner who would come out each evening and visit. Unfortunately in 2010, my last visit to Chennai I would find out he passed away shortly after my visit.

In each case, finding a touch of home has made being away a bit easier. As Drew mentioned today, its nice and fulfilling to eat the Khmer foods, the Chinese or Korean or Japanese foods. For many of us Americans though, finding that place to sit and feel comfortable with food that you know so well is such a nice thing. I’ve had burgers that were served in Siem Reap that were very good. Burgers in Phnom Penh that were very good. Pizzas and Mexican foods. All kinds of food. Had Fish Amok and Lok Lak and Khmer Curries red and green. Had a lot of stuff. Finding a simple thing as I live in a place and slowly wander it, makes the place and my wandering seem so much more worthwhile.

So I am glad to have found Carolina BBQ and Drew. Its a mark that the cities of Southeast Asia truly cater to all restaurants and tastes. There is room for everyone to enjoy local fare as well as the foods sometimes your soul may wistfully wish for. Today, I found that and it was wonderful. I also love the fact that without wandering around, its highly unlikely I would have found it. I think a fair percentage of places to eat I have found by walking cities and towns. Places that may have been a blur in a taxi or tuk tuk.

Now they became mine for a moment of time. I was enriched and I had comfort food. I thrived and I’ll remember. Thank you Phnom Penh and thank you Drew for making the place your home and serving us all.


And there you have it. The final proof is in the picture. Wonderful!

Word about Night Markets

I love visiting Southeast Asian markets whether they are day or night markets. Tell the truth, the best markets I have found are in Cambodia as far as diversity, bargaining or haggling, and finding things. At the Central Market here in Phnom Penh one can find everything from batteries and car parts to the “wet market” and then on to jewelry, clothing, backpacks, and even small locks for doors. Its just a bunch of stuff that would take hours to see if you patiently went at it. I usually go with a few things I need because most of my beautiful wardrobe is purchased from markets. I buy the cheap Cambodian t shirts and underwear, knock off shorts that are most likely not North Face, and often socks. I can find decent belts too that will work. Most of these things cost just a few dollars each but you have to go to the Central Market armed with patience and perhaps an iced latte. Being hungry does not hurt either since there are lots of food stalls to find some noodles or chicken bbq or whatever.

Down the street though from where I stay its different. This is a neighborhood market with the vendors lining the street itself selling their stuff. I wandered down there tonight really wanting fresh fruit and already having decided to get some dumplings down the street a bit where the good dumplings live. Its a fun, frenetic, happy street in the evenings with everything from street food pizza to chicken satay to fresh fish and clothing there to look at. I did not spend a lot of time but did see a bit strolling up and down the street, saying hello to numerous Khmer people, looking at various foods that I will come back to try and finding a nice fresh fruit stand. Here is what it looks like in the evening.

Lots of stuff. Major amounts of stuff of all different kinds and everyone hits the streets to shop for clothing, eat, find something to drink, and kinda party down. Its a lot of fun and pretty much open to whoever walks down the street wanting to buy stuff.

The markets across Cambodia are so cool and different. You can go to another market like the Russian Market and find slightly different things or visit the non touristy Orussey Market and find even more things but with no tourists shopping. The isles and corridors are much smaller and the market is a bit confusing with the aisles running in all directions. I spent some time awhile back at the Orussey Market to get a sense what it was like too.

I have to say though that the open air and street evening market is totally cool. Its a blend of people, the ever popular and somewhat frustrating motorbikes, and just about every kind of shopping experience one could want.

If you ever get to Vietnam or Cambodia check out the markets. Particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, the Ben Thanh Market is very cool and here in Cambodia I shop regularly at a few in Phnom Penh and the Night Market and Old Market in Siem Reap. Just a lot of fun folks and its a distinctly Southeast Asian experience.

Part 1 – iPhone Photography; my basics

I started with the iPhone some years ago. Just not taking pictures with it except for food and selfies and stuff like that. I had a regular camera, usually a FujiFilm something or other. I went through any number of them. Some only lasted a few months but yet cost a lot. Others lasted a bit longer but still became defective. All this time I had the iPhone 7 Plus which is the camera I will be using for this exploration.

So I had to start at the basics. I had to learn how to actually use the iPhone camera app. Its not just point and shoot and you are there when you get a bit more serious. Its what does HDR do or not do. What are the different types of photography or video you can do? How can you control basic stuff like exposure with it? How can you lock focus with it?

All of this I found within the app itself. The camera app is supposed to be easy to use and you should be able to start with it and do basic stuff and also have a platform to learn and adopt the things above. But there are even more basic things before taking the photograph. How do I hold the phone to take a picture? The phone is will try to stabilize the image but its best if I can be steady. How to quickly focus and then look to see if I should change exposure? These were the basic things coming from a FujiFilm camera I had to learn. Luckily all of this is in the camera app itself or in the settings in the case of a few things I may want to do or change. Here is a little list of the things I did to learn:

  1. went into settings and enabled the grid.
  2. while in settings I told the camera to make a non HDR image if it choose to use HDR.
  3. I set the camera app to shoot in most compatible which means JPEG

That was about it for the settings.

Then I opened the app itself and started drilling down on my things:

  1. How to hold the camera? I am still experimenting but holding it in my right hand firmly with my hand wrapped around the camera with the camera lens on the left and then using my left hand to focus, steady the camera, and take the photograph seems the best at this point. More experimentation is needed.
  2. How to set HDR. There are three values I could use. Auto, On, Off. I chose Auto because it seemed the easiest since I had also told the camera to take a non HDR image.
  3. How to lock the focus. This is easy by simply holding down while in the camera and you will see it show up.
  4. How to get exposure compensation working. After focusing, there is a small sunshine thing on the app. By sliding down or up your darken or brighten the photograph.

That was about it but it really was not as you can imagine. Because once having something as portable as the iPhone and its camera it was time to play with all the things. Here are some things I’ve learned about it:

  1. get a good grasp and hold of the camera and I do not hold with fingertips.
  2. the HDR auto setting has saved a few images and let me also see the differences between the two.
  3. locking the focus has not been used yet. I will get to that soon.
  4. exposure compensation is nice but remembering to get the results can be hard for me.

So these are my explorations with the iPhone so far. I’ve wondered if I should at some point just buy a camera like the FujiFilm XT30 since my friend has them in stock here. I think its a wasted effort though for me. I am very satisfied learning and at the pace I am going with daily walks and photography I am doing. Once I get a handle on the default camera app, there are more professional camera apps that do more. I can also drive into more details with Snapseed editing my images. I have already started playing with the Tune image setting which seems to be where I will spend the most time but cropping is pretty handy too.

Next Stops on the Trail…

So my next stops are to take more photographs with the default app. Get a sense of locking the focus at times when I want to be stationary and capture things, and also get better with exposure compensation. I think that this will take until I’m done. I’m in no real hurry to proclaim some conclusion because photography has always been an experimentation for me. Now with the iPhone I have another device with other apps to learn. I also know that a new iPhone is right around the corner and this will come with new cameras as well. I like being a generation behind in the phones because prices are much better but this time I may do something different. I really want to see what the iPhone 11 with its three cameras is capable of. If I don’t feel there is a value, I will definitely upgrade to the iPhone XS because I think its a good upgrade path especially for the cameras and what you get. If I get 3 years of use out of it its better than any of the digital cameras I have had.

Finally, with the iPhone photography explorations I also feel that learning new things is good and since I am in no real rush to do things with the resulting images besides share on social media and my blog, its a never-ending exploration for me. The iPhone upgrades would allow me to extend the exploration a bit because of functionality differences in the phones which is rather exciting.

So anyways, welcome to my experiments on the iPhone; starting with the iPhone 7 Plus. Definitely more to come and write about in the weeks and months ahead. I want to cover shooting in RAW format, using specialized camera apps, and learning more on editing the photos. At some point, I will switch to an app like ProCamera or Halide that lets me shoot in RAW but also gives me a processed JPEG image. All that is to come though

Stick around! I’m sure to learn things, make mistakes, learn from them, and then make more.

Busy Street 257

This is busy street 257 in my neighborhood in Phnom Penh. Lots of tuk tuks, kids, cars and street food stalls. Plus the evening starts settling in. People done with work and out to eat, have fun, join the races on the street. One must keep an eye out for the traffic because pedestrians have no rights here but the evening coming knows not.