Rad A. Drew Photography: 2017

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Creating Dynamic Panoramas with your iPhone

© Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano

Summer is finally here and for most of us, that means we will be spending more time outside, often in wide open spaces in cities or in the country. It's the perfect time to experiment with creating panoramic images with your iPhone!

In this post, I'm going to be sharing two tools I really like for creating wonderful panos. One is the pano feature that comes with the iPhone's native camera. It is actually my favorite not only for its ease of use, but also for the remarkable results it produces. 

The other is the app Panorama DMD, which makes 360 degree pano videos as well as great panorama images. It also has the added advantage of creating images using HDR software for balanced exposure of high contrast scenes.

First, the iPhone's Native Camera Feature

To access the iPhone's native camera pano feature, first open the native camera by clicking on this icon: 

The Pano feature is located at the far right of the screen, as shown below:

Slide your finger across the screen to the right until PANO changes to yellow.

For a horizontal pano, you'll need to hold the phone in the portrait position, as show in the image above. Notice the white arrow and the yellow line, and the instructions: Move iPhone continuously when taking a Panorama.

Prepare to take your pano by holding the phone in the portrait position, as shown, and keep the phone perpendicular to the ground, that is, straight up and down. When you're ready, tap the white button at the bottom of the phone and begin to slowly move the camera in the direction of the arrow, keeping the arrow on the yellow line. If you veer from the yellow line, you'll see the message to move up or move down. In bright light, you'll be able to move very quickly, but in lower light, you must move slower. If you move to fast, you'll see the message slow down appear on the screen.

The iPhone Pano feature does a remarkable job, but, it does not take HDR images, therefore, you may find that some of the brighter areas of the image may be blown out, or too bright. To avoid this problem, tap your finger on the brighter area of the scene. In the example above, I tapped on the clouds over the house. This sets the exposure for the bright sky. Yes, the rest of the image may appear too dark, but that is correctable later using the app, SnapSeed. In SnapSeed's Tune Image tool box, you can adjust for Ambiance, Highlights, and Shadows. To brighten the shadow areas of the image, move the Shadow Slider in SnapSeed to the right. (For more information on using SnapSeed to process images, see my SnapSeed tutorials on my YouTube channel.)

  1. To start your pano, tap the white button.
  2. To stop your pano, tap the white button again, or even easier, reverse the motion of the phone when you get to the end of the scene and the camera will stop and save your image to your camera roll. No need to hit the button again and risk shaking your camera.
  3. Take a pano that is about 180 degrees.
  4. Take a pano that is only as wide as you want to go. This is great if you are in a small room and want to capture the interior, or you only want to capture a smaller portion of a scene. You can start your pano, reach the end of the scene, reverse camera motion and capture just a portion of the 180 scene.
  5. To take a vertical pano, turn the phone to the landscape position  and rotate the camera up to take a pano of a tree, building or monument.
  6. If you have the iPhone 7 Plus, tap the 2x button on the screen and get twice as close to your subject when you take your pano. It will appear much larger than the 1x pano.
  7. The closer you are to your subject, the more of the barrel distortion you'll get. Rather than consider this a defect, use it to your advantage to create an interesting interpretation of your subject. (See the Cigar Factory and the National Capital building, below.)
Here are a some examples of pano's taken with the iPhone native camera.

The Cigar Factory and the Capital Building in Cuba, below, are examples of the kind of barrel distortion that can occur when you are very close to your subject, as I was when I took these images. The buildings appear to be in the shape of a hockey puck, when in reality they are traditionally rectangular structures.
© Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano, Cigar Factory

The image of the El Capitolio in Cuba is an example of a "partial" pano as well as barrel distortion. I stood very close to the building, started at the left end of the building and moved until I had included the entire building in the frame, then I stopped the pano by reversing the direction of my camera motion. This is a great way to control the content of your scene and use the barrel distortion for artistic effect.

National Capital Building in Cuba, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Partial Pano, 
Jose Marti Stadium, Havana, Cuba, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano
Along the Colorado River, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano
Winter, Indiana, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano
Trinidad, Cuba, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano
Abandoned City Methodist Church, Gary, Indiana, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano

Abandoned USPO, Gary, Indiana, © Rad A. Drew, iPhone Pano
The panos below were taken with the native camera pano feature on the iPhone 7 Plus. The first pano was taken with the 1x setting, while the second was taken with the 2x setting. See how much closer you're able to get to your subject in the 2x mode, and how much more of the scene is captured in 1x. One is not necessarily better than the other, just a different view. 

The Palouse, iPhone 7 Plus Pano at 1x,  © Rad A. Drew

The Palouse, iPhone 7 Plus Pano at 2x, © Rad A. Drew

Now for the App, Panorama DMD

The app Panorama DMD works on both iPhone and Android and allows you to take great panos, and, if you make the in-app purchase, will produce them in HDR as well. It's available via the App Store here for iPhone users, or the Google Play Store here, for android users. 

You can set it up to save to your camera roll or to a social site for sharing, which I chose not to do.

Open the app by clicking on its icon of a Yin/Yang symbol, that looks like this:
DMD Panorama
Similar to the iPhone camera pano feature, you must hold the camera in the portrait position and perpendicular to the ground. 

Position the camera and when ready, tap anywhere on the screen to start the process. This is what the interface looks like. Notice the two halves of the Yin/Yang symbol separated at the top of the screen.

Move the camera to the right until the Yin/Yang symbols come together, as shown below:

After each "mating" of the symbol halves you'll hear a shutter click and the icons will separate as you rotate to the right until they come together again. You have to go slow enough to allow time for the symbol halves to match up and click before you move on. If you tilt the camera forward or backward so that it's no longer perpendicular to the ground, the Yin and Yang won't mate until you return the camera to the perpendicular orientation. You can continue rotating for a full 360 degrees, something that can't be done with the iPhone Pano feature.

When you've reached the end of your pano, tap the screen to finish. The image will be saved according to the settings you've selected for the app.

The app's settings are rather hidden. To access the settings, tap the Profile icon at the bottom right of the app's interface. It's the one that looks like a person. When you tap that, you will see the following screen:

You don't need to sign in or sign up. Instead, click the blue setting's gear icon in the upper right corner to reveal the settings screen as shown below. I have mine set up to copy to camera role when saving and to also copy the original component images to the cameral roll. 

The App for Galileo, is an app that works only with the Motrr Galileo motorized mount for panoramas, which I haven't tried. You don't need to worry about it if you don't have that hardware.

After you've taken your Pano, it will appear in the local gallery which looks like this:

You can save the pano to your camera role as a Video or a Photo. To save, tap on the share icon beneath the image. The share icon is the one with the arrow. When you tap the share icon, you see the share options beneath the image as shown below:

To save, tap the icon that looks like a roll of film and you will see this save screen:

Select Video or Photo and tap the export button. Photos are saved in the camera roll and videos are saved in the video album in the camera roll. Showing a video is how the 360 degree images are shown.

Here are some examples of images taken with the DMD Panorama App.

© Rad A. Drew, DMD Panorama

© Rad A. Drew, DMD Panorama

© Rad A. Drew, DMD Panorama

Try both these apps to see which you prefer, then make some great panos this summer! For tips on processing in SnapSeed, see my SnapSeed tutorials on my YouTube channel.

Thanks for stopping by and, until next time, keep on shooting!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Use Plotograph Pro to Animate Your Images!

Plotograph Pro is wild new software that lets you animate your images in lots of creative ways in just a few minutes. Here are three images that I created today using Plotograph Pro. It's quick, it's easy and it's FUN!

You can animate images that you've created with any camera. The images I used for the animated version below were made with my Fuji or my iPhone.

Save your Plotograph as a GIF to share on your blog or website, and save as an MP4 to post on Instagram and Facebook and other social media.

If you'd like to have some fun creating attention-grabbing images with Plotograph Pro, you can get 10% off with the code RADDREW at the Plotograph Pro site.

Silos, East Central Indiana, © Rad A. Drew
iPhone 7 Plus
Animation by Plotograph Pro

Patricia, Cuban National Ballet, © Rad A. Drew
iPhone 6 Plus
Animation by Plotograph Pro.

Tractor, Palouse in Eastern Washington, © Rad A. Drew
Fuji X-E2
Animation by Plotograph Pro

Friendship Bridge over Raccoon Creek, © Rad A. Drew
iPhone 6 Plus
Animation by Plotograph Pro

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Eyes Are Windows to the Soul

On our recent trip to Cuba our group had the opportunity to capture the wonderful architecture and old cars, but many in the group also took the opportunity to make portraits of the Cuban people. From dancers in the Cuban National Ballet, to men in the street, to boys in a boxing ring, to families in their homes in rural Cuba, we were afforded wonderful portrait opportunities.

The camera I used most on this trip was my iPhone 7 Plus and I was blown away by the performance of the native camera’s Portrait feature with Depth Effect. It allowed me to make beautiful portraits with a narrow depth of field that creates that wonderful soft blur (aka, bokeh) that really makes the subject figural in the image. When processed with SnapSeed’s Face filters, I found the results to be remarkable.

Here are a few of the portraits I captured during the trip with my iPhone 7 Plus and the Portrait mode. You’ll notice that many of the expressions are warm and joyful. These are some of the best portraits I made and occurred when I was able to engage my subject in even a small way. That connection resulted in smiling eyes that show up prominently in the portraits. I made an effort to learn the name of all the people I photographed, but I was not always successful.

I think many of these images support that old maxim that the eyes are the window to the soul.

My next trip to Cuba is November 5 – 13 and we currently have room in our small group. You can learn more here and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Beautiful Young Woman in Casilda
In the Rail Yard, Australia, Cuba

Herman, Engineer, Rail Yard, Australia, Cuba

Juan Miguel, Wood Worker, Australia, Cuba
Beautiful Old Woman at the Callejon de Hamel Festival in Havana

Musician at the Callejon de Hamel Festival in Havana

Man on the Prado

Taxi Driver

Patricia, Cuban National Ballet

Mercedes and Patricia, Cuban National Ballet

Old Man in Casilda

Norbert, Manaca Iznaga

Young Boxer, Old Havana
Matriarch, Casilda

Wife and Chicken Farmer, Manaca Iznaga

Husband and Coffee Grower, Manaca Iznaga

Alberto, 88, Former Contractor, Current Street Sweeper, Trinidad

Friday, January 13, 2017

The New Google Pixel Phone Camera

Editor's Note:

Special thanks to Verizon for providing the demo Pixel for this review. Click here to learn more about Rad Drew, and click here to sign up for the Rad Drew Photography Newsletter.


Recently I was asked by Verizon News to share my thoughts about the camera in Google’s new phone, Pixel. The folks at Verizon sent me the Pixel so I could put it through its paces and share my experience.

Google’s new mobile phone, Pixel, is marketed as a competitor to the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, and many of the reviews seem to show that image quality with the Pixel does rival or even exceed that of the iPhone under some circumstances. I was not disappointed in the Pixel. I found it to be a terrific camera. The general operation of the Pixel’s native camera is very similar to the interface on other devices, and it’s very intuitive. As I compared images under different conditions with images from the phone I know best, the iPhone 7 Plus, I found them comparable, but with some differences.

Are Pixel images better? Not necessarily; just different. The Pixel's performance equaled that of the iPhone 7 Plus in every area except one. Pixel's Blur Mode can't compete with the iPhone 7 Plus for consistently creating great portraits with that beautiful blur, or bokeh, that makes portraits shot in this way so attractive. For portraits with this narrow depth of field blur, the Pixel is adequate, but can’t compare to the quality portraits produced by the iPhone 7 Plus and its dual lens system. When the Portrait feature on the iPhone is selected, the camera switches to its alternate 56mm, f2.8 lens. This lens combined with the iPhone 7 Plus’s Depth Effect element of Portrait mode is currently an unbeatable combination for achieving bokeh for portraits and other types of shots. The Pixel takes a decent portrait, but the iPhone 7 Plus is more consistent, and produces better results.

Another difference between the Pixel and the iPhone using the native standard camera is the difference in white balance. White balance refers to the aspect of digital photography that allows us to create natural-looking color in our images. Images from the iPhone 7 Plus were somewhat cooler (bluer) than those from the Pixel, which are warmer (yellower). The difference is so insignificant that it’s only discernable when images of the same scene taken with each camera are viewed side-by-side. One is not necessarily wrong and the other right, they're just different.

Regardless of which of these white balance outcomes you prefer, if you are willing to do some post-processing, the great app, SnapSeed, which runs on both the iPhone and Android platforms, now has a white balance adjustment feature for achieving the color that looks most natural to you.

You must look very closely at the images below to notice that the Pixel image is warmer than the cooler iPhone image.

Image 1: Pixel
Image 2: iPhone 7 Plus
There’s also been considerable buzz about Pixel lens flares – unattractive light spots and light arcs in an image – occurring when shooting into the sun. In image comparisons between the iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel below, I shot into the sun with both cameras to see if I could produce lens flares. It’s important to note that any camera shooting into the sun is likely to create lens flares because that’s just what happens as light encounters any lens system directly. The iPhone image below actually showed more significant flaring than the Pixel. But, in my opinion, this is not a defect because it is something that one would expect to occur when shooting into the sun with almost any lens. The fact that both cameras produced lens flares under these conditions supports that. I think it’s an unfair criticism of the Pixel.

In comparing the images below, the lens flares appear as green spots in both images. The iPhone image also has a crescent-shaped lens flare just left of center.

Image 3: Pixel
Image 4: iPhone 7 Plus
The Pano feature in both the iPhone and the Pixel is very good and produces comparable results. Although they have different methods of capturing the image, both features are relatively intuitive and produce sharp, color-correct panoramas. It took me a while to warm to the Pixel’s capture method (which involves centering a blue dot in a circle on the screen until the shutter fires) but once I did, I came to appreciate it for its simplicity.

On these panoramas, I intentionally shot into the sun again to see if either camera would produce lens flares. Both cameras did, but the iPhone produced two spots while the Pixel only one. And as I said before, it's an unfair criticism of the Pixel, as any camera when shooting into the sun is likely to produce lens flares.

Image 5: Pixel Pano
Image 6: iPhone 7 Plus Pano

Pixel's Lens Blur Mode Falls Short

One feature of the Pixel that failed to measure up is its Lens Blur mode, which is marketed as its portrait mode, loosely comparable to the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode with Depth Effect.

These features – the Lens Blur on the Pixel, and the Portrait mode on the iPhone – are intended to create that wonderful blur or, as it’s called, bokeh, that is produced when only a narrow part of the image is in focus. This is referred to as having a narrow depth of field in photography lingo. When done right, the subject in a portrait appears sharp while the foreground and background can be slightly blurry. The features on both cameras can produce decent results, but I found the Portrait mode with Depth Effect on the iPhone 7 Plus produced higher quality results with greater consistency.

Lens Blur on the Pixel sometimes had a hard time determining what was to be in focus and what should be blurred. Although the iPhone was more consistent, it did require one to be within about eight feet of the subject to activate the Depth Effect, and sometimes it didn’t work even within that range without resetting by switching to another camera mode and then back to the Portrait mode.

From approximately the same distance, the results with each camera are very different. In the comparison below, the iPhone clearly defines the subject and keeps it sharp while blurring the background. The Pixel image blurs part of the subject’s hat, confusing it with the background.

Because of the dual lens system, the iPhone 7 Plus consistently produces superior portraits. This is really not a fair comparison because the technology of the two phones is not comparable. When the iPhone Portrait mode is selected in the native camera, the camera switches to its 56mm, f2.8 lens and engages the Depth Effect feature, which not only allows for a beautiful blur around the subject, but due to the longer lens (56mm) also makes the subject much larger in the frame.

Although the Pixel can produce a great blur effect, one has to get uncomfortably close to the subject to get a portrait that fills the frame like the iPhone 7 Plus. While the iPhone had no difficulty recognizing the face or other subject in a portrait, the Pixel camera didn’t always know where the blur should stop and start. In image 7 the subject’s hat is blurred when it shouldn’t be. Similarly, in the Pixel portraits taken on the bridge the camera wouldn’t readily differentiate between the subject and the background. It repeatedly blurred the subject, leaving the background in focus. It took several attempts before the camera focused on the person and blurred the background instead of the other way around.

Image 7: Pixel Blur Mode
Image 8: iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode with Depth Effect
In the first Pixel shot below (Image 9), the camera focused on the correct spot, but only after several attempts. It wanted to focus on the background, blurring the subject, as shown in the second image. The iPhone 7 Plus (Image 11) created a beautiful portrait repeatedly without fail.

Image 9: Pixel Blur Mode
Image 10: Pixel Blur Mode
Image 11: iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode with Depth Effect

Pixel Does Well in Low Light

Night captures are challenging with any mobile phone, so I was very curious to see how the Pixel managed night shots. Overall, the Pixel performed very well, but the iPhone produced a slightly sharper image when enlarged. Still, if not looking at them side-by-side, there’s no noticeable difference in color or noise.

Image 12: Pixel at Night

Image 13: iPhone 7 Plus at Night

Image 14: Pixel at Night

Image 15: iPhone 7 Plus at Night

Pixel's Photo Sphere Mode 
Creates Fun 360 Pano

The PhotoSphere is a fun feature unique to Pixel’s native camera that allows you to take a 360 degree panoramic image of your surroundings. Although there are camera apps you can purchase that will enable the iPhone to create an image like this (360 Panorama by Occipital, Inc. is one), the Pixel is one of the few phones that has this feature built in. It produces very wide and wildly distorted images, which are a lot of fun.

Image 16: Pixel Photo Sphere
So, what’s the best technique for a good Photo Sphere result? Follow this process:
  1. Hold the camera in a vertical position close to you at eye level.
  2. Rotate smoothly in a circle, waiting for the shutter to fire each time the focus circle fills. Be sure not to vary the distance between your body and the camera as you rotate.
  3. Tilt the camera up and repeat step two.
  4. Tilt the camera down and repeat step two.
  5. Press the check mark to process and save your image.
The Photo Sphere image above is right out of the Pixel camera with no editing. The image below I edited on the Pixel phone using the app, SnapSeed, to show how any image can be improved with minimal post-processing. The SnapSeed app runs on Android and IOS devices and it’s free.

Image 17: Pixel Photo Sphere with SnapSeed Edits

Pixel Pros and Cons
Double click power button to quickly opens camera
No home button takes some getting used to.
Very fast, no shutter lag
Not water proof
Multiple grids to choose from to aid in composition, and grids can be selected and changed from the camera interface, instead of only through the phone settings like the iPhone, which is annoying.
Limited quality post-processing apps
Can produce a greater than 180 degree pano
No high quality accessory lenses available

Lens Blur mode produces adequate portraits for the persistent photographer
Lens Blur is difficult to control; often fails to blur correct part of image. It can’t compete with the iPhone’s 56mm, f2.8 portrait lens and the built in Depth Effect feature.
Very sharp images, especially when taken in bright light

Built in Photo Sphere feature is lots of fun

Charges quickly

A Final Clarifying Word

I need to confess that I’ve been an iPhone proponent since getting my first iPhone 4 in 2010. Since then, we’ve all watched the mobile phone camera wars as people move snugly into one camp or the other. Just as we have those who favor a Chevy over a Ford, we have those who favor the Android over the Apple operating system. And, just like the Chevy and Ford will get you where you want to go, so will the Android and the IOS devices. Among the flagship phones in any line today, the camera differences that lead us to purchase one phone over another are more personal preferences than real and noticeable differences in image quality.

For most of the things an average mobile phone shooter will want to achieve like great vacation shots, family photos, and images to be shared on social media, any of the flagship mobile devices will do just fine. They are all remarkable!

But if you’re looking for a great portrait camera, and, particularly, if you want to post-process extensively to create fine art, then you are going to want a phone for which there is a boatload of quality apps. I know I’m biased toward the iPhone, but when I look for Android apps that rival apps for the iPhone, I’m don't find them. Apps like Camera +, Image Blender, Stackables, Formulas, Mextures, and a host of others which are bread-and-butter iPhone apps for creatives don’t run in the Android realm and I’ve found no alternative Android apps that equal them.

If you’re looking for a camera that will take great photographs and do a decent job with portraits, then you can’t go wrong with the Pixel (or the Samsung, or the iPhone). But, if you’re intending to create fine art, I believe the iPhone is the best choice for the simple reason that you’ll have more quality apps for post-processing and transforming your image into something beyond the straight photograph.

For the mobile photography I do, it’s very rare that I don’t do some processing of the image with other apps after taking the photo, or even take the photo with apps other than the native camera that comes in the phone, so, frankly, the quality of the image right out of the phone is not the most important thing for me. Regardless of the phone these days, you’re most likely going to have to squint and look pretty hard to see any significant quality differences in the images they produce.

In addition to finding apps that will allow me to capture, edit and stylize to my heart’s content, it’s also important to me to be able find quality attachable lenses that allow me to get closer to my subject, get wider angle shots, and macro shots. To date, I’ve yet to see anyone making a decent accessory lens for any Android phone, while lenses by Olloclip and Moment do a very good job for a range of iPhone cameras.

These are the main reasons that no Android phone to date – regardless of its camera quality – has attracted my attention; the Android phones simply can’t compete with the iPhone for the number of high quality apps available for post processing, and the availability of quality accessory lenses.

Fortunately for Android phones users, some of the best apps for post processing, such as SnapSeed, PS Express, and Lightroom, are available for and run on the Android platform. But many other leading stylizing apps that are essential in the work I do are simply not available (yet) for the Android phones.

For photographers interested in manipulating images after capturing them, here is a list of apps that work for both Android and IOS devices.

Apps for Android and IOS Devices

SnapSeed (Free)
Editing, Cropping, Stylizing and more
PS Express (Free)
Editing, stylizing, noise reduction
Handy Photo
General purpose app, great tools for removing telephone wires, etc.
Vintage Scene
Stylizing to look line old photos
Portrait Painter
Painterly look, cartoons, and smoothing
Photo Studio
Best app for removing wires, spots, and other unwanted items from image.
Jixi Pix apps
Makers of Vintage Scene and Portrait Painter make a host of stylizing apps to explore