Rad A. Drew Photography: 2018

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Photographing on the Tidal Flats on Cape Cod

Brewster Tidal Flats near Brewster, Cape Cod
Fuji X-T2, 10-24mm
Raw file processed in Topaz Studio

Last week, with co-leader, John Barclay, I had the pleasure of leading a talented group of photographers as we photographed beautiful locations on Cape Cod from Chatham to Provincetown.

As is customary, John and I arrived a few days early to scout locations and prepare for the workshop. One of our first stops was to visit our friend, the remarkable photographer, Steve Koppel. Steve lives in a beautiful home, his backyard the sea near Brewster. At low tide, the water recedes, allowing one to walk out on the area known as the "tidal flats." These sand flats are exposed at low tide and one can walk our for a miles.

Out about a mile and looking back to the high tide shoreline.
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed on iPhone in SnapSeed
When the water recedes, it leaves firm sand to walk on. What is left is a tapestry of ripples in the sand made by the sea and wind, tufts of sea grass (which in the fall turns a rich gold, tinged with remnants of green), and pools of sea water that reflect an often extraordinary, cloud-filled sky. The colors, the patterns, the textures, and the light are something about which photographers dream!

On the day John, Steve and I walked out on the tidal flats – I for the first time – it was about 45 degrees with 40+ mile per hour winds. To say the least, it was brutally cold! We were frozen, and I, with the wrong kind of boots, had wet feet, too. But the photographic opportunities were so incredible, none of us stopped making images! We jumped up and down from the cold, we cursed the wind, we rubbed our hands together, and then, we set up our tripod for another glorious image!

Brewster Tidal Flats, Cape Cod
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed with SnapSeed and Enlight
We remained on the flats for about two hours until the sun made a grand exit in one of the most crimson sunsets I've ever witnessed. Cold, wet, and frozen to the core by the relentless wind, I started back to the car at least three times before sunset, but I never made it more than a few feet before being stopped in my tracks by another miraculous show of light through clouds, illuminating a pattern in the sand. I had to stop and photograph again, cold be damned!

The next day, I purchased a pair of Muck Boots, specifically designed to keep feet warm and dry, and provide firm footing on the flats. Throughout the week we returned two times. On the first visit with our group, the conditions were similar to what I described above, except we had the added pleasure of intermittent rain, that, when blown by 40 mile per hour winds, felt like needles penetrating any exposed skin! But, our second night out, the conditions were wonderful; warmer temps, no rain, and little wind. Again, we spent nearly two hours on these flats with more photos ops than we knew what to do with.

Brewster Tidal Flats
Fuji X-T1, Converted to Infrared
Processed in Topaz Studio

10 Tips for Making Photos on the Tidal Flats
  1. Go at low tide, preferably when the tide is going out. (If you're on the flats when the tide is coming in be very mindful that your path back to shore doesn't get cut off by the rising tide. Not good!)
  2. Go when the sun is lower in the sky. We went a couple of hours before sunset.
  3. If the conditions are right for an infrared camera (blue sky with clouds, bright sun, green seagrass), you might choose to go in the middle of the day.
  4. Use a tripod and a cable release (or your camera's timer). Especially if there's wind, you'll want to shoot fast enough to stop the motion of water or grasses being blown about. I found that for most of the time, I had my Fuji X-T2 set to ISO 400, f/8 to f/16, with a shutter speed of 125 to 500 depending on the light.
  5. I prefer a wide angle lens, especially, if there are cloud-filled skies. To me, the tidal flats scream for wide angle. I used a 10-24 on my Fuji which translates to a 15-36mm with a full sensor camera.
  6. If the sun is bright and there's a blue sky, you'll be tempted to use a polarizer, but be careful using a polarizer on a wide angle lens. It's easy to over-polarize and get striations in the sky. If you do use a polarizer, rotate it until you reach the darkest effect, then dial it back a bit.
  7. Get low. Shadows will appear longer and often you'll find reflections at low angles that you won't see when upright.
  8. Use your iPhone! Some of the images in this article were made with the iPhone XS Max using the native camera. Some I also made with the Lightroom CC app set to RAW, or HDR RAW. The new Smart HDR on the XS Max did a remarkable job, even when shooting into the sun. Regardless of the iPhone you're using, expose for the highlights in the image by tapping on the brightest part of the image before you press the shutter button. Even if the shadow areas appear too dark, it's better to expose for the highlights and lift the shadows in SnapSeed (or other processing software) later.
  9. Dressing for the weather goes without saying, but, the one thing you will want to have if you are out in colder weather, is a pair of boots or overshoes that will keep your feet warm and dry. You'll want something that comes to just below your knee and that you can push your pant legs into. This will keep you warm and dry while you to wade through pools or rivulets up to about a foot deep. I bought a pair of the Original Muck Boots. They set me back about $100, but it is hands down, the best money I've ever spent on foot wear. Another style that travels better are Neos Overshoes. These go over your shoes and have a soft top, making them easier to pack into a suitcase.
  10. Don't leave too soon! Especially if you're cold, it's tempting to leave as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, but don't go yet! Sometimes the best skies occur 5 to 15 minutes after sunset.
Sunset at Paines Creek, Cape Cod
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed in SnapSeed
This was my forth time co-leading a trip on Cape Cod and I'm already planning a return for next year. If you would like to be added to my early notification list once I've determined a date, email me HERE, and put Cape Cod 2019 in the subject line. You'll have the opportunity to register before I announce the workshop publicly.

Thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep on creating!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Are the New iPhones Worthy of all the Hoopla?

iPhone XS Max, Smart HDR, SnapSeed

When news of the new iPhones – the XS Max, XS, and XR – was announced last month, I wasn’t all that excited. Compared with previous years, there didn’t seem to be that much to get excited about and the dial seemed to be turned way down on the hype.

But, as I slowly learned more about these phones, especially the XS and the XS Max, I began to pay closer attention. (I quickly ruled out the iPhone XR since it doesn’t have the dual lenses. If upgrading, I want the capabilities that come with a dual lens system!)

The devices that caught my attention and, more importantly, captured my imagination, are the iPhone XS and the XS Max. They are almost identical except that the XS Max is larger and reportedly has better battery life. (I can’t attest to the XS Max having longer battery life than the XS, but it is better than the iPhone X that I’ve shot with for the past year.)

iPhone XS Max, partial Pano, Finished in SnapSeed

Having had the 6 Plus and the 7 Plus models, the first of the larger size iPhones, I knew size would be important to me. The 6 Plus and 7 Plus, although I liked the larger screen size, were just too large for me; put them in a case, especially something like a Mophie case for extended battery life, and it was like carrying a brick!

The larger size of the XS Max is somewhere between the size of the iPhone 7 Plus and the smaller iPhone X. That middle ground is the best of both worlds: a larger screen for aging eyes and still small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.

Aside from the physical size of the phone, the features that really sold me on the XS Max are:
  1. Its extended battery life (It’s the best of any iPhone yet!)
  2. Its lightning fast A12 Bionic Processor
  3. The new Smart HDR system
  4. Advances in the Portrait feature with depth-of-field control both before and after taking the shot.
  5. And let’s not forget the option for 512GB of storage space! (I remember when the 5.25 floppy disk held only 160 KB on each side!) Why is 512 GB attractive? If you’re shooting video or shooting more RAW images which can be huge, this extra space is very useful.
Within the first day of using the XS Max, I noticed the improvements in battery life, and I noticed that opening apps and processing images was so much faster than with the X!

iPhone XS Max, Smart HDR, finished in SnapSeed

Portrait Mode and Depth Effect

But, it was the native camera’s Portrait Mode with depth effect that got me excited! The dual lens camera that was first introduced with the iPhone 7 Plus, is, IMHO, the most significant advancement in mobile cameras that we’ve seen in years, and Apple has steadily improved on that original 7 Plus with advancements in the 8 Plus, then the X, and now the XS phones. With the XS and XS Max, it’s taken another step toward higher quality.

So, what’s the big deal about the dual lens system? Well, until the introduction of the dual lens cameras, creating a narrow depth of field (where only a select segment of the image, such as a face or a flower, is in focus) was not possible. That desirable look, especially for portraits, was something that could only be done with traditional cameras that allow you to open the aperture. With the introduction of the dual lens system, the iPhone could now focus on a face (or other subject), while creating a beautiful, soft background and foreground (aka, “bokeh”), depending on the focal point.

The iPhone X improved on this system making it possible to select various lighting styles when taking the shot and, remarkably, to change the selection after taking the shot.

The iPhone XS cameras do all these things, but, they've raised the bar even farther. The XS phones also have the ability not only to create a narrow depth-of-field and make lighting choices, but also to determine how blurry to make the blurred parts of the image. Using a control that simulates the f-stops on a traditional camera, the XS cameras let us choose a wide-open shutter (f/1.4 for a very blurry background), or a smaller aperture (f/16, for an image that is sharp from the foreground through the background). And, if that’s not enough, we can make these changes to the blur after the photo has been made!

The image below shows three screen shots of a Portrait image being edited on the iPhone XS Max. 

The image on the left has the f-stop set to f/16 and the entire image, foreground through background, is in focus.

The center image has the f-stop set to f/4.5 and the sign is sharp while the background is slightly out of focus.

In the image on the right, the f/stop is set to f/1.4 and the sign is sharp while the background is very soft and out of focus.

Here's an example using the Portrait feature on an actual portrait. In this case, I chose an f/stop of f/2.8 for a great background blur. 

iPhone XS Max, Portrait Mode, f/2.8, finished in SnapSeed

And, this feature, although it works great for portraits, is not just for portraits. Try it on flowers or other items that you want to isolate in an image.

iPhone XS Max, Portrait Mode, f/1.4, finished in SnapSeed

iPhone XS Max, Portrait Mode, F/16, Stage Light Mono

Smart HDR

Add to these capabilities one more great feature: Smart HDR, and the iPhone XS phones are looking pretty good!

HDR, or “high dynamic range” photography, has been around since the early digital days, but back then it was strictly the domain of the most technical of photographers. Simply put, it involves taking two or more photos of the exact same scene but with different light readings, then combining these two images for a result with a superior exposure throughout both the shadows and the bright areas of the image.

Not long after the introduction of the iPhone, app developers created apps that allowed iPhone users to create HDR images with the click of a button. HDR was no longer difficult or complicated, and thus, became a common way for everyone to create a very well exposed image even when there are very bright and very dark areas in the scene.

The two examples below show the fundamental concept of HDR. There are two images, one taken so the light areas are well exposed and the shadows are too dark, and another where the shadows are well exposed but the bright areas are too bright or “blown out.” The third image in each group shows what happens when the two images are combined, resulting in the best exposure for both bright and dark areas in one image.

The image on the left has no detail in the bright area outside the greenhouse, while the flowers are nicely exposed. The second image is exposed well for the blue sky outside the greenhouse, but the flowers in the foreground are too dark. The image on the right is the result of combining the two previous images, producing a well exposed image with the highlights recovered and more detail in the flowers and in the shadow areas.

The image on the left is exposed well for the bright area at the end of the hallway, but the wall on the right is in shadow. The second image is exposed well for the colorful tile walls, but the area at the end of the hallway is too bright and lacks detail. The image on the right is the result of combining the two previous images, producing a well exposed image with the highlights recovered and more detail at the end of the hall, and in the shadow areas.

All this today is known as “computational photography,” and as phones have become more technologically advanced and their computing power enhanced, they now have the ability to perform trillions (that’s not a typo!) of computations to create the final image.

iPhone XS Max, Partial Pano, finished in SnapSeed

iPhone XS Max, Smart HDR, finished in SnapSeed

Smart HDR takes advantage of this computing power made possible by the new A12 Bionic processor to create remarkable HDR images. Where it really struts its stuff, is when making an image of a moving subject in a high-contrast scene. With past HDR, shooting moving subjects often created ghosting or blur because there’s movement between the shots. With this high-tech computing power, the camera is able to eliminate shutter lag and freeze motion even while producing an HDR result without shadow or blur.

The images of the skateboarders below are sharp with no motion blur and they are both in mid-air or in motion, moving very fast. I'm looking forward to using Smart HDR more, but from what I can see with these shots, it does great job and is markedly improved over the iPhone X.

iPhone XS Max, Smart HDR

iPhone XS Max, Smart HDRs

I’ve really enjoyed these enhancements offered in the new XS iPhones, and the larger size of the iPhone XS Max has been a great choice for me. 

All that said, this may be a good time to remind ourselves that the creative side of photography is not about the camera. We don’t need the latest and best to continue to do creative work. And, I think, regardless which camera you use today, they are all so close in what they can do that much of what we choose boils down to personal preference.

My favorite on-line photography resource, Luminous Landscape, (https://luminous-landscape.com ) recently featured a great video by photographer, Ted Forbes, A Fun Chat with Ted, in which he talks about working within limitations. You can check it out here: https://luminous-landscape.com/ted-forbes-working-within-limitations/. (Note: Luminous Landscape is a $12 per year subscription site, totally worth the $1 a month! Non-subscribers can read one article per day without subscribing.)

An affordable alternative for Bokeh: Focos by Light-field Camera, Xiaodong Wang (iPhone only)

If you’re not ready to make the commitment to one of the new XS phones, and you currently have one of the other dual lens phones like the 7 Plus, 8 Plus, or X, you’ll be interested to know that you can achieve some of the same depth-of-field results with software available in the app Focos. This remarkable app will use your dual lens cameras to capture images, then allows for some of the same depth-of-field and blur adjustment found on the XS iPhones.

Here’s an example of what is possible. See the screen shots of the Focos interface below. The image on the left shows the image with the f/stop set to f/20. Notice that the entire image from the shoes in the foreground to the wall in the background is in focus.

Focos Camera Interface, left, f/20, all in focus; 
right, f/1.4, shoes in foreground in focus, all else blurred

The image on the right has the f-stop dialed to f/1.4. In this image, the shoes in the foreground are sharp, while the background is quite blurred. Furthermore, you can reassign a focal point in the edit mode by tapping anywhere on the screen, even after taking the shot. Focos also shows the image in 3D and provides additional depth filters. Watch for a tutorial on this great app in a future Rad Drew Photography Newsletter!

Whether you’re ready for an upgrade, or choose to continue to shoot within the limitations of your current tools, remember: It’s not about the camera! The most important part of any camera is that loose nut behind the lens! Whether upgrading or staying with what you have, there are options that let you explore some new ways to make photographs.

A Word about my Preference for the iPhone

The iPhone 4 in 2010 was my first smart phone and I didn’t even know it had a camera in it until after buying it. Since that first phone, I’ve shot with nearly every iPhone made. Today, the flagship phones from all the top developers are all extremely good and the differences are often so minuscule that it’s not valid to claim one is “better” than the other – although we often hear those claims. Today’s phones are essentially different in ways that make us choose what we like and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My choice of iPhone is not necessarily because I believe it is better than its competitors. I don’t! I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with the Samsung S9 and the Google Pixel, and I find them both to have extraordinary cameras.

So why do I stick with and continue to advocate for the iPhone as a mobile camera choice? Some might argue that it’s because of the familiarity I now have with it after eight years of iPhones, and there’s probably some truth to that. But, the main reason I’ve stayed with the iPhone is because of the number and quality of post-processing apps and camera apps available for it that simply aren’t available for android phones.

That is changing, and rapidly. Today we have camera apps like Lightroom CC that allow us to shoot and process RAW files on both iPhone and android, and we have the powerful editing apps, SnapSeed and PS Express, both of which offer great editing and stylizing options, and run on both platforms.

There will come a time when the available tools for each operating system will either be the same or the differences simply will not matter anymore. Until that time, though, I’ll likely stick with the iPhone. I’m very happy with it and the tools available. If you’re an android user, you might appreciate my article in Luminous Landscape, Favorite Mobile Photography Apps that Run on Both iPhone and Android Devices

Thanks for reading and until next time, keep on shooting!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Featured Photographer: Turkish iPhone Artist, Mehmet Omur

Please join me in acknowledging my friend and iPhone Photographer, Mehmet Omur.

Mehmet and I met in the south of France in 2016 when I led a photography workshop there. He and his wife, Emel, were welcome participants on this workshop, and Mehmet was very excited about mobile photography and eager to explore as many facets of it as he could.

© Sukru Mehmet Omur
On many mornings while in France, Mehmet and I walked the fields surrounding the farmhouse where we stayed while fellow participants chose to sleep in. On these mornings, we photographed the beautiful countryside in the fog and morning light, and got to know each other.

Mehmet recently wrote me,

Today, I am very proud to announce to you the publication of my brand new book about our favourite subject, mobile photography. This is my new book called Shoot, Edit, Share; iPhone Photography. It’s in Turkish and sold in Turkey. I can say that your workshop in Larnagol-Toulouse France two years ago helped me so much to achieve this difficult task. But it was also my New Year's resolution for Joanne Carter’s TheAppWhisperer.

So I have to thank you first for this workshop where I learned a lot.

As you know I sold all my full frame DSLR cameras and decided to go my photographic way with my iPhone. Why iPhone and not another smartphone?

iPhone has all new technologies on it and I don’t worry about the technical settings before shooting, and that helps me to concentrate on my framing, color distribution, contrast, lighting, and the “feeling” of the environment. The decisive moment of Henry Cartier-Bresson is very important to me. All that the iPhone offers, is so good for an advanced amateur photographer like me.

Here is the preface of my book:

"Use your mobile phone camera, have fun; Enhance your photography, share your artefacts with Instagram and Facebook. Smart phones have changed the rules of the game in the world of photography with their small size, presence at all times, and quality of the lens.

They are quick and simple to work with, take beautiful photos, can move photos to other dimensions through applications, and we can access hundreds of thousands of them through social networks like Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Tumblr. This book can help you use your mobile camera more efficiently and take the best pictures of your life with it.

If there are those who want to go further, they will also open the doors of “mobile art” with their applications. The magic is based on the iPhone camera, but the features it deals with are common to all mobile phones. For this reason, those who do not have an iPhone phone can also benefit from this book.”

Beyond the quality and advanced technology of the iPhone camera it allows me to create mobile art with the help of many applications that I can find on the Apple store. I can share them on my social media accounts. Now I moderate with my mobile artists friends many Facebook mobile artistry and iPhone photography groups. I also organize iPhone photography and mobile artistry workshops in İstanbul and in Paris. 

Soon we will with Andrea Bigiarini, founder of NEM NewEraMuseum, for an exhibition during the Paris-Photo weekend this November. It’s on a great theme, “Forced Captivity.”

Here is the link (http://neweramuseum.org/forced-captivity-exhibition-paris/) where you can learn more about the Forced Captivity Exhibit in Paris. 

Sukru Mehmet Omur (Turkey)
Sukru Mehmet Omur is an Ear, Nose, Throat surgeon (ENT), who is now working as a full time mobile photographer and artist. He is also a writer focusing on photography and wine. Originally from Turkey, he and his wife, Emel, now reside in Paris. He graduated from CE3P images school in Paris and his mobile works as an artist have been exhibited in Paris, Indianapolis, Florence, and Istanbul. Mehmet is managing 4 mobile artistry groups, 4 photography groups and 2 photography pages in Facebook and his book, Shoot, Edit, Share: iPhone Photography, recently was published in 2018.

Here is the cover of Mehmet's recently published book, which is in the Turkish language and sold in Turkey.

Mehmet was gracious enough to answer some questions about his writing, teaching and photography.

RAD: You mention photographer Henry Cartier Bresson. How has he influenced your work? Are there other photographers who influence and inspire you?

Mehmet: I believe every photographer who is interested in history of photography and photographic philosophy, knows and admires him like me. He is the “eye of the century.” His approach to “birth of the moment” and his “decisive moment” impressed me. Sure I am influenced by him.

Here are some others who influence me:

Robert Capa, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Sebastiao Salgado, Man Ray, Din McCullin, Diane Arbus, and James Nachtwey.

RAD: I see from your images on social media sites that you create many abstracts. What do you find satisfying about creating abstract work?

Mehmet: I Love creating abstract works because I love forms. Abstracts give me much more freedom. They allow me to break the rules. The shapes, lines, colors are an excellent way for imagination to create.

© Abstract, Sukru Mehmet Omur

RAD: What are the apps you use most? Among them do you have a favorite?

Mehmet: These are some of my most frequently used apps:
  1. Imaengine for lines and shapes
  2. iColorama for styles, effects (icolorama is my favorite!)
  3. Glaze for painting filters
  4. Hipstamatic as a camera
  5. Always SnapSeed
  6. And sometimes Remix, Tangent, Matter and Fragment
© Sukru Mehmet Omur

RAD: List some of what readers will learn from your book. What are some of the topics you address?

Mehmet: They can learn how to use their iPhone's basic buttons and sliders. Basic photography rules and some essential photographic subjects.

The essentiel topics; iPhone camera, Basic rules of photography and travel photography, portrait photography, architecture, night and street moments, double exposure, etc.

© Sukru Mehmet Omur

RAD: I see that your image of the sheep in France took first place in the Nature category in the prestigious 2018 IPPAWARDS competition. Can you share what this image and the award mean to you?

© Sukru Mehmet Omur (Turkey)
First Place, Nature category

Mehmet: IPPA are the most important awards for the iPhone photography field. I am proud to get the first place with that sheep image. Maybe you remember that morning in Larnagol-Toulouse. We were together early in the morning We went for a walk at dawn to the foggy fields. The place was very quite and looked like heaven. Suddenly I saw a sheep contemplating others. The passage was divine. I took many pictures and chose one.

RAD: I do remember that morning and others when we were the only early risers! 

To view more of Mehmet's work, visit the following sites:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Flypaper Textures for Mobile and Traditional Photography

If you enjoy processing your images to have a sense of mood and nostalgia, or a vintage feel, one of the best ways to give them that effect is by applying textures.

© Rad A. Drew, Fuji X-E2
Processed in Topaz Studio Texture Effects
with imported Flypaper Textures
Some of my favorites are made by FlyPaper Textures and can be purchased here.

Use the discount code RAD (yep, just RADfor a 15% discount on FlyPaper products.

Textures are simply image files that you combine with your photo using software on your desktop computer or your mobile device. The software you use to blend the texture with your photo will allow you to choose various blend modes and opacities that let you achieve the look you're going for.

The nice thing about textures is that because they are merely image files that you combine with your photos, you can use them on your mobile device or with your desktop software. In this blog post, I describe several ways to use FlyPaper Textures software on your mobile devices and on your desktop.

Using Flypaper Textures with an iPhone or Android Device

I use Flypaper textures with my iPhone, but you can apply a similar process for android phones. Start by creating an album on your phone in your camera roll and name it so you can find it easily. My album is called FlyPaper Textures. Now, move the FlyPaper textures that you purchased (and which are probably on your computer) to this album on your phone so you can access them from there. iPhone users can do this most easily with AirDrop.

© Rad A. Drew
iPhone 6 Plus
Flypaper Texture added with Image Blender

To blend the textures with my image, I use an app called Image Blender by JHND i Sverige AB. This app works only on the iPhone. Another app, Superimpose, by Pankaj Goswami, works on both iPhone and Android phones. I prefer Image Blender for it's simplicity, but Superimpose is great, too. I'll be describing my process with Image Blender here.

Load your image into the blending app of your choice. In Image Blender, you'll load your photo on the left and the texture on the right.

Tips for Use with Image Blender:

  1. Control the opacity of the blend with the slider between the two images. 
  2. Experiment with different blend modes for various looks. 
  3. Use the Arrange feature of Image Blender to size or rotate the texture for different looks.
  4. Use Image Blender's masking feature if you need to remove some of the texture from parts of the image for a better look.

To Use on an iPhone with the App Distressed FX

The app, Distressed FX by We Are Here, works only on the iPhone. It comes with it's own textures and filters, but it has a custom option that allows you to add a texture of your choice. I use it to load my Flypaper textures! I this way, I can use all the great features that are part of Distressed FX, but I can have a filter that is not a common choice for every other user. See my How I Did It!™ video tutorial, Create Captivating Images with Distressed FX! on you YouTube Channel.

© Rad A. Drew
Distressed FX Custom Texture
Flypaper Texture

Importing Flypaper Textures to Texture Effects in Topaz Studio on your Mac or PC

© Rad A. Drew
Fuji X-E2
Processed in Topaz Studio Texture Effects
with imported Flypaper Textures
Once you've purchased your Flypaper Textures, follow these steps to load them into Topaz Studio.
  1. Launch Topaz Studio.
  2. Make sure you’ve purchased the Texture Adjustment and it appears in the Adjustments list. (Get it here if you don't already have it: http://bit.ly/2LH04EP_RAD_Topaz; Use RAD15 for a 15% discount on Topaz products!)
  3. Load an image.
  4. Select Texture from the Adjustments list on the right of the Topaz Studio Interface.
  5. Click the icon of the square with an arrow in it next to the Category pick list . This is the Open Texture/Category Manager.
  6. Click Add Category.
  7. Create and type in a name for your new texture category (e.g., FlyPaper Texture Grunge).
  8. Select your new category name from the Categories List.
  9. Click the Import button.
  10. Navigate to the folder of textures you wish to add.
  11. Select the texture files you wish to import and click Open. The selected textures will now appear in your new category.
  12. Click Close.
Now you can return to the Texture adjustment, select your new category, and the textures you just uploaded will appear for selection and application to your images.

Using FlyPaper Textures with Topaz ReMask

Topaz Remask is a Plug-in that I launch from Topaz Studio. It allows you to mask out a background around a subject and replace that background with another image. I replace backgrounds with textures, like FlyPaper Textures. The recording of my latest Topaz Webinar on using Topaz Remask shows how to use textures as a background.

© Rad A. Drew
Fuji X-T2
Processed in Topaz Studio Topaz Remax
with imported Flypaper Textures
I hope these tips are helpful in getting you into textures! Questions or comments? Email me here

Until next time, keep on shooting!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Featured iPhone App: Provoke

Palouse Truck, 6-In-One Lens system, FishEye
Provoke Camera
Processed in SnapSeed
Every now and then a new camera app surfaces and gets my attention. The Provoke Camera by Toshihiko Tambo is one such app. 

Images made with the camera app have a high contrast, retro look that really works well for certain subjects like street photography, landscapes, and old stuff.

Provoke captures images replicating various retro black and white film types from the good ol' days. If you shot film, you'll recognize film types like HPAN and X800. There are also some color settings for films with very various contrasts and hues, but for me, the fun of Provoke is in its black and white films.

Looking at the right of the screen below, you have a button to turn flash to ON, OFF, or AUTO. I usually leave it off.

Beneath the flash switch is a switch to choose between 35 mm (3:2 aspect ration) and 126 (square aspect ratio), your choice.

Beneath that is the read out for exposure compensation. Tap the number and the graduated slider appears. Slide you finger up and down on the slider to make brighten or darken the exposure.

I like the large red shutter button that makes it easy while doing street photography to always hit the button while looking at your subject.

The film type selected appears beneath the shutter button where it says X800 in the image above. Tap X800 and the list of thumbnails appears across the bottom where you tap to select your film choice.

The question mark will bring up a job aid showing all the buttons on the interface.

In the upper left corner of the of the image (these appear in the upper right in the vertical orientation), is a setting wheel, the switch for reversing the camera for a selfie, and the button for switching between lenses on the dual lens cameras like the iPhone 8+ and the iPhone X. This is one of my gripes with the interface; these three buttons are very difficult to see, even in the best of light situations. You have to blindly try to hit these switches and it leads to a lot of fumbling around.

Tap on the screen with two fingers, and you get a green square and a circle to select a focal point and an exposure point in your scene.

Another feature of the app is that you can open and edit images taken with Provoke or other camera apps. So, you can make an image with Provoke using one type of film, save it, and then reopen it and save it as another film type. And, you can do this with any image, not just Provoke images.

To edit images in Provoke, open the app and tap on the image thumbnail at the bottom of the column beneath the red shutter button (see image above). Your camera roll appears.

Select the image you want to edit from the camera role and it will appear in Provoke's edit mode like this:

Tap the Magic Wand icon on the bottom right and the black and white film choices appear for selection as shown below.

Why the color options don't appear is a mystery to me, but I don't like the color options much anyway!

Select the film choice. In the image below, I've selected X800 and the image has changed to black and white.

To save the edited imaged to the camera role, tap the download icon. The image of the church below was taken with the iPhone X native camera. It was first processed using SnapSeed and Enlight for a painterly effect before applying the X800 film effect.

I like the results I get with this little camera app! Here are just a couple of examples of images. Give it try yourself and see what you come up with.

Hair Cut and a Shave, Havana
iPhone Camera, B&W Film added in Provoke
Processed in SnapSeed

Provoke Camera, iPhone X
Processed in SnapSeed

Canola Field in the Palouse
Provoke Camera
Processed in SnapSeed

Retired Work Trucks in The Palouse
Provoke Camera
Processed in SnapSeed
Lanconing Silk Mill
Provoke Camera App, no post processing
Cables and Belts, Lanconing Silk Mill
Provoke Camera App, no post processing
I enjoy shooting infrared with my big boy camera and I'm often asked by iPhone photographers if I know of an app that will produce an IR image. Although some apps have what they call IR filters, they aren't very good and don't really replicate the IR look.

Provoke comes the closest to having an IR look of any app I've found. The black and white for most of the film selections is very high contrast and blue skies tend to go black, almost like an infrared image does.

Abandoned House in the Palouse
Provoke Camera
Processed in SnapSeed

This image was made with Provoke, processed in SnapSeed,
and then had the effects applied using the App Formulas

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Camera Review

Is the Samsung Galaxy S9 Right for You?

By Rad A. Drew

Samsung Galaxy S9
Stock Photo

In choosing any camera, it’s important to consider what you’re going to do with it. That’s especially important with the Samsung S9, because in my test run I found it to excel in some areas but not in others.

If you’re looking for a smartphone that will create brilliant images with little need for post processing for sharing on social media, online newsletters, web sites, and other electronic postings, the S9 produces brilliant images that look great in electronic media. If, however, printing your images is a priority, you may want to choose an alternative image-making device.

Full Disclosure

When it comes to mobile photography, I am first and foremost an iPhone shooter and I remain loyal to the iPhone and the iPhone apps I’ve come to appreciate. The iPhone and the apps produced for it have consistently satisfied my mobile photography needs since my first iPhone 4 in 2010. 

Still, I love the chance to put another phone camera through its paces, so when Verizon asked me to review the new Samsung S9, I was all in. Verizon provided me with the S9 just before I left for six weeks on the road to lead workshops in Tuscany, Ohio, and Washington. These locations, along with a road trip from Fresno to The Palouse via Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Alabama Hills, and sites in the Eastern Sierra, provided ample opportunity for me to get to know the S9.

After getting accustomed to the unfamiliar interface and snapping a few shots, I was initially blown away by the clarity of the images on the Samsung S9. On the phone’s display, everything looks incredible right out of the camera without any post-processing. I found the color to be very true to the scene without over-saturation and the white balance perfect. 

Canola Fields, The Palouse
Samsung S9, Pro Mode, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
Fire Damage on Hurricane Ridge near the south entrance to Yosemite
Samsung S9, Pro Mode, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
Winding Road through Kings Canyon
Samsung S9, Pro Mode, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew

Alabama Hills
Samsung S9, Auto, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew

Samsung S9, Auto, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
It wasn’t until I took a closer look at the images on a larger computer screen that I noticed they were not tack sharp, and lacked the clarity I’ve come to appreciate in images made with my iPhone X.

When I compared iPhone and Samsung images on the big screen, I noticed that the landscape photos shot with the S9, especially when enlarged, had the smooth look that comes from too much noise reduction. Samsung’s automatically applied Multi-Frame Noise Reduction Technology, which allows the S9 to capture images with very low noise levels, goes too far for my taste. Please note that this was only a concern when I began to process images for printing; when viewed electronically at the smaller sizes used for social media, the S9 images look terrific.

Here's a side-by-side of comparable S9 and iPhone X images, enlarged to 200x in Photoshop.

 Left: iPhone X, Right: Samsung S9
This may not be a concern for the casual photographer, but, may be an issue for those wanting to print at sizes larger than 5x7. The noise reduction, in my opinion, reduces the quality of the image making it difficult to get a high-quality print.

For the photographer who wants to have control of that noise reduction instead of giving it up to the S9’s automatically applied multi-frame noise reduction technology, one option is to set the S9 to shoot RAW (DNG) in the Pro mode. Theoretically this would allow one to process the RAW images and manually control for noise reduction as well as a host of other variables.

Turn on "Save RAW and JPEG files" to create and capture
RAW files when shooting in Pro Mode.

When I attempted to shoot RAW on the S9, though, I ran into problems. I set the camera to save RAW (DNG) files and shot in the required PRO mode, but when I tried to find the files, they were nowhere to be found. When this setting is on, the camera is supposed to save RAW and JPG files. The JPG files appeared in the gallery, but without the companion RAW files. I checked the S9’s MY FILES folder, but the RAW files were not there either. It’s important to note that I was not using an SD Card, but I did have more than 45GB of storage space available. 

A little Googling found many questions about difficulty finding RAW files, but no answers. I decided to call Samsung Support. The support tech I spoke with was not familiar with photography in general nor the Samsung camera and did not understand what a RAW file was or that the Samsung S9 was designed to produce such a file. 

After I explained that the S9 is designed to allow the user to set it to capture RAW files, but that when I did so I couldn’t find the RAW files, the tech put me on hold to check it out. When he returned 35 minutes later, he said that he and his colleagues had set an S9 to capture RAW files and that they couldn’t find the files either. He told me where they SHOULD be (in the MY FILES folder), but that they did not appear there. 

He advised that I take my phone into the closest BEST BUY store to have it looked at. I found this to be an odd recommendation, since, as the support team had shown, the problem is not with MY phone, but apparently is a problem replicated on other S9’s as well. 

All in all, the entire experience – not being able to capture and work with RAW files, and my experience with Samsung technical support – was disappointing. 

Thinking that I might have a better result with another support person, I called back several days later. Again, I found a support person who didn’t understand the issue and put me on hold. After waiting on hold for about 10 minutes, I was routed to the customer feedback survey and then heard, “Thank you and good bye.” Oops! 

I called back promptly, met yet another support person who was unfamiliar with the question I was asking, and, after 35 minutes on the call with her, finally was told that this was a “known problem.” The only option she could suggest was for me to connect my phone to my computer to see if I could find the RAW files that way. Seeing as I have a Mac and not a PC, this was not feasible without several additional steps and other software installations to allow this to happen, which I was, at this point, unwilling to do.

My conclusion from this experience is that shooting RAW on the S9 using the native camera features is NOT a viable option at this time.

Assuming this problem of locating the RAW files eventually will be resolved, there are several options for processing RAW files on the S9, but none, except Lightroom CC, is great.

Even though RAW shooting and processing is now available for android devices from several apps (VSCO, ProShot, and SnapSeed to name a few) the android versions of some apps that shoot and process RAW files have limitations compared to their IOS counterparts. 

This example from the VSCO Support site illustrates my point.

Due to some device limitations found while developing for Android, there are some key features that are available for the iOS version that are not available in the Android version of VSCO®.

The features unavailable to Android are:

Split Focus and Exposure Tool

White Balance Lock

Low Storage/Memory Warning

Advanced Camera Controls



RAW Support

You could download the RAW files to your Mac or PC and process them using Photoshop, Lightroom, or Topaz Studio (or some other Raw editor), but that means you move them from your phone and lose the portability of processing on your handheld device, something most mobile photographers value. SnapSeed processes RAW the same way on IOS and Android, but the SnapSeed RAW editor is not as robust as other RAW processing apps. 

The BEST solution I’ve found for shooting and processing RAW on the S9 is to use Lightroom CC to shoot and process the RAW files. This eliminates the need to use the S9's native camera app that has the RAW file problems. Instead, Lightroom CC can do it all! Lightroom CC (which runs on both IOS and Android systems) has both a camera and a robust built-in RAW editor. This combination of shooting and processing provides the highest quality images from the S9. And, if you use Lightroom on your PC or Mac, you have the added advantage of syncing your mobile images to your primary Lightroom catalog.

All this said, if your main purpose for the images you create with your S9 is for use on social media, to populate your website, or include in an e-newsletter, JPG quality right out of the S9's native camera is very good for this purpose. But, if you intend to print larger than 5x7, I would not recommend the S9. When I compared similar landscape images from the iPhone X and the S9, and sized them to 10x8, the S9 image was not acceptable for my taste. The noise reduction was overdone, leaving a smoothed-out image with less than acceptable detail and overall image quality. 

Here are a few representative landscape images shot with the S9. What I like about these images when viewed electronically is that they look this good without any post-processing in SnapSeed or any other editor. 

Yosemite Valley at Sundown
Samsung S9, Auto mode, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
Mobias Arch, Framing mountains in the  Sierra Nevada range,
Samsung S9, Pro Mode, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
Yosemite Valley
Samsung S9, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew
Bristlecone Pine, Patriarch Grove
Samsung S9, No Post Processing
© Rad A. Drew

The Camera Interface

The native camera interface is very friendly and functional. Here are some of the features of the phone camera that I appreciated while using it these past weeks and a few things I didn't like.

Things I Like about the S9
  • There is quick camera access from the locked phone so you can get a shot that requires quick action.
  • The customizability of the camera interface is a great feature allowing the photographer to select those features most
    frequently used. This list appears in settings and allows for the selection of desired features.

  • The selected features are displayed across the top of the screen. (See Panorama, Pro, Selective Focus, Auto, etc.)
  • There also is an option to allow the scene you’re shooting to fill the entire screen. It makes composing in the camera easier and is a feature I wish was available on the iPhone X.
  • The phone charges extremely quickly.
  • It has a long battery life, although I wasn’t doing much processing on the S9, only shooting.
  • The ability to shoot RAW. (This is a feature that is advertised, but as I mentioned above, is not performing as intended at this time.)
  • The S9 has an SD Card Slot which is valuable for extending the phone’s image storage capacity.
  • The Panorama feature in the S9 camera does a great job and allows for a nearly 300 degree expanse when held vertically and 360 when held horizontally, which is greater than the iPhone’s 180 to 200 degrees. The Pano feature is very simple to operate and, unlike the iPhone, it allows for both vertical and horizontal orientation. This is a great way to show a wide view of surrounding landscape.

    Samsung S9, Panorama Modem, No Post Processing
    © Rad A. Drew
  • The Selective Focus Feature allows the camera to focus on a subject in the frame so that other parts of the image are a bit soft.

    What’s cool is that even after you’ve made the image and focused on something in the foreground, when you open an image shot with selective adjust, you’re presented with the option to “adjust focus.” You can change the focal point from Near Focus, Far Focus, or Pan Focus after you've taken the shot.

    In the first image, the focal point was set on the elephant's eye. When the image is opened in the gallery, the Adjust Background Blur option appears.

    Tap the ADJUST BACKGROUND BLUR button to change the focal point by selecting a different focus option. In the image below, Far Focus has been selected.

The focus is on the rose on the left, while the roses in the background are in soft focus.

The focus is on the purple Thistle flower while the poppies in the background are in soft focus.

Things I Found Lacking in the S9

  • One of the things I found to be poor design is the juxtaposition of the camera’s lens to the fingerprint sensor. The sensor is directly below the camera’s lens, making it very easy to leave a finger print on the lens that can mar your images. To mitigate this some, when the camera launches, a random reminder to clean the lens appears.
  • I was delighted to learn that I could turn off the AR Imoji feature, which I have no use for and was constantly activating by mistake. (There are many complaints about this feature on the internet and one reviewer asserted, “Yes, the AR Imoji feature is THAT BAD.” I agree!)
  • I found Samsung’s AI Assistant, Bixby, to be a royal pain! It’s impossible (or at best, very difficult) to completely disable, and it’s intrusive, annoying, and interrupts at the most inconvenient, inopportune times. If one could kill an AI assistant, I would have been locked up by now for AI-icide! Googling about how to turn it off yielded no useful information, but did turn up a lot of complaints. Even when disabled in the settings, Bixby relentlessly petitions to be activated.
  • I found the “swipe to turn on the selfie camera” to be a frustrating nuisance. Whether attempting to drop a focus point, adjust the exposure, or any number of other legitimate screen gestures, it is likely that one of these will inadvertently activate the selfie mode. I was unable to find a way to disable that feature and a quick check on-line revealed many complaints and questions about how to disable it, but no information about how or if it can be disabled. On more than one occasion I was utterly traumatized at unexpectedly seeing my scary self!
  • The Samsung support experience left a lot to be desired with respect to support for the camera operations. The staff lacked the general photography knowledge and specific S9 camera knowledge necessary to provide useful support about the camera functions.


If you are looking for a snapshot camera and a device that will produce images for purposes where they will be viewed on-line, the S9 is a viable option. And if you want to be able to post images without spending time adjusting in post, the S9 produces images that look great without additional post-processing.

If you’re planning to print larger than 5x7, I recommend another camera such as the iPhone X, as the S9’s noise reduction interferes with print quality. The Multi-Frame Noise Reduction technology looks great on images viewed online.

The RAW capability of the native device currently does not work as intended, so if RAW processing is important, the S9, at least today, may not be the best option, unless you are willing to use Lightroom CC, which is the best RAW shooting and processing option available for the S9.

Even with the S9's Selective Focus feature, the degree of blur and consistency of depth of field is nowhere near as good as what the dual lens cameras can produce. If your heart is set on the S9 and your budget will allow it, I would opt for the S9 Plus for the added capability of the dual lens system. Not only will you have a longer reach for those shots you can’t get close to, but you’ll be able to create lovely portraits or other images that benefit from a narrow depth of field.