For most people, photography is strictly casual, which means they’re likely shooting nearly everything on their smartphones as it happens. This is fine, of course, if the moment is something worth remembering, but you don’t necessarily foresee it becoming a future cherished memory — like the time you accidentally gave your toddler dog food instead of cereal. However, vacations (Disney trips, in particular) tend to be events we’d like to look back on fondly, so why not create some images that you can look back at, uh, fondly, even if you’re just using a smartphone.
Trust me, you don’t have to be an amazing photographer to produce some impressive images with today’s smartphones. In my last blog on Disney photography, I gave you some advice on the topic of photography in general, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m assuming that you just have a smartphone in your pocket. I’m also approaching this topic from the world of Apple though I believe most of the apps I discuss are available for Android and Blackberry as well. Ha! Blackberry… I just added that so at least one person in the world was thinking about Blackberry for a few tenths of a second. These apps can help you capture or enhance images in ways that will have friends and family wondering what kind of camera you were using and/or how you achieved a certain effect. They’ll never suspect that you’re a talentless hack who just happened to read a Disney blog about mobile photography written by a dude who watches reruns of Saved by the Bell. Such is life.
OK, I’m starting off with a bit of a cheat, but bear with me and let me explain. We live in a social media world, and while LightSpace isn’t necessarily a photo app, it is absolutely awesome for creating inventive short videos for Instagram and Snapchat. (Probably Facebook, too, but have you even been on Facebook since your Uncle Jim shared all of those InfoWars articles? I thought not.) LightSpace uses augmented reality technology to scan the surrounding area and create glowing images that hang within the 3D space. You can paint around your subject and the created enhancements stay where they are, meaning you can walk through and around them while filming. It’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds, and the app is intuitive and easy to use, which helps when you want to “modify” a moment quickly. LightSpace has that “wow” factor that will make your friends ask, “how did you do that?” and your grandmother say, “What kind of sorcery is this?! I always knew you were a witch! I wanted your parents to throw you into the sea, but they refused. Back, demon!” Oh, grandma…
When it comes to photography, people love a shallow depth of field. Depth of field refers to when your subject is in focus, but the background behind him or her gets progressively blurrier the farther it recedes into the distance. (This is a simplified explanation, of course.) In the past, it took a rather expensive lens to achieve such an effect, but thanks to modern technology, you can create this look in your smartphone with almost no effort at all. You might be aware that newer smartphones, especially those with two camera lenses, already have the ability to do this — some quite effectively. (The Google Pixel manages to do it with just one lens, and it’s arguably the best at it.) Focos takes the idea one step further, allowing users to dictate the amount of blur, the shape of that blur, and how far it extends into the background. More advanced users can even select custom lighting angles, illuminating your subject(s) in new and inventive ways. While it’s not perfect, it gives everyday users an impressive level of control without asking them to get too technical or devote too much time to using different tools. However, for those willing to take the plunge, Focos can create stunning images that would leave some professional photographers scratching their heads and reconsidering their investments.
If you’ve always fancied yourself a hipster, then Mextures might be for you. While Snapseed is great for basic editing, it can be easy for less experienced mobile photographers to fall into the all-the-HDR-makes-it-better habit of editing and produce photos that look like a digital nightmare. Mextures is more elegant, offering natural looking light leaks, lens flares, and texture overlays on top of the basic editing tools you’ll find in apps like Snapseed and VSCO. Because Mextures is relatively easy to use, any mobile photographer can apply detailed filters to his or her photos and instantly transform a character meet-and-greet into a hipster scene worthy of a Starbucks coffee table book. The only drawback is its ease of use: to keep things simple, Mextures offers you a variety of options but not a lot of customization. For that, you need to explore the next app on the list.
- Lens Distortions
Once you’ve cut your teeth on Mextures, you might be ready to step up to Lens Distortions. First, be aware that some of the apps I’ve mentioned cost money or have in-app purchases, and Lens Distortions might be the most expensive overall. There is a subscription model that costs one dollar per month, but novices will probably be perfectly happy with the included overlays and find the expanded selection provided by the subscription unnecessary. Lens Distortions allows you to include photorealistic effects within the image — effects that are built from actual high resolution images. (The same company makes that makes the app also makes impressive video and sound assets for cinematography.) Used correctly, these overlays can add impressive depth to a photo, and they can be scaled, rotated, and placed anywhere within the frame. If you captured a cute picture of your little one stomping a puddle on a rainy afternoon at Disney, consider adding some layers of rain to make it look at though you were getting dumped on while you took the picture, not hiding underneath the PeopleMover like we all know you were.
By far the most powerful and useful photo editing app on this list, Adobe Lightroom CC does one more thing to take your photos to the next level that you might not even be aware of: it allows you to shoot in mobile RAW with its built-in camera controls. Fortunately, the camera functions quite well in auto mode so you don’t have to be a pro to use it, requiring a simple exposure/focus tap just as you do with the normal iPhone camera. The advantage here is that Lightroom is the go-to program for photo editing, and the controls on the phone are detailed and comprehensive while still being intuitive and easily approachable for less experienced users. With a mobile RAW (called DNG, in case you were wondering) photo as a starting point, the app can approximate the level of control you’d find when editing a full-sized RAW photo on the desktop version. The other feature of Lightroom that makes it the undisputed mobile editing app is that it can grow with you: as your skills increase or you become more interested in the art of photography, you can explore the use of custom presets and even sync the mobile app with the desktop version by subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud. (When you hear Instagrammers refer to “presets,” they’re almost always talking about their custom settings they use in Lightroom.) If you’re looking to get serious about editing your mobile photos, there is simply no better app.
Keep in mind that none of the aforementioned apps can overcome the natural limitations of mobile photography, namely too much or too little light. (Again, for a quick review of the basics, check out my original post on the subject here.) Nevertheless, due to the demands of a typical Disney trip, such as runnin — er, I mean, briskly walking — from rope drop until the park closes, it is often more convenient to carry a high quality smartphone rather than a separate camera. Hopefully, by using some of these apps on your next trip, you’ll be able to capture and edit some images (and/or social media videos) that leave your friends and family wondering how in the world you were able to snag so many Instagram bangers during your vacation.
Except for grandma. She still thinks it’s some sort of witchcraft. Probably time to take her car keys away.
Rad Dad, out.
Each of the images in this post was captured with one of the apps mentioned and/or is a screenshot of the user interface. For a quick and admittedly limited tutorial on mobile editing using Lightroom, check out this video on our YouTube channel.
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