Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Best Mobile Photography Starter Kit

     Do you love taking photos with your smartphone, and want to up your mobile photography game?  Have you always wanted to "get into photography" but the idea of all the gear seems daunting or a bit out of reach financially?  Keep reading, and I'll share with you some of the tools that I love to have in my mobile photography kit.  You don't need all of it, but each item has its own special place in my kit and makes taking photos on my cell phone that much more fun, while allowing me to experiment with more creative shots!


Clockwise from top: 

Manfrotto smartphone clamp - pro version ($19.99) -  This will secure your phone to a tripod.

iPhone XS - The phone I use

Lumecube Air LED light ($69.95) - Use it to illuminate your portraits or food shots!

Humixx remote trigger (part of the selfie stick) ($25.99)

Gear Light mini flashlight - pack of 2 ($10.99) - Use it to do light painting!

Peak Design Cuff strap ($29.95)  - Use it to keep your phone from dropping!

Moment wide angle lens ($119.99) - you'll need the phone case to use this!  There are four other lenses you can get from Moment, but this one is my favorite and most used lens.  They also make a macro, tele, fish-eye, and anamorphic lens.

Manfrotto Pixi Tripod ($17.22) - Cheap, sturdy tripod

For photos where you'd need a tripod, I really like these two tripods.  The Pixi (on the left) is small and affordable, but for places that don't always have a surface for your tripod, I prefer a JOBY GorillaPod.  The one I have is the 3K version with the ball head.  The reason why I like this tripod so much is because it can also be used with my DSLR without any issues.  The smartphone clamp can be used with either the Pixi, or the GorillaPod. 

When I want to use the GorillaPod with my DSLR, I attach this Arca-Swiss mount plate to it, and it's good to go!

The APPS - a quick breakdown of each app and why I like each one

FiLMic Pro - We'll ignore this one since it's geared more towards video

SKRWT - Free, and easy to use.  I mainly use this to fix any distortion from using a wide angle or fish-eye lens

Made and Unfold - Free (there are more options if you're willing to pay for the upgrades) I use this if I want to use my photos to create a more eye-catching collage - great for Instagram stories!

Union - $19.99 per year - I bought this to apply watermarks to my photos while using my cell phone.  It's really easy to do.  While $19.99 sounds like a lot to pay for an app, it does do other things like blending photos (and more!) if you want to get even extra creative!

Carbon - Free, but you get very limited effects.  This app has amazing black and white conversions for your photos.  If you love black and white photography, you can get their black and white conversion pack for $3.99.  It is well worth the money!  I wish they had a desktop version of this app, because the black and whites are so good! 

Lightroom Mobile - Free, and gives you a lot of options for image editing.  There are also some presets that come with the app that look pretty cool.  I jump between using this app and the image editor that you can use straight from your iPhone album.  Both are great, but the iPhone editor is simpler to use, I think.

VSCO - Free, but limited.  This is a very popular app, but it's my least used app.  You can apply a lot of great filters through this app, but there is an extra charge for anything beyond what is free.  Again, I know a lot of people love this app, but I just don't use it that often because I prefer to edit photos without using filters if I can.

Moment Pro - $4.99, and it will be the best $4.99 you've ever spent on a photo app.  This basically allows you to control the aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and more on your phone camera.  It's like shooting in manual mode on your cell phone and it's pretty amazing.  You can shoot in TIFF and RAW formats as well.  Their latest update included a light trails and motion blur feature that is AMAZING.  If you've ever wanted to get into photography and experiment with these types of photos, this is a cheap and easy way to get started!

Star Walk 2 - We'll ignore this one as I only use it to see where the Milky Way is for astrophotography.  😉

The PHOTOS - Here are some examples of how I used the gear and apps to create each photo.

I shot this using the GorillaPod and Live Photo feature of the iPhone.  You can also use the motion blur feature of the Moment Pro app to get the same effect.  The great thing about the Moment Pro app is that it has a Bulb feature that allows you to blur as much of the movement as you want (up to 30 seconds).  I later used one of the Carbon b/w filters on the photo.

This was created using the Moment Tele 58mm lens.  I needed it to get closer to the castle and not get all the people in the shot.  I later edited it using Lightroom Mobile to give it more saturation and contrast.

For these next few shots, I was using the Humixx selfie stick that has a tripod bottom.  I was able to use the tripod legs of the selfie stick and use the included remote shutter to get this effect.  The remote shutter allowed me to use the motion blur feature of the Moment Pro app, coupled with bulb mode for a few seconds.  The tripod legs and remote shutter allow the cell phone to stay still so there is no movement in the photo, except for the objects that are actually moving.

This filter is from the Carbon b/w filter pack.  I love the vintage look of it!

I did this edit in Lightroom Mobile for more saturation.

This shot was achieved using the GorillaPod on a trashcan for stability.  I shot it using the light trails feature of the Moment Pro app.  I believe this was a 4 or 8 second exposure.  I love that this app allows you to do this in the day time, where you would normally need ND filters for your DSLR setup to get this look.

This shot was created the same way as above, but using bulb mode since I didn't want the tea cups to get so blurred that you couldn't make them out anymore.  I also had to use the GorillaPod since there was not flat surface to place a small tripod on.  I used the SKRWT app to fix the distortion on the Moment wide angle lens, and the iPhone image editor to lighten shadows and increase saturation.
Two more using the light trails feature of the Moment Pro app. 

One of the biggest draws of using my cell phone to take photos is how the photos automatically are being processed by the phone.  That means less work for us, and we can focus on using other tools to enhance the photos instead.  All I had to do to these was increase the saturation a tiny bit. 


1)  Set your focus point -  Too often, I see people's cell phone photos, and I know they just lifted their cell phone up and pressed the shutter to snap a shot.  This sometimes results in the main subject of your photo not being completely in focus.  Trust me, it is worth the extra seconds to tap your screen on your subject, to make sure the subject stands out as much as possible.  When you are taking portraits, this is especially important.  Not too long ago, I used my Lumecube Air to add some light to a group photo that otherwise would not have exposed very well using the on camera flash that comes with my cell phone.  Having the light from the Lumecube Air allowed more light into the photo, increasing the image quality as well as giving me the ability to easily set my focus point before taking the photo.

2)  Use a grid feature to practice your rule of thirds - Just about every article on photography will tell you that using the rule of thirds will help you yield better composition in your photos - and that's because it's TRUE.  If you download the Moment Pro app, it gives you two grid features to choose from, and one of them is the rule of thirds.  Just place the main subject of your photo at one of the intersections and you will be on your way to composing more eye-pleasing portraits, landscapes, and beyond!

3)  Use a tripod and remote shutter release if you need to - For shots that utilize motion blur, light trails, or macros, having a tripod and remote shutter release will make all the difference.  While using our cell phones as our camera allows us to get into tight spots and compose at angles that would normally be strenuous with a DSLR, the weight of a cell phone is so light that even the slightest movement will make your photos blurry.  I can't say enough good things about the Humixx selfie stick that includes tripod legs and a remote shutter.  This is a great tool to use, along with the Moment Pro app, to start creating better photos with your smartphone! 

         Need more tips on taking better photos?  Check out this post!  Thanks for reading, and happy shooting! 😃

Monday, July 8, 2019

Guide to Astrophotography - Part 2

     When one of my friends suggested going out to Joshua Tree to shoot the Milky Way, it dawned on me that it's been about two years since the last time I attempted to capture this elusive piece of the sky that can only be accessed during certain times of the year.  Knowing that my opportunities to shoot the Milky Way were limited, I agreed to head out on a Friday night to see what I could come away with.  You may recall my last attempt, and the things I learned from two years ago here.  

     This time, I left the headlamp at home.  The one I bought was far too clunky and hard to manage, and it just didn't feel comfortable on my head.  Instead, I brought along my Lume Cube Air.  It was a lot lighter, and also worked just fine as a flashlight to find our way in the darkness of Joshua Tree.  Oh, and that intervalometer?  I haven't touched that thing for two years LOL.  Since I'd be shooting with my EOS R, I brought along this small shutter release that is so easy to use and takes up less space in my bag.

      This time we were going to the Jumbo Rocks campground in search of the penguin rock and juniper tree we've seen before online.  They were fairly easy to find, and after a long drive which seemed like forever, we finally made it.  I'll never forget rolling down the window and being in awe of all the stars, and of course the Milky Way which on this particularly clear night, could be seen with the naked eye.  It was so amazing.  It made me want to throw down a blanket and just stare at it all night.  I didn't of course, because the Milky Way was constantly moving, and we needed to set up to get some shots.  We used the "Star Walk 2" app to see where the Milky Way would be.  However, since it was visible on this night, it was pointless for us to use it.  I really love this app though.  It's free, and very cool to put your phone to the sky and see all the constellations.

     You can see why they've dubbed this "penguin rock".

     We experimented with a few different light sources.  Sometimes my Lume Cube Air was too strong.  I basically had to flash the light quickly and cover it up to avoid overly lighting the scene.  Using the light from an iPhone was surprisingly a great way to get a nice soft warm light on the juniper tree.  

      Another person who was at this spot earlier to do a time lapse video told us that the position of the Milky Way was even better earlier in the night.  Note to self:  get here a little earlier!  We entered Joshua Tree around midnight for these photos.

     This shot was lit by my Lume Cube Air.  Since I only brought the white diffuser with me, it emitted a cool light, and I think I like this look more than the warm light.  It was interesting to see and experiment with the ways you can light a scene like this.  On the flipside, this also took a lot of time.  Astrophotography takes a lot of time and patience.  We spent about 1.5 hours in the park, and came away with few photos considering the amount of time we spent there.  Still, it was fun to wait 30 seconds to see each exposure!  My general camera settings for these were f4, iso 3200, and 30 seconds.  In retrospect, I should've brought a wide aperture prime lens with me, but my widest lens is a 35mm f1.4L, which isn't wide enough to capture the whole scene from the vantage point we were at (which was basically on the rock the juniper tree is on).  I used a 16-35 f4 lens the whole time since it's the widest focal length I own.

     One thing I wanted to try, but didn't get a chance to do was some light painting with a small flashlight - maybe spell something cool out.  I ended up ordering this small pocket flashlight should the next opportunity present itself LOL.  

     Next time, I might also try some silhouette shots using some sort of strong light beam.  I know it's so cliche, but I think it'd be fun to experiment as I'm still new to astrophotography.     I have a few bucket list spots for astrophotography on my radar, and really hoping to hit up another spot before Milky Way season is over!  Thanks for reading! 😊

EDIT:  Side note - I'm pretty sure my body is still recovering from the contortions I had to do.  😆