August 3, 2008

How to Take Better Images with the iPhone 3G Camera

Whoa! What's happening in that picture? The earth is rotating too fast!!! Well, no, it's not the end of the world, not even on Broadway, nor is it some kind of fish-eye lens on my camera. I shot the picture with my new iPhone 3G camera, deliberately swishing the camera as I released the shutter. It's a lo-tech special effect, and it's just one of one of several lessons I've learned while taking images with the iPhone over the past couple of weeks.

Let's talk about the bad news first. The camera within the iPhone 3G has been greeted with some disappointment, although many observers suggest that images taken with the 3G are generally sharper than the camera on the first generation of iPhones. But it is humble. It's a 2.0 megapixel camera without flash or autofocus. It doesn't zoom or record video. The fact that it's 2.0 megapixels generally translates into lack of detail. A nice iPhoto image may print out nicely at 4" x 6" but would lose definition in larger printed sizes.

So, it's a camera phone and not a Leica. I'm still interested in discovering how to work within these limited parameters, however, because I'm of the opinion that exciting image-making does not require advanced and expensive cameras but rather a sense of experimentation, innovation, and wanting to see the world in a different way. I've seen more interesting photographs created with a homemade oatmeal box camera than with the highest-end SLR digital. It depends on who is behind the camera. I'm the kind of person that bought several types of inexpensive Lomo cameras when they were a hot trendy item, and I loved them all. I took several weird blue-tinted shoot-from-the-hip pictures of my black-and-white dog and framed them. That said, I still want a Leica when I grow up.

One downside of the iPhone camera is that in certain conditions, such as on cloudy but bright days, the images flood with white light. The resulting images seem to be covered with a soft scrim or cloudy haziness. This is unattractive. Also, good luck taking self-portraits, because it's hard to locate the shutter when it's facing away from you and you can't feel it. Color rendering, on the other hand, is quite nice.

TIP #1. Pressing the shutter and holding it there doesn't do anything. It's all in releasing the shutter. Ergo, hold down the shutter while composing the image (not a problem, as the viewfinder takes up the whole screen), then release. Ah ha!

TIP #2. Also, as Lifehacker Australia points out, the sensor inside the camera functions like a scanner. It's a tad slow, so that any slight movement will be recorded. So, like shifting a page of a book during scanning, quickly moving the camera while the shutter is briefly open can lead to a warping effect and other hilarious consequences. See Lifehacker Australia's post of psychedelia.

Some photography purists would like the camera to take better pictures at night. Who wouldn't? I like Weegee's black and white flashbulb pictures that he took with his 4x5 camera, but my iPhone won't do this for me. So night photos, even with available artificial light, might come out somewhat grainy. Nevertheless, some images I took of people milling around Washington Square Park at night appeal to me. In their very lack of definition, they seem true to my memory of how it felt wandering through the park and enjoying a splendid concert on a sultry summer night.

The following websites provide technical expertise and insight on the iPhone camera:

Apple Insider
CNET review
Apple iPhone Tips for Your iPhone Camera

Images by WOTBA. Which reminds me. A streamlined version of Walking Off the Big Apple for cellphones is now available. I call it WOTBA Lite. For a website about strolling in New York, I thought that an on-the-go version seemed rather inevitable.

See more iPhone 3G images in a set here at Flickr WOTBA.

See a more recent post: Point and Shoot Nostalgia: iPhone Photo Apps for the Contemporary Retro Traveler.

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