When Westend61 launched their SMART collection more than two years ago, I felt an urgent desire to become a part of that initative, to create beautiful content with the means of a very limited camera. For almost two months I took pictures with my Smartphone only, an iPhone 4S at that time.

This time was a very intense experience, not only because of the absence of any zoom capabilities. Smartphone phone photography is mainly a „fight“ to create respectable results against the odds of the limited technical means. There is no doubt that a fingernail sized sensors can not match the image quality of a 35mm full frame sensor. To overcome those limitations, one has to put his full focus on the motif – the angle, the form, the light you can find to show your subject in the best possible way on the screen of your phone.


© Michael Zwahlen/ Westend61 SMART Collection

Add to that the options of image processing – basically, there are two ways: Either try to fix the issues arrising from the small lensa and sensor by trying to create a natural looking image. Or to embrace the imperfections built into this system and even indulge it by exaggeration – frames and borders, filters and effects, in color or black and white. Gorgeously faulty by design, with the nostalgic feeling of the good old times when photography was less about technology. Digitally remastered.

During that time, my storage space did not only fill up with images but also with dozens of apps. Many of them are now stored in a subfolder and get used very sparsely. But some of them have proven effective tools in my everyday work. Those are the ones I am going to present here.

By the way: Today I am using all available means to get my pictures, ranging from the smart phone (after a brief time with an LG G3 I am back in the Apple world but could hardly imagine a life below the „Plus“ size) to my trusted DSLR. Sometimes that means taking a shot with a large camera, transfer it wireless to my iPhone, process it there on the go and share it via Dropbox or Facebook. Because a VSCO filter really looks great on big images, too. If you are interested: The development of my photographic skills and means is publicly available (in chronologically reverse order) in my Instagram stream: http://instagram.com/michaeljberlin

Taking better pictures with the ProCam app

proCamMost smartphone cameras can take great images in good light, they often struggle in low light situations. The automatic mode demands to keep the shutter speed short enough for hand held images, and this usually is achieved by compromising the image quality with higher ISO noise levels.
But if you stabilize your smartphone (I typically use a mini tripod with the Jobi GripTight Mount), you can easily accept longer shutter times.
This is when I use „ProCam“: It allows manual choice of shutter speed and ISO levels to contain the noise. Or you choose long exposures (up to ½ second on the iPhone) to deliberately create some motion blur.


@ Michael Zwahlen

Image processing with Snapseed

snapseed_logoThe free app by Google, originally developed by image processing specialists Nik before the were acquired, is the universal weapon of mobile photography. Optimizing exposure, brightness, contrast and color temperatures are the first step in my processing. In addition, Snapseed offers correction abilities like the „Transform“ tool to fix perspective issues or the „Repair“ feature to remove unwanted content from an image.

© Michael Zwahlen

© Michael Zwahlen

The app also has a wide variety of filtering features, ranging from vintage, grunge or HDR scape sections to black and white or Noir processing. Besides an occasional monochrome processing, those filters are way to destructive for my taste, though.

Analogue film feeling with VSCO Cam

vsco_logoWhile Hipstamatic introduced the modern world to the „destroyed“ image built after historic examples, VSCO Cam chooses the less obvious and elegant way. The company, known for their popular Lightroom presets based on many analogue film types, also published the VSCO Cam app, providing the exact same feeling for mobile images.
The huge variety of filters can be sorted, so the personal preferences always show first. After a lot of experimentation in my first 12-18 months, I settled for mostly subtle styles these days. The A and E series of filters are my go-to choices in most cases.
Beyond the predefined filters, VSCO Cam also allows for some manual settings. Among those are, for example, options to add personal color overlays to shadows and highlights separately, creating a split toning result.

© Michael Zwahlen

© Michael Zwahlen

Special effects with Mextures

mextures_logoIf an image contains a large area in a single color like a wide sky, image quality can suffer quickly in mobile photography. Because those areas do not just look monotonously, they are in fact due to the limitations of the color space available.
Breaking up of these large areas is achieved easily by adding a texture overlay to an image. Mextures offers not only lots but also high quality textures for that purpose. This also can help to turn a clean image into something crying out „Grunge“ which has become so popular amongst designers recently.
Also, the light leaks allow to recreate the lens failures of past times, the way it was known in photographic movements like the lomography.

© Michael Zwahlen

© Michael Zwahlen

Focus effects with BigLens

biglens_logoA wide angle lens on a small sized sensor typically leads – for physical reasons – to an image completely in focus front to back. It is almost impossible to create any feeling of three dimensional depth with a smart phone.
BigLens offers the option to add this feeling by recreating the depth of field usually only large size cameras and wide open apertures have to offer. Or it helps introducing the well know miniaturisation effect achieved with tilt lenses on large cameras.

© Michael Zwahlen

© Michael Zwahlen

Admittedly, it doesn’t work in the highest quality possible. But I also consider that not all of my images have to serve the 20+ megapixel bill board sized uses. Sharing on Instagram just requires 1080 x 1080 Pixel, and Twitter or Facebook don’t demand much more. In those sizes it is perfectly fine to get a job done in a „sloppy“ way every once in a while. In the end, the users mostly view those images on tiny screens only. 😉