Photocalypse Re-cap

Ever had one of those weeks that seemed so inhumanly busy and emotionally draining that you simultaneously feel like only a day or two has passed AND feel like it’s been dragging on for years? Well that was the first week of October for me. I’m finally starting to catch up now, which brings me to the long-awaited Photocalypse Re-cap!

Every day in September (or approximately every day as the case may be) I followed the Instagram prompts posted by Princessdeia and took a picture to upload to Instagram. I also edited each of those photos on my computer to compare and contrast my Instagram style with my usual editing routine. The results were fascinating!

Locations and Lighting

During my month of photography I tried out 13 different locations, but I frequently stayed within my photography comfort zone – my bedroom, the living room, and the backyard. Even though these locations were already familiar to me I did learn a few new things about them. The lighting in my bedroom is best in the daytime near the window. Check out this awesome photo! I had no idea my bedroom could get such great natural lighting!

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

The other side of my room pretty much sucks for photography. The overhead light just makes everything look flat.

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

I used to think the living room was a terrible location for photography, but if I take a few seconds to open the curtains and remove some clumps of cat hair that red futon is a great background!

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Everywhere else in the living room is still a no-go though. I mean seriously, look at these.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

Horrendous.

Outdoors is always a good choice for photography, but I learned to love the clouds and shadows. The best lighting was always through heavy cloud cover, of which there was plenty during this stormy month. Early in the morning there is some especially fantastic lighting.

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

If it’s really bright out with hardly any clouds in sight, the shadows provided by a few small trees is great place to shoot.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

There were a couple of surprisingly good new locations I found through all of this experimentation. The side yard proved to be absolutely magical for yarn photography!

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If I need to photograph something at night when I don’t have access to natural lighting I should head to the bathroom.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

If I want a dark background with dim lighting I should go to my sister’s room.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Another spot with good natural light in the house is the small desk in my mother’s room. I just have to move all the cat bedding to get to it…

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

So those are all the locations and conditions I found that work well for photography! I also figured out what to avoid. The kitchen is definitely off-limits. It’s brightly lit, but the lighting seems to come from odd angles and the counter and backsplash are way too busy to serve as a decent background.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I can catch some more natural light in front of the back door, but to one side there’s a cat tower, a chronically fur-covered curtain, and a cluttered desk, and to the other side is an ugly fridge covered in coupons and reminders, so it’s pretty much impossible to get a shot without some distracting background elements.

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

My bedroom has a similar problem with distracting backgrounds as I could see from my very first photo in the challenge.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

But if I turn off the overhead light and rely only on the natural lighting from the window and use my bedspread to cover up the bottom portion of my bed, then the distracting parts of the background are far enough away that they fall completely into shadow. I can’t really pull off that kind of trickery in the dining room.

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Photography Style

I also learned about my own personal photography style. I always try to photograph things from several different angles and distances so that I have lots of options to choose from when it comes time for editing. You may not realize this though, because I always seem to choose the same shots. I seem to overwhelmingly prefer the shots that were taken level with or just slightly above the subject with both the subject and the horizon line near the center of the shot. I call that angle “The Monolith.”

It makes even the smallest and dullest of subjects look interesting and important. I use it A LOT. It’s almost obnoxious.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I also seem to have a fetish for close-ups.

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

IMG_5330

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I guess all of that just shows my disdain for staging decent-looking backgrounds. I’m a lazy photographer.

Instagram and editing preferences

One of the goals with this challenge was for me to get used to Instagram. I used 12 of the 19 filters available in Instagram during this challenge, and I did start to show some slight preferences. I used the Sierra filter the most often, closely followed by Mayfair and Hudson. Depending on the original lighting, one of those three filters was usually able to correct for color or provide the right amount of glow to the photos to make them more appealing than the original. Here’s an example of each:

Sierra –

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Mayfair –

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

Hudson –

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I really enjoyed the borders on all the photos. It very quickly got to the point where it is looked really weird to NOT have a border. Some of the Instagram filters have more creative borders than others, but my least favorite border is the one for the Nashville filter.

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What IS that? It’s a decent filter, but the border just kills it.

I also had lots of fun playing with the Lux and Tilt-Shift settings. I learned how to control the size and location of the blurred sections with tilt-shift which helped refine my photos even more. While I LOVE both functions, they were not universally appropriate. I used each function on only about half of the photos, and for a third of the photos I didn’t use either.

I’m not sure exactly what Lux does to the photos, but it was something that I couldn’t replicate with iPhoto. In the Coke photo the Lux function was the only thing that made the badger show up on the glass. Here’s the iPhoto version:

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

See how the badger is nearly invisible? In the Instagram photo the Lux function made it visible.

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I quickly became OBSESSED with the tilt-shift function. It didn’t work for every photo, but when it did work it made the photos SO MUCH BETTER.

Take the $5 photo for example. Here is the computer version with no blurring:

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

It’s a perfectly fine photo. If you turn on the tilt-shift function in Instagram though, it makes Lincoln look 3D!

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

It really worked well with my “Monolith” angle to add even more depth to the photos. Even without my usual photography conventions it helps add depth to the photographs.

Observe, the computer version:

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

And the far superior tilt-shifty Instagram version:

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I could simulate the tilt-shift effect by photographing with a huge depth of field and making sure the camera focuses on the middle of the frame. That’s what I did with the street photo. There is no tilt-shift effect used here:

Instagrammed

Instagrammed

I did a few photos in grayscale. The grayscale filters in Instagram – Willow and Inkwell – produced more interesting photographs, but if the grayscale was used for instructional purposes, like distinguishing color values for Fair Isle, then iPhoto’s “black & white” function showed the biggest range in values.

For each set of photos I decided on a “winner” and for about two-thirds of them the Instagram was the better photo, however it did seem to depend on the subject. As I discussed several times throughout the series, because my knitting and yarn photos are used for purposes other than the love of photography I tend to have very strong feelings about how they should be edited. For 8 of the challenges I chose knitting or yarn as a subject and for all but one of those photos I had a very strong preference for the computer edited version of the photo because I was able to control the editing more precisely in iPhoto and produce photos that accurately portrayed the color and texture of the subject. Color and texture are VERY IMPORTANT with knitting photography and those are not Instagram’s strengths. Instagram is really great at creating certain moods with the various filters though, so when photographing things just for the sake of photography it can turn some mundane photos into fabulous shots with the right filter. It was really difficult for me to recreate those effects on the computer. When the subjects weren’t setting off my rabid need for editing control I preferred the Instagram version almost every time.

I also learned a bit more about the limitations of iPhoto. In some of my attempts to mimic tilt-shift on the computer I learned that the “edge blur” function in iPhoto is completely useless. It only blurs in a circular shape and it accomplishes the “blurring” by making the edges look more pixellated. The “definition” slider was something I rarely used in most pf my photography, but during my experimentation I learned why – when the subject is something soft or fuzzy like knitting (my usual subjects) it makes the image look grainy, but when the subject already had hard lines in it (like coins) increasing the definition makes the picture look more crisp and realistic.

Conclusions

This Instagram challenge was lots of fun! I got pretty comfortable with using Instagram and even started taking some photographs spontaneously and immediately uploading them to Instagram. I still don’t know what’s up with those hashtags, but eventually I’ll learn what people tend to use for their hashtags and start using them. It was so fun that I’ve started following along with the October prompts as well!

Instagram will not be replacing my regular photo editing on the computer, but if I’m not taking pictures of a project I’m more likely to just use Instagram for it and not worry about editing it later. It’s a bit of a time-saver in that way!

I also learned that I may want to look for another photo editing program for the computer so I can se some of my favorite features from Instagram in all of my photo editing. I REALLY need to find a program with a tilt-shift function! It would also be nice if I could add a border to my photos on the computer. A few filter options similar to the ones in Instagram would be nice too. The latest iPhone update included some built-in camera filters, so I might try playing around with those, but I would really prefer to be able to add filters to existing photos than to have the original photo taken with a filter. I’m a control-freak.

Top 10 Instagrams

I went through all of my Instagram photos (not just from the challenge) and picked out my 10 favorite photos.

Through all of this I have made an attempt to analyze my photography aesthetic, but I really haven’t been trained to look for that sort of stuff. One thing I know all of these have in common is that they were all sort of spontaneous. A couple of them were for the photo challenges, so I did have some idea of what I was going to photograph, but I didn’t set out with a specific shot in mind. I didn’t see the “street” prompt and think “I’m going to go find some artfully arranged leaves on the pavement and photograph them at ground level.” I just found a street, looked down and saw some nice leaves and them pointed my camera at them. Same goes for the rest of the top 10. I didn’t plan the framing of them or look for something specific to photograph, I just wandered about until I found something nice-looking and pointed my camera in that general direction.

Other than that I don’t know what this collection of photos says about my aesthetic. If anyone with more photography or art training than me has some insights I would love to hear them!

 

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Last Days of the Photocalypse

I’ve got five days of photos to catch up on!

1 – Coins

Staging and lighting: I set out some of my sister’s foreign currency (no idea where she got any of it) on the windowsill in my room. I turned off all the lights so the only light came from the window. It was early afternoon and very cloudy.

IMG_5282 IMG_5283

Instagram edits: Lo-Fi filter and border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, increased definition to the maximum, increased exposure

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

This is another photo that sort of had a faux tilt-shift effect because of the angle of photography. I usually don’t mess with the definition so much because my subjects usually have soft edges (yarn, knitted things) and it just makes the edges look grainy and weird, but with hard-edged things like coins it works great! It makes it look like I could pluck those coins right off the computer screen! Both photos are great, but I think I prefer the crisp realism of the computer edited version.

2 – Stripes

Staging and lighting: I took these right after the coin photos, so the lighting is the same. I learned from the last time I took photos in my room and paid a bit more attention to the background this time. I moved my comforter down so it hung almost to the floor to cover up my bed. I moved the rolling cart completely out of the way and the cat scratching slope off to the side.

IMG_5337

Instagram edits: Sierra filter and border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, increased blue

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

Since this is a PROJECT! photo I donned my “serious business” hat while editing. The computer version is better, hands down. It shows the true colors of the yarn and the texture of the stitches. The Instagram version was as good as I could find, but it doesn’t compare to the full control I get when editing on the computer. I was really surprised at how good the lighting was considering it was dark and dreary out and further limited by the thick trees and tiny window! Having only a single light source had another benefit that I had not considered – the far background is completely in shadow, so I only had to worry about making the near background nice and neat (you can see how that worked out in the photos below).

Once again, I could not help myself and edited all of the photos from that session and picked out a few more cool shots. For the curious, the pattern is Color Affection.

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3 – Needles

Staging and lighting: Since my focus this past week has been on the yarnbomb it was only fitting that I should use it for one of my photos. For the knitted portions I’ve mostly been using my short Addi Turbo circular needles, so I draped the yarnbomb over the back of my computer chair, stuck the needles in it and shoved the chair up against the back window. Once again it was stormy and gray outside and the photos were taken in the late afternoon.

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Instagram edits: tilt shift horizontally, Mayfair filter and border

Computer edits: cropped and enhanced

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

I like the softness of the Instagram photo a bit better than the computer version. The tilt-shift also helps draw my eye towards the needles and not stay stuck on the busy yarnbomb at the bottom of the photo.

4 – Relax

The obvious choice for this photo prompt would have been to photograph knitting in progress. When I really thought about it though, I realized knitting isn’t actually that relaxing for me, it’s too exciting! When I really need to wind down and stop thinking for a while I go to bed and read a book. I just finished A Game of Thrones last night, so tonight I will start on A Clash of Kings!

Staging and lighting: I put the book on my pillow and pulled up the covers. I used my bedtime lighting for this one, which is the reading lamp attachment on the standing lamp next to my bed.

IMG_5415

Instagram edits: tilt shift horizontally, lux, Sierra filter and border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, increased blue, decreased exposure, decreased saturation, decreased contrast, and increased red

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

Looking at both of these photos side-by-side, the Instagram version looks more relaxing. I think it’s the combination of the tilt-shift blurring out parts of the photo and the soft glow added by the Sierra filter.

5 – Leaves

Staging and lighting: It’s been storming like crazy this week and it was cloudy out (though thankfully not raining) when I took these photos in the late afternoon.

IMG_5386

Instagram edits: Lux, Inkwell filter and border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, black and white effect, increased exposure, increased highlights to the max

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

The leaves on the trees in my backyard haven’t changed color yet, so I focused more on the shape of the leaves than the color when taking the photographs. Then when I went to do the editing they looked almost black and white anyway, so I decided to go all the way with it and use one of the black and white filters in Instagram. I like the way the Instagram turned out better than the computer edited photo. The differences are subtle, but the Instagram looks like it has more of a glow to it while the other one looks more flat. I may be crazy, but it looks like the Instagram version is a photograph and the computer version is a still from a movie. Not sure why.

I’ll do a full analysis on my month of Instagramming after I’ve had a chance to look over the data and sleep on it!

 

Photocalypse: First Day of Fall

Today was the first day of fall, so I’m guessing that’s why today’s prompt was “autumn.” It actually felt like fall today too. It was cold(ish), windy, and rainy. I decided to shoot the decrepit shed in my neighbor’s backyard. I’ve sort of been obsessed with that shed ever since we moved here. Over the last 15 years or so I’ve watched this shed age as it’s been left completely unattended by the neighbor. I have sketched it many times in many different mediums, and since I started dabbling in photography I’ve photographed it many times too. There’s always lots of moss and lichen growing on it which makes it feel autumnal to me, even in the middle of summer.

Staging and lighting: I went outside, once again armed with a broom to clear away any potential spider webs in my path. This time it was merely precautionary though, since it had been raining fairly hard all day and the spider webs had mostly washed away by then. I was trying to wait until it was lighter out, but it was still pretty dark by 1 pm so I figured it was as light as it was going to get. It was still actively raining when I took the photo.

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Instagram edits: cropped, tilt-shift vertically, Hefe filter with border

Computer edits: cropped, decreased exposure, increased contrast, increased yellow, decreased green

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

The Hefe filter was able to add a nice warm glow to the photo that made the whole thing look even more autumnal than the original shot. I tried to imitate it with the computer editing, but it just didn’t turn out as nice. The light coming through the trees was dulled down too much in the computer edited photo, while the tilt-shift in the Instagram made it glow.

Photocalypse: On the Street

Today’s task was to photograph a street. I could have been super lazy and just photographed the street in front of my house, but as long as I had pants on I decided to escape the impenetrable tree canopy that surrounds my neighborhood.

Staging and lighting: I found a decently lit street and parked. It was very sunny out and the picture was taken at about 1:30 pm. It was so bright out in fact, that I had that unfortunate problem of not really being able to see what was on the screen as I was taking the photos. I took the photos in the shadow of a small line of trees and hedges.

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Instagram edits: cropped, Rise filter with border

Computer edits: cropped and enhanced

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

Considering I couldn’t see AT ALL when I was taking these, I got some pretty good shots! I think I’ve learned what angles work best by now so I don’t really have to scrutinize the screen in order to be sure to get a good photo. I just had to watch for the yellow square to show up indicating that the camera is in focus. By getting on the ground I was able to imitate my favorite effect (tilt-shift) without any edited required! Blurry foreground, blurry background, middle plane in focus, and ta-da! Tilt-shift! I barely had to touch these photos and they both look great!