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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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!

 

Photocalypse: A Twofer

Yesterday’s photo prompt was “ground” so I had this great idea that I would go out as the sun was setting and take a picture of the ground in some nice soft golden light. Then I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until it was dark out. Oops.

It rained today so I just took a picture of the wet fir-needle covered ground.

Staging and lighting: I walked outside a few paces, and pointed the camera at the ground. It was about 4:30 pm and it was actively raining. The sun was not visible.

Instagram edits: tilt-shift horizontally, lux, X-Pro II with border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, increased definition

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

The Instagram version is way better. The tilt-shift adds so much depth to these kind of photos that the computer version really can’t compare. The more I rag on the lack of tilt-shift in iPhoto, the more I realize I probably should just find another editing program that has that function. Something that does borders too would be awesome.

Today’s prompt was “favorite tool” and there was no question what I would be photographing. I LOVE my Signature needles! They truly are the perfect needles. They are super smooth, but have just the slightest texture to the needle shaft so it grips the stitches. The points are perfectly smooth though so you can make your stitches quickly and easily. The joins on the circulars are the smoothest I’ve ever encountered and I’ve never had a cable tangle or get my way. They’re just PERFECT!

Staging and lighting: I decided to try the inner bathroom this time. There’s just an overhead light in there, but it’s a tiny room so the light doesn’t have to travel far to hit its mark. I wrapped all of my Signature circulars around the shower rod and stood on the edge of the tub to get the shot.

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Instagram edits: tilt-shift horizontally concentrated along top of image, Amaro filter with border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, increased exposure a bit, increased blue

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edited with iPhoto

I like the way the computer edit kept the shiny look of the metal needles, but the softness added to the Instagram with the filter is also a good look. They’re kind of mutually exclusive though…

 

Photocalypse: I Want a Pony

Today’s theme is “want” and I’m currently DYING to get my hands on a certain pony-themed self-striping yarn from a dyer-who-shall-not-be-named-who-may-or-may-not-be-going-out-of-business. I’m even selling some of my stash so I can have some cash in hand in case someone loses their mind and decides to let go of their skein of this glorious yarn. I never sell my stash. Never.

Staging and lighting: Today I went back into my sister’s lair to photograph her shelf full of ponies. Same lighting – just a dim overhead light – but on the other side of the room on the top shelf of a bookshelf, so there are more shadows involved. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that shelf is almost entirely filled with pony figurines. I pulled Rainbow Dash and the other mane six (well, five – Fluttershy is missing) to the front of the shelf to catch the most light.

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Instagram edits: tilt-shift circular, lux, Hudson with border

Computer Edits: cropped, enhanced, increased exposure, increased blue, decreased shadows to minimum, increased saturation

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

Hudson proved to be the best filter to get the bright colors of the ponies to come through and correct for the yellowing from the terrible lighting. iPhoto was able to correct for the color much better though. If I could combine the colors of the iPhoto and the tilt-shift and border of the Instagram this would be a perfect shot.

Photocalypse: Friday the 13th

Today’s photo prompt was “number,” and being Friday the 13th I knew exactly which number to use!

Staging and lighting: I went in my sister’s cave for this one. The only lighting in there is the dim overhead and the walls are super dark. I put a row counter on her shelf (it’s empty because it’s only used as a cat highway). It’s so dark in there that when I took the first shot the flash came on! I had to turn off the auto-flash to get the photos.

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here's what the photo looks like with the flash

here’s what the photo looks like with the flash

Instagram edits: tilt-shift horizontally, lux, Sutro filter, border

Computer edits: cropped, enhanced, edge blur x7, increased blue, decreased saturation, decreased exposure a lot, decreased shadows to the minimum, increased definition to maximum, increased contrast

edited with iPhoto

edited with iPhoto

I tried to edit the photos to look somewhat ominous. The filters in Instagram were actually able to do some really cool stuff with this picture and it was hard to choose just one! Some of them made the colors look really bright and happy, the black and white filters made it look pretty neat, and the Toaster filter looked awesome! I picked Sutro because it made it look dark and moody without obscuring too much detail. I did my best to duplicate that feel in iPhoto and had to go through A LOT of edits to even get close. I really wish there was a tilt-shift function in iPhoto. There’s a “blur edge” effect, but it’s circular instead of horizontal bands and it looks pixelated and weird. I like the Instagram better.

Edit: Apparently this is my 113th post too! PERFECT!