Archive for May, 2011

My Top 30 iPhone Photos — A One-Year Retrospective

May 26, 2011

I bought a used Apple iPhone 3G a little more than a year ago; I upgraded to a used iPhone 3GS a few months later. iPhoneography rekindled my interest in photography. I have taken more than 1,500 photos using my iPhones during the past year — that’s more photos than I’ve taken in years! Inspired by a recent Tweet from professional photographer Rick Sammon

Selecting your best photos can be challenging — as well as quite rewarding.

… I started a project to select my best iPhone photos from the past year. Along the way I learned about some of the advanced features of Aperture, a professional-grade tool for organizing and adjusting photos. Embedded in the EXIF/IPTC info of every photo is a title, caption, one or more keywords, copyright notice, and a geotag.

Conventional wisdom says I should rank the photos and lead with my best shot; I chose to present the photos in chronological order instead. In this order, the gallery reflects the passing of time as well as the persistence of my interests. Here they are — 25 of my favorite photos, and five of my favorite panorama photos. All photos were taken using the iPhone’s built in camera; photo 16 of 25 was post-processed using Diptic app.


Panorama photos 1 through 3 (shown below) were created using AutoStitch Panorama app; panorama photos 4 and 5 were created using Photosynth app (panorama photo 4 was adjusted and cropped using Aperture).


Tech Tips: You may be wondering, “Why did you buy used iPhones?” If you have a used smartphone, then you do not have to commit to a long-term contract with a wireless phone service provider. That’s a gold nugget of wisdom I’m happy to share! “FxIF” is an add-on for the Mozilla Firefox Web browser that allows the user to view EXIF info — including GPS info, when available — by simply right-clicking on a Web page photo and selecting “EXIF Data.”

Photo file format face-off: JPEG versus PNG

May 19, 2011

iPhone cameras save photos as JPEGs (JPGs), a “lossy” compression format; shooting uncompressed RAW images is not an option. If you edit a JPEG photo, then the resulting image file will be further compressed when you export the file from your photo editor of choice. Question is, if you edit a JPEG image (using say, Aperture 3 by Apple Inc.) then how can you export the image without further compression?

One solution to this problem is to use a “lossless” compression format such as PNG. But there’s a problem with PNGs: PNG doesn’t support EXIF/IPTC; if you export a JPEG file as a PNG, then the EXIF/IPTC info is lost (e.g., geolocation info). That’s an unacceptably BIG trade-off for me, especially since I’m not sure the difference in image quality between JPEGs and PNGs is noticeable. So I set up a face-to-face comparison test.

There are four pairs of photos in the following gallery: A cropped version of a JPEG photo, exported as a JPEG file; followed by the same cropped JPEG photo exported as a PNG file. You tell me — are the PNG versions noticeably better than the JPEG versions? Comments are invited and welcome.


Field test: Leafsnap app

May 16, 2011


Leafsnap app (free) is “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” See the video, “Introducing Leafsnap” for more information. Leafsnap is available in the Apple iTunes App Store.

I field tested Leafsnap recently. I selected several trees located on the grounds of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. One the trees in the test group is an old Black Locust tree. The gallery (shown above) features a photograph of a Black Locust tree leaf taken using Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature (No. 1), a series of screen captures from Leafsnap (No. 2 – 4), and a couple of photos of the tree taken using iPhone’s built-in Camera app (No. 5 – 6). The screen captures illustrate the process used by Leafsnap to identify the Black Locust tree based upon the outline of one of its leaves. Notice the Five-lined Skink lizard in photo No. 6.

When Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature is able to connect to remote servers via either 3G or Wi-Fi, the automatic identification process works very well; when Leafsnap is unable to establish a connection, you’re dead in the water and going nowhere. Hopefully the problem establishing a server connection has been resolved in the latest version of Leafsnap. Overall, Leafsnap is a “must-have” app for educators, gardeners, and natural science enthusiasts.

Tech Tips: For trees with compound leaves (such as Black Locust), be careful to shoot the entire leaf. Leaves should be photographed in situ for accurate geolocation. Photos saved to the Camera Roll from Leafsnap’s built-in camera (“Snap It!”) are not geotagged. For this reason, you may want to take one or more photos using iPhone’s Camera app. (See the location of the Black Walnut tree, derived from the EXIF/IPTC info for photo No. 5.)

Leapin’ Lizards!

May 12, 2011


I shot a photo of Black Locust tree bark while field testing Leafsnap app, “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” More about Leafsnap in a follow-up post (after it returns to the Apple iTunes App Store). A Five-lined Skink lizard happened to appear in the photo (No. 1 and 2), although I must admit I didn’t see the lizard until after I’d taken the picture — it scurried away quickly before I was able to shoot more photos.

The next day I went on a photo safari to the same tree hoping to shoot some pictures of Skinks. I observed the tree trunk carefully for a couple of hours and my patience was rewarded (No. 3 to 8). I missed opportunities to photograph two other Skinks — they move quickly! I think Skinks like locust trees.

The preceding gallery features four pairs of photographs: a cropped version of each photo; followed by the full-size original.

Mount Vernon Farmers Market Panorama Photos

May 11, 2011

Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market — located in the parking lot of Fairfax County Sherwood Regional Public Library — is open Wednesdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, May through November.

I used 360 Panorama app ($1.99) to shoot several geotagged panorama photos of the farmers market. Hyperlinks to online interactive versions of the panorama photos are listed following each “flattened” version, shown below. Very dynamic venues are not ideal locations for panorama photo shoots, as you can see by the blurry images of people moving around the farmers market.


Panorama Photo 1 (interactive version)


Panorama Photo 2 (interactive version)


Panorama Photo 3 (interactive version)


Northern Virginia Photographic Society field trip to Huntley Meadows Park

May 7, 2011

Related Resources:

Field test: Photosynth app

May 6, 2011


I used Photosynth app (free) to shoot the preceding geotagged panorama photo of Milway Meadows, a residential community in Fairfax County, Virginia. An online interactive version of the photo simulates virtual reality, enabling you to see what I saw (Silverlight required, the Microsoft equivalent of Adobe Flash). That is, assuming you aren’t using the Safari Mobile Web browser on an Apple iOS mobile device. Seriously, why would Microsoft choose to use a platform like Silverlight that excludes a significant percentage of the market for mobile devices from using their product? That’s a business model that makes NO sense!

There is a free app called iSynth that is billed as a Photosynth viewer. I downloaded, installed, and tested iSynth on my Apple iPhone 3GS and iPad 1. A simple search caused iSynth to crash on BOTH devices, and now it crashes every time I try to launch the app. Based upon my experience, I think it’s fair to say iSynth is not ready for prime time.

Photosynth is an interesting solution to the problem of how to stitch together a series of overlapping photos to create a panorama photo. As you turn around an axis of rotation, Photosynth displays a green frame that indicates the camera is correctly positioned to take the next frame; then Photosynth shoots the photo automatically. Sounds simple, right? If only the process worked better! You don’t have to look very closely at the panorama photo (shown above) to see the seams between frames; in some places, the frames are obviously misaligned. Contrast the Photosynth app panorama photo with the same scene shot using AutoStitch Panorama app, and I think you’ll agree with me that AutoStitch is still King of the Hill in the field of photo-stitching panorama apps.

Better Geotagging, revisited

May 2, 2011


In a recent blog post, I shared a simple tech tip for better geotags in iPhone photographs: Launch the Maps app and verify your location BEFORE taking pictures with the Camera app. I should follow my advice! Huh? Look at the Flickr Map (shown above) of my photo gallery, “April showers bring May flowers.” All of the photos in the gallery should be located on three streets in Hollin Hills (listed in chronological order along my photowalk): Elba Road; Nordok Place; and Mason Hill Drive. As you can see by looking at the map, there are several outliers that are not located (geotagged) correctly. Question is, what caused the photos to be geotagged incorrectly?

Apple iPhone is the best all-in-one device for geotagging photographs, as I explained in “The ABCs of A-GPS.” iPhone “Location Services,” as good as it is, can be surprisingly inaccurate after an iPhone has been either in sleep mode or powered-off. It was raining lightly during most of my photowalk through Hollin Hills on Sunday: When I stopped to take photos, I was in a rush to prevent water damage to my iPhone and did not use the Maps app to verify my location before shooting pictures; my iPhone was in sleep mode between stops along the photowalk. Net results: My iPhone wasn’t damaged (that’s good news); several photos were geotagged incorrectly (that’s bad news). Perhaps I could have avoided the problem by running a GPS-tracking app in the background, such as MotionX GPS. Point is, you can’t assume an iPhone will correctly geolocate every photograph you take with its built-in camera, but you can get better results by using the Maps app to get an accurate position fix before taking photos.

Finally, a quick word about the Flickr photo sharing service. Is it just me, or is the Flickr user interface often less than intuitive? I was sure I set up my Flickr account to enable sharing photo location information. Turns out I was wrong. I discovered the solution after troubleshooting the problem. Sign in to Flickr. Click on the hyperlink labeled, “Your account.” See the section entitled, “Defaults for new uploads”; for the setting, “Import EXIF location data,” select “Yes.”

April showers bring May flowers

May 1, 2011


I went for a three-mile photowalk in Hollin Hills, a community reknowned for its beautifully landscaped homes.

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