Richard Gray on iPhoneography and Instagram

If you told me two years ago that millions of iPhone users would upload their pictures to a service other than Flickr, using filters and cropping their photos like Polaroids, well, I would have thought there is something wrong with you. Even these days it's hard to convey the impact of Instagram on amateur photography without raising eyebrows. I was, in fact, one of them. But seeing is believing: last week I joined a full Apple Store auditorium and attended my first iPhoneography talk. 

Yes, iPhoneography. That popular discipline now being taught at Kensington and Chelsea College in London. Richard Gray heads the course — sold out on its first edition — and talked about the impact of the iPhone in particular to photography and different tools to optimise photos and expand creativity. A great way to meet like-minded amateur photographers and learn about processing techniques available to professionals only some years ago.

“It's not what meets the eye. The photo is the starting point”

You've heard and experienced wonders about the camera on the iPhone 4S. Perhaps not as good as most point-and-shoots and DSLRs, but hey, the best camera is the one you have with you. Not only that in my opinion. As John Gruber  points out talking about Sony's cameras, the ability to do some light editing while on the go has to be the deal breaker. And this was the topic of the evening, where Richard Gray went through a selection of apps, gave some short demos and inspired the audience with ways to be more creative. 

Starting with Instagram and it's presets, different filters can change the narrative on a photo. We were given a demo applying different effects to the same photo and discussing the changes those create. I agree with Gray with the app being the window for thousands of iPhone owners to realize that they can edit images and use some creativity directly on the phone. For me those retro and nostalgic effects are too bold or exaggerated for my tastes. Still, being able to see the real-time effect applied before shooting just blows my mind.  

And as you might have expected, everyone there was using Instagram and not precisely for editing. The app's built-in social network features and comments give it another dimension. Not only the iPhone is allowing you to edit, but also to share experiences and learn from others with the user interaction. I remember the spirit on certain groups on Flickr was very similar a couple of years ago, so I don't want to see this as something revolutionary. In fact, I see this more like 30+ year-olds messaging virtual friends about their photos.

Moving on to the notion of a wider range of manual edit came Camera+, which is generally my app of choice for these matters. It's only a matter of time until the iPhoneographer decides to choose carefully the tools for shooting, editing and then sharing and it's quite logic that they won't be the same app. After all we care about the small details, right?

The first decision on Camera+ for me is cropping the photo to square format. This allows me to focus on the composition a little bit more. Gray suggests Clarity as the starting point in the creative process as it "spices up the photo". I'm reassured seeing someone as experienced on stage admitting they don't know what Clarity does. I guess I could produce something similar with desktop software like iPhoto or Aperture but I can't differentiate everything done with it.

The talk moved to the genius Snapseed running on an iPad. This gives the user a huge variety of tools with a very simple input method. Effects like tiltshift, which has been used in traditional photography for ages, can be now be applied without the need of sitting at a desk or shooting with that "model village" finish in mind. Gray continued demoing some of his favourite apps for different kind of jobs, clearly showing that experimenting and discovering new apps is one of the most enjoyable parts of iPhoneography. These included Filterstorm, Slow Shutter, PicBlender, Photo Collage or Polimagic just to name a few.

I'd like to take his message of "App to the max!" and share it with all of you in this post. iPhoneography encourages any and every iPhone owner to be a little bit more creative taking photos. The amount of tools available - a lot of them free - opens the doors to a private club where only people who could afford expensive DSLRs and powerful desktop computers were allowed in. If you're interested in  attending the iPhoneography course, note that it runs on Thursdays for five weeks and that admissions are open now.