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Photography & an iPad

Published December 5th, 2011

When the iPad first surfaced, I was mildly curious about it. Mostly it looked like Apple had taken the iPhone design and made it bigger. I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about back in those infant days of digital tablets.

I've been an Apple fan since the mid-eighties. The first real computer I ever laid my eyes on was an Apple. Back then, computers were a novelty, usually only associated with science fiction or in government archival rooms with large machines and spinning tape reels. I have only briefly owned my own Mac but because of work over the years, I have been largely a PC owner.

I'm what's called a power user. Basically that means that I end up utilizing every gadget on my computer whether it be hardware or software. The same can be said of my smartphone usage. I have an Android phone and I have an app for just about every aspect of my daily living.

But back to Apple... The only reason I own a Droid is because my phone carrier is Verizon and, at the time, AT&T had exclusive distribution of the iPhone. It was too expensive and complicated to switch over so I got the next best thing; a Motorola Droid.

So recently the opportunity presented itself to buy an iPad because my wife Linda was going to Mexico for a vacation with her family and she didn't want to bring a computer. She still wanted to stay in touch via Facebook and email so we looked at each other and said, let's get an iPad!

By now I had more than a year's experience with my Droid and I was fully versed on the advantages of ultra-portable technology. I had my entire portfolio of photographs and some of my video work on my Droid. If I met someone and they wanted to see examples of my work, I had it right in my pocket.

I had been reading about all the great photography apps available for the iPad. In fact, I was beginning to get tired of hearing about them because, by comparison, very little was available for the Droid. Of course the size of the screen on the iPad made it actually practical to consider viewing a photography portfolio and even possibly editing some of my shots. I began to crave ownership of an iPad and when Linda suggested it, I squeaked out a fake and casual "sure".

Since her trip to Mexico, Linda has not used the iPad very much not only because it's still not a replacement for her beloved laptop but mainly because I have been hogging it every day. It has now become my main source of information. I can consolidate all the photography sites I love reading into one reader app. I also have another app to stay in touch with local and world events. In fact, the iPad makes it so easy to stay in touch with the news, I feel like I am now more well informed than I have ever been in my life. Hell, I even gave my parents in Ireland a walking tour of our new house using another app: Skype.

The iPad has also greatly impacted my photography. While I used to shoot exclusively in the RAW format on my camera, I am now shooting both RAW and JPEG. This way, when I get home, I import all the JPEGs onto my iPad and use it like an old-style light box.

I've learned to slow down a little with this tablet. Even writing this blog is taking much more time than it would usually because I'm finger-pecking the iPad's onscreen keypad, kinda like those journalists or authors from the old days with a cigarette hanging out of the side of their mouths and a big typewriter to capture their inspiration. I find my words are a little more considered at this pace.

And this slow pace has transferred to the process of photography for me. Once I import my photographs, I let them simmer a little. It is said that you cannot make your best choices right after a shoot and I think that's true. Oftentimes I find little gems after the fact in photographs I had initially discarded. On my computer i have little patience. I want to process everything quickly and move on. The light box idea on the iPad, however, makes the whole process more enjoyable for me. Now I'm not as quick to delete a photograph. Even if it's not a good shot, I find myself analyzing it more and figuring out how I could have made it better at the moment of capture.

The other day I decided to go visit a few of my favorite haunts to shoot. There was a thick fog that morning and it seemed ideal for getting some moody shots. In general, I find that going out to shoot with no plan can be fun and exciting but it can also lead to disappointment, particularly when I am visiting old familiar places. What I have found to be more lucrative is to set some kind of challenge or goal for myself.

I decided that today my challenge was going to be shooting only in black and white. For me, shooting monochrome makes me look at things in a completely different way. What makes a successful black and white shot is a combination of factors; contrast, texture and a simple uncluttered composition. There are other things to but these are my main criteria. A successful black and white picture, for the most part, cannot be had by simply pushing the black and white conversion button in your program of choice... there's much more too it than that.

Black and white lends itself to abstraction. While color photography can easily capture reality as we mostly see it, black and white captures the mood of a scene. In fact, sometimes a black and white photograph can acquire a life of its own in a monochrome world. Take, for instance the photograph below. I call it "Ghost Train" because the black and white rendering of this scene added an air of eeriness that was actually not apparent while I was actually there. However, because of my familiarity with this kind of transformation, I actually anticipated this mood before I clicked the shutter.

The more experience I have in this genre, the more predictable the results although, having said that, part of the appeal of shooting this way is the magic that sometimes appears when I later develop the photograph.

As I was shooting, another train arrived in the little station of Snoqualmie. The local government has preserved this area to feel like something from the early twentieth century. The stationmaster was dressed up in uniform as he greeted the driver. I knew how I wanted this photograph to look. I wanted a sense of nostalgia so I carefully composed the frame, making sure not to include anything modern, like cars or logos, etc. I am pleased with how it turned out.

Old metal and rust photograph well in black and white so I headed back to the "ghost train" to snag some closeups of the dilapidation. I added some layers of texture to enhance the grittiness and vintage appearance.

It's such a different experience out walking and imagining the world without color. Everything is reduced to basic shapes and compositions are not as readily available as when you have color to pick up the slack.

I walked past a white garage and the simplicity of the square door, adjacent gnarly fence and bare tree caught my eye. The black and white rendering of the image gave it a feeling of loneliness and quiet. It made me wonder what lay behind the door...

The detail on the gnarly fence was a natural choice for monochrome. You almost can't go wrong with distressed and worn wood.

By now, my hands were freezing but I wasn't yet ready to put my camera away. Near the train station there is a huge tree trunk on display with some old logging machinery. At one point, you could freely walk about and touch all of these wonders but vandalism in the form of graffiti forced the powers that be to erect a metal rail all the way around. It was diffult to get a decent shot without the bars getting in the way so I opted to shoot what looked like a wagon wheel instead. I'm actually not sure what it is but it had all the ingredients for an interesting black and white shot; texture and form.

Almost done, I noticed some unintentional yard art across the street. A beat up bath tub and some old metal urns? I was in mono heaven!

I had now circled back to my car and, although I could have continued for hours, I had promised Linda that I would spend time today decorating for Christmas and we had planned to purchase a tree so it was time to go. I didn't feel like I missed any opportunities. The shoot felt like a success. I thought I had at least one or two interesting shots.

When I got home I imported everything onto my iPad. Sure enough, there were a couple of interesting shots and a lot of not so interesting shots. But, true to my new, slower method of selecting worthy candidates, I let them sit on my iPad light box and got on with the rest of my day.

When I returned later, I saw everything with a fresh eye and new selections became apparent to me. I should also mention that all the photographs in the blog were processed entirely on the iPad using a couple of different photo editing apps, mainly Snapseed, a wonderful program from Nik Software ( Who would have thought a gigantic iPhone could do so much?

This new process facilitated by my iPad has added a breath of fresh air to my photography and has opened my eyes to a new level of "seeing".

Stay tuned for more adventures...



  • December 4th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • 50mm / f/2.2 / 1/640 sec


  • December 4th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • 50mm / f/1.4 / 1/800 sec


  • December 4th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • 50mm / f/2 / 1/1250 sec

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