The Rise of Computational Photography

Computational photography is coming up more and more as a topic these days, driven largely by developments in the smartphone world. Apple and Google, specifically, have worked diligently over the past few years to overcome the inherent limitations in the cameras of their pocket-size phones—small sensors and tiny lenses—to produce better images than would be available solely from the phones’ optics alone. By using custom chips, advanced software, dual lenses (in the case of newer iPhones and some Android phones) and more, these phones can create photographs that once required high-end cameras or painstaking compositing to produce. (For more, see Jeff Carlson’s piece on DPReview.com about the computational aspects of the iPhone XS.)

The result is that our phones now use this technology to provide impressive images, ones combined in the phone from multiple “shots.” They include things like automatic high-dynamic range (HDR) photos, seamless panoramas, and portraits with shallow depth of field. Sure, you can find many online commenters who rail against the bad portrait shots and wonky panos as proof that this iPhone or that Pixel is not as good as a basic SLR or mirrorless camera, but that misses the point (something we talk about extensively in Taking Better Pictures Doesn’t Mean a New Camera). Read more »

Overviews of Photographic History

In my last post, about the person who wanted to “take better pictures,” I mentioned Beaumont Newhall’s classic book, The History of Photography: From 1839 to Present, and Edward Steichen’s The Family of Manas two books that influenced me heavily when I was younger. While I love monographs of individual photographers, histories of photography fascinate and and delight me, and I thought it might be worthwhile to mention a few more that I have loved over the years; most of these have found their way into my permanent library. Read more »

Taking “Better Pictures” Doesn’t Mean a New Camera

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day, one that I felt was worth recounting here. I was at a bookstore, perusing photography books for possible review here on the website. It was clearly a very slow day at the bookstore; while I was at the register, the checkout dude murmured something like, “these look interesting…I’d really like to take better pictures.”

We had a short conversation about whether these books might help, and he then asked me if I was a photographer. I told him yes, but that I was really more of an editorial guy who published a website about photography.

Without missing a beat, he said, “I really need a better camera. Which one should I buy?”

To which I replied, “Which phone do you have?”

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Recognizing Tonal Potential

Very often, good photos are the result of a photographer being able to recognize the potential in a scene, and very often that potential is one based around manipulating tone. Learning to develop an eye for tone will not only allow you to get better shots, it will open up a realm of subject matter that you may not normally recognize. For example, consider this shot:
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Remembering Some Basics

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you that teaching is usually a two-way street. While, as a teacher, you always hope to impart useful knowledge to your students, (and possibly even understanding) you almost always come away learning something yourself. For the last four years I’ve had the great privilege to work at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, an exceptional arts camp for 14 to 18-year-olds. And every year, our students remind me of some very simple, essential photographic tenets. If you’ve lately been feeling uninspired, or “stuck” with your shooting , perhaps some of these ideas will help you re-find your photographic footing.

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