A Wedding in Regent’s Park
Some of the first photos from a recent wedding in Regent’s Park, London. September and October are by far my favourite months of the year, light-wise.
Some of the first photos from a recent wedding in Regent’s Park, London. September and October are by far my favourite months of the year, light-wise.
Having braved the upgrade queue - a decision driven mainly by my current iPhone 3GS and its pitifully depleted battery (lasting around an hour into the day) - by 9.30am Friday I was a proud new owners of the iPhone 4S.
There are myriad features on the new iPhone that I love; after 24 hours of testing Siri to its limits, playing with notifications, the integrated Twitter features, the location-based reminders, and more, I’m in no doubt the ‘phone will enrich my life albeit in some small way.
Rather than focusing on these features, however, here I’m reviewing the iPhone 4S camera from the perspective of a professional photographer.
Here’s a list of improvements you’ll see in the iPhone 4S camera, whether they are down to the iOS5 upgrade (which can be installed on older models) or to the iPhone 4S itself.
This review expands upon all of these improvements.
As a professional photographer, there is a small part of me that despises the concept of a cameraphone. This ubiquitous device has landed in the hands of The Many, which has led to an explosion in the number of photographs taken across the world in any given second (which should be good), yet a proportionally huge reduction in the average quality of a photograph.
If this sounds a bit abstract, just consider what you see on Facebook. Every minute detail of our lives is now captured on our mobile phones in poor light, at low definition, and with little thought. Every moment, including the seminal moments - a child’s fifth birthday party, a graduation, the first dance at a wedding. These seminal moments are being lost in the sea of photos that we take, their significance diminished in our memories.
However this problem is not because of the technology itself; we can’t blame technology. It’s how we have adopted the technology. But then, neither can we blame lack of expertise; it’s not only the average Joe who doesn’t realise that ‘less is more’ when it comes to curating our lives’ photos, I have seen professional photographers who take the easy line and offer clients quantity over quality.
No, let’s not focus on the effect that ubiquity is having on the social function of photography. Let’s focus instead on the camera itself.
I wish I could attribute the following quotation to someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson, alas it’s a modern idea;
“The best camera is the one that’s with you”
As a cameraphone, the iPhone has long been behind the competition. Users of the original iPhone, the 3G, and to a lesser extent the 3GS, have bemoaned the poor camera.
The iPhone 4 brought the ‘phone’s camera up to modern expectations.
The iPhone 4S, released yesterday, greatly exceeds expectations of a camera phone, and many are saying it’s the best camera on a ‘phone to date.
From the perspective of a photographer, here’s what I believe makes a good cameraphone.
With iOS5, it is now possible to access the camera from the lock screen. This may be done by double-clicking the home button, either when the lock screen is already showing, or when the phone display is off altogether.
And for those who protect their iPhone with a passcode, there’s no need to worry that this could be used to circumvent entering the passcode to view existing photos:
One of the main issues with the iPhone 3GS was a delay when entering the camera app. The shutter animation would hang for a second or more, which really affects your ability to point and shoot. The iPhone 4S has an upgraded processor, and there’s no more waiting.
Another major gripe was that you had to use the software button on the screen to take a photo. The iPhone 4S now has a physical button for shutter release: the up-volume button on the side. This is a lovely button which provides a good level of physical feedback without jogging the ‘phone in the slightest when pressed. Great for macro shots, where the tiniest movement can throw the focus off.
Most importantly, something that angers most photographers about cameraphones - and indeed small point-and-shoot cameras - is the shutter release delay. These inferior cameras usually use autofocus; even if you have pressed the button, that shot isn’t taken until the camera thinks the image is in focus. This can lead to a delay of a second or sometimes more, and we professionals (or anyone with an SLR camera!) absolutely hate that!
The iPhone 4S has an instantaneous shutter release - like an SLR.
The result is that inexperienced users may end up with photos that are out of focus - but let’s face it, in many cases if you leave the camera to choose your focus point then you won’t be getting the best results anyway. At least this gives power back to the real photographer.
Combine this with the new face recognition feature, and the new super-fast focusing, and it’s actually very difficult to end up with photos that are out of focus.
The new iPhone 4S sports a grid for composing a shot according to the rule of thirds. Of course, this grid may be turned off, but it’s great for shooting landscapes. Here it is with the options screen:
Naturally, of course, we have the ability to turn the flash on or off, or set to auto. For a professional photographer, this switch is set to the ‘off’ position 95% of the time. If there isn’t enough light, the last thing we want is a horrible harsh flash lighting the scene. There are some occasions it is nice to switch the flash on, such as … wait for it … when the sun is shining. Why? This is called fill flash, and if the subject is close enough to the iPhone, the bright LED light is just enough to take the harsh edges off the shadows that are cast on the subject’s face. Similarly the flash is useful for more ‘functional’ photographs, e.g. if you are trying to read a number from the rear of a box and you can’t quite reach it otherwise.
Other than that: turn that horrid flash off, and leave it off!
From the above screencap, you can also see the switch camera icon (top right). This allows you to use the front-facing camera on the iPhone instead. Whilst this might be great for that narcissistic shot of yourself, it most certainly won’t do your photography any good. The front-facing camera on the iPhone 4S is still pretty horrid, and should be avoided for anything except its primary intended use which is video.
Another brilliant boon to iPhone photographers in the release of the iPhone 4S is the quick edit function. This is where, after taking a shot, you can quickly crop, rotate, or fix red-eye. There is also an option to ‘Auto Enhance’, however this should be avoided if you are serious about the photo. Apple have mercifully avoided any other ‘artistic’ editing functions, as well as manual post-processing control over exposure or contrast, and stuck to the basics: crop, free-form rotate, and red-eye. This is a good thing.
The focus and exposure control offer a similar interface to previous generations - tap anywhere on the screen to focus on that point - however they are noticeably faster and more accurate. iPhone 4S now also has a face recognition feature which assists when focusing on a single subject or taking a group shot. The focus can of course be overridden by tapping the screen to focus on another point.
Unfortunately, there is no separation of exposure and focus control, which means the point you focus is also the point which you choose for correct exposure level. Personally I think that separating these two controls would indeed have been one step too far for the average user. If you require this kind of functionality… there’s an app for that.
The zoom control now uses multi-touch pinch rather than the slightly fiddlesome zoom scroll-bar on previous generations. However, as this is digital zoom as opposed to optical zoom, the result is that you are cropping the image rather than actually zooming-in. Therefore, never use digital zoom; it’s a bad idea because it reduces your options. If you need to see something close-up, you should crop the image afterwards using the new iOS5 in-app editing (mentioned above) or using other software e.g. on your computer. (The same applies for any camera with digital zoom!)
One final point of interest about the improvements to photo handling in iOS5 worth noting is the integration of photos into iCloud. A new folder appears within the pictures app when you upgrade to iOS5 (or by default on the iPhone 4S) called photo stream:
If you have upgraded to iOS5 (whether you restored a backup of your older phone to a new iPhone 4S, or just upgraded your non-4s to iOS5), you have the option of using the photo stream function. If you switch this on, all photos you take from that point onwards will be uploaded / backed-up to iCloud, and will appear in both the camera roll and the photo stream folders.
This is a real boon for those who use desktop or laptop computers (Mac or PC) as your iCloud photo stream can be synchronised with your computer. No more emailing yourself files, or uploading them to Dropbox! Windows users will need to download the iCloud control panel application (download link here) for Windows, and Mac users will need to upgrade to OS X Lion and switch on iCloud. The windows client allows you to set the location of your photo stream, if you choose to have this downloaded to your computer.
Everyone knows how futile the ‘megapixel race’ is; this is where camera manufacturers play on the general public’s lack of knowledge and get them to focus on meaningless specifications such as the megapixel count. Of course, it’s not an entirely meaningless specification, but in many cases over the last decade, cameras have been released with dog-awful lenses and a high megapixel count; all this does is to show you in even higher resolution how terrible the photograph is!
It’s like matching hi-fi speakers with an amp. No use spending a tonne on lovely speakers if the amplifier doesn’t do them justice.
As long as the megapixel count does justice to the lens and the quality of the sensor, that’s all the matters.
Apple upgraded the iPhone 4S camera’s megapixel count (this is a function of the new sensor itself, of course) to 8MP. This resolution definitely does justice to the upgraded lens and sensor. It’s worth noting at this point that the video function does not use the full resolution of the sensor, and as such the image is cropped. Therefore, it’s no longer possible to take such wide angle images in video mode. This is a great shame, and it would surely have been possible to use the full sensor frame but reduce the resolution on-the-fly.
So - onto the good stuff: the lens and the sensor.
Apple stated that, despite having a higher resolution, the new sensor is 73% more sensitive. This essentially means the lens performs better in low light, which means that there is less blur and less noise. Let’s take a look. This is actually a comparison of images from iPhone 3GS rather than the iPhone 4.
The image from the iPhone 4GS had its resolution reduced in Photoshop to match that of the 3GS, for comparison’s sake. The images were taken in the same light.
The brighter image is from the iPhone 4GS.
As well as poor response to light and higher noise, below we can also see the increased JPG artefacts from the iPhone 3GS, however this may be due to the fact the image was not reduced in size, whereas the 4GS image was reduced in size, for this comparison.
If you can look past the noise and the JPG artefacts, it’s also possible to see that the image has a greater clarity of edges and increased detail in the blacks. Compare the cat’s eyes and nose; on the 3GS version they are blacker and with less detail.
As well as this revised sensor, the iPhone 4S has a completely redesigned lens setup, with a wider aperture (f/2.4, as opposed to the iPhone 4’s lens aperture of f/2.8). This wider aperture allows more light in, and as you can see from the below test images, it reduces the depth of field; this is something many photographers will enjoy about the new lens, as it can slightly improve the feel of portraits.
Note that the aperture of f/2.4 is not equivalent to that of the photographer’s standard measurement based on the 35mm film. The equivalent aperture would be much higher, in the order of f/18-22, as is appropriate for a fixed-aperture and fixed-focal-length lens.
Of course, the focal length of the iPhone 4S has also changed, and it’s now 4.3mm as opposed to the iPhone 4 focal length of 3.85. Whilst it may seem at first the image should appear zoomed-in in comparison to the iPhone 4, remember that the crop factor may be slightly different if the sensor has been redesigned. Very little detail has been released on the dimensions of the sensor itself.
The below two images show the effect of DoF (depth of field) of the iPhone 4S as compared with the iPhone 3GS. The images are shown here uncropped; the iPhone 3GS image is taken at a slightly higher elevation to compensate for the different focal length. These images are not intended as technically accurate comparisons of DoF.
Observe the bottom horizontal stick (a thin bamboo skewer) in both photographs. The focal point of both images was the middle stick. The iPhone 4S version shows the bottom stick to be much more out of focus.
The reduction in DoF is not severe, however it will have a noticeable effect on portrait shots, where backgrounds will appear that little bit more blurry and out of focus, thus accentuating the subject. A lesser proportion of the iPhone 4S image is in focus, which results in a more artsy photo. Great in most cases.
For example, here’s a picture of an avocado in the foreground, with me in the background…
And Apple has proven the DoF point with a slightly less attractive model, and a pretty flower…
The new lens consists of 5 elements, one of which Apple has stated is a ‘hybrid infrared filter’. This is presumably due to the increased sensitivity of the sensor to incident infrared light.
Please do see the summary of improvements listed near the top of this review.
Hopefully I have covered the main improvements to the iPhone 4S camera. As always, I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading!
Whilst the iPad 2 is probably one of the bluntest photographic tools imaginable (even my out-of-date iPhone fares better in terms of image quality), I have always believed the quality of a photograph depends not on the lens itself, but what happens in front of it. And of course the light.
One of the joys of the sorely-missed Polaroid era was its instant gratification appeal; where friends could see the image straight away, burst out laughing, and take another. As a photographer who adored working with Polaroid SLR, it makes my heart flutter just thinking about it.
Even just working with a single model, Polaroid SLR created this incredible synthesis between photographer and subject that has so far not been recreated even in the digital age we now live in. Just take a look at the excellent work of Lou O’ Bedlam, one of the superstars of Polaroid for example. Or take a look through my own little love affair with Polaroid.
This week I’m photographing for Topshop in Dublin, and next week the same in the Broadway store in New York. It’s for Topshop’s “Wish You Were Here” promotion. This is one of those inspired ideas of the digital age which you only really ‘get’ once you see it in action. But within a matter of minutes of greeting shoppers who agree to step-in to the studio, they are induced into fits of giggles and delight - and handed a gorgeous postcard print-out of their shot. With their permission, the photo may optionally be uploaded to their Facebook profile as well.
The concept features an interactive style of photography using an iPad 2 connected wirelessly to a nearby table of iMacs.
Shoppers are invited into the mini-studio which has been set up on the shop floor, and they are allowed to dress up using a rail of clothing and accessories. Promotional staff, personal shoppers, and stylists are on-hand to help out. Mirrors and a makeup station are provided. In special cases where shoppers have their eye on a particular outfit they have seen in the store, they can change into it and come for the shoot.
We then work with the models to get the very best out of them for the few minutes they have in front of the lighting, suggesting poses and offering encouraging words. The studio lighting is adjusted for each model so as to get the best catchlight in the eyes and offer the best level of diffusion for the skin tones. This takes a matter of seconds during which time models can get themselves ready in front of the lights and prepare.
A couple of test shots are taken on the iPad which allow the models to check they are happy with their poses and expressions.
Then we hand over the iPad 2, and let models choose their preferred Instagram filter.
In many cases, we have a filter in mind when we take the shot. Sometimes you see a face and you just know what works…
Even after the first two days of shooting - as I write - the overall concept of the ‘Wish You Were At Topshop’ promotion has been a huge success. For me it somehow captures that same cult spirit of Polaroid.
It’s one of those projects where the technology becomes a little bit transparent, allowing the visual and kinesthetic pleasures of making photographs to take the stage again. This is mostly thanks to the great system design by FreshNetworks which automates the entire process and packages it beautifully.
And the concept itself? The combination of the grabbable iPad, the playable Instagram, the ubiquitous Facebook, the gleaming iMacs, and plain-old good quality 6x4 instant printing is clearly one that has already won a number of hearts.
I’d be surprised if the whole thing didn’t turn into a craze in itself.
In fact, at times, it makes you want to throw away your 5D and use an iPhone to take photos for the rest of your life.
Okay - maybe I’m not ready for that quite yet …
On Monday I met the three talented individuals who make up the Lawson Trio (http://www.lawsontrio.com) for a morning session of photography, starting outside Tate Modern then moving over the river to a variety of scenes around St Paul’s, Barbican, and Liverpool Street.
Annabelle Lawson: Piano
Fenella Humphreys: Violin
Rebecca Knight: Cello
Well - in the UK we are not used to such wonderful bright days at this time of the year (I recall last year at this time it was … snowing?) but it was the wind that was the real show-stopper.
We had a lovely shot idea in mind but it was rendered impossible because of the direct sunlight (and the fact we didn’t have an entourage of 10 helpers to who can hold up flags / sun blockers / reflectors). Nevertheless, it’s always possible to run for shade, which is what we did for the first scene.
Oh and that brisk North Sea wind? Wind is never a major problem as long as it’s up and down. In fact I love the movement it creates, the expression on the face it causes, and the pressure it puts you under to click the shutter at the precise moment!
These photos were lit with a single umbrella in the shade, camera right. The first umbrella died a death in the strong gusts, luckily I had a standby brolly…
Here are a few of my favourite shots from the two Polo Club Calendars photographed by Mat Smith Photography over the last year or so.
The unauthorised publishing, copying, or distributing of the below images is prohibited. Copyright Mat Smith Photography.
When I asked Sarah Ellen Hughes, lead singer for Sector7 - a vocal quartet plus supporting piano trio - what style of music the quartet sang, the answer was a little vague.
“Kind of souly, funky, a mixture of our own stuff, with lots of different influences”.
“Well, okay. What kind of tunes will you be performing tonight?”
… “You’ll see”.
From left to right: Emma Smith, Shakka Philip, Kwabena Adjepong, Sarah Ellen Hughes
Praised highly by the likes of leading jazz vocalists Claire Martin and Ian Shaw, as well as having sung as the principal vocalist for NYJO, Sarah is known for her superb arrangements of jazz tunes, especially in the vocalese style. After a really successful year in 2010 during which she recorded her new album with Jim Hart, Dave O’Higgins and Ian Shaw, Sarah is now leading a vocal group, Sector7.
I was invited to photograph Sector7’s launch gig at 606 Club in Chelsea, London, which was a sell-out success.
Each of the singers has such enormously different voices in terms of timbre and style, not to mention strong, individual on-stage personalities, but they have such a fabulous chemistry between them and their voices gel really beautifully as a quartet. The audience was clearly bowled-over for the majority of both sets by the sheer joy and talent they were presented with.
As for the styles of music, they ranged from the inspired choice of a Bjork cover to Chick Corea’s Spain; it’s almost a discredit to the impressive fusion of styles to label it merely ‘soul’, ‘funk’, or ‘jazz’.
You can hear their music and learn more about Sector7 on Sarah’s website here: http://www.sarahellenhughes.co.uk/fr_home.cfm
I managed to snatch 5 minutes outside with the group before their soundcheck to grab a quick group shot. (See first shot above.)
And some shots with shoot-through umbrella positioned slightly to camera-left during sound check and rehearsals:
Award winning British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad makes it onto the front cover of Issue 30 of the BASCA magazine.
Photograph by Mat Smith Photography using RadioPopper wireless triggers.
In the heart of the Westminster Bubble, a stone’s throw from Downing Street (and trust me, I threw stones*) and Trafalgar Square, and on the slightly undesirable pink Monopoly board square of Northumberland Ave (£160 to buy the whole road**), lies a historic monument to the Commonwealth history of our nation. Actually, they lie all around, but the one I’m talking is the Commonwealth Club. This private members’ club has recently thrown the doors of its kitchen wide open to the general public. They even let women in now too!
* metaphorical stones
** in real life, it’s an extremely desirable place. In fact, I hazard it’s one of the loveliest walks around the block you could take of an evening in central London, and certainly one of the most romantic, save for the omnipresent nature of the police clustering on every corner.
I rarely blog about non-photo things, but sometimes life and food are so good that they deserve a little space on here (hence the ‘life’ part of my blog title ‘photolife’).
Last night I was kindly invited by Qype (my favourite foodie reviewing site) to sample the tasting menu at Searcys at the Commonwealth Club - or the Commonwealth Kitchen. And what a find this place is.
At 6.30pm we checked in for a Champagne reception. I say checked in - they took our coats and we techie types hit a button on our iPhones to signify our arrivals… (it’s all the rage - honest):
You would be forgiven for walking past the Commonwealth Kitchen without even noticing its existence. It has none of the street presence you’d expect from a London restaurant (e.g. Prezzo next door has a big blue neon sign…) and such hidden gems are often the best.
The tasting menu consisted of four courses plus a perfect picking of palate cleansers and matching wines.
I absolutely love a tasting menu as it’s the chef’s chance to take the diner on a journey that he has thought about in great detail, and it’s his chance to show-off. In my perfect utopian world, people wouldn’t be allowed to choose dishes in restaurants at all. I have this sneaking suspicion that choice is the nemesis of genuine food diversity in the world of good dining.
I digress - here’s what we were given to start the evening’s food journey: scallops!
LJ had the non-fish option of a broccoli velouté:
Smoked Wild Duck with Curried Lentil Soup and a Pomegranate Salad. Duck and pomegranate is a clever combination.
Onto my favourite savoury course of the evening, a superb North Scotland Monkfish with Mussels and Orzo Pasta.
Monkfish is one of those foods that can be very bland indeed, and can be forced to rely on its surrounding ingredients, but the plus side is that it has an amazing buttery (excuse the cliché) melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The Commonwealth Kitchen really got it right here. Great variation of textures within the plate, perfect sidekick of shellfish, some zesty greens, and a creamy pasta.
It looks so innocent and beautiful here, but I photographed monkfish a week ago at Selfridge’s Food Counter and can confirm it is the ugliest beast imaginable. Google Images it.
And here’s the monkfish with baby gem purée, the alternative dish to the above for those selfish shellfish spurners:
Onto the more serious stuff of venison.
Ever since a fatal high speed encounter between my car and a deer on an unlit stretch of the M11 last year (fatal for the deer, thankfully nobody human was hurt), I have approached venison dinners with more glee than usual. It’s a shame, I’m sure not all deer are stupid as hell, but I was most pleased this one was cooked in more than one way; roasted and braised.
Chard Farm Venison ‘roast and braise’, Confit Celeriac, Red Cabbage and Bitter Chocolate Jus.
Or as I like to call it, “Take that, Bambi”
This next dish was another alternative to the one I ate.
So jealous. (of the bark. I wanted bark.)
Butternut Squash Risotto with Iron Bark Pumpkin Purée.
There’s a fine line between minimalism and vacuousness when it comes to this kind of food. I have especially found that wedding catering companies working to please a sophisticated palate often try way too hard, and end up producing mere fashion food (“H2O jus served on a bed of essence of lark’s vomit with an accent of deep sea fish shoulder” etc.)
Well, this gorgeous side dish of Romanesco Broccoli was exactly the right side of that line. It’s little details like this, when I bite into them, that make me understand why I am not a real cook, nor should I ever try to be one. This mathematically interesting vegetable (an example of fractals in food) was probably the tiniest most sumptuous thing I have eaten this year so far.
How to follow that? Here’s how. A pre-dessert dessert. Sorry, palate cleanser. (But we all know it’s a pre-dessert dessert.)
Blood orange sorbet with candied ginger. Two perfectly-formed bullet shapes of sorbet: tangy, but not sour and no strong aftertaste.
Despite the exceptionally well-controlled portion sizes (I mean: small), I am by this point happy.
Of course, we all know humans have a different, special stomach, though. A stomach that has actually remained completely empty throughout a filling meal. A reserve stomach, if you will.
Next up, a delicious Spiced Apple Cake with Blackberry Variations specially designed for the reserve stomach.
The photo speaks for itself; this dish was brilliant. The chef is a guy after my own heart. A dish that tells a little story.
I should like to recommend a new name for the menu (I don’t like the way the dish’s title fades away into the word “variations”. Rubbish!) It should be named: A Boat of Blackberry Sets Sail from Spiced Apple Island upon the Shores of Jus, Past the Rocks of Crouton, Guided by the Scent of a Blackberry Sugar, Alas, the Crunchy Sharks Are Biting at the Hull of the Ship! What to Do!
There’s so much going on visually here. The little rocks of tornaway Spiced Apple Island near the bottom of the plate. The delicious crunchy sharks surrounding the ice cream.
Virtuosic presentation, I think you will agree.
Who needs a dessert wine for afters when you have Ice Cider? The Leduc-Piedimonte Ice Cider is a Canadian treat, aged for 24 months and fermented, and was a huge hit with fellow diners.
It had a strange sweetness profile; a strong apple nose which was very dry in the mouth, but similarly there were medium-sweet vanilla notes and pleasing spice oak. As such it makes for a wonderful replacement of a dessert wine. You could almost imagine you are drinking a sweet wine if it weren’t for the overpowering apple.
As a huge fan of artisan apple juice, this hit the spot for me.
It tasted of real-real apples, I don’t mean your bottled-fresh-real-apple-juice-from-the-store, I mean your sourced-locally-and-found-in-farmers-market taste. If my knowledge of apples were better, I could doubtless have distinguished what varietal we were drinking, I don’t think it was a blend.
I met some lovely fellow London foodies. Here’s Chris, Qype’s resident London Guru. I fully understood the significance of this Guru status had when I indicated I liked cigars, and he began to reel-off his favourite twenty or so cigar lounges and terraces in London. (Maybe I exaggerate with twenty, but Chris is certainly the London food and drink equivalent of a London Cabbie; he has The Knowledge.)
Here’s a link to his blog.
I must admit I’m not a fan of New World wines. I know people who swear by them, but maybe my tastes haven’t matured enough for them yet. (I’m trying to be diplomatic.) There is no question the wines here were of a good standard, great clarity and depth, and they will leave drinkers with a happy organic glow as opposed to a slight headache. It’s just the flavours, they are a little unsubtle. Actually the Chardonnay was good, and I really enjoyed the superb Champagne (Champagne equivalent?) presented to us on arrival.
Either way, great line-up, and of course well-matched with the various courses of food.
And the aftermath of my tasting…
The service and hospitality we received as a large-ish group was wonderful, waiting staff and restaurant manager took time to chat with us about the origin of the foods and the restaurant’s values. Looking at the menu prices I will definitely be paying the restaurant another visit, and I cannot recommend Searcys at The Commonwealth Club highly enough.
Thanks Qype for an evening of great food and wine, and it is lovely as always to meet new lovers of fine dining in London. To the Commonwealth Kitchen, thank you for your hospitality.