February 26, 2021

Strolling iPhone Users Turn Snapshots Into Art

Instead, everyone carried an iPhone and snapped photos with giddy enthusiasm. Most were San Francisco residents who had gathered in Chinatown on a warm Saturday morning to take part in an “Instawalk,” an ad hoc gathering of iPhone photography enthusiasts who share their pictures via Instagram, the popular iPhone photo service/social network that has more than seven million users.

The tours are led by Brian Roberts, better known to his Instagram fans as Doctor Popular. With help from the Instagram app, Doctor Popular’s remarkable photographs have quickly established him as an innovator who uses the iPhone as a powerful tool for creative expression, rather than as a pocket-size plaything.

The most important part of the tours he organizes occurs afterward, when participants gather at a Chinatown cocktail bar to drink and review the photos. “Have you tried the Synthcam app?” asked Doctor Popular, 34, a community manager at Postagram, an iPhone app developer. “It was made by a bunch of Stanford professors. It’s great for creating shallow depth of field.” That sets off a free-for-all discussion comparing the best apps for editing photos on the phone.

“There’s a new art form emerging,” he said later in an interview. “I used to react badly when people would call it ‘iPhotography,’ because that seemed too contrived. Yet more and more, I feel that this type of photography is really its own thing.”

The growth of iPhotography has been fueled by the thousands of inexpensive photography apps offered on Apple’s App Store. Android stores also have photo apps. App developers have released an impressive array of tools that can do basic retouching tasks like enhancing brightness, clarity and contrast, or stranger tricks like merging images or deconstructing a photo into patterns and colors. Percolator, ($1.99), for instance, converts images into colorful mosaics that look almost like stained glass. Another app, called Interlacer (99 cents) threads two images together, line by line, to create images that appear as if they were displayed on a vintage color television in need of repair.

Amateur iPhotography evangelists like Doctor Popular have channeled their enthusiasm for such apps into events that encourage beginner and veteran photographers to compare notes, share techniques and socialize while taking pictures. Ad hoc iPhone photo walks, publicized using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and Instagram, have taken place in Hong Kong, New York, Seattle and Austin, Tex., among other places.

Alex Suarez, an information technology technician in Austin, has led photo walks for traditional photographers for years, but after organizing his first iPhotography walk in July, he noticed that it attracted a very different crowd.

“Regular photo walks tend to be serious,” Mr. Suarez said. “But iPhone walks bring out more of a cross section of Austin. They are more social, and some people even bring their kids.”

Tyson Wheatley, an American news editor who lives in Hong Kong and has organized several photo walks there, said, “It’s about having fun and taking photos.”

“We try to pick spots where a large group can explore at leisure and hopefully not get lost,” he said. “There’s no curriculum, but the conversation is usually dominated by tips, tactics and favorites apps. We always end with dinner or drinks.”

Similarly, social networking combined with some photo filters and image-enhancement tools make it easy to share smartphone photographs. Social photo-sharing also has a viral effect by exposing a wide range of people to the kinds of images that can be created using nothing more than the iPhone many already have in their pockets.

For some smartphone users, the aha! moment comes when they realize the device can do more than just capture crude snapshots of cats or pictures of dinner. “The big shift happens when you go from using the camera to document daily life to thinking of it as a tool for photography,” Doctor Popular said.

His epiphany occurred when he began editing photos on his iPhone to pass the time during an hourlong public train commute between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he was a video game designer. While experimenting with dozens of photo apps, he developed his signature approach to iPhone photography: Instead of just editing an image with one app, he often runs it through several apps, one after the other, in a specific sequence. His process generates unusual photographs that betray little evidence that they were created entirely on a mobile phone.

In one recent image, he took two pictures of the high-rise skyline of downtown San Francisco. He then used the Decim8 app (99 cents) to break up the pattern of the images, and the StripeCam app (99 cents) to enhance the vertical lines of the buildings. Finally, he used the TrueHDR app (99 cents) to combine the two images and create a “ghosting” effect.

This serial-editing technique was a natural extension of his experience with yo-yos, Doctor Popular says. He has used the same pseudonym for years as a world-ranked yo-yo master. “I tended to see apps as a series of tricks that you string together to create a combination,” he explained.

He often includes production notes with his photos on Instagram as guidance for fans and would-be imitators. “Shot with the regular camera app, then run through #Decim8, then merged with #TrueHDR,” is a typical example.

Such app recommendations are invaluable, because in a paradoxical way the expensive iPhone, which starts at $199 (with a two-year wireless contract), is a very egalitarian photography device.

With traditional cameras, advanced techniques often require expensive gear like specialized lenses, filters and lighting. Throw in a personal computer and shrink-wrapped image editing software that can cost well over $600, and D.S.L.R. photography quickly becomes a very expensive hobby.

The iPhone, by contrast, is a level and affordable playing field for aspiring photographers because everyone starts with the same device and most photography apps cost just a dollar or two. Of course, that also sets up iPhotography for the criticism that it is not photography at all but essentially like a video game. Doctor Popular brushed that critique off.

“Five years ago, you often heard people say that digital photography wasn’t really art,” he said. “There will always be reaction coupled with cycles of traditionalism and revival.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3f55d58fc3b6596d55787709949750ae

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