Focusing On iPhoneography

What’s the best camera? The one you have with you, of course. With that in mind, Apple is on the cusp of announcing its newest iCameras 14, presumably with ever-better camera systems. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying a reawakening of my dormant hobby: photography. And for a pocket phone cam that’s always with me, my iPhone 8 Plus isn’t half bad. Yet newer Apple cameras (phones) are even better. Why not make the camera that’s always with me the best it can be?

Before I talk about cellular telephone cameras, let me first say it’s refreshingly nice to feel my former enthusiasm for picture-making revive. The craft of photography is fulfilling regardless of the gear involved. Years ago, it was my main hobby. For various reasons — life — I’ve enjoyed other pursuits. But none seem quite so satisfying as getting outside and focusing on nature through the lens of a camera.

So the photo bug bit me again. Why? Because my oldest two sons’ iPhones will no longer be supported by Apple once iOS 16 is released in the next few weeks. This means I get to upgrade my iPhone 8 Plus, which will be 5 years old next month. With one or two years left of support, it can be passed down to one of my sons, replacing their soon out-of-date device. That’s a fair recycling program. And it’s a convenient way for me to upgrade the camera that’s always with me. Naturally, I want to make it the best it can be.

Thinking about what newer iPhone I might move up to, I’ve been impressed by their more advanced camera systems. Yeah, camera nerd here. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m still talking about a phone camera and not a “real” camera. Yet dumb-cameras died a few years back since phone cam quality — not to mention convenience — matched or surpassed that of compact cameras (a.k.a. point-and-shoots). My iPhone 8 Plus is all I shoot with these days, only busting out my old Canon S5IS (and my wife’s Nikon D60 before it died) once a year during Bluebonnet season.

With iPhone camera hardware improved, my eyes are fixed on the three-lens setup found on iPhone 11 Pro for example. Also more advanced is iPhone camera software thanks to — queue buzzword — computational photography. Automatic features like Smart HDR, Deep Fusion, and Portrait Mode work with iPhone hardware to create impressive results. Search on YouTube for iPhone camera comparisons with “real” pro cameras — the picture quality gap is closing.

The draw of more capable camera tech — think fancy new iPhone — pulled my gaze back towards photography. Also, recent news that Instagram is no longer about photography (no surprise) caught my attention. This led me to give Flickr another look, which seems to be doing fine. I’ve still got photos there from when I started a new account a few years back.

I’ve missed the relaxing and fulfilling hobby of photography. There’s no telling how much I’ll dive back into it or how long the latest photo-bug-bite effects will last. With a new camera (iPhone) and better weather likely coming this Fall, I imagine I’ll get out and take more photos. However far things go, I plan to enjoy the renewed focus while it lasts.

Do you dabble in photography or get excited for new gear? Is there a hobby that you’d like to rekindle?

Bokeh Will Soon Be Beta

Way back in 2019, an alternative to Instagram was kick-started. The name: Bokeh. After some delay, it is still inching toward the finish line. In fact, private (beta) testing is almost here. And being a backer, I should be able to soon give it a try – exciting! Will it take off? The potential is there.

What is Bokeh?

I’ve written about it before: here, here, and here.

In short, it’s a privacy respecting, ad-free, social-photo-network like Instagram. You know, before IG was bought by Facebook.

How does Bokeh work?

Simple. You pay for it! The monthly cost, I think, is relatively low, something like $3 a month (don’t quote me on that though – it could be different).

Since it’s a paid app/service, there is no ad-based monetization scheme. That means no “Sponsored Posts” in your feed. Also, it keeps your privacy – get this – private! I think that’s worth a monthly fee.

Bokeh, like other social networks, connects you to other people on the service. You share photos and can comment and do the things you’d expect, such as view a feed/stream.

The developers have been hard at work coding and such to bring Bokeh to life. I’m eager to see the fruits of their labor.

Yes, the question remains, will Bokeh survive or grow? What level of success would be considered good? The answer remains open, and I’m open to Bokeh’s potential.

Of course, some start-ups fail. But other networks find success. SnapChat and TikTok come to mind. So yeah, Bokeh can succeed.

In fact, since Instagram’s experience suffers under a bloat of copy-cat features, and Facebook’s reputation is forever tarnished, Bokeh stands a good chance to find those seeking a good alternative. It’s delayed release may be ideal timing.

One thing must never happen though. Bokeh can’t eventually sell-out to Facebook. If it proves popular, even competitive, it should keep standing on its own two feet like SnapChat, for example. Let Facebook try to copy Bokeh’s success; I doubt it could pull it off. Facebook would need to drop its whole ad-based privacy-compromising revenue model. So it fundamentally can’t copy Bokeh! And that gives Bokeh a chance to thrive.

Even if Bokeh turns out to be an experiment, I support it. I want to see what a paid-for social-network can be like. Whatever good points it shows, they can be honed into what eventually might be the future of social-media beyond Facebook. Seriously? Yeah!

Would Bokeh compete with Twitter? Or could Bokeh complement it (as in complete it)? I’m not sure. That’s why we need to wait and see. I’m welcoming Bokeh to the stage to share its talent. It’ll be worth watching.

Oh, by the way, if/when the service opens up to the public, you’ll want to hop on it fast. Why? The sooner you do, the more likely you’ll be able to score your preferred user-name!

Will you join Bokeh when it goes live? Would you be more likely to try a paid social-media service if it has a free trial period? Sound off below!

Figuring Out Photo Sites Again

Like me, I bet you take lots of pictures. With your phone…er camera. And they’ve gotta go somewhere. You likely just back’em up with the default photo/cloud system on your phone. And the ones that are share-worthy, you probably have your go-to site or service like Instagram. But I’m not sure where I stand with all that now.

In October, something spurred me to reconsider investing in Flickr as my place to practice and pursue photography as a hobby. It’s compelling, but I think the biggest barrier is time.

Then, as I was contemplating Flickr for my photos, a few things happened. One, Google Photos, my oft-enjoyed photo service of choice, dropped a small tactical nuke: no more free photo storage!

Second, I switched from Android back to an iPhone, so I migrated away from Google Photos to iCloud Photos. Because Apple.

So, for me and my family, we’re relying on Apple’s iCloud photo library to auto back-up all our cat pics, food shots, and selfies. And the ones that are share-worthy, well, that’s the part I’m unsure about.

One good article that helped me think about this is here; check it out.

Ignoring the lack of time, Flickr would be my first choice because…good reasons. But the limiting factor then would be either the 1,000 photo limit at the free tier, or simply paying money for the Pro tier. I’d like to support Flickr with my money, but that’s another blog post.

Other than Flickr, are there other good options for posting good images? Instagram? No, I said “good options.” IG is just not good anymore as it has gotten worse and worse over time. I can’t believe IG replaced the main photo capture button!That’s a bad sign for sure. Bokeh has less competition since IG has strayed so far from its roots!

For now, I’m not really sharing any pictures except for the occasional one on Facebook. But those are not typically the photo-hobby type, they’re more like what you’d put on Instagram circa 2012.

Are there any sites besides Flickr these days that are worth any investment? Is iPhoneography still a thing?

Dumb Cameras Died

You remember point-n-shoot cameras? Maybe you’ve got an old one tucked away in a closet or drawer. It still works just fine, but so does your camera-phone that’s always tucked in your pocket or purse. You’ve probably seen a news headline in the last few years declaring that the point-n-shoot camera is dead. But in case you missed it, yeah, dedicated consumer digital cameras died a while back. Yet digital photography thrives now more than ever, so maybe those old cams could make a comeback.

Photographic Evidence

Two years ago, I accepted the demise of the dedicated point-n-shoot. I had read the articles explaining how and why they were declared dead before then. But while my mind understood, my heart denied it. That is until I was at Grandma’s 90th Birthday Party.

A momentous occasion, celebrating a life only one decade shy of a century, the party served also as a family reunion. Old and young attended on a beautiful sunny Spring day in April. The scene was a rented indoor pavilion/dining hall at a city park in the woods of East Texas. Everything about this event was photogenic.

To help make lasting memories, a professional photographer was hired to take family and group pictures. Of course, I noted she used a mid-range or high-end Nikon DSLR, which is what I would expect. These are dedicated cameras with interchangeable lenses, of which some are even dedicated to one set focal length.

I also paid attention to all the casual photo-takers. There were 130 family members and friends in attendance. And, like the pro-photog, I knew specifically at least three people who owned entry-level DSLRs. But I alone had the only point-n-shoot camera among all! I was the weirdo who dragged out his old-school cam instead of just using a smartphone. In fact, not only did everyone else use a smartphone, at least one used a tablet to shoot pictures!

After I saw with my own eyes how nobody used a point-n-shoot camera or their DSLRs at an event where there couldn’t be a better reason to do so, I was convinced. My heart accepted the fact that the camera was dead.

Back Focus

Why lament the march of progress though? Dumb old cameras gave way to more convenient and more feature-rich smart devices that fit in your pocket. Digital cameras of the past only took pictures. But smartphone cams can immediately edit them and share them with the world! It’s no wonder bulky old single-purpose image shooters are tucked away in closets.

But the technological shift in photography represents the passing of a short era, a time when digital cameras exploded in popularity and everyone, I mean everybody including your Uncle Bob, was suddenly a “photographer.” Every other person with a camera was starting a photography business. Photo-sharing and organizing sites like Flickr, SmugMug, Zenfolio, Picasa, and too many more to mention drew normal people online who otherwise would have ignored the web. At the same time, Facebook photo uploading was quickly surging in users. Then came Instagram and the rest is history.

A Long Focal Length

In technology, trends move so fast. “Dead” is a visceral word to declare old-tech what it really is: obsolete. But believe it or not, you can still buy a new point-n-shoot camera today; they’re still being made and sold. There is still a place for them, it’s just more niche. Dedicated cameras, despite lacking “smart” features, also still possess distinct advantages over your camera-phone.

For Easter this year, I busted out my 13 year old Canon S5 IS “Bridge type” point-n-shoot. It. Still. Works. I chose it for portraits of my sons because my iPhone 7 with a single lens does not have “portrait mode”; it lacks the second lens needed to do depth perception and blur the background in “Fokeh” (that’s faux-Bokeh). On my Canon, I used the long focal length of my 12x optical zoom lens to shoot from a far distance, getting sharp people-shots with a nice soft blurred backdrop.

Our beloved low-tech cameras of old retain their place in the world for their specialities. But even that may soon be history. This week, I’m expecting the delivery of my new phone, which is my new camera because it has not one lens but three! Wide, ultra-wide, and macro (no tele-photo)! These multi-lens smart-cams gain what was once exclusive to their obsolete counterparts, like portrait abilities.

Instead of mourning the loss of “pure” shooting and “real” cameras, we can encourage the growth of today’s camera kings. More smartphones stand to gain optical zoom lenses and larger sensors among other advancements. They’re great, but they could be even greater.

What do you think?

Photo Therapy

You know what I did about a year ago? I drafted a blog post pursuing the idea of using photography as a type of therapy. I never got around to fleshing out that draft, but given our current state of affairs, now seems like maybe a good time to bust this one out.

Can photography be therapeutic as a sort of mindfulness activity where you’re focused on things in the immediate present? Or does looking at your world through a lens remove you too much from the moment?

Focus On Healing

Looking back through my photos over the years, I started to lament the passing of time and good memories, and also how I used to enjoy photography a lot – I was so into it! I’m sad that I’ve lost some of that enjoyment, the passion of the hobby. The few times I seldom focus on photography, I really enjoy it. The embers get fanned into flames again, but for a short time. It makes me consider re-focusing on photography as a more full-time hobby.

I find in photography a tangible way to “get out of my head” and get into nature, the great outdoors. The camera is a tool that causes me to look and see what’s around me. It makes me study a scene, the subject, the lighting, the shadows, the little details. I think you could say it makes me mindful of the moment.

The camera is like a mindfulness tool. It sharpens my eyes while also giving me another eye through which to see the world. Yes, to some degree, I think photographing a moment removes me from it. But then again, I’m still involved with the moment. Instead of an active participant, I’m an observer. And I’d say I’m an active, not a passive, observer. Rather than being in the moment, I’m around or about the moment. I’m seeing it from a different angle, in a more mindful mode.

This mindfulness via camera seems to me like it could help deflect worry because by focusing on external objects – like a flower – I’m not dwelling, brooding, or ruminating on internal concerns.

Let me interject a caveat here about generalized anxiety disorder, which is an order of magnitude worse than worry. While I think a hobby, especially photography due to its inherent trait of observing the world outside of you, can be a good way to decrease worry, I don’t think pursuing a hobby is a cure for an anxiety disorder. Having suffered seasons of terrible anxiety and panic attacks myself, seeing a counselor, taking medications, etc, I empathize with those who suffer likewise. Each person is different, and mental health issues are complex. I can’t blanket cure such issues with a camera. Hope that makes sense.

Having been through debilitating anxiety episodes, I’m all too familiar with worry. For me, among the many aids that carried me through my anxious seasons, I think photography is a nice means to interact with nature and lessen the tendency and severity of worry.

Looking Around

My hope is that this seed of an idea finds fertile ground. Maybe a test or study could be undertaken that offers photo-walks, for example, as a way to introduce people to a potential means of enjoying life more rather than worrying about it. I’m using Rich Mullins’ words here, “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see. Everywhere I go, I’m looking.”

Can photography be a form of therapy for some people? I think so. Just being outside in nature is helpful. The camera is a way to focus on nature even more (pun not intended by happily embraced).

What do you think?

Cameraphoning Bluebonnets

Guess what, my friends? The Bluebonnets are back! For about three weeks each year, they bloom their blue earth decorations around Texas. My yard in the past two years had huge thick patches of them. This year, we have only a few small thin patches. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying them through photography but in a simpler way than before.

Camera Necessity

Last year, my Nikon DSLR broke. I had used different lenses, even a borrowed macro, to capture the vibrant beauty of these flowers. I had also used my old-going-on-ancient Canon point-n-shoot with its close-up mode and more. But so far this year, I’ve not dug it out and dusted it off.

This year has been much more simple. I’ve only had my cameraphone. It’s a nearly 4-year old iPhone 7 with a single lens on the back. There’s no depth sensor. No portrait mode. Nothing but plain’ol wide angle shooting.

Despite that, it’s been really nice to shoot with. The quality of the regular photos is really great…I almost added, “for a phone” to that. Really, I’m impressed by my phone camera that debuted almost 4 years ago. Of course, I shoot bluebonnets in optimal lighting conditions: outside, full sun or partly cloudy in the golden hour near dusk.

Still, for a teeny-tiny sensor and itty-bitty lens, the iPhone 7 gives me pictures I really like to keep and to share. Maybe my wants and needs in photography have devolved. Maybe I’ve softened on the hobby. I no longer use Adobe Lightroom or a “real” camera! I use a smartphone and Google Photos. I don’t use Flickr. I hardly use Instagram. Mostly I share on Facebook.

But I like simple and convenient. Those have been the herald of smartphone photography. And quality has grown better over time. Of course, it’s been declared years ago that smartphones killed point-n-shoot cameras. I tend to agree.

The Coming Macro Lens

In any case, the Bluebonnets are here, and the best camera for them is the one I have with me. That’s my iPhone 7. But in two weeks, that is supposed to change! The Moto G Power is scheduled to arrive at my house, bringing with it three (3) lenses (!) on the back instead of one! And the lens I want to try the most with the Bluebonnets is the macro!!

I don’t expect super good resolution, but I’m eager to see what creativity I can push with a macro-lens-that-fits-in-my-freaking-pocket!

If the bluebonnets hang around long enough, I should be able to snap them with a new smartphone camera system. Maybe I’ll even try a new fancy photo app on Android to tweak them to new levels. Time will tell.

What camera do you love to use?

From Flickr To Forever

I wonder, have you heard the recent news about Flickr? You’ve heard of Flickr right? The awesome photo sharing site before photo sharing sites were common, before social media was really a thing? In fact, two years ago, I asked “Is Flickr Still A Thing?” I wanted it to be; I found it mostly was. But my use of it never really resurged. Now the latest news has tugged on me to reconsider Flickr.

Fotos Forever

An email arrived to my inbox this past week. Read for yourself here. Basically, Flickr is operating at a loss, which is not sustainable. Thus, Flickr’s existence is in peril. It needs more people to sign up for Pro (paid) accounts in order to remain operational. It’s math. And it’s business. I get it.

This news roused my fond memories of Flickr, a good site that still serves many well. My honest reaction was thinking that I should and want to quickly sign up for a Pro account, even if I hardly use it, just to help keep Flickr alive. It’s something I’m considering, so I might do just that. But first, I plan to look into Flickr again, the site, and re-evaluate how I might use it more these days. In fact, I already reinstalled the Flickr app on my phone!

Flickr’s Future

My valuable time is limited. Flickr requires a little investment of my time if I use it, and that, I think, is the real issue here. A Pro account costs only a little bit of money each month – less, in fact, than what I pay each month for Netflix or Spotify. The cost of money is less a barrier than is the cost of time.

And with amazing “free” photo services like Google Photos, how can Flickr compete? That answer is in the features it has which other sites lack: an enthusiastic photography community! It’s not just pictures, it’s people! Flickr is about photography and the community which loves it. But therein is the other issue. When it comes to a community online, that’s where social media took over, along with its photo sharing experiences.

So, can Flickr survive? And if so, will it? Those are tough questions. I could do my part and sign up for a Pro account and become somewhat active there again. But would that be enough? And then, would I eventually need to say good-bye to Flickr? I would hope not.

We’ll see.

Do you still love Flickr?

The Online Photosphere

When it comes to photos: snap it, edit it, share it, repeat. But where do you share it online? If you’re a fickle photo shooter like me, you may bounce between multiple sites. Wouldn’t it be simpler to settle on just one?

A few months ago, I wrote a post about re-finding Flickr to be one of my favorite places, but I just don’t share consistently there. Recently, my interest in Instagram rekindled, but…then I remembered that hosting my photos on my blog might be best. Why not utilize all three of those sites? Because it’s a bit much; I’d be spread too thin. Focusing on one site may provide quality via depth versus breadth.

Then there’s the fact that different sites serve different purposes. So I’d have to figure out just what I would like to do with my photos. Here’s some factors to consider:

  • Do you prefer the social aspect of photo sharing?
  • Do you like editing photos?
  • Do you favor organizing your pictures?
  • Do you simply need an automatic backup solution?
  • Do you want feedback on your photography?
  • Do you value discovering new pictures for inspiration?

I should mention the sharing capabilities built-into Apple Photos and Google Photos. They both offer valuable service for all your basic snapshot needs. Plus, of course, I upload pictures to Facebook. But those are for family albums, not pursuing a hobby of photography. A great place for that is 500px, but I’ve never shared there because that’s for pros if you ask me; I am not that. And Snapchat doesn’t even appear on my radar.

I’m glad there’s plenty of options out there (maybe too many though). And for some folks, I understand it may be tough to pick the best place in the photosphere to post their camera creations. But for me personally, the fluctuation between sites is more a problem with me than with the online services.

Regardless of the site, one thing I love about photography is the creativity. That’s what first drew me into Instagram, for example. Originally, you were restricted to just square snapshots! Since limitation tends to breed creativity, the 1:1 ratio was an intriguing challenge to my photography. (This limitation factor is similar to the 140 character count Twitter once had; your posts must be pithy.)

Is Flickr Still A Thing?

Recently I was bit by the shutterbug again! Being outside and collecting pecans, the vivid fall colors of the leaves caught my eyes. So I tried taking some photos to capture their beauty. I’m not saying I succeeded, but I enjoyed it none the less.

When I thought about sharing my pictures of late, I wondered if Flickr was still a good site to use. Short answer: I think it is!

I downloaded the Flickr app to my iPhone and iPad and visited the website, started a new account, and uploaded a sunset I happened to catch on my way home from work the other day.

After all these years and changes, Flickr is still a great place to enjoy photography with others. There’s still no other site quite like it. And I hope it stays that way.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Flickr is using its camera finder to see which cameras are the most popular. And a big trend was just re-confirmed. Flickr announced their 2017 year in review, and smartphones (shouldn’t we just call them smartcams now?) are the dominant camera type used by millions to capture and share their pictures online.

As much as I like the picture quality you get from DSLR cameras, the good-enough quality combined with the always-with-you convenience of a smartcam works best for me.

My iPhone 6 is my trusty camera with a built-in phone for calling a friend. Try holding up a Canon 5D Mark III to your ear and phoning someone. OK never-mind. Kidding.

If you enjoy photography but haven’t tried Flickr, give it a shot (pun not intended)! And maybe connect with me there too.

What Is A Shutterbug?

Shutterbug – an amateur photographer, especially one who isgreatly devoted to the hobby; a photographer, esp. anenthusiastic amateur.

I think this definition from is apt. I can’t call myself a photographer (sounds too much like a pro photog) without being more specific.

Amateur, devoted, hobbyist, enthusiast…I think they more or less have the right focal point. (Yep. I did that.)

Flower Bugs Made Me A Shutterbug

A photo I took of a single Texas Bluebonnet with bugs on it is the picture that made me become a shutterbug.

To others, this image is nothing special. But to me, it was seminal; it had a big impact on my life. We all have these kinds of experiences in life: an event, a circumstance, a person…somehow they can be special turning points.

So how or why did this single photograph, Bluebonnet Bugs, cause me to focus on photography?

Twelve years ago today, I took this photo with my still new first digital camera (Canon PowerShot A400.) The simple key benefits of digital cameras with instant image feedback and capacity for thousands of photos on one reusable roll of film called an SD Card enabled this in the first place. This made photography accessible; it was easier to practice.

Yet what happened in this particular photo opened my eyes to see God’s creation more than before.

So, I took this photo because Bluebonnets are pretty and rare; they only stay in bloom a few weeks of the year. Plus, I noticed the bright red bug on the flower. Vivid red color juxtaposed on vivid blue color! It was simply eye-catching, worthy of snapping it with my then new digi-cam.

But what happened after I took the picture was what really gave me a vision for photography.

When I reviewed the picture on the back of the camera and zoomed in, to my great surprise and delight, I saw what I had totally missed before: a second cooler looking green bug!

This kind of shocked me because it seemed so obvious, yet I somehow overlooked this neat piece of creation that was right in front of me!

That is what made me appreciate and pursue photography. It taught me to slow down, look around, and see…to notice the wonder and beauty of God’s creation in a new and deeper way!

Many people enjoy landscapes, those breath-taking grand vistas, like sunsets, that hardly can go unnoticed. But there is a microcosm of God’s glory right under our noses full of interesting details to behold.

Yes, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

But he also made miniature marvels, and he gave us macro lenses to capture and wonder at them and in turn know he is wonderful.

Rich Mullins said it best,

“You fill this world with wonders and I’m, filled with the wonder of your world.”