Monday, December 18, 2017

Cheap Camera Challenge: Cell Phone

Welcome to the first Cheap Camera Challenge! What the heck is a Cheap Camera Challenge? Well, the idea is that I take a photo with my professional quality equipment, and then try to reproduce it using a cheap camera. Naturally this comes with one asterisk. I know that the picture taken with the cheap camera won't end up looking exactly the same as the source image. I'm ok with that.

Without further ado, here's the image we're going to use as this week's source image:

This photo is taken with my trusty Canon DSLR. I imported it using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, and did a little retouching.

Now, since this is the first one of these, and I'm apparently a glutton for punishment, I've chosen to use my cell phone. This isn't an expensive phone with a high quality camera. This is a cheap phone with an even cheaper camera. And predictably it produces a somewhat disappointing result:

There are a couple of things I could have done to make this easier at the start. First off it's facing east in the morning. (Aka - into the sun) The sun isn't in the frame, but the sky is very bright. In addition to that, the shaded subject and the bright sky tends to throw off the white balance of the photo. The lens is also injection molded plastic, so it doesn't handle off-axis lighting as well as the coated glass lens. Let's see what we can do with this.


Since this is a cheap camera challenge, I'm not going to use my expensive tools to process this picture. Today's tool is the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) which is free, open-source software. It is a good quality editor, and if you need something like Photoshop without the price tag, I recommend it.

I fired up GIMP and made a couple quick modifications to the picture. First, I adjusted the brightness and contrast. The idea being to reduce the contrast so that the details in the foreground aren't quite as hard to pick out. Second, I de-saturated the color (made black and white). This was partly an artistic choice, and partly because the snow had an odd pink color that I wasn't really feeling. Finally, I ran a tool called the unsharp mask to sharpen the image a bit. Here's the final image after exporting to JPG format:

For comparison, here's the same source image processed using similar tools in Adobe Lightroom:

As you can see, not too much difference. I probably could have come up with the same results using only the free tools. (I'm not really that good with GIMP.)

So why did I do this?

There are, I'm sure, a lot of people out there who've looked at a piece of art that someone made, and been discouraged because they don't have the expensive tools. Hopefully this shows that, no, you don't have to have an expensive set of tools to express yourself. Not having expensive equipment shouldn't prevent you from going out there and trying it. Seriously, if you want to get into photography, go out there with whatever tools you have available to you and do it. You can get a lot of practice with framing and composition without having a fancy camera.

Is it easier to produce a good result with better tools? Of course, but the most important part of improving your photography is developing your eye, and that you can do with anything, even a cheap cell phone camera.

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