How I Take & Edit My Photos (Mobile) / by Brian Hall

Since a lot of you have been asking about what I use for a camera and editing software, here's a quick rundown:

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CAMERAS

WHAT I USE

CAMERA: At the moment, I only use 2 cameras; my Google Pixel XL phone and my dji Mavic Pro drone. My Pixel XL is the OG model. Even though it is almost 2 years old, it still takes amazing photos. I plan to upgrade it this year, but I'm still struggling to decide between the upcoming Google Pixel 3 XL and the inaugural RED Hydrogen One. I'll be sure to share my thoughts on them once I have a hands-on and can make a more educated decision. As for my Mavic, I'll be upgrading to a Sony a7iii which will be a pretty penny; so the new Mavic coming to market later this year will have to get put on the backburner unless I somehow manage to come upon a load of money soon.

WHY THOSE CAMERAS: The Google Pixel phones have consistently won top marks for their incredible camera processing abilities. While I do wish the camera itself could be switched to a RAW file option instead of the default JPEG, Adobe Lightroom's app has an override. It's just a bummer that I have to remember to launch my Lightroom app instead of simply launching the camera for a quick shot. The dji Mavic Pro has been the industry standard for quality and size since it launched. While I have experienced some UI and display issues when paired with my phone, it still is the most convenient thing to carry in my backpack for a new perspective. Unfortunately, the state of New Hampshire and the US Government as a whole has drastically limited the places I can use my drone for recreational photography since I purchased it last year. And there are limitations when it comes to flying in wet or windy weather. As for my upcoming purchase of a Sony a7iii, it seems to be the best overall value for a camera that is capable in many different scenarios, while not being overly large or oppressively costly.

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SOFTWARE

AND OTHER HARDWARE

OTHER HARDWARE: The other primary hardware I use on a constant basis is my Microsoft Surface Book Pro laptop. It has fantastic processing power, and its versatile design makes using it, for editing especially, the best experience possible. I frequently forgo the mouse and use the stylus in tablet mode for precise and quick editing. Some creative people may be surprised that I don't use a Mac, but since dumping the Apple hardware a couple years ago for Android, a PC just makes more sense to me.

MOBILE SOFTWARE: I use Google Photos for storing 100% of my images in the cloud. With the Pixel phones, any images taken with the phone's camera, is backed up, with unlimited free storage for life. When I'm on the go, I utilize a few apps on my phone for photo editing; Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed, and VSCO. Depending on what I want to do, each of those apps has its own merits. Lightroom and VSCO are powerful tools that help keep your workflow organized and accessible across mobile and PC. The downside to these programs is that they do cost some money for their full features. It's well worth the money if you wanted to take your photos to the next level and really help keep yourself organized. If organization and advanced features aren't something that you need, Snapseed does more than enough to meet my needs. It's perfect for quick, Instagram friendly editing. Quick is relative of course. While I may take 20-30 minutes on an image in Photoshop on my desktop, I'm taking 2-5 minutes in Snapseed on my phone. It's longer than simply applying a filter, but fast enough to give a photo going onto my Instagram Story a little extra punch!

PC SOFTWARE: When I'm on my laptop, I use strictly the big two; Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. While Lightroom is a powerful tool in and of itself, utilizing Photoshop to take my photos up a notch or two is by far the most revolutionary thing that has happened to my photography. Whether it's adding in a little extra fog, making a small item in the foreground larger, or doing more precise color grading; Photoshop has changed the way I work. If you had to choose only one program, I would suggest Lightroom if you are looking for an easy, organized, and clean setup. Photoshop has almost all the same features as Lightroom, with none of the organization, and it is much more complicated to learn how to do simple things in Lightroom in Photoshop instead.

 An example of how Photoshop can help. Note the dark, small tent has been resized and illuminated to draw more attention and the clouds have been significantly color corrected.

An example of how Photoshop can help. Note the dark, small tent has been resized and illuminated to draw more attention and the clouds have been significantly color corrected.

OVERVIEW: I am a firm believer that anyone who has a smartphone made in the last 5 years, can take pretty killer pictures. Don't get discouraged that it's too dark or blown out on your phone. Often times that can be fixed in post-production editing on your phone. If it can't, then learn how your phone takes photos, or download a third-party camera app that processes HDR images. Then take some time and edit them. It's easy to overdo it, so practice and if it looks a little funny to you, it will probably look funny to most other people as well.

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BONUS

TIPS

BONUS TIPS: Here are a couple quick tips (if you read this far down):

  1.  When it comes time to take your picture, worry less about how dark it looks, and focus more on the very bright areas. In RAW files especially, dark areas of images can be recovered in editing much better than overly bright areas. To find a happy medium, try to tap your point of focus or brightness in a neutral area. In HDR images, this will give a fairly even exposure without too many overly bright or overly shadowed areas.
  2. Organize your photos on your phone. When it comes time to upload your photo to Instagram or share with a friend, if your edited photos are in their own folder(s), it makes it much easier to tell them apart. Especially if it was a small edit like removing a spot or slight color grading.
  3. SHARE! Don't be afraid to share your experiments. If you're not sure how an edit looks, ask someone who you know will be objective in their feedback. Just be sure to ask someone who will be objective and not indifferent or biased. Reddit and Facebook are great places to find objective responses from people who don't know you, but just be perceptive in the difference between a troll, and someone who is genuinely trying to help you be better.
  4. Finally, stop deleting your "bad" photos. That fuzzy or blurry photo can make for a great experiment, later on, to push you beyond your comfort zone. Or that picture that you just felt wasn't engaging enough; you could revisit it in a week or a month or even years later and see something that you can do with it to really tie it together! The more you edit, the more techniques you'll discover, and the more mediocre old photos you can rehab into something special!

Thanks as always for reading!

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