5 Apps you NEED to download today

They can make our lives easier and more fun. That’s why I love finding cool new apps. Check out these five picks that I’ve downloaded to my phone this month.

Cool apps to check out

Cool apps – Steller Stories

This really cool storybook/storytelling app lets you create multi-page visual stories using photos or video. With customizable layouts, different page formats and the ability to add text, you can easily create beautiful online ‘books’ inside the app.

Surf the Steller feed to take in other peoples posts on everything from fashion, to photography, travel, food and more. Once you find a story you like, click into it to swipe through the virtual pages and read short captions.

Warning, it’s a beautiful rabbit hole and heading down it means you’ll no doubt get sucked in and want to stay awhile. It’s like Instagram only with more depth, more curation and lovelier presentation.

Get more info on Steller Stories here.

Cool apps – Spark email 

Apple mail users rejoice! Get more tools and smarter functions with Spark. Spark lets you group email together in your inbox; unread mail, newsletters (if you want) plus you can search better, and remind yourself about an email that needs a response. Tired of having that email stare you in the face in your inbox? If you can’t finish a task you can swipe your email to snooze for tomorrow or another day, and even adjust Snooze times to your liking, such as “This Weekend” and “Next Month” if you wish.

Use one email account or load them all. Spark works with Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, Outlook or any other IMAP email server without worrying. The nice tidy interface keep things easy to look at and well organized. There’s also a Mac desktop version too.

Get more info on the app or find a download here.

Cool apps – YoWindow Weather

A reader recommended this neat animated weather app to me. The pretty graphics change constantly depending on the weather in your area. You’ll get the day forecast, plus medium and longer term outlooks in a more interesting format.

You can swipe across the graphics to see the weather changes over time.

Get info about the app here.

Cool apps – Relax Sounds

Sometimes sitting next to people on planes or public transit is enough to drive you nuts. The loud talking, kids fussing, or just noisy chewing… that’s when I break out a pair of headphones and the relax Sounds App. Loaded with soothing presets for sounds like Traffic, Tibetan Bowl, Wind Chimes, White Noise, Birds, Rain and Ocean there’s something that will please everyone. The nice photographs that accompany each sound effect make using the app a pleasing experience too. There’s even some novelty sound effects like Darth Vader and Tribal Drums if pounding beats or heavy breathing are what you need to thrum you into a zen state.

One other aspect that works for me; I can leave the app and the sounds continue playing, unlike other relax apps where you lose audio if you switch apps.

Look for the download in the app store or on Google Play. or get more info here.

Cool apps – Blur Background + Blur Photo

Blur Photo app.

These handy apps are two of the easiest blur tools I’ve found. Easily hide license plates, street numbers or personal information from photos and documents with a touch. Save and share photos instantly and for free afterwards. A must have for those who want to keep on top of internet privacy.

Get Blur Photo here on the app store, or Blur Background here.

 

Have you got an app you can’t live without? What app are you loving?  Let me know in comments below.

Polaroid Zip review – mini photo printer

When was the last time you printed a photo? If you’re like most people, it’s been quite a while. Many of us take hundreds of photos every year, but very few of them get to escape the digital prison that is our smart phones.

There are now mini photo printers on the market. These pocket-sized photo printers are very portable and easy to use meaning it’s now very convenient to print photos.

Continue reading “Polaroid Zip review – mini photo printer”

Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree

With so many of us relying solely on our smartphones for the bulk of our photography, it’s too bad we don’t put much effort into making the shots truly great. While lighting, luck and skill are definitely part of getting a good photo, you can improve your snaps with a few key accessories. Joby is a large company that makes photo accessories and gear for DSLR cameras, and action video cameras like GoPro, but it’s also got some gadgets that can help you with the photos you take on your phone. Continue reading “Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree”

Polaroid SnapTouch camera & printer review

Since the world has become a fully digital place, no one prints photos any more. An array of small photo-specific printers on the market aims to change that habit by making printing easy and adding some fun elements to the experience.
The Polaroid SnapTouch camera and photo printer is one of those gadgets. (I’ve also reviewed the older generation Polaroid SocialMatic camera. Read that review here)

Small and compact, the SnapTouch looks cool and sleek right out of the box. It uses Polaroid’s Zink paper to spit out small 3”x2” prints. The backings are adhesive, so these tiny prints can also double as stickers.

Polaroid SnapTouch Camera + Video Specs

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
The SnapTouch has a very small internal memory.

The camera is a 13 megapixel camera. By comparison, the iPhone 6 has just 8 megapixels, so the photos should be pretty good. The SnapTouch also takes 1080p video and can store images and videos on a 128 GB Micro SD card (not included).

Unfortunately, neither the package, nor the Polaroid website tell you how much storage is on the camera without a micro SD card, so I snapped photos until it told me the internal hard drive was full – that’s a grand total of 15 photos. (And by the way, there’s no bulk delete feature I could find; each photo must be manually deleted, which was tedious)

Without that micro SD card you can record less that 30 seconds of video. The lens will also constantly refocus the image so it looks like it’s wavering as the autofocus constantly adjusts. I think it’s a terrible idea to have so little internal storage, but I guess that’s common with cameras, that you need to purchase additional memory. It would be nice if that’s spelled out on the package.

Set Up – Polaroid SnapTouch

Setting up the camera is reasonably simple. You’ll need Polaroid’s SnapTouch app to access some features but for the most part you can take photos and print them instantly right from the camera. You snap the picture, then hit the print button right on the back of the screen.

Things get a bit more complicated when you want to use the camera as a printer and send photos from your smartphone, but we’ll get to that…

Delayed image capture

It’s worth noting the photography is not fast here. There is a delay of about a second or two from the time you press the shutter button until the image is captured. While this will be frustrating but adaptable for adults, kids are bound to keep hitting the shutter button or moving the camera, not realizing image capture is already in progress.

The camera was going to sleep relatively quickly during my testing, but it can be woken up almost immediately by touching the shutter button lightly. I discovered soon after there is a setting in the menu that allows you to extend that screen timeout option up to 2 minutes.

Printing Options, Effects and Filters

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
You can add filters, but they’re a bit much

You can choose a variety of different colour borders that look like a vintage Polaroid camera frame when you want to print. While that original ‘Polaroid’ style photo paper no longer belongs to Polaroid (read why here) you can still print a faux Polaroid border with special effects.

If you don’t opt for that, these prints come out edge-to-edge.

There are also a variety of different effects and filters like Instagram, though they’re quite limited as far as choice goes, and honestly, they’re quite garish and extreme.

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyycA touch screen on the back of the camera let you access photos, delete, edit them, share them, or print. There are also digital ‘stickers’ or emojis you can add to the photos. By touching the emoji or icon, you can drag it around the screen and place it on the photo wherever you want. That function worked easily enough, though the emojis are limited to a flower, a heart, lips, sunglasses and a smiley face, as you can see at right. You’re not exactly going to become Rembrandt here.

Print speed of the Polaroid SnapTouch camera

While it takes a second or two from the time you hit the print button for the process to begin, the printing of the image takes an awfully long time; almost 30 seconds. With that said, if you compare this Polaroid printer to a device like the Fujifilm Instax Share printer, the overall wait times might be quite similar.

The Polaroid printer takes about 30 seconds to spit out the print, but when it’s done, the print is fully ready and rendered in color. With the Instax Share, it may print the photo much faster, but you’ll still need to wait a minute or so for the image to develop on the paper.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
A selection of printed photos from the SnapTouch camera

Printing from your smartphone to the camera

The SnapTouch camera gives you the option of sending photos from your smartphone or other device to the camera for instant printing.

Set up for this option is slightly different. You’ll need to connect the phone and the camera, and doing this is not intuitive, nor does the camera or app walk you through it.

There is nothing within the app which will tell you why your printer is not talking to your phone. Fortunately for me, I’ve dealt with enough of these devices that I know you need to go to your phone’s Settings menu, find the Bluetooth settings screen, then look for the Polaroid SnapTouch to appear in the Bluetooth list.

Click to connect it, and you should hear the device emit a tone that lets you know it is finally connected. Return to the app and you should see confirmation of that fact. From there you can select the photo you’d like to print.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
Photo printed from iPhone 6 to the SnapTouch printer. The print is much darker than the original.

Constant reconnection to Bluetooth

It’s worth taking note that each time the camera powers off, it loses the connection to Bluetooth, and each time you need to reconnect via your smartphone’s settings menu.  That was annoying, but not an uncommon problem in other similar printers I’ve been testing, like the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer. (Read that review to see which of these photo printers comes out on top.)

When picking a photo from the camera roll, I noticed the Polaroid app frequently zooms in the photos by quite a bit. The app asks you to pinch to adjust the zoom, but it won’t actually let you do it.  Weird.

Finicky Printing

Every time I tried to print from my phone, the SnapTouch did that weird zoom thing. Finally, I found that by adjusting the orientation of the film on the camera screen I could disable the zoom effect. By the time I’d reverted the photo from upside down back to right side up, it had snapped back to normal size without the zoom. Also weird.

Sometimes I would connect to the SnapTouch in order to print, select the photo I wanted, and then click print, but nothing would happen. I would get an error message in the app telling me the printer was busy, but nothing would print out, and nothing else would happen. No error messages, no warnings, no indication if the SnapTouch was out of paper… nothing.

Turning the camera off and then turning it back on again seemed to deal with the worst of this trouble, but of course then you need to re-connect to Bluetooth.

SnapTouch Print Speed from smartphone

It takes the Polaroid SnapTouch about 6 seconds, and even up to 10 seconds on some attempts from the time you hit the print button in the app, until your photo begins printing from a smartphone (in my tests and iPhone 6 plus). Once you get used to this it’s OK I guess, but the first few times, you’ll have no idea the photo was actually about to print so you think you should start over, or keep hitting print. Sometimes it omes out eventually, other times, nothing happened, and maybe I confused its little circuits.

I found many things on this camera were slow; from the image capture, to printing being initiated. It made the camera feel quite old, clunky, and outdated.

No fun effects when connected to your smartphone

One final note on printing from your smartphone; filters and borders will not work on photos that are printed from your smart phone. (If they do, I couldn’t figure it out, and there seemed to be no easy explanation found on the Polaroid website.) In order for this effect to work, you must snap the photo using the camera.

Polaroid SnapTouch photo quality

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
A look at the same digital photo as seen on iPhone 6, the SnapTouch camera screen, and the SnapTouch print.

I was really, really unhappy with the photo quality of the Polaroid prints. The colours were not accurate, the prints more often than not looked washed out, and on many of the photos I printed, I was left with odd lines across the print. For a 13 mp camera, what was coming out the back didn’t seem right. Comparing it to my 8mp iPhone camera and viewing those on my iPhone screen, the Polaroid SnapTouch looks and feels like a toy by comparison.

Overall impressions of the SnapTouch camera

I would absolutely not buy this camera for myself.  I didn’t like the photo quality because the Zink paper seemed washed out and it didn’t provide true colour in my opinion. For the price (+$200) I think you could do much better.  Polaroid snap touch printer camera erinlyyc

Set up and operation is not intuitive on this device when pairing it with a smartphone. Yes, you can figure it out but it wasn’t easy. Plus the fact that none of the much touted special effects or filters can be added to the photos when printed from a smart phone is a big oversight. Those are only available on photos taken using this SnapTouch camera.

The camera overall feels like a toy, and maybe that’s all it needs to be, but I think this device would be frustrating for kids and tweens too because of the slowness of its operations. Plus, I think it should be spelled out on the package that you need a Micro SD card, and that one is not included.

While I loved the idea of this gadget, it just doesn’t have the quality and versatility I look for in a device. I don’t feel it performed well as either a camera or a photo printer. And the bottom line for me is that many of the photos I printed, from both the iPhone and the camera are such low quality, in some cases, they’re not worth having. You can also get

The Polaroid Snaptouch Camera and Printer sells at Best Buy for $239CAD.

You can also get more info from Polaroid’s website.

New Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 – reviewing mini photo printer

While most of the photos we take stay locked forever on our smartphones, it’s now getting easier to print them at home. In part one of a three part series here on the blog, we’ll take a look at some of the gadgets out there that will print photos for you. First up, the Fujifilm Instax Share printer.

Testing the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Fujifilm has recently upgraded its pocket photo printer, the Instax Share, to make numerous improvements; the new model is known as the SP-2. It prints mini size photos only, that measure 62mm x 46mm. I had a chance to test this device for several weeks, and here’s what I found. I previously reviewed the Instax Share SP-1, and you can read that review too.

Set up wasn’t intuitive

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The Instax Share app interface

Setting up the Instax Share printer wasn’t very intuitive. With the printer charged, and the app downloaded, you might think you can just open the app and print. Not so. In the initial set up, you select which type of printer (sp-1 OR sp-2) you’d like to use. But after that it doesn’t tell you where to go or how to move forward with setup.

How to  set up and connect Fujifilm Instax Share

Fortunately for me, I’ve set up enough Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices to know that at this point, I needed to exit out of the Fujifilm app, and go to the phone’s ‘settings’ menu. Select ‘Wi-Fi’, then switch the printer on.

At this point you should see Fujifilm/Instax/Share or some combination of those words pop up as a Wi-Fi choice. Select it, then once it’s connected, you can close settings and return to the app. By now you should see the new printer in the app, if you don’t click ‘Connect and print’ and the app should connect.

Once the set up process is complete, printing is ultra easy. Simply select the photos icon in the app or take a new photo. Once you’ve chosen what you want, select “connect and print”. There are several other printing options, but we’ll get to those in a bit.

Constant re-connection

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The difference in prints from Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 (photos on the left) and Polaroid (photos at right).

Annoyingly, the printer will go to sleep after a few minutes, so it’s important to note if you left it unattended for a period of time, you may need to turn it back on and reestablish the Wi-Fi connection before you can connect again. This involves basically repeating part of the set up process each time you want to print. I find this a huge pain. You can’t just turn the printer on an pop out a few prints, and because the printer automatically goes to sleep after about 5 minutes it’s a constant on/off/reconnect process.

Fun new films – but who owns Polaroid film technology?

The photos printed on the Fujifil Instax Share SP-2 are on a retro-style ‘Polaroid’ frame. Fujifilm now has this technology, though Fujifilm rep Florence Pau tells me, “Fujifilm has a long history with instant film and Instax has no affiliation with Polaroid brand or technology. Essentially, the borders are there to seal the film.”
Polaroid was more blunt when I asked them why Polaroid cameras don’t use their original iconic film. Stephanie Agresti told me in an email, “Polaroid does not presently own the previous film technology. Polaroid products now integrate Zink Zero Ink technology to produce images instantly.”Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Since my last test run with an Fujifilm Instax Share printer there are a variety of new instant films that have been released; all of them are mini sized, similar to what you might get from a photo booth. Available in 10 packs, you can now get printed borders on the film, including stripes, a colourful checkerboard (called ‘stained glass’), film with XO XO on it, or in new monochrome black and white, among just a few. While I thought these were a bit gimmicky initially, once the photos were printed out, they had a really nice unique quality to them. I kind of got attached to the stained glass frame.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewCan you swap film or cartridges on the Instax Share?

The films come in plastic boxes that clip into the printer by opening a wide door in the printer’s body. You would think that makes it easy to swap cartridges back and forth, and that there’d be no worry about exposing the film too early. Turns out that’s not the case.
I swapped a few cartridges back and forth in the printer. Each time I’d make a swap, the printer would spit out a new blank photo, essentially wasting one of your precious photos. The ensuing print jobs came out with white streaks across the film, or otherwise appeared overexposed.

I checked with Fujifilm directly and they confirmed my findings; film cannot be switched back and forth. You must use an entire cartridge until it’s empty or risk ruined film and wasted money.

So the bottom line is, while you might think it’s possible to switch films and cartridges, you really can’t.

Fujifilm Film cost and print qualityFujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Film packs come with 10 prints per pack and cost anywhere from $13 to $24, so it pays to shop around. The prints use high resolution ( 800×600 dots at 320dpi ) files to print crisp, clear photos, even if they are quite small.

Mercifully, there are no ink cartridges to worry about in this printer, and that’s because the photos develop on the paper itself. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember original Polaroid instant prints that popped from the camera blank, then developed over a few minutes. These work exactly the same way.

Other options for photo printing

There are plenty of options in the Fuji Instax Share app for improving, changing or playing around with your printed photos.

There are filters you can add to the photo (black and white, sepia), or seasonal frames. You can also add text boxes over part of the photo or crop it square, or print two photos on one print. I found that kind of useless, as the images are so tiny, most detail is lost. There are also enhancements you can make to less than stellar snaps to improve their quality.

Check marks on the photo grid in the app helpfully lets you know which ones you’ve printed so there won’t be any accidental duplicates.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewPrint speed -Fujifilm Instax Share SP2

The Instax Share SP2 prints pretty quickly, once you’re connected. Fuji says, “when users send an image to the “Instax SHARE Smartphone Printer SP-2” via wireless LAN, they can get photos in just 10 seconds,” and that was about my experience with it too. Plenty fast enough for me.

Battery life

The Instax Share  SP2 has a rechargeable battery which uses a micro USB cable. Fuji says the battery life on the printer will last about 100 prints, which could be weeks depending on how often you’re using the device. During my two-plus weeks of testing, and printing about 30 photos, I certainly never needed to recharge it. A battery indicator also gives you a heads up on power status.

Overall review of Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Of all the mini photo printers I’ve tried, I like the prints from this device the most. I like the Polaroid style border, I think the new artsy borders are fun and I like that there are many print options, though I didn’t find I used them very much.

I think the setup interface could function better, as I believe this will be very frustrating for people with less tech savvy. I also found it quite annoying that the printer goes to sleep so quickly and then requires constant reconnection. That aside, the user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use. The various filters and add-ons are also easy enough to manipulate.

The printer operates absolutely silently, which is nice, and the battery lasts a long time.
The Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 is available in gold or silver, and sells for about $199 at the Source, Best Buy, and London Drugs.

Artists to use old farm equipment to create giant walk-in camera

graineryFour artists are banding together to create works of art inside a giant empty grain bin.  The project will create a massive ‘camera obscura’ inside the old corrugated metal structure.

The plan is unfolding at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage northeast of Nanton, Alberta. Camera obscura is Latin for ‘dark room,’  and as the group undertaking the project explains it, “the basic idea is to have light enter through a pinhole into a dark space; thereby creating a projected image,” says Dr. Josephine Mills, Director/Curator at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. “This is the forerunner of the camera and the source of the name of this technology.”

Pinhole camera technology is one of the earliest forms of photography, and using the grain bin just takes something that can be make out of a cereal boxSketches or cardboard tube, and expands it to a huge scale, with what could be very interesting results.

“I’ve always wanted to exhibit the fabulous contraptions built by Kamloops artist Donald Lawrence to take pinhole photographs and make projected images,” explains Mills, “When I heard about Donald’s major SSHRC Research Creation Grant and the team of artists he had put together for the project, I knew that bringing these artists to work at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage was a perfect match,”

So what will the finished photographs look like?

Calgary artist Dianne Bos is setting up her “See the Stars” prospector’s tent where she’ll make cyanotype prints.  “Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, says Mills.  “It was used by engineers well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost way to produce copies of drawings called blueprints.”

A simple pinhole camera
A simple pinhole camera

Holly Ward, from Vancouver, is using cyanotype photography to explore the Coutts’ herbarium collection and will provide demonstrations throughout the day.  Sarah Fuller, based in Ottawa, will install video projects related to the Coutts home and gardens and conduct an Anthotype workshop using local spinach.

The Prairie Sun Project, as it’s being called happens on August 21, 2016 is the first project involving major Canadian artists creating work at the Coutts Centre.

How to be a better photographer: getting help in Calgary

Photography by Kristian Bogner © 2012
Photography by Kristian Bogner © 2012

Kristian Bogner is still haunted by a photo he didn’t get. A professional photographer, Bogner was in the front row for Canada’s gold-medal winning hockey game at the Vancouver Olympics when Sidney Crosby took a pass from Jarome Iginla, wound up, and shot, winning bragging rights for all Canadians.

Though Bogner got hundreds of amazing images from the game, the one he wanted was not meant to be; a shot of the puck touching, then leaving Crosby’s stick as it headed for the net, and a place in history.

“I think if I’d just been half a second quicker, I’d have the shot no one else did,” says Bogner.

We all have regrets when it comes to shots not taken, or photographic misses. Sometimes missing a shot is just luck, or timing, but often there’s skill involved in getting consistently great photos. That’s where Bogner comes in.  A Nikon ambassador, he also works with GoPro and Manfrotto, and enjoys educating amateur photographers about his craft, with helpful tips, tricks and basic education.

Bogner will be just one of the photography experts taking part in London Drugs #LDFotocon this month, where experts are available for advice and education at Calgary-area stores.

“I like to get them stoked and energized and to help them not be afraid to take their photography to the next level,” says Bogner, “It’s very rewarding, and one of the best parts of what I do.”

#LDFotocon aims to help photographersDSC_0892

You can take part in #LDFotocon events at many local London Drugs locations.  #LDFotocon is a series of workshops and info sessions where recognized experts in photography take you through various aspects of the craft.  Want to learn about using a DSLR? Maybe even a specific camera brand like Canon, Nikon or Pentax? You can get information, expertise and an education all month long at London Drugs.

Tips from a pro can really up your game

I’ve always been interested in photography, but I’ve only ever guessed at how to take a good photo.  So recently I decided to take a class with well-known local photographer Neil Zeller.  In just a couple hours, many of the basics of photography had been demystified for me.

I learned what all the dials and buttons on my hand-me-down DSLR did, what exactly an F-stop was, and how to adjust my settings based on lighting conditions.  The bottom line is, getting some pro help can make all the difference not just to your finished photos, but to your confidence too. I know because it worked for me.

DSC_0905Don’t let those pics gather digital dust!

You can also get help with what to do with all the photos that are gathering digital dust on your hard drive.  London Drugs also has classes designed to show you how to make the most of enlargements or gallery wraps, or how to get printed photos onto aluminum panels to create show-stopping home art. It’s all as close as your nearest participating London Drugs location.

But learning about what to do with your photos is just the beginning. Other learning opportunities at #LDFotocon include

•    Face-to face workshops with camera vendors from all the top brands
•    Learning about retouching and colour management
•    Preview the hottest new cameras, hardware or software products
•    Get point-and-shoot photography tips
•    Take part in a DSLR showcase from top brands: Nikon, Canon, Pentax
•    Compact system camera (CSC) photography and showcases
•    Learn about drone photography
•    See how to take better photos on your smartphone
•    Find out how to build a Moments photo book or calendarDSC_0860

Photo help in-store, without feeling intimidated

I’ve learned so much about photography lately that I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade my circa-2002 camera to something a little sleeker, smarter, and easier to use.

London Drugs is stop number one on my shopping excursion, because the selection is huge, and it’s right in my neighbourhood. I don’t need to go downtown or to a mall; I can get expertise and great prices right where I live.Photo 2016-04-23, 9 54 33 AM

When I went in to get hands-on with the cameras on my shortlist, the gent I spoke to was helpful, patient, and if there was something he didn’t know, he looked it up for me on the spot.

Bogner is also a London Drugs fan, having started shopping there well before he signed on to teach workshops.

“London Drugs is my saving grace whenever I needed equipment, filters, whatever; I’m always impressed with what London Drugs has to offer. And I’m always amazed how they have all the stuff I need, whether it’s LowePro or Apple, or Nikon, they have a good selection of accessories in particular. I’ve shopped at London Drugs for years, because it’s very convenient and nice to know they have all the high end products.”

Bogner is looking forward to being able to share some of his wisdom with participants, like the advice he often gives to new photographers; “if you see a moment and think, ‘oh, I’ll get it later’, it’s never the same.  Capture it now, don’t wait, because later will never be the same. It’s a unique moment”.

Take a look at the events, workshops and guest experts at London Drugs this month, by following the hashtag #LDFotocon on Twitter or Instagram. You can also find Kristian on both those platforms @KristianBogner

London Drugs #LDFotocon stops in Calgary on June 4th and June 5th, 2016. 
Click here for the schedule of events and to register.

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This post is sponsored by London Drugs. 

Tips and gadgets for taking better smartphone photos

tech talk aprHow often are we without a camera these days when something happens we want to snap and remember?  On CTV Morning Live’s Tech Talk this week, I looked at several gadgets and ideas for taking better smartphone photos, since often that’s the only gadget we carry with us at all times to take a picture. Click here to watch the TV segment.

Now I will admit this up front; I’m not a photographer.  But I’ve had a unique opportunity to play with some cool gadgets and apps, and working in TV has taught me a thing or three about the visual image, so I want to share what I know.

Caseco's Shutter Bean.
Caseco’s Shutter Bean.

Shutter Bean by Caseco

Nobody likes the awkward ‘selfie shoulder’ in the photos that we take ourselves.  It makes what could be a headshot, an obvious selfie.  Yes, you could uses the selfie stick of course, but then it’s in the photo too.  A good alternative is the ShutterBean by Canadian company Caseco.  It’s a small thumb sized remote control device that you press to take the photo for you, meaning you can leave your phone on a surface (or better yet on a tripod; see the Joby Gorillapod below!) and snap away while looking like you have a photographer helping you. it connects to the phone via Bluetooth, so no additional app is required, and it comes with an extra coin battery.  Nice touch!

Joby GorillaPod Tripod

jobyThis is one of my favourite photography gadgets; I just need to get it modified for my smartphone!  The Gorillapod by Joby is a twisty, grippy device that can hold your camera or phone to a tree, fence, branch, rock, post.. almost anything! You can also straighten out the legs and set it on any surface to make it a regular tripod. It’s particularly handy when you want to take photos of great places with you in them.

LIGHTING

Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.
Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.

Lighting is so important when you’re trying to take better photos; it can make the difference between a photo you’ll frame and keep for years, and one that gathers digital dust on your hard drive.  My go-to tip is to try to get into some flattering sunlight for selfies, and angle your face to the light.  Also, hold the phone above your nose level, and look right into the lens, not the screen, the LENS! Holding the phone a bit higher gives a flattering angle to cheekbones and chins, and a strong gaze is memorable and catches the eye. The other option for getting better light it to get an external flash, that has light you can control, like these two below:

Nova Light Flash

novalight

A small credit card sized flash, the Nova is pretty portable.  You use Nova’s app to take the photo, which is them saved in the same place your other photos are.  the app, however, lets you control the colour and strength of light; do you want warm sunny-like light, or cooler indoor light?  A really bright flash or a soft gentle glow?  The Nova Light gives you a great array of options, requires next to no set-up or fiddling, and takes really nice photos.

Ztylus Ring Light & Case via Photojojo

iphone-ring-light-9b32_600.0000001420423397This light and case combo from Photojojo has been a cast and crew favourite on CTV Morning Live since I first previewed it earlier this year.  The genius contraption features a ring shaped light that slides out over the camera’s lens, giving soft, diffused light all the way around. The light device actually snaps into an available case, making it easy to carry on the go.  It also comes with a trio of other light filters you can snap in and change easily, giving you warm, cool or neutral light options. The Ring Light is actually perfect for selfies, since it provides the lighting you need, along with easily adjustable wheel controls that let you adjust the light from warm to cool, or soft to powerful.  Powered by three AAA batteries, that means you never have to be without juice.

LENS OPTIONS

The lenses on smartphones are getting better, but they still won’t do everything. Taking macro photos has always been difficult on a smartphone, and of course wide-angle shots are a no go, unless you want to use panorama mode.  Getting some external lenses can give you an array of new options for better photos. Most lens kits are available for iPhone and Android phones. You can find any number of 3-pack lens kits featuring a wide angle, a macro, and a fish eye lens.  Search “smartphone lens” on Amazon, or ebay.  I don’t recommend any one kit over another, but i will say you get what you pay for.

MicroPhone Lens Kit

microphone lens bug

A fun kit for those interested in science and nature, this kit from microphonelens.com allows you to take close up, microscopic photos of the natural world around you.  Different strength lenses allow you to get up close, and by adding slides and some light, you can really get some great images of things you’d never ordinarily see on a smartphone.

APP HELP

There are a couple of apps I can’t live without when it comes to taking better photos on my smartphone.

Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.
Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.

Hipstamatic

hipsta flowersThis free app (with in-app purchases at cost) allows you to treat your phone like a vintage camera, selecting retro lenses, film and even flash styles, all virtual, of course.  It takes fabulous photos, adding a variety of flattering effects like warmth and colour, to black and white, graininess, even fun frames and edges.  One of the features I love is the “shake to randomize” feature.  Often I’ll snap a few photos of something with the regular camera app on my iPhone 6, then load up Hipstamatic, and use shake to randomize to take another 3-4 photos.  Often, one of those random effects is the photographic gold I’m after. I also find Hipstamatic is a great way to jazz up an otherwise boring selfie or location.  Highly recommended.

ColourSplash

IMG_2801
It’s not my finest work, but you get the idea…

This app allows you to take any photo, make it black and white, then pull out one element to give a bold pop of colour to.   It costs $1.19, but I got it as a freebie as an app of the week.

Panorama 360

Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com
Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com

This is a vacation’s best friend.  To use 360, you hold the camera/phone up in front of you like a window, and scan it across all that you can see; a full 360 degrees around you.  The free app paints the photo into a full visual experience you can then view as if you were standing there again.

It also has a super-neat feature that allows you to paint your panorama into a tiny earth-globe; it’s a cool, fun effect.

360 globe madrid

What’s your must-have photography app?  Do you have a gadget that goes everywhere with you? Please share your picks in comments.