Hine Moana I
X-Pro 2, XF 10-24/4 OIS @ 10mm
ISO 200, 1/500s @ f6.4
I am not sure whether this post belongs with the one on the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 or the recent ones on phone photography.
Maybe it belongs with both.
More and more I have been using my phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, to make photographs. It is much simpler, easier and quicker process than getting out my DSLR or X-camera, and then downloading and editing, and then uploading to…wherever. I usually carry my Fujifilm cameras on the passenger seat beside me, however, since I tend to work instinctually, I find myself preferring to rip the phone from its cradle beside the steering wheel and use that, then edit and share from the driver’s seat. Lazy me.
Editing phone images is a matter of turning to Snapseed, an app at once simple and yet surprisingly powerful, and using that. I know there are other mobile apps out there which are just as powerful, but this one works for me. And for a long time I have wished I could get it for my PC. I have resorted to using the phone first as a visualisation tool then, if the result makes par, I have reached for my ’real’ camera. While Snapseed and its sibling, the Google Nik Suite, come from the same parents, somehow the mobile app seems to do it better.
However, in spite of the quality the phone can generate, frankly it isn’t in the same league as a 24MP X-Trans III sensor, equipped with the astonishingly good Fujifilm XF or X-CAMERA lenses. For a long time, I wanted the one with the quality of the latter. But the two seemed destined never to meet. Snapseed is quite different to the Nik Google Suite. There seems to have been a lot of effort put into Snapseed, after Google acquired it, and less into Nik. While it is possible to shoot on a DSLR or similar, and then download the file, and then Wi-Fi it across to a mobile device, or put it on a Micro-SD card (assuming the device takes one-the Note 5 doesn’t), make the edit and then copy it back to a computer, the whole thing seems unutterably tedious, all for the sake of being able to access a single mobile app.
However, that was then and this is now.
I would love to say what you are about to read was my idea but it isn’t.
I had a wonderful meeting with fellow X photographer Thomas Busby, who has just won New Zealand Landscape Photographer of the Year. I explained my conundrum. O, that is easy, he replied. I shoot them with my X-T1, convert to jpeg in-camera, and then Wi-Fi them to my phone for editing in Snapseed. I later save to my computer, do a little Photoshop work and then print them.
A 10 Gigawatt lightbulb went on in my head.
Recently I was travelling a road I had never driven before and I saw a small hill that seemed somehow incongruous and yet fascinating. The light was soft and subtle and yet there was the promise of something more. I first made a proof on my phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, while sitting behind the steering wheel. I could see the possibilities but knew this scene was worth a better effort. So I got out the X-Pro 2 and reshot the scene, making a number of images as the light shifted.
Back in the car, I switched on the Fujifilm app (available in iOs and Android) and connected the phone and the camera. I converted the RAW file in-camera to a jpeg, and then used the camera and the remote app to transfer the file to my phone, where I opened the image in Snapseed and edited it, then shared it to social media.
Of course, things are never as easy as they look. It is more a case of subtlety than difficulty. For this technique to work, it helps if the camera has a Wi-Fi transmitting function and a receiver app. In this regard the X-system is a winner. Since the X-series have in-built Wi-Fi transmitting, there is no issue there (I am not sure which other camera manufacturers offer this ability). In addition, Fujifilm have created a mobile app for iOS and Android which pairs happily with the camera, and makes it possible to control the camera remotely. The earlier versions were buggy and didn’t always work. However, the app update released earlier this year fixed most of those issues. There is also the ability to transfer files either singly or in groups, after selecting them from the playback menu. If you allow the defaults in the camera, then it will send across a throttled-down 3 MP version suitable for the receiving device. To avoid this, you need to go Menu>Setup>Connection Setting>Wireless Setting>Resize Image for Smartphone 3m>Off. This one caught me out and I made some wonderful edits, and then found that the file was a small jpeg. Still, having the file on the card, it was a simple matter to change that setting and try again.
Snapseed is more powerful than it looks. It is simple enough to make one or two edits, and then save. However, Snapseed also has the ability to make complex edits, offering tools like undo and revert, along with the ability to brush in basic changes. It doesn’t offer blending modes and layering as such, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see that appear at a later stage. It is possible to create effect upon effect and then go back. Snapseed stores a history and then allows you to both view and return to an earlier place in your workflow. There is no right workflow; only the one that is best for you. This may well be determined by the capability and functionality of your device, however the only manual is the one you will write yourself.
The device matters. While I could do complex edits on my phone, I found that using the app on my Android tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Note, which happens to have removable memory it, made life a lot easier, when it came to fine control, particularly when brushing in corrections or enhancements. Since the note has an in-built pen, it made editing easier. However, it is possible to get aftermarket pens for other tablets, and that would, I feel, really help.
The last stage of the process is to send the finished file back to my PC, for final tuning, before outputting to my printer.
The header image is entitled Hine Moana I. Earlier this week I drove onto the bottom of 90 Mile Beach at Ahipara, in Northland, at a time when a southerly storm was pounding the beach. Something about the light on the thin veil of water coating the sand, drew me. I used the X-Pro 2 to make images and then ducked into the cab of my truck to make an edit/proof of concept. What I saw convinced me to take the long road home and process it fully. Hine Moana, in Māori mythology, is the daughter of Tangaroa, God of the sea. Her responsibility is the littoral zone, the space between the water (Tangaroa) and Papatuanuku (Mother/Earth). She is thus the archetypal go-between.
Working in this hybrid way allows me to close the gap between impulse/connection and proof, and to do this to the point of almost-finished work…before I leave the scene. It feels, in a way, like being one of those early landscape painters, who sets up his easel in the field and completes most of the work en plein air, then retires to his studio to finish it off. The great artist David Hockney made the comment: “in the beginning photography left painting. Now it is returning to it.”
Perhaps this is one way of returning to painting.