Monthly Archives: December 2013

iPhone Photography: Getting the best out of your camera

Spending up to five months away from home and overseas, lugging my full DSLR equipment everywhere I go just wasn’t gonna happen (even though I still try to, and rarely use it due to the size and bulk and lack of discretion). I had tried smaller solutions, such as the Canon S100 and Sony NEX5N – the latter I still use with an underwater housing for recreational scuba diving – they still represented another device one had to carry for the occasional snaps or postcard shots.

It was not until the end of 2012 that I switched over to the iPhone 5, and discovered the very fast camera it possesses – a much better improvement over the ‘shutter lag’ of the iPhone 4 and 4s. Being a professional photographer, I enjoy post processing/editing my photos and having the creative control over everything I shoot for that extra quality. I immediately jumped online and researched the inumerable apps available to the iPhone for editing/manipulation, and the rest was history.

I had found the solution I had been looking for. The iPhone 5 and 5s is more than capable of churning out 8×12 inch prints (A4 size) in good lighting, and smaller sizes easily – I dont think many people using the iPhone would be printing any larger anyway. If I were going to, I’d reach for my DSLRs or the NEX5N etc.

Below are the main apps I use for editing & manipulation in which I will show you the before and after effects in examples below.


1) Snapseed – FREE – this app is great since becoming free to download on the app store, with a host of features and special effects – my favourite being the selective adjustment where you can brighten or darken selected parts of the image.

2) PhotoToaster – $2.99 – my third most used apps, for quick changes to Sepia, B&W and other effects fast.

3) Pro HDR – $1.99 – the first ever photo app I downloaded and my second most used – takes 1 underexposed and 1 overexposed photo to combine into a HDR style photo to show more details. This is great for highly exposed scenes where you want to retain details and vice versa. Only works well with non moving scenes however, otherwise there will be light trails or blur by movement.

4) Camera+ – $1.99 – my favourite and go-to app for majority of my photos because of one unique function – the Clarity function. One touch of it and it will brighten underexposed areas as well as increase sharpness and clarity to give your photos an instant pop. Although the app has many other features this is the one I use the most, and you can see the results below. The clarity function naturally results in more noise however, so be wary of using it with photos taken in low light or areas with lots of shadows.


PhotoCollage – FREE – this is great for making photo collages, putting together 2 or 5 photos is only a touch away. Great for showing a place or scene in various angles in a collage instead of just a single photo.

InstaEffect – FREE – I rarely touch this app, but I’m sure there are many out there that would love the cool effects and colours it can throw over a photo. The only time I use this is for my Star Wars Re-Imagined by Lego series with my iPhone which is still being shot.

PhotoSync – $3.99 – absolutely invaluable to me and worth every cent! Fast selection of which photos from your camera to send wirelessly to your laptop or computer. I can usually send about 20 photos from my iPhone to my Macbook Pro in a few seconds flat. This is great if you want to do some further editing or retouching of the photos via Lightroom or CS which I do sometimes.


Riding a scooter through rice fields and ponds near Hoi An, Vietnam. Taken with normal camera, then Clarity applied later to bring out more colours and contrast as it was a dull overcast dayIMG_0148

The world’s fastest production car – the Bugatti Veyron – parked everyday on Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles. I used the Clarity function of Camera+ to once again bring out the colours and details of the car.


A small shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I used Pro HDR to merge 2 photos together as the foreground tori gate was quite underexposed. After the photo has been taken, the app allows for further adjustments in exposure, saturation, warmth etc – very handy! On another note, if you have time – dont catch the train from Shinjuku to Shibuya – spend a few hours walking there instead, the quaint little stores and boutique shops make it a very enjoyable experience in which many tourists simply miss out on. It is under 5km in a straight line.


I dont really know how to explain this photo, but how awesome is his little car! Saw this well dressed middle aged man driving this in Shinjuku, luckily he stopped at the traffic lights long enough to get a shot of him. Later on I applied Clarity to make it pop more.


This was my return to Mount Fuji in Japan after nearly 7 years. I used Pro HDR to achieve the details in the foreground and background, then loaded it to my laptop via PhotoSync and then reduced some noise via Lightroom. I really like this as the mountain is well framed by the stack of rowing boats in the foreground.


This is a life sized, 18m high original Gundam machine, outside of Diver City shopping complex on Odaiba Island, Tokyo – Japan. Not satisfied with the original shot, I used Clarity on it to give the machine more oomph. This is a side by side comparison of before and after Clarity. However the difference is more notice during daylight as there is more dynamic range for the program to work with. But you can see that below in other examples. IMG_1295

Toyota Mega Web museum on Odaiba in Japan is a must for any car enthusiast. In the historic side of the museum, there is a vintage set up complete with faux vintage surroundings and props and period items. Because I wanted to capture that vintage essence, I used Sepia via PhotoToaster, then Clarity via Camera+ to make it look more aged. IMG_1296

This is another angle of the above shot, but wider. I hate crooked shots, so I applied the same as above as well as the straighten too via Camera+ – the straighten tool is available in most photo apps and is an often overlooked function.


At my resort in Cancun, Mexico. This gives you a better idea of how  Clarity works in daylight and the difference it makes with one simple touch. IMG_1300

On the rooftop of my hotel in Antigua, Guatemala facing one of the volcanoes overlooking the town. Here I used Clarity again, and it is able to brighten up previously darkened areas in the original photo.


Thats the end of my beginner’s guide to iPhone photography and editing. My biggest word of advice is – BE CAUTIOUS. A new iPhone is rare in many countries and often seen as an object of status. Therefore muggings and robberies purely for iPhones whether you are on foot or on a vehicle is not unheard of. Be careful of where you pull your phone out to get that amazing shot.

Happy shooting!

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SOUTH ISLAND – New Zealand

It was a surreal, yet raw and brutal experience – being able to walk on a gigantic glacier shaped by the forces of nature. While the occasional rock falls sending down tonnes of rocks would echo loudly in the valley making us weary of our paths. It was brutally beautiful, that sheer wall of white and blue ice amongst an almost alien and colourless landscape. There were no human comforts to be found here.

Fox Glacier, on the stunningly rugged and beautiful South Island, New Zealand – is a 13km long ice glacier that is formed in the Southern Alps and ending near rainforests and the township, which serves as the gateway to exploring this natural wonder. The tours to the glacier are easily booked and can accommodate all levels of age and fitness – with helicopter tours and landing on the glacier naturally being the most expensive.

This is no place for ignorance and silliness, as safety is of the utmost importance to both visitors and tour guides. With the most recent deaths being in 2009 when 2 Australian tourists ignored warnings and safety barriers and were crushed by over 100 tonnes of ice falling. The glacier is constantly shifting and evolving so the danger and risk are assessed on a day by day basis.

If you ever land on South Island, it is worth making the drive here to visit Fox Glacier, I had done and seen many wondrous things in my life, and this has to be up there with the most memorable of them all.

P.S be careful with your cameras if they are not waterproof or weather sealed. Even my Canon 5D3 and lens were deemed highly weather sealed – albeit not as much as a 1D body – but they still got soaked enough from the constant rain over a few hours to exhibit error signs. However this was remedied by me placing it on the bed with an electric blanket to kill any moisture inside. But dont try this yourself!

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ANTIGUA: Guatemala’s volcanic playground

High noon, and somewhere between Belize and Guatemala and close to receiving deep vein thrombosis – I was jammed into a van with 18 other locals from the border town of Melchor after crossing over from Belize. With a 16kg backpack on my lap, and a stranger resting his head upon my shoulders quietly snoring away – I pondered about life. Not because I had a lot on my mind, more so because I literally could not move or do much else.

We looked for a way down south, hearing the allure of a historic Spanish colonial town, built in the Baroque style and nestled at 1500m above sea level – sounded like a supermodel amongst a pack of tired, middle aged businesswomen. Tired being the hotel beds in Cancun, or the tired hotel staff putting up with the constant supply of American all-inclusive resort guests’.

The four days spent in Antigua was filled with seeing quaint wonders – from climbing the still active Volcan Pacaya to wandering the colourful cobbled stone streets – it was a much needed respite after the arduous journey overland from Cancun through Belize to Antigua, with our final destination being Guatemala City 2 hours away, before flying back to Cancun and back to LA.

I had never seen so many people carrying shotguns before until I arrived in Guatemala City, from shopping mall guards, car parking attendants and bread delivery drivers. It was shotgun heaven for enthusiasts. But that is inevitable from the very high crime rate in the capital city. I was glad to leave the capital after an uneventful night there, otherwise there would have been a lot of ball bearings flying around!

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ISLA MUJERES – MUSA Underwater Museum – Cancun, Mexico

I consider myself to be an enthusiastic scuba diver, albeit a novice one with the occasional dive whenever I am overseas and weather and location permits it! As diving in Adelaide isn’t that great with visibility usually low etc.

On a recent trip to Central America starting in Mexico, I had planned to dive MUSA – which I read about online. We were lucky enough to be able to visit one of the artistic and diving wonders of the world, a vast underwater museum and sculpture off the coast of Isla Mujeres and Cancun, Mexico.

Created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor and other artists, it was utterly surreal to see everyday things and people, 5-10 meters below the water.

Unfortunately, we commenced our dive at the onset of a torrential downpour and after 1 tank we decided to go back to shore. For this series I used a cheap Fuji waterproof camera which cost round $140, if I had my DSLR and underwater housing the image quality would have been vastly different with the added ability of shooting in RAW to edit!

For anyone interested in photographing this, there is currently no facilities in Cancun that offer rental services on underwater housing or specialized cameras. Best to bring your own equipment for now.

If you have time visit Jason’s website, where better photos are taken and not from mycheap underwater camera:)

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NO VACANCIES – Abandoned resorts and projects in Da Nang, Vietnam.

I trespassed, evaded security guards, hid in unfinished luxury villas, and stared at the sad sight of empty infinity pools which were destined for the luxury holidaymaker. This is a side of Vietnam that the government did not want the world to see. Locations of failed investments, corruption, and ultimately heartbreaks and prison.

I have seen the dramatic growth and expansion of the coastlines around Da Nang and Hoi An every year, for the last four years. From monolithic resorts and hotels, to boutique and family operated businesses catering for every type of tourism possible. In the race for expansion during the midst of the global financial crisis – not every project became sustainable and many were abandoned or put on hold for an indefinite period of time. Thow in the usual corruption that is ubiquitous in Asia and parts of Europe, and suddenly dreams of grandeur, profitability and luxury became rusting metal and faded concrete blocks. Below are some images of a few resorts I managed to sneak into.

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