My favorite smartphone photo apps for travel

Florida Everglades by bike -- fat tire!

Bike riding, fat tire style, in the Florida Everglades.

Every winter, Marty and I exit Alaska in search of new hiking trails and a Vitamin D fix. This year was different. First, we traveled by land-yacht (RV), and second, I vowed to play with my iPhone’s photo apps. How did it go? Well, I perfected the art of grilling a PB&J sandwich in a one-fanny kitchen. And I dove into photography with Crayon-like enthusiasm–all helpful stuff for when you hit the road with a frying pan and a smartphone. I’ll show you what I mean…

An evening with giant cauliflowers

On a late afternoon in February, we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, a natural and geological stunner of a desert landscape. Heaps of boulders and cliffs rose from the high desert floor, parched from a 4-year drought. A dusting of snow, a ranger told us at the entrance gate, brought some relief in December. “But we could use more. You gotta love those Joshua trees, though. They just keep hanging on.”

Sunset was 30 minutes away, so while Marty managed the winding, 2-lane road, I searched the landscape for curvy horizons and shapely Joshua trees. “Let’s pull over by this grove,” I said. “Wow, they look like giant cauliflowers.”

I perched my tripod near a tree that felt grandfather-ish. (Joshua trees don’t have normal tree rings, so I guessed 100 years). It was the “blue hour”, a special time of day when the colors of sunrise and sunset share the sky with the blue dome of midday. I took a series of photos with my Big Camera and then pulled out my iPhone.

Here are the before and after shots, followed by the two basic steps to get there:

Before and after image using snapseed and Perfect Image app. photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona, National Parks

The left photo is the original image. Great potential here. After working with it in Snapseed, I looked at the dark base and thought, “What a fun place to put some text.”

Step 1: The Snapseed app

I began by processing the original photo (left) in Snapseed to saturate color and adjust contrast. Let me pause for a moment to say something about contrast: Even a little adjustment goes a long way.

Increasing the contrast of your photos is one of the most important steps before posting your images online.

There are an astounding 2.5 million apps but Snapseed (free) is one of the most popular photo editing apps available for iPhone and Android, offers a variety of powerful photo-correction tools and filters. To learn how to use the different features of this app, Google has an excellent Snapseed Help Center.

Below is the opening page of Snapseed as it appears on your iPhone or Android screen. The left side shows some of the photo editing options, the right side, a sample image before replacing it with your own.

Snapseed, app, photo editing, Nik, Google, android, iphone, photo app

The Snapseed home page showing some of the processing filter options.

After making adjustments in Snapseed, I saved the photo in my iPhone’s Photo Library. I could have stopped there, but I thought a mini-poster (with text) would  be fun to share on my Marion_Owen_Photography Instagram page.

Step 2: The Perfect Image app

Perfect Image, photo app, iTunes, photo processing, iPhone, Marion OwenTo create my mini-poster, I wanted to add text on top of, and below, the image.  So I re-opened the picture in another powerful app called Perfect Image, a free app available through iTunes. With it, you can add a gzillion special effects with ease.

One of the best things about these two apps is that they are non-destructive, which means when you save your picture after applying the effects you like, a new copy is made, leaving your original untouched. Another thing: you can share your masterpiece photo instantly on Facebook, Instagram, via e-mail, or messaging.

Black and white photos rock!

There’s no art more exquisite than a well-done black and white image. They sing with texture and tone in ways that color images can only dream of. As a former darkroom junkie, what can I say?

So take a look at these two examples. Both were processed in Snapseed in another 2-step process: First, I enhanced the clouds a bit to make them pop as if I used a polarizing filter. You can see the results in the left photo. Then I selected the Black and White filter, lightened the shadows a little and created the photo you see at right. Which one do you like best?

snapseed, polarizer, polarizing filter, photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona

See how changing the color image to black and white makes the clouds and textures in the rocks really pop?

Camels on Route 66?

RV-ing the right way means being flexible and open to surprises. Take Kingman, Arizona, for example. Straddling Route 66 (off Highway 40) in the western part of the state, Kingman is part tourist trap and part legit stopover. Back in 1859 though, Kingman was the twinkle in Lt. Edward Beale’s eye. While in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he was charged with two tasks: Survey for a wagon trail and test the feasibility of using camels as pack animals in the desert. Beale’s wagon trail eventually became a road and part of Route 66…

We arrived in Kingman on a sunny weekday, pulled into a local park and piled out of the RV to stretch our legs. Marty was craving Italian, so he took off in search of restaurant while I roamed around looking for potential sunrise shots. The next morning, I got up at 5 AM and drove to Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner. Some of the staff had just arrived and turned on the lights. Perfect.

Here’s another example of using Snapseed and Perfect Image together:

IMG_5542-route66-poster

I created a border and saturated the color using the HDR (High Dynamic Range) filter in Snapseed and then added the retro, “Get Your Kicks” in Perfect Image and placed it at the bottom. I really like the playfulness of the final photo.

In conclusion: Sharing what I learned

Firstly, cooking in a compact space was an easy adjustment for me, since every summer I prepare gourmet dinners for small groups aboard our 40-foot yacht in Kodiak, Alaska.

As for taking pictures, I said at the beginning that I dove into photography during this trip with Crayon-like enthusiasm. You see, I’ve faithfully used 35mm Canon gear for my professional work since the mid-1970s. But lately I sensed a subtle lack of fizz toward my photography, an art form  I’ve enjoyed since my parents gave me a Kodiak Brownie camera when I was eight. But hey, I don’t blame it on the lack of inspiring subjects though. I love to just get out and look (I can find cool stuff in a spruce forest or a junk yard).

Using the iPhone and experimenting with Snapseed and Perfect Image taught me something. No, more than that…it helped me out. I started using my Canon gear with a lighter step, a refreshed attitude. Isn’t that one of the reasons to hit the road?

Thanks for visiting. I’d love to hear about your adventures on the road.

IMG_4633-Florida-orange

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11 Responses to My favorite smartphone photo apps for travel

  1. Kathleen says:

    The things you can do with an iPhone! 🙂

  2. Velda says:

    So fun to hear of your RV trip and a bonus to learn what you did with the photos. I got a set of lenses for my
    Iphone for Christmas and need to get out and play. We go to Kingman every few years stopping to see friends and have eaten at that diner! Did you, by chance, stay at Blake Ranch RV park? We have been there a couple of times before good friends relocated from Northern CA to Golden Valley near Kingman. Again fun to hear of your trip.

  3. marionowen says:

    Hi Velda, we ended up going through Kingman to help a fellow RV-er repair his rig. We ended up eating at an Italian place 3 blocks from this diner. We stored our RV in Phoenix and will return in the fall. Excited to see fall colors in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Open to suggestions…

    • Velda says:

      Look up RV Sue and her Canine Crew. She travels full time with her pups. If you click at the top on money section and look up by year she has been to many great spots. Have you been to Quartzite in Jan/feb? Lots of great places. Hope some day we will cross paths.

  4. Lina says:

    I always love your posts,thank you so very much for sharing your part of the world.

  5. I also really love Camera+ I’ve used that app for the past 3 years while travelling to take my iPhone photos from ok to stunning! Thanks for the article!

    • marionowen says:

      Thanks, Kelsey for the thumbs up and the recommendation. I will certainly check out the Camera+ app. Then I really depend on The Photographer’s Ephemeris app for sunrise/set, moonrise/set directions. Have a terrific day!

  6. Sartenada says:

    We have never used any smartphone photo apps when shooting photos by smartphone. In my newest post, nearly all photos took wife by using her smartphone.

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