When you take a digital photo, the camera you use receives light through its lens, but the light information it gets can be slightly distorted. Because of this, cameras often use lens correction to create JPEGs from the original light information, or when converting RAW files into JPEGs.
If you shoot RAW files, many apps that process these files can also apply lens correction, using metadata stored with the files, to create better images. In some cases, this can even be using a huge database of information about lenses and cameras.
It’s interesting to know that Apple’s Photos app also applies lens correction, yet doesn’t tell you anything about it. This lens correction is not only applied in the Photos app, but also within macOS; if you have a RAW file and view it using Quick Look (select the file and press the space bar), lens correction is applied.
I haven’t been able to find a database of which lenses Apple is aware of, but there is a document showing which cameras are supported for RAW files. It’s likely that Apple supports those lenses that add metadata to the RAW files, which covers most lenses people are likely to use. This said, if you’re using a non-digital lens on a camera with an adapter, you won’t get any such information; it’s possible that some third-party software may be able to apply correction for this type of lens.
If you’re familiar with smart playlists in iTunes, then you’ll understand smart albums. Each one is made up of one or more conditions that the app uses to filter your content, and display only those items that match your choices. In iTunes, it’s a great way to find tracks with ratings, that you have or haven’t played recently, by certain artists, and much more.
In Photos, you have a number of interesting choices you can use as conditions. Start by choosing File > New Smart Album, and you’ll see a dialog offering you a number of options.
Select the first menu after Match the following condition to see a number of types of metadata – data about your photos – that you can use.
You can choose any of these types of metadata, such an existing album, the date you took a photo, a keyword or description, and more. You can choose technical information, such as the camera model, lens, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and whether you’ve used a flash.
The second menu lets you select operator such as is or is not, numerical operators such as greater than or less than, ranges (from x to y), and more.
For each of the bits of metadata in the first menu, you have a number of options in the third menu. They are contextual; they depend on what you’ve chosen in the first menu. For example, the default option you see is Photo is favorite, but you can, from the third menu, choose things like Photo is edited, movie, HDR, tagged with GPS, and more. For all the technical metadata in the bottom part of the first menu, Photos presents a list that you can choose from with the existing metadata in your photos. For example, if you chose Lens, you can select a specific lens that you have used from a list. Camera model will show all the cameras you have used, and so on.
You may want to make a smart album with, say, all the photos you’ve shot with an iPhone; any model, among those you’ve used over the years. In this case, you can make a smart playlist with the condition Camera model includes iPhone, and Photos will find all the pictures that were taken with any iPhone.
You can also add conditions; click the + button, and you can have another condition, and you can continue adding conditions until your smart album shows exactly those photos you want.
To the left you can see the smart albums I have in my Photos library. As you can see, most of them sort by camera or lens, but I also have a Recent Photos album (Date is in the last 1 months), and a Panoramas album (Keyword is Panorama; I’ve entered this manually, because the default Panoramas album doesn’t find all of mine).
If you want to sort your photos by any of these conditions, to easily scan photos you’ve tagged with a certain keyword, such as “vacation,” photos of a specific person (as long as you’ve tagged them), or, as I do, photos taken with specific equipment, smart albums are versatile and easy to set up.
Note that smart albums do not sync to iCloud Photos Library, so you cannot view them on your iPad or iPhone. That’s a shame; it would be useful to be able to sort photos like that to view on a mobile device.
If you have a camera and a number of lenses, it can be interesting to see which lens you use the most. If you organize your photos with Apple’s Photos app, you can do this with smart albums. Here’s an example.
I wanted to see which photos I had shot with my Olympus 45mm f 1.8 lens. I created the following smart album (choose File > New Smart Album to create a smart album):
When you want to fill in the third field in the above dialog, click the arrow at the right of the field to see the available options; Photos shows all the lenses represented in your library.
I’ve done this for a number of my lenses, and for different cameras. It’s interesting to see which lenses get the most use.
You can also choose Focal Length is in the range, to find all your shots that are, say, 12 – 17mm, others that are, say, 50 – 150mm. You have a plethora of options in smart albums, and they can help you better view understand which of your tools you use the most.
You could also use this to determine which focal lengths you use the most with a given zoom lens. If you find that with, say, a 14-42mm lens, you shoot most around 25mm, you might want to consider buying a better 25mm prime lens instead of using what is generally a much slower zoom lens.
If you use different camera systems, with different crop factors, you might want to label your smart albums with the name of the camera or lens, along with the focal length. For example, my Fujifilm X100F has a 23mm lens, but, because of the crop factor, that’s about a 35mm equivalent. My Olympus 25mm lens is a 50mm equivalent.
If you have seen the photos I’ve been posting on this site in recent months, you’ll have noticed that I like taking black and white pictures. As I wrote recently,
I like black and white photos, and the camera has a number of interesting monochrome profiles, which I’ve been using. Setting a monochrome profile makes the image I see in the viewfinder black and white, which is interesting; I don’t view in color, and try to imagine how things will look later.
Viewing your scene in black and white helps you compose it differently. You’re not attracted by the colors, but rather by the contrasts. You can look at the balance between the dark and light sections, and decide how they should be framed. You can, of course, turn any photo from color into black and white, with any photo editor, or even with Apple’s Photos, but it’s more interesting to shoot in black and white.
You can do this in most cameras, even the iPhone. It’s not new that you can do this with an iPhone, but I was surprised recently to have read in an ebook by a photographer that this wasn’t possible; the photographer wasn’t aware of it. So I thought it would be useful to explain how you can shoot in black and white on an iPhone.
When looking at your scene on the display of an iPhone – or iPad, for that matter – tap the Filters button; that’s the one with the three overlapping circles. You’ll see a display like this:
As you can see, there are nine different filters available. These are the same filters you can apply to your photos later, in the Photos app, but you can also use them to shoot directly. The three black and white filters are Noir, Tonal, and Mono. The Mono filter is straight black and white, whereas the Noir filter has higher contrast, and the Tonal filter has lower contrast. Here’s how all three look for the same scene:
Depending on what you’re shooting, you may prefer the higher or lower contrast, rather than the straight monochrome conversion. But it’s worth trying each one to see how your scene looks.
Again, you can always shoot in color and convert your photos later, but if you shoot in black and white, you’ll notice that you view scenes differently. And when you shoot in black and white – or with any of the other filters – the iPhone stores both the unmodified color photo and the black and white photo, so if you have monochrome regrets, you can select the photos in the Photos app, go into Edit mode, then Revert to Original to get back the color version of your shot. So you have the best of both worlds.
I bought another camera: a Fujifilm X100F. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) It’s an interesting camera, as it has a 23mm (35mm equivalent) fixed lens, a 24 Mp sensor, and Fuji’s interesting film simulations. It’s about the same size and weight as the Olympus Pen-F I bought a month ago, but it inspires a different type of shooting.
Here’s a shot from yesterday evening. The sun’s rays were coming down in front of some trees by the side of my garden, and I got what I think is some wonderful lens flare (even though I had a lens hood on the camera). This is shot with the Acros film simulation, and some tweaking of lighting and contrast.
There are plenty of books about how to take pictures by mastering composition, exposure, lighting, post-production, and more. But there aren’t many books about what goes in inside the mind of a photographer, what they think about, and how they approach photography. Prolific author David DuChemin’s latest book, The Soul of the Camera, looks at that aspect of photography: what one should think about to take original photos. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
In this attractive hardcover book, DuChemin discusses the vision that a photographer should have (his mantra, in videos he presents on his website, is “gear is good, but vision is better”). He talks about things like authenticity, improvisation, learning and rejecting rules, and presents a photography that is more creative than technical. Rather than focusing on the latest gear, or some cool Photoshop tricks, reading a book like this can help you find better ways to look at the world, and hence create better photos.
I’m not interested in post-production trickery, and The Soul of the Camera reminds me how important photos are, not their color profiles, Lightroom presets, or anything else. Photographers need to be curious, to seek out new places to shoot pictures, rather than stick with what’s familiar. They need to take chances, even if it means that many or most of their photos won’t be worth keeping. Above all, this book stresses the need to be honest and authentic, rather than just reproducing clichés.
As I delve more into photography, and browse forums, most of the talk is about gear: the latest cameras, lenses, and software. But very few people talk about the soul of their photos, their vision, what makes photos memorable. This book gives a good theoretical underpinning for this part of the craft and art of photography. If you’ve seen some of DuChemin’s videos, and read his articles or ebooks, you know that he can be a bit relentless in his insistence on these ideas, but this book tempers his ardor, and is a bit more laid back than his caffeine-fueled videos. If you haven’t read his work before, this is a good introduction to a photographer who thinks beyond the frame.
In 288 pages, with dozens of beautifully reproduced black and white photos, this is a book for photographers who want to take pictures, not play with their gear. If you want to think differently about photography, whether you have the latest gear or not, this book is for you.
I finally got a proper macro lens. To start with, I’m not going to shoot anything really tiny, but I’m going to see what I can find that looks interesting that would be hard to shoot as well with my normal lenses. Hence this withered rose.
The vignette is an interesting effect that you can use to highlight some of your photos. By darkening the edges of a photo, in a circular or oval shape, you put more attention on the center of the picture, leading the eye to what you’ve shot. Here’s an example:
Vignettes are very effective in symmetrical photos, as above. They make it look as though there’s a subtle spotlight on the center of the image, or as if you’re peering through a hole. In the photo of the pinecone, the effect is quite strong, but given the circular nature of the subject, and the stone background, it doesn’t look overdone.
Vignettes generally work best when they’re subtle, when you can barely see them:
In the photo above, I used a very slight vignette, mainly to darken the leg of the table at the top right of the photo. I don’t need it to draw attention to the subject, because given the position of Rosalind the Cat, she is the center of focus. But without the vignette, that table leg looks a bit intrusive. The vignette can be used like this to slightly mask objects in the background.
Note that in some cases, vignetting is an unwanted artifact of your lens; if you shoot with the aperture all the way open (the lowest f stop), you may see some vignetting caused by the elements of your lens. If that happens, stop the lens down a bit, moving to a higher f stop. This said, you may find that the vignetting caused by your lens works well for certain photos.
Vignettes can be very effective with landscapes as well. In this photo, I added a slight vignette effect to pull the eye toward the center, since there is no fixed subject. You barely notice the vignette, since the corners all contain dark objects, but I find that a slight vignette in this type of picture leads the eye subtly toward the center.
You can easily use the vignette effect in Apple Photos. Select a photo and click the Edit Photo button in the toolbar, or press Return. You’ll see the editing interface. Next, click Adjust, to see the various adjustment tools available. If you only see a few adjustment tools, click Add at the top of the Adjustments column and choose Vignette.
Note that you should only use the vignette effect after you’ve cropped your photos. Otherwise, you may crop some of the gradient, and your photos will look unbalanced.
To start with, hover over the controller and click the Auto button. Photos will apply a vignette based on the intensity and composition of your image. It may not be ideal, but that’s fine; you can tweak the settings. This auto setting will give you an idea how the vignette will look on the photo. If you click the checkmark to the left of the word Vignette, you can turn off the effect. Click it, then click again to toggle between the original photo and the version with the vignette to see the difference.
Next, you can alter three settings using sliders. They are:
Strength tells Photos how much gradient there should be in the vignette; how dark it should be, as it spreads from the edges to the center of the photo. Slide this to the right; try with different settings to see what works. Note that if you leave the slider at the center, then there is no vignette effect. If you slide to the left you get a negative vignette; that is, instead of the edges of the photo darkening, they get lighter. This effect isn’t usually as attractive as a dark vignette, but you might want to use it on photos with a light background.
Radius is the size of the vignette’s circle or oval. (For square photos, it’s a circle; for rectangular photos, it’s an oval). Try dragging the slider to see how this changes. With the slider to the left, you get the most subtle vignette; toward the right, the vignette is more pronounced, and the amount of the photo that is unaffected gets smaller. Most photos look best with a subtle vignette, but sometimes you may want to use more prominent shading.
Softness adjusts the intensity of the gradient; how much the light drops off as it gets near the center. Again, try moving the slider to see how this affects your photos. Try putting the Strength all the way to the right (1.00), and then moving the Softness slider; the difference will be a lot more obvious.
You can adjust these three sliders until you find the ideal setting for your photo. In some cases, you’ll want a stronger, softer vignette, and in others you want only the slightest hint of a vignette. Used sparingly, this can be a very attractive effect. And if you decide you don’t like it, just uncheck the Vignette setting, and it goes away.
When you’re satisfied, click Done to save your changes.
As with all edits in Photos, this setting is non-destructive; you can always return to your original photo by clicking Revert to Original at the top of the window, above the Adjustments column. So feel free to try anything you want, with the knowledge that you can always undo your changes.
One more thing: don’t overuse the vignette effect. It tends to look contrived if you use it on all your photos. If you look at the photos that people share on Flickr, Instagram, and 500px, you’ll no doubt notice that vignette effects are thrown around as though they’re almost required, especially with black and white photos. As with all effects, use this one sparingly.
Michael Kenna is one of the masters of black and white photography, especially of places, landscapes, buildings, and moods. His photos all have a haunting quality to them, because of the precise composition and the brooding tones, as well as the sheer beauty of the prints that are reproduced in his books.
I recently bought his book France (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which is a collection of photos he has taken over the years in different parts of that country. He has been shooting pictures there since the early 1980s, and has made many beautiful pictures of Versailles, Mont Saint Michel, Le Notre’s gardens, Paris, and much more.
This 300+ page book collects 275 duotone prints, all with a subtle sepia color that gives them a special character. While the prints are beautiful, the production of this book is also exquisite. Bound in burgundy silk, and in a black, embossed slipcase, this is an object that is as attractive as its contents.
Rather than try to describe Kenna’s photos, I’ll show you some two-page spreads from the book available from his publisher’s website. If you want a beautiful coffee-table book of black and white landscapes, you should check out France. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)