I recently enjoyed an all too brief two-week vacation to my native Italy. Normally, I like going once every year or two. But this time, I let the years slip by; the last visit being in 2007, a month before the original iPhone was released into the wild.
This time, I wanted to do something different. I was very eager to travel light for a change. In prior junkets, I would heave around my huge camera bag holding my DSLR, an extra camera body, a few lenses, one or two flash units, and a panoply of other photography gadgets.
My days traveling with tons of camera gear are behind me.
I had a desire to do some experimenting for myself in an effort to solve a mystery: is my iPhone camera good enough to produce acceptable travel photography for me? Can it be an adequate substitute for my traditional camera regalia? Can I successfully handle storage and backup requirements for the safekeeping of my precious images?
I'm happy to report that the answer to the above questions is a resounding YES – with some exceptions that I mention at the very end.
I discovered that, for my purposes anyway, being accompanied by a late model iPhone and iPad were all I needed to produce satisfying and compelling photography. I recognize that many die-hard photographers – and perhaps photography "old-timers" – are ready to unceremoniously banish me to the land of photographic mediocrity. I don't care. I photograph for my own enjoyment, not for that of others!
What I offer in this article is not targeted at those stuffy hobbyists, and certainly not for those photo professionals on assignment. What I discuss will work for the majority of typical iPhone-toting travelers who, like me, want to travel light while being properly equipped to produce award-winning photographs.
"One-bagging" it when flying to any destination is very much in vogue these days. This is primarily due to efforts by foreign airlines to limit the weight and dimensions of carry-on luggage, number of pieces carried on-board or checked, etc. Additionally, smart packing mitigates issues with lost and delayed luggage, property theft, and short layovers.
I will be offering other Travel-with-Tech How-To's in the future, but for now, let's concentrate on iOS photography while traveling. I present a strategy that works for me. Hopefully, it will be one that you might consider for your own upcoming travel.
With the proper techniques, a little knowledge, and great photo apps,
you can take fantastic iPhone photos when traveling.
But not just to Italy!
Traveling with two iPhones and an iPad mini
I took two iPhones with me to Italy. Coming along was my iPhone 4, which I requested be unlocked by AT&T since it had been out-of-contract for some time. This is something that any AT&T customer-in-good-standing can do for up to five out-of-contract phones per year. For those of you interested to learn more about this, AT&T has a document for you to check out.
I wanted the iPhone 4 to be used primarily for telephony while abroad. To accomplish this, I simply purchased a voice-only SIM card when I touched down on European soil. Since the AT&T iPhones support the GSM system, and are thus compatible with European cellular frequencies, everything worked perfectly. I was able to successfully phone, send messages via SMS and MMS, and even purchase additional minutes online. As for Wi-Fi, I was certainly able to use it where available, and it was available just about everywhere one would expect.
While the camera on the 4 is considered to be a decent one, it is not quite the latest and greatest. However, I could still use it as a backup camera, even though I never needed to use it for that purpose on this trip.
The iPhone 5 camera is highly capable and can easily replace many of the best point-and-shoot cameras.
My current iPhone 5 also accompanied me. It's primary duty: photography. The camera in the 5 is surprisingly good – no, awesome – given the device's physical limitations. I don't need to make huge, high-resolution prints or posters. Actually, the days of printing are behind me for the most part. Almost all my photography is now shown off and displayed on computer screens. That said, with good technique, and good iOS image editing software, I am able to achieve excellent 11x14 prints – suitable for framing, displaying, and gifting.
As for my iPad mini, it was the true hero of this trip. For what it's worth, I have long-abandoned my iPad with Retina Display in favor of the svelte and nimble iPad mini (32GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular). What a superb travel companion!
I will detail this in a future article, but for now, know that the iPad mini stored and processed my everyday data – journal entries, work-related Pages documents, travel documents, reading material, and much, much more. Oh… I can't forget some mindless fun playing Stupid Zombies.
Even without wireless data services of any kind – such as when I was in central Sicily for a couple of days – I could easily access my data and create content. As a precaution, I had pre-loaded all my travel documents in the mini's file and document management app triumvirate: GoodReader, Evernote and Dropbox.
The iPad mini (Wi-Fi + Cellular) utilizes the new Nano SIM format.
Sicily aside, the iPad mini was on 3G the entire time when Wi-Fi was not available. That is because, along with the European-compatible SIM that I purchased for the iPhone 4, I also purchased for about $50, a 30-day unlimited data-only SIM for the iPad mini.
I'm not one of these people who advocates that a vacation also means taking time off from tech. That's fine for them, but both my wife and I find our tech to be an important part of our vacations, providing us with hours of relaxation, entertainment and learning. On this trip, I was able to stay in touch with all my online services, friends, family, etc.
When traveling, the iPad is my image editor, storage, and organizer. It earns high marks as a pocket darkroom. (Incidentally, my 511 Taclite Pro cargo pants have side pockets that easily accommodate the iPad mini. Oh, and cargo pants are "in" in Italy.) Perhaps of primary importance on this trip, the iPad mini was an outstanding backup device for the images captured with the iPhone 5.
There are very few photographic situations the iPhone camera can't handle.
The iPhone 5 Camera app is certainly more than adequate for capturing, you know…those special moments. However, I used the Camera+ app (by tap tap tap) most of the time because of it's additional camera functionality not available in the stock app. Features include, separate exposure and focus touch controls, focus and exposure lock, burst and timed shooting modes, and more. All these are quite useful, depending on the circumstances.
Transferring and Backing-up Images On-the-Go
The iPhone 5 remained in Airplane Mode the entire time. In a pinch, I could have turned the radios and data roaming back on to get an iCloud Photo Stream sync going. As a precaution I had purchased a month of International Data Roaming from AT&T, just in case. However, that case never came to be.
Transferring photos from the iPhone 5 to the iPad mini couldn't be simpler. Once complete, I use the mini to edit, store, organize and share images, and for that all-important backup.
To connect to an iPad mini or a 4th gen iPad, you will need Lightning to 30-pin Adapter attached to the iPad Camera Connection Kit.
As soon as the iPhone is connected to the iPad mini, this Select-and-Import page appears on the mini.
At the end of each day of shooting, I connected the two devices. The mini automatically detected the iPhone as a connected camera. It gave me the options to import all or selected photos. Additionally, I chose to have any eventual duplicates ignored.
Be sure to choose your options appropriately and carefully.
At the import's conclusion, I was asked for permission to delete the original photos on the iPhone. I made doubly-sure to deny this, otherwise we couldn't call this a backup, right?
Using the widely-available Italian 3G data network, I was able to use the Mail and Messages apps to send emails, text messages and photos. I could also post images to my Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. I even had the ability to submit photos to my favorite online printing services: Apple and MPix.com. I looked forward to returning home to my beautiful prints. Finally, I really enjoyed using Bill Atkinson's awesome PhotoCard app and world-wide mailing service for large, beautifully printed postcards showcasing my stunning iPhoneography. By the way, a free PhotoCard Lite version is also available.
While accessing Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy, particularly during my frequent visits to coffee bars for my tiny Caffé Lungo Macchiato (I'd be a happy man if I could buy those in the "Venti" size), I was able to connect to my iCloud account. This provided an additional backup solution via Apple's Photo Stream service.
Finally, I had one more instance of backup redundancy available to me (one cannot get enough of these redundancies). Since I am a proponent of keeping a home Mac running continuously, my iMac would thus be able synchronize photos via my iCloud Photo Stream and permanently store them into iPhoto. Of course, my Mac is being backed up by Time Machine, and oh by the way… my CrashPlan offline backup service, too.
Even with Photo Stream's 30-day/1000 image limitations and the possibility of a tornado taking out the house and iMac, I wasn't worried at all.
Oh, and how can I forget Dropbox? Of course, I had things set up so that all my images were also being copied to my account when connecting my iPhone to the iPad mini. Redundant redundancy.
I know what you're thinking: "Dude, you are one crazy guy. Talk about overkill!" Between my local backup, iCloud Photo Stream, Dropbox, and uploading my best stuff to Flickr, I was poking around Italy worry-free; my valuable images were safe.
When an iDevice is selected in iTunes, memory utilization is shown via a bar graph.
One expected issue I did run into was that, because the mini is a 32GB model (and I have lots of apps), I ran out of storage space prematurely. The iPhone 5's camera shoots 8 Megapixel images transferred as JPEG files that can be as large as 7MB each – more when taking panoramas. This all adds up quickly, of course.
Multiple pop-up warnings will appear until you take actions to free up memory.
I resolved this matter easily by deleting non-essential apps and large video podcasts, which could easily be restored back at home. I had also ripped a couple of my horror DVDs, thinking that, while traipsing around Italy, I would actually find time to get caught up with scenarios for dealing with the upcoming zombie apocalypse. These had to go, and doing so freed-up lots of space.
Additionally, deleting the "really bad photos" (or not importing them in the first place) is a definite must. Of course, while I, your humble writer, never take "really bad photos," I know that many people find that tossing out even one image is extremely painful. Get over it!
In any event, a 64GB (or more) iPad mini is now definitely on my wish list waiting for the release of the next model.
Bryan Chaffin, my editor, tells me to keep my articles short and to-the-point, so I'm out of time and space. For now, I won't talk of the apps I used to edit my best images.
Suffice it to say that after evaluating hundreds of iOS photography apps over the years, I have settled on a handful of phenomenal ones. My requirements are that they have liberal sharing and syncing features – particularly to Dropbox, that they easily share images with other apps on-board, and that they be built specifically to accommodate the iPad screen. Many of the best apps are Universal, but for the best results when working on photographs, go with the larger iPad screen if you can.
In conclusion, I won't be tossing out my DSLR anytime soon. I still need to use it professionally (though, I have used the iPhone on a few commercial assignments), or where I want to do some fine creative work with exposure, focus, lighting setups, high dynamic range (HDR) photography, and low-noise shots in low light.
For now, my travel companions are my Tom Bihn Aeronaut and Co-Pilot bags, my iPhone and my iPad mini. Those plus some money for espresso coffee is all I need.
Don't dismiss the photographic capabilities of any smartphone. I teach people how they can create amazing images with their iDevices. Successful iPhoneography is accomplished with some basic understanding of photographic principles – exposure, light, and composition – developing a good photographic eye, and using the right apps. Stunning, award-winning photographs can indeed be made with an iPhone. Simply do a Google search for "iPhone photo exhibits and contests," and you'll see for yourself.