iPhoneography 101: 2 iPhone Remotes You Gotta Have

In my previous two articles, I talked about taking better portraits and I promised one more article in that series, however, this week I'm going to step away from the series slightly to talk about two devices I've found myself using a lot; a remote shutter release button and a remote flash. But don't worry—I will continue the portrait series in my next article. 

No matter what you are trying to capture on camera, having the camera as steady as possible can mean the difference between a good shot and a fantastic one due to how sharp the photo is. You've seen them. I've produced them myself. A photo will have perfect exposure, great composition, interesting subject, spectacular color and arresting contrast, yet something isn't quite right about it. Upon closer examination you find that the subject could have been a wee bit sharper, more in focus.

The most likely culprit is camera shake. Even if you hold the camera rock steady while composing, as soon as you press the shutter button you've introduced shake. Of course, after snapping the shutter there's nothing you can do about it, and you add that shot to your library of other almost perfect shots. Fixing the problem ahead of shutter click is the best way to beat shake, and the best way to get rid of shutter button induced shake is to get the shutter release off the camera, and that's where the first remote I'm going to talk about comes in.

It turns out there are several options if you want a Bluetooth shutter release for your iPhone. I have one of the newly released Button Series from Satechi. It paired up with my iPhone in a snap and does not require an app to use, it'll work with any camera app in your repertoire, has a 2 year battery life and comes with a ring mount that is actually convenient. It sells for about US$25.

Satechi Bluetooth Button Shutter Release (All photos taken by Vern Seward on an iPhone 5 using PureShot)

There are other Bluetooth shutter releases out there, some a lot cheaper than the Satechi Button. I haven't looked at them, but they should also do the job. And what job might that be?

Here's a scenario: I've got my iPhone mounted on a tripod or propped up on something solid to take a nice landscape shot with some interesting clouds and shadows. From moment to moment the scene changes so I want to take several shots. Yes, I could use my timer, but every time I touch my phone I could change its position. With a remote shutter release I keep my eyes on the scene as it evolves and snap away when it changes into a something I like. Very cool, and you'd be surprised how often that type of situation pops up. You'll find it useful in other scenarios as well.

The other gadget I want to talk about is the Nova Bluetooth Off-Camera Flash.

I mentioned in a previous article how the built-in flash, even on expensive DSLRs, can give you well exposed, but usually less interesting shots, especially when dealing with portraits. The reason is because the flash is very close to the lens, so your subject is illuminated from the front resulting in deer-in-headlights style photos. That's not necessarily bad, it's just the only option you had on your iPhone, until recently.

Several manufacturers have come out with interesting flash additions and alternatives. Some are just LED lights, little more than flashlights really, but they give you lighting options where you had none before. Then there bonafide flash devices that strobe only when you need it. One such device is from a company call Sneaky Squid LLC.

Nova Bluetooth Off-Camera Flash

The Nova Bluetooth Off-Camera Flash is exactly as its name implies, and because it never physically connects to your phone you never wind up with deer-in-headlghts photos.

Using the flash may take a bit of getting use to. To connect it to your iPhone you'll need Sneaky Squid's camera app or any camera app that supports the Nova API. (PureShot and 645 Pro MKIII are two such camera apps). Once connected you can then control it. You can set the lighting temperature from a crisp blue to a very warm yellow using one of four presets, then you are good to go. The difference between using the built-in flash and the Nova can be striking as I've tried to show in the following two photos.

Built-in flash works, but...

 Off-Camera Flash add interest

The first photo was taken using the built-in flash. Note the blue tint in the highlights. That blue can make pale skin look ghoulish, but when the iPhone converts it to JPG it corrects the color where needed. These were taken using TIFF format so no on camera processing occurred.

The second shot was taken using the Nova flash about a foot from the subjects. It was set to bright and warm light, which accounts for the yellowish tint. The shadows were what I was trying to emphasize, and you can't get that with the built-in flash.

Having the flash separate from you camera allows for more creativity. You can use it to fill in shadows, highlight areas of interest, or give a scene or portrait some mood.

I took those shots using the remote shutter release, by the way. Very convenient.

So, with a tripod, flash, and remote shutter release, you can really get funky iPhoneographically speaking.

That's a wrap. Formal portraits next week. I promise.