Photoshop, Fotokasten, A+ Zoom and more

I recently viewed a display of Steve McCurry's photography, which included the famous 'Afghan Girl' photo as well as a photo of the same girl, now a woman, taken some 17 years after the original was taken.

There is a reason why Mr. McCurry gets paid the big bucks, and you only have to look at a handful of his work to understand that reason. The man is a phenomenal photographer. Given the same equipment he uses and the same situations he finds himself in when shooting, 99 percent of those who claim to be professional photographers could not produce anything close to what Mr. McCurry can bad has.

The 'Afghan Girl' photo is what any photographer would love to produce. The photo is so full of color and detail, which gives it life. It is the eyes of the Afghan Girl (her real name is Sharbat Gula) that demand your attention.

As you might imagine, I'm a fan of photography, and, apparently, so are many smart phone owners.

Just recently there was a fire - a travel trailer went up in flames - and anyone nearby with a camera on his or her phone could be seen standing dangerously close to this burning vehicle ( that had propane tanks onboard) snapping pix and shooting video.

On another occasion I was at a production of 'Hair' put on by a local high school. Instead of the usual video and photo camera, most parents whipped out their cellphones to record their sons or daughters making thespian history.

There's no denying it, we love to take pictures about two thirds as much as we love showing them off.

Some of us believe that if we get better equipment we'll be able to produce better photos. There's some truth to that notion, but better equipment means more money and the inconvenience of lugging that better equipment around. Don't underrate convenience my friends, if it's a bother to bring along a camera then when that alien spaceship lands in front of you and the occupants are busty amazons from the planet Zarcon looking for males to add fresh DNA to their population's gene pool, you'll have nothing but a smile (and maybe a case of space-herpes) to backup your claim.

I'm a firm believer in making good use of what you have available, and for those of us with iPhones, we have a fairly decent picture taker in our pockets.

Regardless of what you use for a camera your photos won't look their very best until you do a bit of tweaking. One shot may need a bit more brightness, another needs a tad more contrast, too much red in this one, not enough blue in that one.

It use to be that you had to wait until you got home and downloaded you pix into your computer before you could work on them. Not anymore. There's an iPhone app for that.

Pretty much since photography went digital, Adobe's Photoshop has been the digital darkroom for weekend shooters and hardcore professionals alike. Photoshop is a HUGE application capable of performing magic when used by someone who knows how. The problem is that Photoshop can have a steep learning curve. Even Photoshop Elements, Photoshop's subset sibling, can take a bit of getting use to. So when I heard that Adobe put Photoshop on the iPhone I didn't quite know what to make of the notion. It just didn't seem like something people would want.

I tell you now, you want this.

Photoshop Mobile is a very basic photo manipulation application. It lets you play with the exposure (a combination of brightness and contrast), saturation (color enhancement), tint (overall color cast), or you can turn the photo to black and white. There's 'Sketch' which lets you sharpen you shot, and soft focus. There's also a small selection of effects as well as the ability to crop, rotate, and flip your photo. What's nice is that all of the effects are accumulative, so you can create a black and white shot, add soft focus, then give a nice sepia tone.

Now, OK pix can look really good, and good pix can look great.

Photoshop Mobile is an extension of, the Adobe hosted site where you can upload your creations for all to see. You can sign up for an account and get 2GB of free online space, which can hold a lot of 2MB photos. Of course, you don't have to use the site, and that's cool too.

These are before (left) and after (right) processing with Photoshop Mobile.

What's even nicer is that Photoshop Mobile integrates with your iPhone's native photo album app. Once you tweak a photo in Photoshop Mobile you can then tweak it some more int he Photo Album app. You can't adjust pix in the library, however, and that's OK by me.

What's best about Photoshop Mobile is that it's free! This is definitely one yo get.

Now that you've created some magazine worthy pix how about jazzing them up a mite? FotoKasten might be just the ticket.

First off, it's free. It's tough to argue with free, except when the free app is loaded with ads. Luckily FotoKasten doesn't have a bunch of ads cluttering up an already small screen. You see an ad after you photo is processed. A bit annoying, but someone has to pay the bills.

What FotoKasten does is take your photo and merges it with one of 16 unique motifs. The end result is your photo blended into the motif's scene. You can choose to put a face on a billboard, on a coin, or other scenes. By merging I mean that the app changes your original photo, making it black and white, and contrast, muting color, whatever it takes to make it look like it belongs in the scene

You can then save your scene or send it off to friends and family as an email message.

FotoKasten is a nice little freebie that's simple to use and you can get some interesting results.

The iPhone camera is pretty capable, but one thing I wish it could do better is take a decent macro or close-up shot. I hear things are a bit better on the 3GS, but my 3G iPhone does not focus well when you want to get close to your subject. It would also be nice if I had a decent zoom feature.

Any photographer will tell you that if you want to zoom then get use optical zoom, never digital zoom. It use to be that digital zooms, where the camera's computer attempts to magnify a photo before you snap the shutter, were simple and just enlarged what the camera lens saw. The problem comes in when it's time to crop and enlarge your shot during post processing. All sort of unwanted digital artifacts become visible as you enlarge and the resulting photo is hardly useable.

Things have gotten a bit better in the digital zoom arena. New algorithms help make digital zoom more useful. On the iPhone, a digital zoom is a must and there's a good zoom app you can have and use for free.

A+ Camera Zoom is a dead-simple app; fire it up, use the sliders to zoom in , snap the shot, and budda-bing! You've got a photo.

Before and after zooming with A+ Camera Zoom.

A+ Camera Zoom let's you zoom on the X or Y axis separately, which can yield some fun results.. It also has built-in stabilization which kicks in right when you snap the shot. The zoomed image of the books I shot was taken in relatively low light and it looks pretty good.

Not a lot of fanfare, just zoom and stabilize, and it's free.

Well that's a wrap for this week.

More free stuff below with direct links.