Topic Contents
Cellular Phone Pictures:
(You need not suffer too much)


One of the frustrations many people experience with photography is the apparent difference between what they saw, and what came out in the picture.
Starting Point -- What Was Shot:
The Shot:

The picture above was shot by
World Hum editor Michael Yessis from atop the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington DC.  While the picture itself is not "iconic", it does capture a lot of our shared national icons and is almost classic in representing how a photograph can become infused with meaning for the photographer.  It's one of those pictures where you can remember almost exactly what the world looked like and what the world felt like when you pressed the shutter.   But in Michael's words, "The shot from my iPhone hardly does it justice."

We've all been there.

And with a little work in the computer, we can help the photo along and get it closer to our memories.

End Point -- What Was (Probably) Seen:
How We Got There:

The first step was straightening and cropping.  This photo presented a challenge because there is a wee bit of conflict between the Washington Monument and the apparent horizon.  When you get the monument vertical (which is one of those factors that triggers our mind's perception of whether the picture is "right") the horizon slopes down a bit to the right.  That is likely because unless you are at the Bonneville Salt Flats, most terrestrial horizons are not really the horizon -- you have to be at sea or on a really big lake to see the true horizon.  In PhotoShop, I rotated it .33 degrees clockwise.  That seems tiny, but you can see the difference when you flip back and forth.  After that I cropped out a little of the top and bottom.  This gives it a little more of a panoramic aspect ratio, but I left in the foreground to lead into the White House, and eased the first large clouds up to the edge of the frame

I made a pass with NoiseNinja using the automatic "Profile Image" This helps to clean things up a bit.

The next step is a quick method available in the full versions of PhotoShop and which can make fast work of color balance and some other color and exposure related factors in many photos.  Using "Curves", I found a non-specular (non reflecting) white are in the photo (the white gable end on the far left) to set my "white point".  A true white area in a photo contains most of the color balance information.  Then, I went looking for a black point in the picture, using the "Clipping" feature to help me.  When those two steps are done, I've established the photo's maximum white, maximum black, and color balance.

The final step was to use "Smart Sharpen" at "32".

I saved the image using the "Save for Web & Devices" option at the "60" quality setting.
Another Way To Get There:

And if you don't have photo software that costs more than a coast-to-coast airline ticket?  Unfortunately, the handy "Curves" feature does not come in Adobe's lower cost PhotoShop Elements, so I re-worked the original image using tools that are common in several lower cost photo editing applications.

I starting with the same cropping and a pass through NoiseNinja.

Then I went to "Levels" and selected "Auto".  After that, I played around with the "Brightness/Contrast" and "Color Balance" controls, keeping an eye on that same white gable end on the left.  These last two are purely "eyeball"/"adjust to taste" operations.  You fiddle with it until it looks right to you.

Finally, a "Smart Sharpen" at "32" and the "Save for Web & Devices" at "60" -- just like the previous photo.

It's different, and a little more subdued.  You might even like it better.
Another End Point:
What About Prints?

Big prints and cellular phone photos usually don't go together.  But small prints tighten up the detail and can present very nicely.  A few years ago I explored a method of using very small prints in an album format.  My solution is documented on a page about Thinking and Presenting...Small.
Things To Consider:

  -- I was working with a low resolution JPEG file (617 x 397 pixels) downloaded from the World Hum website.  Working with the full camera image would be much better.

  -- Related to the above, always work with a copy of the original camera image.  Stash that original image in a folder somewhere, make a copy of the file you want, convert it to a *.PSD, *.TIF, or some other lossless format, and work on that copy. 

  -- Don't get so wrapped up in the technology that you forget to enjoy your travels, and the opportunities that a cellular phone camera gives us to see and share.