Beyond filters

Processed with VSCO with d2 preset
Processed with VSCO with d2 preset

Nobody uses filters anymore, at least in their original function. The overall consensus seems to be that #nofilter is just fine. But it’s also partly because people are better editors — mobile apps like VSCO and Instagram offer free toolkits that make it easy to adjust contrast, exposure, and saturation. You can also tweak the strength of the filter; a feature VSCO had all along, and Instagram has since copied.

Filters aren’t dead, though; they’re just evolving to meet visual means of communication and an appreciation for aesthetic. When Snapchat introduced facial lenses, users wanted to make their images more personal and playful. Meanwhile, Prisma’s popularity demonstrates the appetite to revert photos into pieces of art.

Smartphone users and social media enthusiasts love to dabble in photography. Having a good eye is not enough. Your images won’t stand out in the feeds unless they provide interesting  context or are reimagined enhancements of reality.

Processed with VSCO with d1 preset
Processed with VSCO with d1 preset

If you’re into new presets, be sure to download the limited edition Distortia Preset Pack from VSCO. Released to celebrate the company’s 5th anniversary, you can “reimagine the boundaries of color with these presets, created for unconventional looks and customizations.”

And while you’re at it, play with the with Mars effect of the Nike Sportswear filter as well.

Long on filters, or presets, whatever we call such special effects.

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Mars Effect: Download the new Nike Sportswear x VSCO filter

The new Nike Sportswear x VSCO filter dropped while I was on vacation last week in the Dominican Republic. It paints a Mars-like effect on your photos. This is how VSCO describes it on its blog:

“the preset creates a bold, duotone look using strong black and red hues. The tonal range of each image is remapped to these two colors, resembling the innovative look and expressive style of Nike Tech Pack.”

As I typically do with every new preset release, I go back and try it on recent photos to see what works. Portraits and scripture seemed to work out best. Here are some of the ones that came out.

Nike has sponsored a VSCOCam filter before with the NikeLab ACG x VSCO. It also featured a dark aesthetic.

I love creative accidents. I originally applied the Nike Sportswear preset on this image and the changed it to preset X5 but the sky retained some of the red and black from the Nike preset.

You can see a bunch more pictures from the trip on the VSCO Grid and on Instagram (@bombtune).

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Real or fake? How to identify the authenticity of online photos 

photoshopped images
Real or fake?

 

Perhaps just as critical in determining the veracity of a photo is reviewing its context. Who published it and what story is the source trying to tell? It is election season, after all, and everyone has their own agenda.

Former Adobe vice-president Kevin Connor founded Fourandsix Technologies to develop a better system of fact-checking photos. The first thing he suggests people do in photo forensics is reverse-Google the photo to see if it has appeared online before. If you identify a match, check for edits. You should also, advises Connor, research original publish dates.

“For example, it’s not uncommon for an image to appear on social media claiming to be of a crowd in a recent protest, but reverse image searches then reveal that the image was actually taken in a completely different city years earlier.”

Connor developed the website izitru.com to help streamline the verification process. Photographers can upload their original files to its database to authenticate their images.

Last but not least, fact-checkers can run images through error-level analysis (ELA) on websites like fotoforensics.com. An ELA scans the compressed areas to reveal the modified parts of the image. But remain wary of drawing any conclusions.

“At best, ELA might be useful for directing your attention to certain areas of the image that may deserve future scrutiny, but you shouldn’t make any final conclusions based on ELA alone.”

In all cases, the best thing to do in determining image authenticity is to use common sense. Look at an image for clues. The below example shows a woman wearing a laughable t-shirt at a Clinton campaign rally, only to be voided by the original untouched version shared on Twitter.

Fake (obviously)

 

hillary clinton pep rally election 2016
Real/Source: Twitter

Online images are innocent until proven guilty. Use your best judgment to sort the retouched marketing images, most notably in fashion and food ads, from the the news. But when it comes to real stories, we can’t afford fake. Media outlets like the AP forbid manipulation:

“AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means.”

You shouldn’t believe your eyes: how to identify fake images online

PS: The below image of 300 dead reindeer struck by lightning in Norway last week initially looked photoshopped. But the Norwegian Environment Agency confirmed the report, even capturing a video of the aftermath.

Lightning Kills More Than 300 Reindeer in Rare Mass Death
Image courtesy of Havard Kjontvedt, the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate

Celebrating World Photo Day with a cautionary twist

world photo day

We live in an age of constant photography. It is not just that anyone can share a photo, but anyone can also look artistic doing it too, blurring the line between an amateur and professional photographer. Smartphone accessibility and a high-quality lense reduce the barrier to entry.

While we turned the camera inward with the egotistical selfie, technology has also turned photos into new formats like GIFs, Motion Stills, Prisma art pieces, Instagram Boomerangs and Hyperspaces. Movies are collections of photos as well, albeit frames laced together.

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams 

Photography is just as much about process as is its end-product. Where, when and what camera predetermine the creation process. However, at its essence, photography is the art of noticing.

“The things that deserve our attention are often the things that allude our attention.” – Teju Cole

The challenge today as a photographer is abundance. Since the cloud backs up our photos automatically, we take as many as we want. It is impossible to sort through them let alone remember them. We are so busy capturing, as Om Malik put it, “we confuse photos on our smartphone as memories.” A camera’s memory is infinite; the human brain, distracted and full.

Multiple versions of a photo also make it difficult to select which image is best — companies like EyeM’s The Roll and Microsoft Pix use algorithms to help us decide which version is right for Instagram and which is more suitable for Instagram or Snapchat Stories.

Viewing photos on social media comes with the same overwhelming abundance. 400+ Million photos are shared on Snapchat each day, and more than billion if you combine photos uploaded to Instagram and Facebook. It’s impossible to sort through them all, so we depend on social networks to work their algorithms to show us what’s best.

When we document everything we see, the images lose their meaning. On the other hand, we can look back at photos to see what we missed. Our photos will become the archives for the future to interpret.

The thing about photography is that it always records more than the photographer intends. Photography makes the past present at all times. It changed the world. It gave ordinary people access to their own pasts. – Elizabeth Edwards, In Our Time: The Invention of Photography

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Teju Cole on American exceptionalism, Black Lives Matter, creativity, and more

Teju cole

The Financial Times talks with novelist and photographer Teju Cole. I enjoy Cole’s work because he always comes at it from a unique point of view. He does not shy away from expressing himself — his views are blunt and often involved.

Cole also happens to be savvy Instagrammer who’s already posting mesmerizing stuff on Instagram Stories. He used to dabble in Twitter but is now active on Facebook and still scoping out Snapchat.

Below are some of the interesting talking points from the interview:

On being partisan:

“I recognise as a value that journalists always have an angle. It’s just that some people embed theirs and hide it under the name of neutrality, and neutrality is very often the favourite language of power.”

On ‘American exceptionalism’:

“we need to move beyond this ‘greatest country that’s ever existed’ thing. What is that? What is this, the Roman empire?”

On ‘All lives matter’:

“If I say ‘black lives matter’, it means what it means. You don’t go to someone’s funeral and start shouting, ‘I too have experienced loss!’ That shit is obnoxious.”

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On James Baldwin’s permanent state of rage as a black American:

“I’m not in a constant state of rage — it’s not good for my health. But there’s much that’s enraging and there’s a great deal that’s saddening. I don’t think I would go on record as saying America’s already great.”

On creativity and online expression’:

“Yes. Any tool, as long as it has … robust enough parameters, any tool can be the avenue for really serious creativity. I really believe that.”

In short, Cole is a masterful noticer and storyteller. He makes sense of the world through words and art, often combining both, to illustrate the subtleties and overlooked matters in American and global culture.

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Scrivener is available for iOS

I used Scrivener’s desktop app to help me package my first book five years ago. Today, I write most of everything on my phone. For that, I use a combination of tools like ByWord, iA Writer, and Evernote which all sync to the cloud. I also signed up to PressBooks to package my latest book. It functions just like WordPress.

Scrivener is late to the mobile game. Based on the screenshots, it looks like the exact same flow as the computer version. If you’re a serious writer, especially one that writes novels and screenplays, it’s worth giving this app a shot. It’s available in the app store now for $19.99. Here’s the full demo.