How to take great photos of reflections with your iPhone

Reflections are all around us. Mirrors, glass, polished metal and stone, pools and fountains, even wet pavement can create great reflected light. Even average compositions can be improved with a bit of reflected light. Here are some tips for building a great set of reflection images.

Early Bird: Not only is the light better in the morning, but pools, ponds and lakes are often completely glassy. Set your alarm clock and head out before the breeze picks up.

Break the rules: Here’s a great chance to break the ‘rule-of-thirds’ and shoot with perfect symmetry. Set up your shot with the reflection’s far edge directly in the middle of your frame for a 50/50 split composition.

Weather vane: Look for puddles just after the rain, then get in close and down low. The contrast of reflected sky against the wet ground can be absolutely stunning.

Drought-proof: No water around? Find some glass. Store-fronts, skyscrapers and cafés are great locations for finding reflections. Try shooting from both sides and at angles to get different results and moods.

Perspectives: Sometimes flipping your image upside-down will give a surreal distortion to your final photo. Experiment with different angles while shooting, as well as orientations when editing.

You’re so vain: Find a large mirror and shoot people looking at their own reflections. It’s more discrete than a direct portrait, and you can get some really interesting and funny shots.

Hold the Mayo: Worried about getting your camera wet? If you’re going to be out in the rain, seal your phonecam in a plastic sandwich bag. You can still use the touchscreen, and your images will turn out fine if you keep the plastic up against the lens. Just remember to make sure it’s *clean* first.

Interview: Street Photographer Hai Nguyen @xxxyxyz

You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight… but of some really mind-bending photography. Our guest this week is the very talented Hai Nguyen, otherwise known by his handle @xxxyxyz.  WARNING: Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after viewing these photos!

First, how did you come up with “xxxyxyz” as your online handle? Does it have any special meaning?

Life is hella she + he + it :)!

Ah, like “xx” is “male” and “xy” is female, making “xyz” the “it”… very clever! So, when you’re not doing photography, you are…

Listening to music, watching movies, hanging out with friends, sketching, sewing, making stuff, and always researching and seeking inspiration from all around me.

How did you originally get into photography? What was your first camera?

My first camera that I bought for myself was a Polaroid Spectra. I’m a big fan of instant photography. I’ve been taking photographs since I was young but I really didn’t get serious until I joined IG. The iphone is the only camera I use right now. The fact that I can take a photo, edit it, and post it, all in one device has helped me tremendously with my creative output?

How would you describe your style in three words?

Experimental, Surreal, Street.

If your portfolio had a soundtrack, it would be…

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees“. An album I listen to all the time while editing photos.

How many photos do you shoot on an average day?

When I was living in NYC I was constantly shooting on a daily basis. So my average was around 150-300 per day, and only 3% of that was actually okay. Most of those shots were just different angles of the same thing.  Nowadays, I shoot when I can which is about once a week, and I totally beast out and shoot like a hella lot!

What is a photo technique or rule that your regularly follow (or constantly break)

Honestly, I’m not really versed with photo rules or technique so I just shoot what truly speaks to me.

What’s the one iPhone photo app you can’t live without?

That’s so hard to just pick one, so I’ll say Camera+ and Filterstorm are my absolute tops!

What else is in your camera bag?

I’m a photo appaholic! I have tons of apps but here are the ones I use regularly: pictureshow, photofx, juxtaposer, blender, decim8, interlacer, cameramatic, lo-mob, scratchcam, ttv, touchretouch.

What aspects of photography are challenging for you?

Well, street photography is a challenge now, since I live in an area where pedestrian traffic is pretty much non-existent. My style has changed because of this so I’m continuously adapting.

Pick one of your favorites from your portfolio and tell us the backstory.

The photo from my NYC Love Stories series: Two of Hearts, a couple asleep on the subway, where the girl is seated with her legs over her boyfriend’s legs. I love this one because it was a simple shot. I didn’t have to do anything. It was all about the couple.  It was really late at night, and I was asleep when they came on the train.  I woke up and saw them seated across from me just like that.  I hesitated at first and didn’t want to intrude upon them, but the moment was just too damn sweet that I just went for the shot.  The expressions on their faces and their body positions were just sublime. It was just one of those lucky, magical, movie moments, of being in the right place at the right time and not hesitating to capture it all. And after I got my shot I went right back to sleep!

You shoot most of your photography in the SF Bay Area. If you could shoot any other locale in the world, where would it be, and why?

I shot extensively in NYC as well, which was crazy awesome for shooting people and architecture. But I really would like to try my hand at nature/landscape photography. It would be a new challenge for myself. I’m a city boy at heart but love the outdoors as well. The one place that I’m obsessed with and have never been is Mono Lake in California which looks like another planet in photographs I’ve seen.  Aside from that I’m dying to go to Singapore so that I can go photowalking with the great ABC @aikbengchia =)!!!

If someone told you, “I want to take photos like @xxxyxyz,” how would you respond? What tips would you give them if they wanted to emulate  your style?

I usually just shoot whatever makes my eyes pop and my heart leap. Currently though, I’m not able to do much street photography so a lot of my most recents photos are photo collages. With photo collages, I’m constantly keeping my eyes open and taking photos of things that I could use later during the editing process. I’m building a library of different images or “seeds” as I call it, which will become something else in a future photo. They can range from wall/ground textures, to graffiti, to wires, etc.  On days I can do street photography, I keep my eyes alert and iphone ready at all times so I don’t miss any memorable moments that I connect with.  And always experiment and try new things.

Any other secret talents we should know about?It took me a couple minutes to think about this one and I asked my friend and she point blank said if you can’t think of one then you don’t have any! Ouch!!!

Pick a favorite IG’er that you think deserves more notoriety from the IG community?

Definitely, people should check out @intao!!! Dreamy, moody, thought provoking masterpieces! He creates unique, and imaginative worlds that literally make me want to jump into them and never leave.

Thanks Hai! Be sure to check out Hai’s awesome album, soon to appear in the Keepsy Gallery.

iPhone Tutorial: Send your kid to Hogwarts

Some people have asked me how I edited this shot to make an innocent (well, maybe not *that* innocent) 4-yr old look like a recent graduate of Sorceress School, so here’s a quick tutorial:

You’ll need the following apps:

1) Camera+

2) LensLight

3) Optional: Your choice of photo editor with “Curves” adjustment (PhotoForge, Filterstorm, etc).

So, lets start with the image. First, you want your kid larger than life so they look like an imposing figure. You’re going to have to either get down on your knees and shoot from a low angle — or in my case find an object/pedestal for them to stand on.

Another tip – if you shoot with your subject facing away from you, you’ll leave your shot open to more of a menacing interpretation. The scariest monsters are always those we can’t see.

(A cloudy day is also nice for mood – but since you can’t control that – don’t worry about it.)

Now that you have the shot to work with, bring it into Camera+ or your favorite cropping tool to get it square ready for IG:

Next, apply the Clarity scene in Camera+. Normally I’m a bit reluctant to use this effect because it can take things over the top pretty quickly. But hey, that’s what we’re after in this shot, right?

Clarity really helps the clouds pop, and also brings out some surreal texture in the red cape. Delicious!

Next, let’s add the Red Scale effect to enhance the other-worldly aspect of the shot.

Look what that did to the shoes and the cape. Red, red and more red tones.Sweet – Our work is done here. Let’s save to our photo library and fire up our LensLight application.

LensLight’s interface is a bit wonky, so it takes some getting used to. It can be a bit tricky to pinch/spread and drag the effects to scale and position -but stick with it, and have patience and you’ll get the hang of it.

Let’s add the Lightning effect first. Rotate it into place using your thumb and index finger, and then scale it so that it connects your subject’s fingers to the target. (I left a touch of space between the fingers and the bolt – it just looked cooler to me)

Now let’s save and “Render (add light) which will keep the lightning on your edit.

Now, to make our lightning strike a target with some impact, let’s drop a “Sun” onto the canvas. Boom! To amp up the glow a bit more, we’ll “Render” again, and add the “Chroma ring” effect.

I would not want to be on the business-end of that bad boy!

Looking pretty good. Now we’re going to do some final touches to really bring it to life:

I’ve opened the shot in Photoforge, but FilterStorm and many other apps will allow you to do the following:

First, let’s take it up (or I guess “down”) a notch by adding some vignette. This is going to make our clouds more intense and also contrasty, as well as bring out the light that is beaming on the target.

Finally, open the settings (the slider bars on the far left, bottom) and select Curves from the menu. (Looks like a grid with an “s” on it.

Don’t let this thing intimidate you. (The Curves feature, I mean. You should be very intimidated by this red hooded creature). Tap the white line to add 2 points roughly where I have. Then drag the one further down the line a bit below the diagonal. You will notice that this brings dark tones down considerably without mucking with your mid-tones or blowing out your highlights of the lightning, etc.

And there you have it! FEAR THE 4-YR OLD 🙂

Instagram Calendars are here!

A couple of weeks ago we announced gift albums you can make for friends with photos from their Instagram feeds.

Now — just in time for the holidays — the Keepsy team is very excited to announce our newest product: Calendars!

If you thought making an album was easy, wait until you try calendars…

  • You can use photos from Instagram, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or your computer.
  • Mix and match from different services.
  • You can arrange photos and text however you like.
  • Add custom dates and holidays for your country.
  • Calendars are printed on high-quality cardstock, and start at just $19.95 for 12 months.
  • Can you honestly think of a better gift for the Instagram fans in your life than custom books and calendars of your their photos? They’ll be thinking about you all year 🙂

    So give it a try and let us know what you think!

    Interview: Jussi Ulkuniemi (@skwii)

    One of the most iconic and creative minds on Instagram, Jussi Ulkuniemi’s photos perplex, bamboozle, and delight. He took time out of his break-neck schedule to answer some of our questions:

    When you’re not doing photography, where would we find you?
    Well, right now, you’d either find me working with Adobe programs from behind 3 computer screens at the company’s office, or partying my way down the streets of Helsinki with my bass-booming headphones. Then again, where I’d really like to be found (if I wasn’t so busy) would be a small and lovely training space, practicing some groovy dance moves…!

    Do you remember the first photo you ever took? What was your first camera?
    Whoa… I think it was a toy camera of some sort.. We had gotten it for Christmas, a kind of a tiny polaroid-style camera that instantly developed an image in a size of a post stamp. It was a portrait of my parents, and well… To this day I have never seen a portrait as bad as that one. 🙂

    How would you describe your style in three words?
    Avant Garde Mofos!

    If your portfolio had a soundtrack, it would be…
    …a mix-tape of genres like New Rave and Chiptune.

    What is a photo technique or rule that your regularly follow (or constantly break)?
    What I love breaking is the perspective. Tilting the angle purposefully 45 degrees or so can sometimes create something worth watching. Or pick one line and make it horizontal at the cost of others, you get really interesting results. But still, I’m very strict when it comes to perspective. A well thought, precise perspective is often a start for a brilliant composition.

    What’s the one iPhone photo app you can’t live without?
    Filterstom and Juxtapose, totally. Everything you really need for editing (Especially the “curves” function) is there in one app: Filterstorm. Then there’s Juxtapose for unlimited ways of manipulating your pics and getting creative-crazy. Mixing photos together AKA juxtaposing really seems to be my all-time favorite way of spending time.

    What else is in your virtual camera bag?
    To this day I’ve gathered about a twenty photography apps worth mentioning. The newest one of interest is FrontView, which is an unique perspective shift application. Now I’ve finally found a way to really mimic the effects of a tilt-shift lens: first creating a small depth of field with TiltShiftGen, then shifting the horizontal lines properly with FrontView.

    Did you upgrade to iOS5 as soon as it was released?
    Yes, instantly. Love the new features! Everything is now smoother than ever, even the camera app opens faster. The only bad point in upgrading was the upgrading itself… something happened and all my apps, music and videos disappeared… Took some time before my dear phone got it’s identity back.

    What aspects of photography are challenging for you?
    Capturing facial expressions. Mostly the only time I feel satisfied is when I tell them to look as neutral as possible, as if without any expression. That’s a part of the reason why I love silhouettes and portraits with faces hidden. There’s too much information in a face, sometimes it absorbs focus out of everything else.

    Your shots (and edits) are remarkably unique and creative. Where and how do you find inspiration? Do you ever get ‘photo-block’?

    Thank you. I guess the inspirations come by looking around. Being aware and keeping your mind open for a chance to create. My inspirations are usually very irrational and on the moment, because I won’t stop to think it twice if I get a crazy idea of (almost!) any kind. And yes, photo-block… Those are hard times, especially if you are keen on updating your photoblog everyday… But I’m glad to have some quality stuff stored on my camera roll for the bad days.. 🙂 To be honest, I haven’t really had any good time for hobby photography for 2 months now.. (but still online and updating!)

    Pick one of your favorites shots from your portfolio and tell us the story behind it.

    This one was taken about six months ago in Florence. Me and my friend (in the pic, down there) were visiting the Giotto’s bell tower at about closing time. We had been gasping at the view from up there for about a twenty minutes until the caretaker told us to leave, the tower was closed. Just when we had started descending downstairs I noticed a small grid where you could see straight down through the floor. From there I saw a perfect opportunity! Quickly I told my friend to “Run!” downstairs and in a minute she had blasted through the crazy medieval spiral staircases. I began shouting my lungs out with posing orders but she didn’t hear a lot. I bet the whole Florence heard our conversation. We were lucky thought, the tower bell didn’t start thundering. Afterwards we smoothly escaped with a satisfying set of photos 🙂

    You shoot most of your photography in Finland. If you could shoot any other locale in the world, where would it be, and why?

    Italy I’d say. Most of my favorite shots I’ve taken there. The architecture and and warm, colorful blaze of the mediterranean sun…! Using my iphone 3GS wouldn’t be a problem there, hate the cold, long and dark Finnish winters, in an iphoneographical sense of course.

    If someone told you, “I want to take photos like @skwii,” how would you respond? What tips would you give them if they wanted to emulate your style?
    I’d say “Think graphically.” I love mathematical lines, shapes and frequency. I use a lot of radial blur, so I guess I’d say that too. Oh and most of all, to spice up your ideas with humor.

    Any other secret talents we should know about?
    I have a talent for being late from everywhere. It’s one of my most used talents really, so I don’t know if it’s very secret, but still mentionable.

    Pick an IG’er with fewer than 500 followers that you think deserves a look from the community.
    I’ll pick @Strawbrie and her colorful and humoristic personality that shines brightly through her photos.

    Instagram Gift Books

    It’s great to make a photo book out of your own Instagram pics, but what if you could make a book for a friend… using *their* photos?

    Now you can! And just in time for the holidays. Announcing Instagram Gift Books — All you need to do is log-in to Instagram on Keepsy and then replace your username with your friend’s username. Their pics will load automatically in our photo selector, presorted by number of ‘likes’.

    To see how ridiculously simple it is, check out this short video:

    BONUS: This is what Blake sounds like sans caffeine

    Turns out it’s actually just as much fun to make a book for someone else, so give it a try and let us know what you think!

    Will your mobile photos stand the test of time?

    Now that phone cameras and Instagram have given everyone the itch for photography, the Amazonian flow of images that flows past our eyes each day just keeps growing — each photo just a tiny drop in a vast river of simulated silver bromide. Will any of these pics endure the test of time?

    Our friend David Mays (aka @bunnyrobot) put together this simple flow chart to demonstrate the chances of your image hanging around longer than a double-tap-flick on someone’s iphone.

    Here, in all its glory (and pith): “Succinct Guidelines for Creating Lasting Artistic Images in the Age of Cheap and Ubiquitous Image Manipulation Tools and Filters” (or as we like to say around the office “SGCLAIACUIMTF”)