Today I’m taking you behind the scenes a little bit to show you how my #commute pictures evolve, starting from the original photo on my phone to the Instagram pic (which then becomes a painting on here). I’m constantly amazed by the quality of photos you can get from an iPhone in almost any situation, and then also how some quick editing with certain apps can take a decent photo and turn it into something special. This becomes especially important for me with my #commute photos because I’m literally just pointing my camera out my car window in the direction of the scene I want, and then hitting the shutter button and hoping for the best (because I’m too busy driving and trying not to veer into the next lane or hit a stray turkey on the side of the road). I need to have faith that my camera will magically focus on the right area, and that I even aimed it well enough in the first place. Thirty percent of them are usually blurry and totally unusable – these apps can only take them SO far – but nine times out of ten I have at least one good photo to work with. It’s a real gamble, but then again it’s not like I have anything to lose.
I’ve found myself taking more and more of these photos within the last year, and I think that’s because I’ve just gotten better at seeing scenes that would make a good photo. Sometimes it’s just a very quiet landscape, but I’m struck by the color of the field juxtaposed against the color of the sky and the cloud pattern. It doesn’t take much – nature is truly beautiful, and in ALL seasons. Just open your eyes! It’s out there.
Placed above is the original photo from my phone, unedited, that turned into the inspiration for this month’s painting. Usually when I’m driving I can already see the final Instagram in my head before I hit the shutter, so when I’m looking back through my captures for “the one,” it’s pretty easy for me to picture what it might look like once it’s cropped, and if I actually captured what I was looking for. This one actually turned out remarkably well; it’s only slightly askew and you can see a tiny sliver of my car in the top left-hand corner, but the farm is actually in focus and it’s a good straight-on shot of it. I’ve photographed this farm quite a few times already, and it’s actually the same farm that’s in #Commute No. 2. The light always hits it in a lovely way as I’m driving home from work, and the location of it makes it pretty easy for me to snag a decent shot of it, like this one.
I always start by editing my photos in Snapseed, and I prefer to begin by straightening and cropping. Since I usually zoom into the picture a lot, it makes it easier for me to see what I’m doing with the rest of the editing process if I just get to that point right away (as opposed to editing and then cropping later). Then I go into “Tune Image” for some basic editing, like adjusting the brightness/contrast, temperature, saturation, etc. This alone can make your photo so much better than where it started from. Then I usually go to “Details” to sharpen everything a little bit, and I’ll use their “Lens Blur” (called “Tilt Shift” in the older version) to add some depth of field. Theirs is far superior to the tilt shift in Instagram because you can adjust the strength of the blur, and you can also get a very customized shape with their circular one. (In other words, you can have an oval shape instead of a perfect circle.)
Now here comes the really fun part: VSCOcam. This app is super popular and I’m all about it. I usually try to bring my #commute photos to how I remembered seeing the scene in real life (because the camera never quite captures it the way it appears to human eyes), but I also take some artistic license and tend to push them a little farther to give them more of a painterly quality. VSCO is great for that part of the creative process. I take my newly edited and cropped photo (thanks to Snapseed) and open it in VSCO, and then shuffle through all of the filters, usually narrowing it down to anywhere from 3 to 10 depending on the day and my mood, and then eventually decide on one to work from. I almost always use the filters at full strength, but every now and then I’ll turn it down a little. However, I ALWAYS edit them further in VSCO after I’ve settled on a filter. This fine-tune editing tends to involve a lot of back-and-forth for me as I’m nearing the end of the editing process and trying to settle on the look I’m going for. For the most part I’m messing with the temperature, contrast, fade, tint, saturation, shadows and highlights, and adding color into the highlights and shadows. So … yeah, I use this one pretty heavily. This is where most of the magic happens.
From there it goes into Instagram. Recently I’ve been doing a little tweaking in there as well, especially now that they’ve really improved their editing options. If I add a filter in Instagram, I usually only have it at about ten percent strength. I might also tweak the temperature, saturation, highlights and shadows, etc. The sliders in those allow you to tweak everything in a more subtle way than VSCO, so that can come in handy as I’m finishing everything up. Instagram also has a great straightening feature, so sometimes I use that to rotate a picture by about 0.15 degrees. Seriously.
So there you have it! From this point it gets posted on Instagram, and then if it’s special enough and speaks to me on the day I pick the photo destined to be the next #Commute painting, it will live a second life on here as part of this series. (Above you can see the final Instagram photo next to the painting based on it.)
What are your favorite photos apps for iPhones? I’m quite partial to Snapseed and VSCO, but I’d love to hear other recommendations, so please share in the comments. Or, if you have any major iphone-ography tips and tricks, please share them as well.
You can read more about why I started this series here.
Painting at top created with Photoshop.
Prints of my work are available in my Etsy and Society6 shops.
(These #commute paintings are also available as iphone cases and other products in the Society6 shop.)