Stunning View from the Stratosphere Tower | Las Vegas

cityscape-las-vegas-from-stratosphere-tower.jpg

The Stratosphere Tower is the best place to get a stunning 360 degreee view over Las Vegas. It's a staggering 1.149 feet tall. On a clear day you can oversee the entire city and as far as the city limits. It's breathtaking.

If you're brave, you can take a controlled bungee jump from the top of the viewing platform. Your fall will not exceed a certain speed and you'll be slowed down before you gently touch the ground. 

Be prepared to shell out a few bucks to go up the tower and I recommend to leave anything at the hotel that could (in theory) be used to break the glass of the tower. I was searched and hat to deposit anything metal at the entrance. Even my small Gorillapod. So I had to take this shot free hand.

I took the shot with an iPhone 5 and edited it with Enlight [iTunes App Store Link]. Apart from the usual contrast, etc. adjustments, I applied the excellent noise reduction of Enlight to the sky.

Review: Hydra App for supersized HDR and conventional iPhone Photos

Hydra App [iTunes App Store Link] has been released a while ago, but you know that I only write a review if I use the app myself regularly for a few months. Before I recommend and an app, I want to make sure it fits my workflow and the travel photography I do with an iPhone.

Hydra lets you create "supersized" photos. I have no idea how they do it, but with that app you can get photos in various sizes up to 32 megapixels from the iPhone camera. It can shoot HDR photos up to 12 megapixel and "normal" photos up to 32 megapixels. Further, you can shoot HDR video and use it for low light photography.

I've tested two functions so far: HDR & shooting supersized 16 and 32-megapixel photos.

First (and most important): Hydra is not a "point and shoot" camera app. The app takes up to 64 (!) shots in a row to create the HDR or supersized photos. That can take a few seconds. Because of that, Hydra is not suitable for any photography with even the slightest motion; not even when a light breeze moves a single leaf.

To get good results with Hydra, either mount it on a tripod or you better have a steady hand.

After trying Hydra [iTunes App Store Link] with various scenarios, I that I get the best results with architecture photography, wide landscapes or indoors. If you plan to use Hydra for HDR photography, the light is a major factor. If you shoot outdoor, you'll get the best results if the sun is above or behind you. As soon as the sunlight comes from the left of right, you'll get a sometime early ugly color gradient from white to blue.

The user interface is pretty straight forward. Select the shooting mode and the megapixel you want to have and you're good to go. Press the shutter release, use a wireless remote shutter or use the Hydra App on the Apple Watch to shoot. 

hydra-app-review-1.jpg

Hydra app will first analyze the light of the scene. You'll see the viewfinder turning brighter and darker. Then the app will capture the shots. 

If you're in HDR mode, Hydra will display the final shot and ask you if you want a medium or strong HDR effect or a black and white photo.

I found that the medium HDR effect is great for many scenarios. The strong HDR effect looks good with some architecture shots.

I'd avoid the strong HDR effect for any nature and landscape photography.

After you tapped on the HDR effect you want to have, Hydra automatically saves your photo.

hydra-app-review-2.jpg

Here are a few sample shots that I took with an iPhone 6 Plus and Hydra app. These are square crops (you know, this is Travel iPhone photography in square format pics) of 12 megapixel HDR photos.

Schönbrunn Castle shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Schönbrunn Castle shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Hotel Skyscraper in Zagreb shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Hotel Skyscraper in Zagreb shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Office Skyscraper in Vienna shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Office Skyscraper in Vienna shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Outdoor pool at a spa in Upper Austria shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

Outdoor pool at a spa in Upper Austria shot with Hydra App; photo (cc) by-nc squics.com

 

The abandoned Hospital | Beelitz

The abandoned Hospital | Beelitz; (cc) attribution required, non commercial usage only

The abandoned Hospital | Beelitz; (cc) attribution required, non commercial usage only

You know that I love old and abandoned buildings. Last weekend I flew to Berlin (it's just 50 minutes from Vienna) for a photo tour at the abandoned Beelitz Hospitals. That's a huge area with dozens of abandoned and decayed buildings. They were built between 1898 and 1930 and served people suffering from lung diseases.

In WW II, the buildings were used as a military hospital. Until 1990, it was in use by the Russian army. Since then, the buildings deteriorate. Allegedly part of the movie "Operation Valkyrie" starring Tom Cruise was filmed there.

If you want go there, you'd better know that the area is private property. The buildings are not accessible to the public, so I was quite happy to find go2know, who offer (paid) access to the properties under strict rules.

Exploring the old buildings was fun but also a little spooky. The wind moved doors and windows with a creaking sound. When I took this photo, suddenly the door behind me opened slowly as if by an invisible hand. 

The photo is an HDR from a three bracketed shot.

Apps & Gear used: Pure Shot, Pro HDR X, Enlight, Amazon Basics Travel Tripod, Joby Griptight

Review: The indispensable AmazonBasics 10.000 mAh Power Bank

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When I switched to iPhone photography, I used battery cases to recharge the iPhone on the road for a full day of uninterrupted shooting. One battery case provided a full additional charge for the iPhone, but soon I found the battery cases more disturbing than helpful; e.g. I couldn't use iPhone accessories like tripod mounts, external lenses or lights as I could not mount them to the iPhone with the thick battery case on.

After trying different battery packs, I now use the AmazonBasics 10.000 mAh power bank as an energy reserve. It charges two devices simultaneously. And I really like the slim form factor compared to other 10.000 mAH power banks.

The battery pack has 4 LED lights indicating the remaining charge. Though it's not 100% accurate, I go by "1 LED = 1 full charge for the iPhone". To see the remaining charge, just press the button on the case.

A fully charged power bank will recharge my iPhone 6 Plus four times and my iPad Air 2 roughly to 90%. On a trip, I use two of them to charge my iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, Kindle, Klyp Lights and a small torch.

Amazon offers power banks with different capacities. The 10.000 mAh is currently the most powerful; so be sure to select the proper capacity when checking the prices on Amazon.

Check Price on Amazon 

How I shot and processed "In a Distance"

In a distance; (cc) by non-commercial squics.com

In a distance; (cc) by non-commercial squics.com

During a photo walk in Berlin I finally got this shot that has been in my mind for some time. It should illustrate the (temporal and spatial) distance that many of us have to holocaust contrasted to how present the topic still is.

To take the photo, I mounted the iPhone 6 Plus to a tripod using a GripTight mount and with Pure Shot I took three bracketed shot. As always when using a tripod, I used Muku Shuttr as a wireless remote shutter to avoid camera movement that can is annoying when creating HDRs on an iPhone.

Then I used Pro HDR X to merge all three bracketed shots to an HDR. But be careful here, especially with gradient skies like in this shot. If you apply too much HDR by moving the top slider too far to the right, the blue area of the sky at the top of the image become black or dark grey if you convert the HDR to black and white.

The final HDR after merging three bracketed shots in Pro HDR X

The final HDR after merging three bracketed shots in Pro HDR X

After saving the HDR to the camera roll, I used iOS8 to convert the image to black and white using the iOS8 editing functions. For black and white conversions, I usually start with a preset; the tonal preset in this case. Then I adjusted the 6 light settings until I achieve the desired effect.

Using the tonal preset for black and white conversion

Using the tonal preset for black and white conversion

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I wanted the person at the end to stand out against the piles and the leading lines created by the piles and the ground should guide the eye towards the person. That's why I moved all the light sliders slightly to the right to increase the overall brightness of the photo, including shadows. Here's the final photo:

And finally thanks to Mobiography Magazine. They included this shot in a showcase about iPhone photos that use symmetrical compositions.

 

Hiking in the breathtaking Rock City in the northern Czech Republic

Rock Formation; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Rock Formation; (cc) by-nc squics.com

I had this place on my bucket list for some time. It's two hours by car from Prague. At Rock City, you'll find several routes that will take you around a crystal clear blue lake first, then through a forrest and finally past some rocks.

Continue, and you will reach a gate that looks like an entrance to the underworld. Have no fear, enter and continue to walk in narrow, breathtaking canyons and will see huge rock formations and two waterfalls. It's really an awesome place.

Rock City; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Rock City; (cc) by-nc squics.com

To give you an impression of the size of the rocks I'm talking about, here's one shot with me near such a rock. Can you see me?

The huge rock; (cc) by-nc squics.com

The huge rock; (cc) by-nc squics.com

The Gate; (cc) by-nc squics.com

The Gate; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Most of the terrain is easy and flat. If you want to hike up to the second lake, that is a little up in the rocks, be prepared to climb up and down dozens of wooden stairs and ladders that still can be icy in March and April.

Wooden Stairs; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Wooden Stairs; (cc) by-nc squics.com

I mainly shot HDR photos with the iPhone 6 plus. Trying lots of different apps on that hike, I will stick with PureShot [iTunes App Store Link], its bracketed shooting mode and Pro HDR X [iTunes App Store Link] to create HDRs now. It simply produces the best results (more info soon in a separate post). With Pro HDR X I can manually load 2 or 3 bracketed shots and adjust the results while other apps just let me use presets without fine tuning. Also, I can still fire up Photomatix on my Mac if everything fails. 

More photos are on my Pinterest Board "Czech Republic".

Narrow and Tall; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Narrow and Tall; (cc) by-nc squics.com

A nightly photo walk in the historical city of Prague

Dancing House | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Dancing House | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

I've been to Prague a few times during the past 12 months and I fell in love with that city. I'm enthusiastic about the mix of modern and ancient architecture that you can find in Prague. There's the old Charles bridge, the new Dancing House, the old museum, new office skyscrapers and so on.

No wonder as Prague has been a political, cultural and economical centre of central Europe during the past 1.100 years. It even was the capital of the holy Roman Empire for years!

I mainly photographed using Slow Shutter Cam App, a remote shutter and my lightweight Amazon Tripod with a grip tight mount. You can see all the stuff I used on my gear page. During an earlier visit I tried to create an HDR from bracketed shots made with a Sony QX100.

If you travel in Europe, don't miss out Prague. It's an awesome city.

The Grid | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

The Grid | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

National Museum | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

National Museum | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Charles Bridge Tower | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Charles Bridge Tower | Prague; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Walking around in London at almost 8pm

Almost 8pm; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Almost 8pm; (cc) by-nc squics.com

During a short trip to London, I put the iPhone camera to a test in night photography. I did a photo walk one evening from Big Ben to London Eye, City Hall, Tower Bridge and 30 St. Mary Axe. I shot on an iPhone 6, a tripod and the Moment Lens.

I tried a few ways to take night shots like with the built-in camera and Pro HDR X. But I found that I got the best results using Slow Shutter Cam [iTunes App Store Link] in Low Light Mode.

Depending on the amount of light, I didn't have to use the exposure boost. I could use a shutter speed of "minimal" (whatever that exactly is, but it's labeled that way) to 1/2 second. 

The other two shots are a 30 second exposure of the London Wheel and a "minimal" and 1/2 second shot tone mapped using Pro HDR X [iTunes App Store Link].

Spinning London Eye; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Spinning London Eye; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Tower Bridge at Night; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Tower Bridge at Night; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Check out more photos from my London Photowalk on Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest.

How To: Create an HDR from bracketed shots using an iPhone or iPad

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Since I switched to mobile photography in 2014, I experiment to recreate some HDRs from bracketed shots that I took a "big camera". The best software I found so far for creating HDRs on an iPhone/iPad is Pro HDR X [iTunes App Store Link]; it works surprisingly well if you know its limitations.

Pro HDR X can create HDRs from up to three bracketed shots from your camera roll:

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Then the button with the two overlaying images. A dialog appears asking you to chose up to three images from the camera roll. 

Pro HDR X does not use the default iOS8 photo picker. That results in an annoying behaviour if you use Apple iCloud Photo Library with "optimize storage on device" enabled: You might not see photos in the photo picker that have not been downloaded. If you encounter that behaviour:

  1. Tap "Cancel" in Pro HDR X to close the photo picker. 
  2. Go to the camera roll and tap each of the three photos to view them full screen and to force iOS8 to download the full resolution photo from iCloud. 
  3. Switch back to Pro HDR X and tap the icon to launch the photo picker again.

Now you should see the three bracketed photos. Select them, and you'll see the screen below. Note that if the preview of the HDR looks blurry, wait for a few seconds. Pro HDR X is resizing and aligning the photos properly and then automatically updates the preview.

The top three sliders on the right control tone mapping, brightness  and contrast. The next three sliders are for saturation, temperature and tint. I got the best results when I made the HDR slightly brighter and then adjust the final image using iOS8 adjustments.

There are two more issues that you should be aware of if you plan to use Pro HDR X to create HDRs from imported photos:

  • You may encounter crashes if you try to open photos larger than 16 MP on the iPhone. On an iPad 2, I could create HDRs from 24 megapixel photos.
  • Pro HDR X does not de-ghost.

With de-ghosting, HDR software eliminates motion from bracketed shots. If you have e.g. bracketed landscape shots where leaves moved in the wind, you'll see a "ghost" in the final photo created.

So when you use Pro HDR X [iTunes App Store Linkto create HDRs, make sure:

  • You use a tripod to avoid camera shake.
  • Shoot a scene with no movement as Pro HDR X does not do de-ghosting.

Note: In a previous version of this post, I stated that Pro HDR X downscales the photos to 11 MP. It seems that this was wrong. I have to investigate this further.

Moment 2x Tele Lens [Upd. May 2015]

The Snake; (cc) by-nc squics.com

I'm very satisfied with the Moment wide lens, thus I ordered the 2 x tele lens. Like the wide lens, it's an excellent crafted lens that mounts to the iPhone in the same way as the wide lens. 

Read my review 

Check price at Moment Store 

One thing I truly miss in iPhone photography is the ability to zoom. Well, you can, but the result is more or less a grainy pixel pulp. That's simply because the zoom in the iPhone is done purely with software.

I've tested various zoom lenses for the iPhone but none was to my full satisfaction. For all the zoom lenses I've tried,  the main problem was, that the image often gets blurry and sometimes even distorted towards the edges of the photo.

It seems that the guys at Moment solved that problem. There is little to none distortion towards the edges. Here's a shot of a snake I took through glass with the Moment 2x Tele Lens.

And here's another one of a cute iguana with a minimal, additional, iPhone zooming and sharpening afterwards using Filterstorm Neue [iTunes App Store Link].

Posing Iguana; (cc) by-nc squics.com

The Lens is mounted to the iPhone using a plate with an adhesive that you have to stick to your iPhone. First, I wasn't too happy to stick something to my iPhone. I was afraid that there will be some remains once and if I chose to remove the plate from the Phone. When I sold my iPhone 6, I had to remove the plate and it worked flawlessly. Just make sure to follow the guidelines in the FAQ on the Moment Site.

From personal experience, don't use your hairdryer at the hottest setting. Use the lowest (it still has to be warm) and try every minute if the plate comes off.

When using the Moment 2x Tele Lens, be aware that you're still photographing with an aperture of f/2.2! This means you don't get a huge depth of field. So you either get a sharp subject you focus on, or, if you don't focus properly, it will be the objects between you and your main subject, that's sharp. Here's a sample photo to illustrate what I mean. I failed to properly focus (only the branches in the front are somehow sharp). Lessen learned: Always tap to focus, especially when using a lens :)

Fail #1: Always tap to focus, especially wen using a lens; (cc) by-nc squics.com

Sure, the Moment Tele Lens isn't cheap, but so far it's best external lens I know for the iPhone and I'll stick with it for now.

Check price for the Moment 2x Tele Lens at the Moment Store