Can we rely on an algorithm to turn up images that we think are beautiful? And do we actually want it to?
It's been a week of updates to our image-sharing programmes on social media. First Facebook introduced an auto-enhance feature, which will apply the filters that its algorithms calculate are most appropriate for your photos. Then Instagram unveiled five new filters, its first in two years. Now it's the turn of EyeEm, which brings a gaggle of new filters, fine-grained control over their application, and a new feature called Open Edit. The theory behind Open Edit is that it lays bare the post-processing path that a photographer followed to create an image, from the original to the final version. Each crop, tweak, and nudge is set out in a timeline that's made visible to the rest of the EyeEm community. If you see something that you like, you can apply the same edits to your own photos with one tap.
Right now, only certain photographers have the ability to open up their edits to the community, but it's something that will be rolled out to all members in time. The EyeEm team hopes that this open deconstruction of people's photos will lead to a more collaboratively minded community and one that can learn from each other and share their skills.
Can I see what EyeEm is trying to accomplish with Open Edit? Yes, definitely. Sometimes I do look at a photo and wonder precisely what sort of magic the photographer wove in order to create that particular effect. But at the same time, I'm not completely sold on it. The mystery and the secret behind someone else's photos are part of their appeal. Having the edits revealed to you can feel a little like the illusion of a magic trick being shattered when you know how it works. My curiosity means that I want to know, but the romantic in me appreciates the mystique.
From a teaching and learning perspective; I love EyeEm's enthusiasm to allow its users to share their knowledge. But I think that by going one step further, they could make this a much more valuable learning tool. How much people will actually learn from being able to see and apply other people's edits to their own photos will depend hugely on how much they're prepared to engage with the editing process and observe the kinds of impact each adjustment makes. Experimentation is such a valuable part of learning that just being able to apply someone else's workflow to your photos feels as if there's an important step in the process that's being skipped. It's not just about the what that you do to your photos, it's also about the why.
Bring a bit more dialogue to the experience—underpin the action with some explanation—and I think it could really work. Still, lots of people seem to be very excited by EyeEm 5.0, so perhaps I'm the one who's missing the trick here.
Let me know what you think.
You can download EyeEm 5.0 here.
In the run-up to the festive season, it's possible that people will be taking more photos than usual. Parties, pretty lights, and present-opening, afford ample opportunity to take photos and share them on social media. However, research recently commissioned by the online learning company lynda.com revealed some interesting facts about people's photo-taking habits. Aside from the fact that 64% of Brits now use smartphones or tablets to take photos, it would also seem that quite a few people are also too intimidated by the process, or by technology, to have a go themselves. Based on the figures that came out of the survey, we've put together five tips to help anyone who might feel a bit afraid of photography to start taking better photos without too much fuss.
1. Read the manual
60% of the people questioned spent fewer than 30 minutes learning how to use their cameras properly. Whether you use a smartphone, a point-and-shoot, or an interchangeable lens camera, read the manual. Or the destructions, as we call them. Understanding the capabilities of your picture-taking device will have a noticeable impact on what you can achieve with it.
2. Get closer
Apparently, only about 45% of the sample made any attempt to improve the composition of their photos. Our top tip: get closer. And if you're working with a smartphone, get closer physically; don't rely on digital zoom.
3. Think about what you're photographing
Of those surveyed, 71% responded that they relied on the law of averages to return a decent photo. They work on the principle that if they take lots of shots, at least one should work out. Our advice? Slow down and think about what you're doing. What story are you trying to tell? A little contemplation should bring you better results than aerosol clicking.
4. Editing doesn't have to hurt your head
Almost everyone who responded to the survey stated that they wanted to be able to make their photos look better, but the majority didn't feel that they have the skills to do so. While you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, it is possible to make a few fundamental edits to a photo and elevate it from ordinary to much better looking.
There are three simple adjustments that you should make to every photo you take: to the crop, the colour, and the contrast. They're not time-consuming or complicated and can be accomplished with a basic editing package. You don't need to master Photoshop—or fork out for it—to make them.
5. Invest in a little education
As few as one-in-fifty of the survey group made use of any training to help them improve their photography. Seeing as the photographer is the most significant element in creating a great photo, doing a little learning will help enormously in the quest for better images. The good news is that by reading this, you've made a start. To help you even more, you can try a book or two or sign-up to any number of courses. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands out there. Obviously lynda.com, which commissioned the research would like you to look there, but may we suggest that you take a look at the Photocritic Photography School. It's free!
Should you be the kind of learner who thrives using video, there's a brand new modular photography course available from the Ilex Press based around Michael Freeman's hugely successful book The Photographer's Eye. The course comprises six masterclasses covering camera and lens, framing and composition, exposure and light, light and colour, locations, and storytelling in pictures, broken down into 36 episodes, for example shooting into the sun, or coverting to black and white, and including over three hours of video and 150 images. As each episode is individually downloadable, you can build a learning experience to suit you and your needs.
The idea is that it's both creative and practical: giving you the resources to create images that are not only technically perfect, but also creative, and visually stimulating. There's a taster video to give you an idea of what's on offer.
The first episode is free and each one costs 69p after that.
It's ready to rock and roll on your iPad right now, and will be coming to Android devices very soon.