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An Awesome Fashion Accessory - Award-winning photographer Mark Cleghorn believes the next generation of imaging lies with a mobile phone app which he now uses regularly for commercial shoots.
The phenomenal growth in usage of smart phones in recent years has fuelled a new appetite for information and applications that can be accessed from the web through the mobile touch screen. In seemingly no time at all, thousands of apps for Apple and Android devices are now available to download, resulting in a complete change in the way people read, look at photographs and communicate with each other. For example, smart phones are increasingly the camera of choice as people decide to lighten their load by leaving their digital compacts at home. This trend is verified by recent research undertaken by California-based photo website and image software maker, SmugMug, which found that 91% of smart phone owners take a photo at least once a month, compared to just 73% of digital camera owners.
This trend is likely to continue as smart phones add higher resolution image sensors and improved lens quality to their specification. The other factor that is proving key to the popularity of smart phone photography is the camera app. Of the 5,000 camera apps now available, only a few are designed to provide a truly creative package of special effects while adding operational control to the smart phone camera. One of these apps is Camera Awesome, launched by SmugMug in February 2012, and downloaded more than nine million times since. Camera Awesome owes its popularity to rave reviews by leading newspaper and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, Daily Telegraph and Time, as well as glowing endorsements by its legions of users. These include a growing band of professional photographers, who use the app to supplement their shoots with ‘Awesomised’ smart phone images, which are then posted onto social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
A professional touch
One such pro is Mark Cleghorn, the award-winning portrait and wedding photographer, author and founder of video tutorial site PhotoTraining4U. He first began using the app in May while filming in the United States. “I was out there for a week and started using Camera Awesome on my iPhone 4s. I fell in love with it and couldn’t stop fiddling with it,” he says.
The app, which features a number of special effects presets as well as filters, textures and frames, can be downloaded for free, but Cleghorn also splashed out on the £6.99 Awesome Fever package, which gives him access to the entire array of presets, filters, textures and frames, including any future additions.
Despite having hundreds of effects at his disposal, Cleghorn is a man of habit and relies on a few preferred settings for many of his iPhone fashion images. “The main looks that I use for strong colours are the Velvet and the Slide option,” he says. “My preferred frame tends to be Semaphore. As far as the presets are concerned, Roadtrip is a favourite. It just gives that saturation and contrast that I really love: a cooked, cross-processing type of look, combined with a little bit of texture wash running in the background.”
The variety of special effects available through Camera Awesome and its ease of use has resulted in Cleghorn using his iPhone more and more for experimental photography, often when there is a short break in a scheduled fashion shoot. One recent example took place on the beach at Penarth Pier, close to his studio in South Wales. He recalls: “We were running a competition for photographers and set up three dream days of photography. One of the days was down at the pier here with one of my muses, Rio, who I use quite a lot. While they were photographing we just went ahead and were doing some fashion shots on the iPhone for fun. The pier is a pretty cool backdrop and when I added some Velvet from Awesome, it really starts to punch out. I do like the Velvet finish. I was also lucky enough in that it was a really blue sky day, which was a benefit!”
As one of the UK’s most prolific award-winning portrait photographers, Cleghorn says taking pictures with the iPhone and Camera Awesome reminds him of his film-shooting days when Polaroid images were made as souvenirs of a shoot. He explains: “Years ago we used to take Polaroids at the end of a fashion shoot, nowadays we take an iPhone. Why? Simply, because it’s a memory of that day. What are we doing with it? Well, once upon a time we would have pinned the Polaroid up on a board in the studio, but of course now the picture goes onto a blog, or a website or a Facebook page.”
Of course, the Web’s influence on photography has completely transformed how we view and use images, and the smart phone’s direct interface with social media sites such as Facebook has fuelled the demand for images with an estimated 300 million uploads every day. Cleghorn is convinced that there is a place for smart phone images in the professional photographer’s workflow. “We already use iPhones during the course of a wedding for a bit of social stuff for the bride and groom,” he says. “It’s great to be able to pitch an image straight out towards Facebook if that’s what they want.”
Cleghorn will soon be taking the iPhone and Camera Awesome to the next level: he is planning to use the combination for shooting a wedding designer’s new collection and getting the images live on-line to the designer’s editors and customers. “I can’t tell you who it is yet, but she is a client of mine who I shoot for each year. She saw some of the images that we made on Awesome and she said: ‘Oh my goodness, that’s great! Let’s do that on the day and we’ll give our brides first peek of the collections.’
“She’s going quite wild on it for the main day. So, we’re not just shooting DSLR for the main campaign, we will also be doing part of the shoot on iPhone. We’ll use Camera Awesome to create a bit of social buzz for her on the day, so that she’s linked in with some of her editors that she works with, and they can go live on-line as well. And of course with Awesome we’re giving it that photographer effect instead of just a snap on the iPhone. That’s what she fell in love with really.”
Cleghorn and his studio assistants are all converted to the iPhone and Camera Awesome and he believes it has an important place in the photographer’s repertoire. “It’s the next generation of image, really,” he says. “It’s a bit like when medium format came along compared to 5x4, then 35mm came along to medium format. Did you give up one? No you didn’t, you just added something else in. Does the iPhone have a professional place? Well, yes it does to some extent. If you’re looking to do web and blog and social media, then there’s no reason not to use it instead of a DSLR, especially with the exposure and focus control you have with Camera Awesome, because you can split the two. I can choose where to focus, on the foreground or in the distance, and I can pretty much choose where I want the exposure recorded from.”
Cleghorn also believes that apps like Camera Awesome are significant for bringing the fun back into photography, particularly for his fellow professionals.
“You know, if nothing else, what it does for photographers is that it reminds them why they got into photography in the first place,” he says. “You know, we worry so much making this right, making that right, because we’re being paid quite a lot of money sometimes. It’s great to be able to just take a shot and just have a bit of fun with it.”