Facebook, please stop mangling our photos

The Facebook compression has never been stellar. With the advent of "High Quality" uploads i had thought that it would improve (and to be fair it did at the time) however I think that whilst the quality is perfectly fine for your average selfie... well I'm not happy with it.

Both of the following files are the same, the only difference is that the top photo was uploaded to Facebook and then downloaded again. In both cases the file does look a tiny bit different before Squarespace (my hosting provider) has applied it's sauce to the image but the degradation is minimal/insignificant.  The Facebook compression on the other hand is VERY visible.

Illustrations in photo by Alisa Pavia

Uploaded to Facebook & Re-downloaded

Uploaded to Facebook & Re-downloaded


Uploaded from PNG

Uploaded from PNG

The Nexus 5X mini review

 

3 weeks, and €550 later my trusty LG G3 earned retirement status and I joined the family of Vanilla-Lovers via the 5X. This review is not going to cover all the points and fine details of the Nexus 5X (there are plenty of more in-depth literature floating around. link: www.gsmarena.com) but is going to highlight some of my personal experiences and impressions.

1. The Price

Clocking in at €529 in europe, it feels overpriced... The feeling gets much worse when you factor in shipping and the fact that it's available at $378 in the US. A few weeks in and this is one of the only pieces of electronics i've bought where I feel that I was slightly cheated. The soft touch plastics are pleasant but feel cheap compared to the LG G4's opulent leather, or the sleek aluminium and glass of the Samsung Galaxy S6... and the fact remains that both of these are cheaper than the 5X.

2. The Camera

The Nexus 5X has a great camera, particularly in low light. I've been consistently surprised and impressed at the photos that I was able to take with the phone... especially since there is absolutely no way to manually control the exposure. The idiot-mode camera app together with it's HDR+ mode gets a good result most of the times (it has a tendency to clip highlights in some scenarios such as this burger shot) however I find it very annoying that I have no way to tweak exposure settings. Double tapping the power key brings up the camera app in a reasonably snappy speed.... but it seems counter-intuitive that the power button will then shut off the display as per normal rather than acting as a shutter button (the volume key will however work as hardware shutter)

Renzo's Parliament

Renzo's Parliament

Burger, Vecchia Napoli

Burger, Vecchia Napoli

Ritienne Zammit, Strada Stretta

Ritienne Zammit, Strada Stretta

View from CcBill,  sunset

View from CcBill,  sunset

 

3. Performance

"Meh. It's Ok" is the best way to sum this up. The phone will not impress you in the way a Samsung Galaxy S6 will... but it won't annoy you either. Games work fine, OS snappiness is up to usual Nexus standards but no new ground has been broken. Another wierd issue is that when the phone is being charged, touch-screen responsiveness and performance in general simply die.

 

4. Battery Life

The Nexus were never known to have stellar battery life. This is still the case with the 5X. The great thing is that the phone software (and Doze in particular) is very efficient - this means that the battery only goes down when you're actually using the phone. So far there hasn't been a single time where i've picked up my phone and found it warm and battery-less (meaning that it decided to do something stupid in the background, my Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 were the worst offenders at this). For power users who are constantly using their phone, the battery will just about last through the day... i've found that the battery will last me a day and a half with normal usage

 

5. USB Type-C

The Nexus 5X uses the new USB standard port: Type-C. This similar in size to MicroUSB but it's symmetrical and can be inserted both ways. This is one of those things that you don't really expect to love, until you actually start using them. The new connector is much easier and less fiddly to insert in the dark, (and most of us plug in our phone to charge... at night.. when you're usually 75% asleep and operating on 1 solitary braincell). The connector also feels more sturdy. On the downside - USB Type-C accessories are harder to find and more expensive than their counterparts. Luckily MicroUSB to USB Type-C Adaptors exist that will allow you to convert any existing accessories over.

 

6. Charging

The phone is bundled with a 15W charger and a USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable. This means that you will not be able to use any of your existing chargers with this phone. You won't even be able to move the cable onto another charger ... so make sure that you buy an extra USB Type-A to Type-C cable or two if you buy this phone. Using the bundled charger the phone charges VERY fast. Whereas i used to leave all my previous phones charging overnight, i usually plug the Nexus in when i'm getting ready in the morning and in that 30-45mins it is usually back to 100%

 

7. Fingerprint Scanner

Everything about this scanner is awesome. Training is simple and straight forward, scanning is really impressively fast and very accurate (works with any orientation or fragment of my finger). Positioning at the back of the phone is very convenient too. So far living with this scanner has been great. Combine this with trusted places and trusted devices and locking/unlocking my phone is very ergonomic

Studio. Faces. Black & White.

Caroline Paris. Partner in Crime.

Caroline Paris. Partner in Crime.

Tamara Webb. Photographer.

Tamara Webb. Photographer.

Bojana, Supernova Model Management

Bojana, Supernova Model Management

Suncica, Supernova Model Management

Suncica, Supernova Model Management

Valentina Rossi, Modelle Internazionale

Valentina Rossi, Modelle Internazionale

Henry, Makeup Artist & Model, Supernova Model Management

Henry, Makeup Artist & Model, Supernova Model Management

Reveu.me - Connecting creatives with industry professionals

The most difficult part of the creative process (in my humble opinion) is choosing. If the shoot went well, there are usually many good choices... and if the shoot didn't go so well, there are what *look* like good choices. The reason is that as though they were our children, we look at our creative works with biased eyes. 

A little while ago I had signed up for the beta of Revue.me. The label on the can promised to allow an easy way for an industry professional (Photographers, Agents, Editors etc) to take a look at a body of work and to provide constructive criticism. Like all things on the internet I assumed this would be free, however there is a cost per review. This cost, combined with the fact that (at the time) most of the reviewers were photographers, led me to put this website aside and continue using photography forums (or my trusty sidekick Caroline) for this sort of advice.

Fast forward a month or two - I received an email with some personal responses to some  comments I had made in a site survey a little while back, and an offer for a complimentary review by Jerris Madison, editor-in-chief at Obvious magazine. The first thing I noticed on my return was that the site has grown a lot. The reviewers available are more varied and many are industry professionals that would not be easily accessible. 

The submission process is very straightforward and the site worked well both on my computer and mobile. You select some images, describe the shoot from a creative and technical point of view, add any specific questions and voila! Done. A day (or less) later I receive a notification that this was done. I was very happy to receive some very kind words, but also the reviewer pointed out something that I normally took for granted and that would be very easy to fix going forward.

Apart from the review, you may opt to ask advice or questions to a reviewer that are decoupled from any one shoot - and the cherry on the cake - you can even have a 1-on-1 video call with the reviewer.

A sample submission is available here: https://beta.reveu.me/Submission/rh84ni2haWpxrt9ER

As you can see, the reviewer tackled technical issues related to the photography aesthetic and also tackled issues specific to the industry.

Based on the cost of the review i think this would be great to get a feel of how your work competes on a global scale. It also provides a good insight into concerns and challenges which you might not even be aware of.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with reveu.me and have not been commissioned to write this article

What camera should I buy?

You should always buy the best camera in the world ...and the best camera in the world, is the one you have with you :) Of course some camera models will give you a better result, but if they aren't with you they are useless.

Many people equate buying a camera with choosing one of two options - either buying an SLR or buying a cheap compact if price is a factor. The truth is that cameras have evolved not just in how good either one is, but also, new technologies have bred entirely new categories of cameras.

Another complication is that many of us have capable camera phones with us at all times. Do keep your phone in mind when making a decision of what camera to buy since the camera should give you something that your phone doesn't. Otherwise, what's the point of carrying another device?

"The Digital SLR" - a photographer's choice

So lets start off talking about the white elephant in the room - The venerable Digital SLR. This is the most misunderstood camera on the planet, and yet the obvious choice if you are intending to take up photography as a serious hobby, or start working as a professional photographer. SLRs tend to have a better build than other cameras and can suffer a bit more use and abuse. Since they have a large sensor (roughly the size of an SD card) they take beautiful photos, and they have one feature you won't find on any other consumer camera type: an optical viewfinder that shows you exactly what the lens is seeing. This last point is the reason an SLR is so important for photographers: instead of looking at a screen, you are looking into the scene with your eye and the experience is completely different. Top dogs in the SLR world are Canon and Nikon, pop over to the respective dealers and see which one feels best in your hands and go for it. The most important things to keep in mind when buying an SLR:

Do not buy anything except the camera and a lens. Ignore the 99-in-1 super duper thingy that does everything and the double kit magic zoom etc. Many times you are only saving a small amount and ending up buying a lot of useless doodads that you don't really need. Buy the camera, with the kit lens and take some pictures - once you figure out what you enjoy shooting you'll have a sea of other things you can buy.

"NOT a dSLR" - everyone else's choice

If you are not aspiring to become the next Helmut Newton, there is a high chance that you won't even use this lovely viewfinder. Even worse than that, you will start to leave your camera at home because of the worst characteristic of an SLR: they are huge and heavy, even I don't like running around with one when I'm not working. Don't underestimate how many people buy one of these cameras and then never use it once the novelty has worn off.

Beautiful Photos - Small Camera - Changeable Lenses

Great image quality (and I mean the kind of quality that can be printed in a magazine, ie as good as an SLR, sometimes better) can be found on 2 other types of cameras, high end compact cameras and my personal favourite, mirrorless Cameras. 

These cameras have great image quality for a very good reason, some of them use the exact same sensor as the ones that can be found in great SLRs. For example, the Sony NEX 5n (~600 Euro), which is a rather old mirrorless camera, had the same sensor found on the Nikon D7000 (~1000 Euro). That means that these cameras produced images which are very very very similar.

The only difference is that the NEX is much smaller and only around a third of the weight of the D7000. Oh, and it's around 400 euros cheaper too. This particular mirrorless camera is missing the viewfinder, but for many people this is a useless feature anyway.

Mirrorless SLRs are basically SLRs that have had their mirror and optical viewfinder removed. The light hits the sensor at all times and the back screen (or in some models a digital viewfinder) is used to take the shot. I personally own the Sony Alpha a6000 and love it to bits, however not everyone has the same tastes and new models come out yearly. Www.dpreview.com has a great buying guide for mirrorless cameras here: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/6428641287/mid-range-mirrorless-camera-roundup .

If the latest models are outside your budget, find one that's a year or two old, this class of camera depreciates quite quickly. 

Beautiful Photos - Smaller Camera - Integrated Lenses

The last type of camera i'll recommend is the premium compact camera. When these guys were getting shrunk, the boffins doing the shrinking reasoned that if they remove the ability for the user to change lenses, it will result in an even smaller camera... and that's exactly what they did.

Some of these cameras use a sensor that's the same size as that found on an SLR, image quality will be great. The lens you get with these type of cameras can vary from "meh" to "OMG". For example, if you look at the 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 lens that you get on the Sony RX100 (mk3 & mk4) it's much better than anything bundled with an SLR (or mirrorless camera for that matter). A good 24-70mm f2.8 lens (the one above is even better since it has f1.8 - which means it can work in much darker environments) can cost upwards of 2000 Euros. Just the lens. Really.

The only downside to premium compact cameras is that some have a sensor that's a tiny bit smaller than an SLR and their handling and responsiveness may suffer due to the small size. These areas are constantly being improved on, however it's best to see how a particular camera handles (by reading reviews) before pulling the trigger. A great guide for buying a high end pocket camera is available on dpreview.com: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/6657172030/high-end-pocketable-compacts-2014-roundup

Around the Amalfi Coast

A few weeks ago we visited the Amalfi coast. As always, the Italian hospitality was as amazing as the place itself and I discovered quite possibly, my favourite white wine ever (link).

Positano at dusk

View of Capri from Villa San Michele

Duomo Amalfi

Duomo Amalfi

Pier, Sorrento Port

Old Vineyard, Ravello

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi


How to fit into the Selfie Generation

"Selfie" was declared the oxford dictionary word of the year in 2013 and the world as a whole continues to take millions of good (and bad!) selfies every day. The best way to look good in a selfie is of course to have supermodel looks, however, failing that, there are a couple of simple photographic techniques you can do to make the best of your mug.

Tips & Tricks

Location, Location, Location

The location you choose to shoot your selfie in will determine two very important things - the background and the lighting. Before pressing the trigger, give a good look at what's behind you and pick an angle without clutter or dirt (P.S. beware of any mirrors which might reveal more than you intended ;)). Whenever there are too many useless/dirty items in a photo (crumpled clothes/packaging/empty food vessels/etc), they will divert attention away from your face and give the photo an unpolished/dirty feel. If you are sitting at table, take a second or two to straighten out any crockery.

Outdoor Selfies

Be aware of the position of the sun since it's going to be your main light-source.  As always, try to pick an area in the shade - this will always produce even tones & beautiful skin. Otherwise, if you are going for a bright summer selfie, tilt your head upwards to avoid panda eyes (shadows in the eye sockets caused by the high and bright sun). When shooting in direct sunlight, your skin may look a bit plasticy - so choose a filter that will counteract this effect. I personally like toning/cross-processing these style of shots since it will also help remove any dark black shadows you might have.

Indoor Selfies

Depending on the layout of the room, indoor selfies allow for more control over the way we use light. First of all, use natural light wherever you can - this will produce a much better photo than any bulb in the room (especially since these are generally going to be high above you!). If there is a window (or even better a window covered with a thin/sheer curtain) then this should be your light-source.

If you take the photo facing the window, this will produce even lighting across your entire face. If you've had one too many drinks the night before and are feeling a bit bloated then use Short-Lighting (below) to make your face appear thinner.

Short Lighting

Short lighting is a technique used in portrait photography that can be used to add texture to a photo or two to make a subject appear a bit slimmer. To apply this technique you simply need to light up the area of your face which is facing away from the camera. So, assuming we have a window in a room, place that window at 45 degrees to your left/right and look into the window. Next, grab your camera/phone in your other hand which is not pointed at the window and use that to take your selfie.

Angle

You should take a selfie either at eye level or a bit higher up - higher angles usually flatter the face and you DON'T END UP SHOOTING UP YOUR NOSE! :) There may be things lurking in the dark that you just don't want people to see. Keep your camera as far away as possible from your face. IFor closer shots, crop the photo using whatever app you're using to filter. (See my post AnyCamera Tips#2 for more tips in this area)

Make it Interesting

Whist having a pretty face is usually good enough, the actions you do whilst taking your selfie will add huge layers of interest to the photo. A cheeky smile, a funny face or simply doing something different (for example taking a selfie on a carousel ride... whilst you're riding it) will raise the selfie from the Just-Another-Shot-Of-My-Face to a photo that can be truly memorable.

In Their Own Words

And now a message from two people who (in my humble opinion) take awesome selfies. Maxine Pace & Sarah Zerafa

 

First off, I think you're a real selfie queen. Do you have any tips for taking a good one?

Sarah> When taking a good selfie one has to keep in mind 3 very important points: Lighting, Camera angle, Filter 

Maxine> awh haha selfie queen? :) So first of all to take a good selfie there has to be good lighting. I usually try to take my selfies facing the light cause you have a better chance to look better and the filters look amazing with good lighting. Secondly, i try not to take my selfies really close to my face cause my face ends up looking too big and any blemishes end up showing a lot.

Maxine's Tip> When I take a selfie I try not to hold my phone with two hands cause my shoulders look big haha.

Do you have a favourite app you use to shoot/filter them?

Sarah> My all time favorite app has to be my beloved Instagram!!! After downloading tons and tons of filter applications, nothing competes with instagranm’s choice of colour tones, contrasts, sharpness and more. 

Maxine> Before the new instagram filters came out i used to use an app called VSCOcam but lately i’m loving the new instagram ones.

Sarah’s TIP: if you want to keep your full photo while editing on instagram, just download the app ‘’InstaCrop’’ for iPhone (or Square InstaPic for Android) . This allows you to edit your photo without having to crop it 

Group selfies (or Us-ies?) yay or nay? (why? :))

Sarah> I simply love love love group selfies, especially during a wedding or behind the scenes of a photoshoot. These Us-ies capture memorable experiences along side your friends or family. 

Sarah’s TIP: If you don’t own a selfie stick, the best way to take a group selfie is, that one of you holding the phone stays on a side, and the whole group scatters behind him/her. 

What puts you in a selfie-taking mood? 

Sarah> Hahaha I’m always in a selfie-taking mood!!!! Whether I have just woken up or just got ready to go out, there is always time to stop and pose for my daily selfie. 

Maxine> I usually end up taking loads of selfies when I’m done from getting ready and I’m waiting for my parents or friends to get ready or else when I go somewhere and they have the perfect selfie lighting. People probably think I’m a huge weirdo cause I’ll just be there taking loads of selfies alone haha :).

Head-and-shoulders vs Half Body? 

Sarah> Hmmm.. my answer has to depend on what I am focusing on that day.  On some days I like to focus my selfies on my make up looks or different hair styles, while on other days I like to focus on ‘’My Style, My Look’’ , a series of photos with different outfits. 

Maxine> Half body! because Head-and-shoulders means that I have to take the selfie from a close distance, so nay.

Crazy Angles vs straight-on? 

Sarah> Crazy angles are sometimes hard to pull off… so I definitely have to choose straight on! 

Maxine> Crazy angles and straight-on..... according to the state my hair is in haha :) :)


Plain background vs Interesting Location? 


Sarah> Funnily enough this answer has to depend on the type of outfit I am wearing that day. If my outfit consists of busy patterns, I normally turn to plain backgrounds to balance out the picture. On the other hand, interesting locations come very handy when my outfit is plain and simple. 

Maxine> Depends on my look :)


Smiling or Serious? 


Sarah> Smiling, serious, pouting, duck facing…. I do them all hahaha!! 

Maxine> Both! :) When I’m taking a seflie I usually take 3-5 from each expression and then I'll choose the best one haha :)


What's your favourite selfie style?
Sarah> Winged eyeliner, red lipstick, good lighting, a sweet "smize" (smiling with your eyes) and to top it all off… my all time favourite instagram filter Valencia!! 

Maxine> My favourite selfie style is a mirror selfie before a night out with friends  so I’m usually dressed up with makeup and hair done :)


and lastly... Selfie stick: Awesome or Menace to society?

Sarah> Believe it or not I am still without a selfie stick myself!!!! I am still not sure about this latest trend. I think I’ll just stick to my roots.. and remain taking selfies in the original way. 

Maxine> Awesome, awesome, awesome. Enough said haha i love it.

You can check out more from Sarah on her FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.zerafa.1 and Maxine on her FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/Maxine.Pace.Official