The theory behind image stacking to reduce image noise and increase resolution is solid, we’ve been doing this for years in Photoshop. Can this be done automatically inside your iPhone?
These days there are several iPhone photography apps claiming they can produce much better photos by stacking several quickly captured frames on top of another, and then blending them down, even the iPhones standard camera app uses a version of this idea.
Do the image stacking option really deliver on the promise?
The answer is sometimes……but find out a little more about this by watching this short video.
Why would you simulate depth of field on iPhone photos, after all, we all love a nice bit of fast glass, the bragging rights delivered by nice 85mm f1.4 are just brilliant when you have leg up on the brass and coldie in hand at the local watering hole. Of course, we all know that if we want that “dreamy creamy bokeh bonanza” fast glass is the way to go……or is it?
There are a few downsides to all that bokeh driven madness, let’s count them.
First, you actually need to have the camera and mentioned heavy bokehlicious lens with you at the time. Funnily enough, some of us are just plain slack and we baulk at the idea of carrying such a bulky rig with us everywhere we go.
You know how it is, juggling the dog lead, doggy treats and carrying uber DOF master rig all at the same time, whilst trying to stop your furry face licker from all manner of canine misadventures.
And then there’s the lack of camera parking room on your favourite coffee table at your favourite cafe, oh and not to mention your aching neck, shoulders and the bruising on your “one pack” from that DOF meister rig bouncing around like Bjork at a Rave as you clumsily shuffle around.
Yep, the best camera really is the one you have with you, which for me and a significant proportion of other shooters is more often than not, the iPhone. It doesn’t mean I want to sacrifice all that Bokeh shallow DOF goodness on the altar of convenience though, hell no, I want it all.
But dear reader, and I really must say this in hushed tones, (just hold on a minute, whilst I put on my chain mail, fireproof suit and motorbike helmet, dum de dum, ah there you go, all done),…….. sometimes you can get a better result by actually doing the DOF sim shuffle.
Ouch, who threw that, I saw you!
Simulated Depth of field on this close up iPhone shot of Tawny, our resident Frogmouth, he lives part time in our backyard, he’s very tame and quite happy to be shot close-up with the iPhone. The DOFsimm’d look is nice and makes him stand out rather well, especially considering that Frogmouths are normally the masters of disguise.
See it’s like this, just maybe you actually don’t want the 4 eyelashes, 3 nose hairs and one bloated magenta zit on the right cheek look, like dude, maybe you want something a little bit more sophisticated such as, oh I don’t know, a whole face in focus and a gently diminishing background blur that’s just a tad softer on the corners and super dooper soft on the most distant objects. Yeah I know, I’m hard to get along with.
Maybe you actually want those “in focus bits” to be truly ruly sharp, not just sort of glowy sharp.
Could even be you want a DOF look that’s not actually technically possible using regular aperture adjustments on a regular camera.
And what about bokeh rendering….well what about it….well maybe you want something that your DOF monster 300mm f0.95 won’t actually deliver. (Sorry, I was getting a bit silly there, but you know what I mean)
So shoot me, (whoops, just ducked in time) but you know what, you can always start with a sharp image and get down and boogie, um I mean bokeh, but you cannot start out with a creamy dreamy bokeh bonanza and find details that went MIA at shooting time.
Now sure DOF simming’s not for everyone, some folk just want to press the shutter and go home to a nice warm hot cocoa and lie down with a good book, some folk think their camera is a machine gun and you need to expend 1000 rounds to get coverage for every possible shot, well DOF simming will never float these folks boats, I get that.
Now just so you know, yep I’ve also got full frame, half frame, quarter frame and bloody big film frame and more lenses “than my wife knows about”, so it’s not like I don’t have the so-called sensible DOF choices if I want to use them.
Shooting for me…well, I’m pretty selective when it comes to taking shots, I prefer to take a few selective shots and then nicely edit them to suit my tastes. I long ago came to the conclusion more is often, well, just more and less is a lot less work. But when you do more with less well that’s bess….I mean best.
So putting aside the time to have a blurry old-time in Photoshop on a few pics is no hardship, mind you I doubt I’ll ever do it this way for a big commercial shoot…..well not unless someone really wants to pay me to do so, then all bets are off. Money talks you know!
This is not a “how to” article and one day when I get a rush of blood to the cranium and be tempted to make a little YouTube clip on my methods and furnish a few special secret sauce killer tips. But…First I’d need to find some hot bikini-clad ladies (apparently compulsory in almost all “tube” photography lesson clips), or get some cats (also popular and near-compulsory), learn some banter from the youtube bros and drop a few pounds – but generally I can drop a few tips here that might help you “would be dofmeisters”.
(Note since I wrote this I have embraced the world of “Tube”, but without the Models and cats…just me)
I don’t get all carried away with masks, depth maps etc, I just use multiple layers blurred to different degrees and brush it all in freehand. No sir there are none of your fancy schmancy pants pen tools selections and all that crafty caper. I’ve got reasonably handy with brush tools over the years and whilst I’m happy to spend quality time in Photoshop I also want to get the job done efficiently and hopefully reasonably quickly.
I also make use of several types of sharpening methods, high radius, low radius, ultra-low radius, blurb-blend sharpening, high-pass filter and add noise filters, we’re all good friends you know and we play nicely with one another.
The real secret sauce is actually in the shooting, first, regardless of what I’m shooting I’m very precise with my techniques but importantly shooting in DNG is super important.
If I think the image is going to be DOF simm’d I try to shoot it so there’s at least some separation between the subject and the background and I especially try to keep the backgrounds unobtrusive and not too busy. Honestly the last bit can be hard to do and sometimes a busy background when DOF simm’d can have a charm all of its own.
I also look for the right light, in other words, light that has some direction but not too harsh. I’m not afraid to ask myself or the subject to move to get the right light, assuming, of course, the subject is human, canine or mobile in some way. I wouldn’t bother asking cats to move of course, cause you know exactly what cats are like….which is probably why I haven’t made any YouTube clips yet. (with cats in them)
This is a little hard to explain but trust me, depth of field rendering and apparent separation has a hell of lot more to do with getting maximum image sharpness on the planes that should be …well sharp than just adding big blur. Blur will look a lot more blurry if the sharp bits are actually really sharp. DNGs da bomb because with the right methods the images are just sooooo much more detailed in the first place, that and the fact that I can precisely control the noise signature with DNGs.
Serious JPEG iPhone shooters will be very familiar with the terms….mushy, soft, plastic, watercolour like, flat, smudged, you get the idea. iPhone DNG is nothing like this!
Last and definitely not least I have some special capture methods that really make those DNGs sing, no clues I’m afraid but you can always buy my book if you want the inside running on that aspect.