Adobe Adds Multiple New Features to Photoshop CC (June 2014)

Photoshop CC Start Up LogoWhen Adobe first moved to the subscription model, many photographers were up in arms about the new pricing structure. Among the complaints was the mindset that Adobe was just going to take our money and not provide any real benefits to the end user, even if this was against everything Adobe was saying. Part of the reason for the change from a product you could purchase outright in a store or a pure digital subscription model was the idea that the consistent forms of revenue for Adobe would free up its resources to be able to provide more timely updates to its software programs as well as add new features in a much faster capacity then the standard 1 to 2 year wait periods between significant software versions (such as CS4 to CS5 for example). Today it looks like Adobe is following through on that promise as they have announced a slew of new updates to Photoshop CC (also know as the Creative Cloud).

Starting today, the Photoshop Photography Program that allows you to pay only $10/month (with a one year contract) for Photoshop CC, Lightroom 5, Lightroom Mobile, access to Creative Cloud Learn, and ongoing updates and upgrades has been made permanent. You also won’t need a previous license, it’s available for everyone!

Below you can find a number of YouTube videos that showcase many of the new features and show you what they can do. If you have new features that you would like to see in Photoshop in the future, leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!

New Features & Enhancements Overview

Filter Brush in Adobe Camera Raw 8.5

Focus Mask

Enhanced Content Aware Tools

New Smart Object Features in Photoshop CC

Realistic Spinning Motion Blur Effects

Motion Blur Effects Along a Path

Hidden Gems of Photoshop CC

Photoshop Mix


Spring 2014 Photography Contest/Giveaway

Toshiba Kirabook with one of my Gecko images from Hawaii

Spring is here and it is a time for rebirth and new beginnings. As a photographer this can have several important meanings from a simple shift in the seasons to a change in our mindset of what is to come for us in the coming year. To me it stands for the rebirth of mother nature. Between the wild flowers blooming to the increased flow of waterfalls around the world to specific animals awaking from hibernation…it is one of my favorite times of the year.

This is why I am incredibly excited to announce my 2014 Spring Photography Contest. In an on going process to leverage the connections I have with the various companies I work with to benefit you, I have partnered with Toshiba, X-Rite and Formatt Hitech to give away over $2000 worth of prizes for my next contest/giveaway hosted here at Colby Brown Photography.

Contest Rules:

Start Date: April 23rd, 2014

End Date: May 8th, 2014

Prizes:

  • Grand Prize – (1) 2014 13″ Toshiba Kirabook laptop ($1499 Value)
  • Bonus Prizes to Win
    • (1) Formatt-Hitech Landscape Photography Filter Pack by Colby Brown ($443 Value)
    • (1) X-Rite i1 Display Pro 2 ($269 Value)

Toshiba-Spring-Contest

Who Can Win?:

Contest is open worldwide and only to individuals who have reached the age of majority in their jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry and who do NOT reside in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, the Province of Quebec, Sudan, or Syria. CONTEST IS VOID IN CUBA, IRAN, NORTH KOREA, THE PROVINCE OF QUEBEC, SUDAN, SYRIA, AND WHERE PROHIBITED.

How To Enter:

In order to enter in this photo contest, you must follow atleast one of the instructions below…

  • Upload one of your favorite photos (doesn’t have to be from 2014) that depicts Spring HERE (Max of 3 entries)
  • In the comments below, tell me what Spring means to you.
Double Rainbow Over Skogafoss

Spring in Iceland – Skogarfoss Waterfall

Bonus Chances to WIN:

For a chance to win the bonus prizes you can do one (or all) of the following. You do NOT have to enter the main contest to win these prizes:

  • Sign Up for my Monthly Newsletter, found in the right hand sidebar.
  • If you entered the contest, Upload any of the photos that you entered into this contest to Google+, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr and let people know why Spring is important to you. Include the hashtag #Spring2014Contest in the post so that I can track the uploads + include a link back to this post.
    • You MUST be the owner of the copyright of any image you choose to upload.
  • Share this blog post on your social network of choice.

How Are Winners Picked:

  • The Grand Prize winner will be chosen based in part by the image they entered, with an emphasis on what spring means to you (left in the comments below).
  • The two “Bonus Winners” will be chosen at random based on the bonus chances to win stated above

Disclosure:

  • You retain FULL copyrights for any image you choose submit into this contest.
  • By submitting an image in this contest, you grant Colby Brown Photography Ltd.(and the contest sponsors) the right to share your photos (with full credit and attribution) via any social networking platform or blog of our choosing, solely to promote this photo contest.
Photo of Ribbon Falls in Yosemite Valley in the Spring

Photo of Ribbon Falls in Yosemite Valley in the Spring

 

WINNERS FOR THE 2014 SPRING PHOTO CONTEST

Grand Prize (Toshiba Kirabook Laptop)
Dan Mauk

frog4

1st Place (X-Rite i1 Display Pro)
David Francis

nyc_1

2nd Place (Colby Brown Photography Landscape Filter Kit)
Will Shieh

St Helens Mountain Flowers Fog


The Wonder of Australia

Colby-in-Oz

When it comes to bucket list locations around the world, I often hear other photographers mention Australia….the Land Down Under. Having explored the 6th largest country multiple times over the years I certainly understand why it is so sought after. Like Canada, much of the interior is full of vast empty spaces known as the “Outback” with the majority of the population of Australia living along the gorgeous coast line. While this generally means that travel times between locations in Oz can take a while, the country as a whole offers an incredibly diverse amount of photographic opportunities.

On my last trip to the region in March/April of 2013, I was working on a variety of projects for the Australian Government and the Australian Tourism Board that included a world record breaking photo walk (seen on the left). The photography communities in Australia are incredibly passionate with amazing people that are eager to get out shooting. The photo walk in Sydney had 392 photographers join me as we made our way from Bronte to Bondi Beach to hangout out and capture the beauty of the coast line along the way.

Overall my trip to Oz last year took me from Sydney to Tasmania to the Great Ocean Road and even over to Perth the natural wonder that is Karijini National Park located in the heart of the Outback in the northern region of Western Australia. As I prepare to return to Australia next month to teach two photography workshops (in Sydney & Perth) and work on a new marketing campaign with the ATB (Australian Tourism Board), I am enjoying looking back at my work from such a beautiful country.


You would be hard pressed to visit Australia without atleast a few day stop over in iconic Sydney. While there is a variety of things to photograph in and out of the city, avoiding the Sydney Opera House isn’t usually an option for most photographers. Next month I am returning to Sydney for VIVID, which is a unique event that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city as colorful lights are hung up all over the city for a nearly two week long light show that happens every night, allowing for some amazing night photography opportunities!

The Sydney Opera House Lit Up

Sydney Opera House during Blue Hour

Sydney Harbor Bridge at Night

The Sydney Harbor Bridge at Night

Tasmania holds so many diverse ecosystems in such a small island. From Cradle Mountain to the Bay of Fire to the city of Hobart, there is a lot to see and even more to photograph.I barely scratched the surface and can’t wait to go back and explore more!

Sunset in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Gorgeous Sunset over Freycinet National Park in Tasmania

A drive down the Great Ocean Road in Victoria is a must as it has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The challenge is that you will want to pull your car over at nearly every bend in the road. There are tons of random locations to find and of course, a stop to see the 12 Apostles is required, especially at sunset.

Sunrise Over the Ocean on the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Sunrise over the Great Ocean Road outside Melbourne, Australia

While it doesn’t get the same recognition as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the heart of Western Australia, Perth, has a gorgeous skyline and sits right next to some beautiful beaches that are ripe with sunset locations. This growing city is the outpost to all things in Western Australia and serves as a good jump off point to the Northern territories as well as the beautiful south west coastal region.

Sunset Over Perth, Australia

An epic sunset over the Perth, Australia Skyline

Aerial View of the Shipwreck Off the Shores of Perth

South of Perth you will  find some dramatic and incredibly beautiful coastal regions, such as the Yallingup/Margaret River areas. Sunsets are the focus of this region because the regions location, but every so often you will find a bend in the beautiful beaches that allow for some early morning sunrise opportunities that you shouldn’t pass up.

Friendly Australian Crab

A crab hiding in a crack in the Yallingup region of Western Australia

Sunrise Around Sugar Loaf Rock

Early Morning at Sugar Loaf Rock in Yallingup, Western Australia

Karijini National Park in the northern region of Western Australia has to be one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. It is home to some incredibly gorgeous gorges that contain beautiful emerald pools and smooth textured rock. It also happens to be situated in the heart of the Outback, near the towns of Tom Price and Paraburdoo, making the whole area is a photographers paradise!

Panorama of the emerald water of Kermit's Pool in Karijini National Park

Panorama of Kermits Pool in Karijini National Park

Epic Sunrise over the Red Canyons of Karijini National Park in Western Australia

Epic Sunrise over the Gorges of Karijini National Park

Brewing Storm in the Outback

Brewing Storm in the Outback

The Australian Outback - Karijini National Park, WA

The Australian Outback – Karijini National Park, WA

The Spider Walk in Karijini National Park

The Spider Walk in Karijini National Park

Into the Unknown

One of the many gorges found in Karijini National Park


Mini Review: Updated 2014 Toshiba 13″ Kirabook

toshiba-kirabook-screenIn August of 2013, I wrote a in-depth review of the new 13″ Toshiba Kirabook laptop that was one of the better Windows travel laptops at the time. However while it was lightweight, portable and contained a gorgeous 2560×1440 screen, it wasn’t perfect. Battery life was ok but not great, Windows 8 didn’t support high resolution very well and Intel had just pushed out its Haswell processor that offered much better battery life and stronger CPU performance which left the Kirabook feeling a touch out of date on the day of its launch. Fast forward to April of 2014 and Toshiba has finally released an update to the Kirabook line.

Does the new Kirabook fix last years model’s issues? Does Windows 8.1 make much of a difference? Is it enough of an update in features to warrant a upgrade if you bought last years model? Read my mini review below to find out if it is still in my gear bag…

Spec Upgrades

Unlike the 2013 Kirabook, there are now only two models of the laptop, with the main difference between the two being an Intel i5 Haswell processor (4200) in the $1,499.99 version and Intel i7 Haswell processor (4500) in the $1,699.99 version, saving a few hundred bucks off the top of the line model from last year. Additionally the 10 point touch screen is now standard between the two models where it was an upgrade in the 2013 Kirabook which essentially means that the screen recognizes 10 simultaneous interactions points (so all the fingers on both your hands) . Additionally Toshiba moved to a more future proof wireless chip, the faster Intel 7360 802.11ac which supports the newer ac WiFi standard that allows for faster data transfer if you are on a wifi network that supports the newer protocol. In terms of build quality, the Kirabook is still incredibly sleek looking with its AZ91 magnesium alloy enclosure, that is said to be much stronger then the enclosure used on Macbook Air and Macbook Pro laptops.

en-INTL_L_Toshiba_Touch_Silver_KIRAbook_CWF-01151_mnco

The following specs are based off the i7 version of the 2014 Kirabook that I have…

  • CPU – Intel i7-4500U processor
  • Operating System – Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Memory – 8GB DDR3L 1600MHz
  • Display – 13″ WQHD PixelPure LED w/ 10 point touch screen (2560×1440 resolution)
  • Graphics – Intel HD 4400 Graphics
  • Hard Drive – 256GB SSD
  • Wireless LAN – Intel Dual Band Wireless-N 7260 2×2 AC
  • Bluetooth – Bluetooth v.4.0
  • Battery – 52Wh 4 Cell (not user replaceable)
  • Battery Life – 7.75 – 8.5 hours
  • Card Reader – SD Card Slot
  • USB Ports – 3 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI port – 4k Ultra HD output capability
  • Free Software – Adobe PS Elements & Adobe Premier Elements + 1 month trial of MS Office 365 (+ others)
  • Weight – 2.97lbs
  • Warranty – Premium 2 year warranty (Similar to Apple Care)

Performance & Battery Life

The upgrade to an Intel i7 Haswell processor is a welcome touch as it was one of my biggest complaints with last years model. While the laptop feels smoother and more responsive, I wouldn’t say the jump to Haswell dramatically increased performance, although there is certainly an improvement. From the time you press the power button, you can expect roughly 9 to 10 seconds for boot time to the Windows Start screen. Both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom ran smooth 95% of the time, with the exception of trying to edit large 60mp Phase One images, which caused it to slow down on occasion (not unexpected on a portable laptop).

North Carolina Fall Waterfall Toshiba Kirabook

Putting the battery life to the test while working in Smokey Mountains of North Carolina

The biggest benefit from the Haswell processor upgrade came in terms of battery life, which now officially sits at 7.75 hours according to Toshiba. Truth be told, I was occasionally getting close to 9 hours a charge on mine, especially when I was particular on selecting the right power mode: Balanced, Eco or High performance. Battery life with most laptops is usually my sore point. The original Kirabook barely got 4.5 hours and now I am getting a little less the double that on occasion, which I am happy with. Regardless, I can’t wait for 2 or 3 years from now when all of these laptops are getting 15hr to 20hrs a charge or more.

Display/Screen

When it comes picking a laptop for my travel needs, the display is generally the first thing I focus on after checking out the battery life and processing power. Luckily the 2014 doesn’t disappoint, although I say that with a slight caveat. Like its 2013 older brother that I own, the 2014 Kirabook comes with the same 2560×1440 WQHD PixelPure LED touch screen. The resolution is fantastic, I love the touch interface (especially when browsing the web) and the screen itself has bright vibrant colors and nice deep blacks. That being said, there are two issues with the screen. 1.) It has a glossy finish. I wished more laptops, especially those geared toward creatives, come with a matte display option to help cut down on reflections. 2.) While the PixelPure LED display has decent viewing angles, it is not an IPS (In Plane Switching) screen which tends to offer near 180 degree quality viewing angles. Once you get the Kirabook’s screen situated right, it looks gorgeous, but if you tilt it back to far or bring it too close to you, you will notice a loss of contrast, which will slightly wash out colors. If I had to pick one gripe with this laptop, this would be it. However to be fair, it is something that is easily overcome.

Toshiba Kirabook with one of my Gecko images from Hawaii

Toshiba Kirabook with one of my Gecko images from Hawaii

Windows 8.1

I will be the first to admit that sometimes…it feels like I am the only one on the planet that actually genuinely likes and enjoys Windows 8. Near the time that Windows 8 was coming out, I was still using nearly all Apple laptops and desktops for my various photography companies but I just didn’t like the direction that OSX was headed. While I was still scarred from my experience with Windows ME and Vista from years ago and even though Microsoft wasn’t at the top of my “favorite companies” list at the time, I decided to give it a try….and ended up loving it. Once I got used to how it works, I realized that it is such a great OS. It boots fast, runs smooth and doesn’t crash (atleast for me). What more could I want?

Windows_8a

Now the reason I have a section dedicated to Windows 8.1 in this review is because this was a pretty important update for Windows 8, especially for the Kirabook laptop. While Windows 8 had many features I liked, its lack of high resolution monitor support was frustrating. Text and applications looked small when taking advantage of the near retina like display in last years Kirabook laptop. With Win 8.1, nearly all of that has been fixed. Windows now does a better job handling high resolution screens and when it comes to the Kirabook itself, Toshiba provides the app “Display Utility” that allows you to make system adjustments in order to have the best viewing experience for your needs.

Screenshot of my Kirabook Screen with the Toshiba "Display Utility"

Screenshot of my Kirabook Screen with the Toshiba “Display Utility”

Final Thoughts

The 2014 Kirabook has taken nearly all of my qualms with last years model and pushed out an incredibly capable professional travel laptop. It is light weight, has a small footprint, a beautiful touch screen and it lasts for over 8hrs a charge. The two main applications I use for photo editing, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightoom, both run incredibly smooth and contrary to popular opinion, I actually love Windows 8 (especially since the 8.1 update). I say it has “nearly” addressed all of the issues because I still wish that Toshiba had moved to a true IPS panel with a matte screen. This years model can suffer from issues with glare when working outside or near bright windows and the viewing angles could be better.

Using the Kirabook at the foot of a glacier in Iceland to back up my images.

Using the Kirabook at the foot of a glacier in Iceland to back up my images.

Even with its imperfections, I enjoyed using last years Kirabook for close to 6 months while on the road until my wife finally decided to commandeer it, which she picked over her Macbook Air. As for my gear setup, the 2014 Toshiba Kirabook certainly has its place. When I head out on a trip where I know I will be purely doing heavy photo editing, I still usually opt for my Wacom Cintiq Companion, as that is what it was built for. However the Cintiq is nearly a pound heavier, has half the battery life and takes up more much more space. When I am looking to go fast and light or when I know I am going to be doing a lot of writing along with some photo editing, you will find the Kirabook in my messenger bag every time.

FULL DISCLOSURE:
Toshiba did not pay or ask me to write this review. They did however send me the laptop to use as I pleased.


Gear Review: A Photographers Take on The HTC One M8 (2014)

HTC-One-M8 Last year HTC released their latest flagship phone known as the “HTC One”, which took much of the Android photo industry by surprise. While the Android OS has caught up and exceeded IOS in terms of features and functionality over the last few years (in my opinion), it was the first time that an Android manufacturer had released a phone that could easily go toe to toe with Apple’s revered iPhone in terms of build quality and design. With its near full metal body and gorgeous display, it was a pleasure to use (and REVIEW) but while it won a number of rewards and praise, it ultimately didn’t end up getting close to matching Samsung in unit sales (the current largest Android phone manufacturer). Fast forward to 2014 and this morning HTC has officially announced the One’s successor, officially known as the HTC One M8. Fortunately I was one of a few people in the world to receive a M8 early and I was able to put it to the test during a number of my adventures to Iceland, the Canadian Rockies and The Big Island of Hawaii. Does it stand up to the praise of it is predecessor? Can it compete with the latest and greatest Android phones coming out this year? Lets find out!

HTC One M8 Press Image

HTC One M8 Press Image

Specs

  • CPU - Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core (2.3Ghz in US/EU and 2.5Ghz in Asia & China)
  • Memory – 2GB DDR2
  • Storage – 16gb/32gb w/ expandable storage up to 128gb
  • Display – 5.0″ full HD (1080p) with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Camera – Duo Camera – HTC UltraPixel 4.0mp f2.0 at 28mm
  • Android – 4.4 with HTC Sense 6
  • Sim Card – NanoSIM
  • Battery – 2600 mAh
  • Sensors – Gyro sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
  • Sound – HTC Boomsound w/ dual front facing stereo speakers
  • Network – GSM, WCDMA, HSPA, LTE
  • Available Colors – Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, Amber Gold
  • Bluetooth – 4.0 compliant
  • Size – 146.36mm x 70.6mm x 9.35mm
  • Weight – 160g

Build Quality

The first thing I noticed when I opened the M8 box was that HTC was able to maintain the sleek look and stylish design that I loved with the original. In was so good in fact on the HTC One that it made most of the other phones I have used feel like plastic toys. Back to the M8, once I picked it up I did noticed a few differences right away. First was that it was just a touch heavier (17g to be specific). It wasn’t soo much that it effected my thoughts on the phone, but enough for me to know it was heavier. Secondly, I noticed that they improved the design of the phone in a very subtle way…by rounding out what some had considered the hard edges of the phone. When I held it in my hand without a case, it felt smoother…more comfortable…much more natural. When compared to last years HTC One that was made of 70% metal, the M8 housing is now 90%, wrapping all the way around the sides of the phone, right up to the screen. This is a big plus in my book!

You can see the rounded edges of the HTC One M8

You can see the rounded edges of the HTC One M8

Screen

You will also find two significant changes when it comes to the screen used with the M8 over the original HTC One. First, it is now 5.0″ long, compared to 4.7″ of the original. Second, you no longer have the Android OS buttons (home and back) filling up the bottom bezel. Instead all three standard Android buttons (back, home and multi-tasking) are implemented into the usable screen space itself. The positive note in this is that the top and bottom navigation bars are transparent, so you end up getting more screen space regardless. This falls in line with Android’s recommend design ques and in my personal opinion, offers a better user experience. Both of these changes make for a better viewing experience and help to not make the phone look or feel much bigger than that HTC One, even though you get more screen space.

HTC One M8 displaying a photo of mine from the Canadian Rockies

HTC One M8 displaying a photo of mine taken with the M8 from the Canadian Rockies

The screen itself still offers a full 1080p viewing experience and I found the colors (including the black point) to be exceptional. Movies, as well as my images looked gorgeous and color accurate, something I value as a photographer that likes to show off his images to people while traveling on the road.

Color Options

When it comes to color options, everyone likes a little flare. It is nice having the ability to pick and choose the look of a phone that matches your needs. HTC had sent me the new Gunmetal Gray color and I fell in love with it. When I pick up the retail version of the phone, I plan on keeping the same look.

Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, Amber Gold are the available colors

Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, Amber Gold are the available colors

Software

Just as with nearly all Android manufactures, HTC installs a layer of its own software over the stock Android operating system, called HTC Sense. With the M8, Sense is now in its 6th version. While I will allow for other tech journalists to dive inside the ins and outs of the latest version of HTC Sense, I will touch on a few aspects during this review.

HTC Blink Feed from Sense 6 on the HTC One M8

Press Image of HTC BlinkFeed from Sense 6 on the HTC One M8

The first things I noticed is that HTC has seemed to tone down Sense a bit in the latest version. This is a plus for many Android enthusiasts that prefer more of a pure Android experience as if the software came straight from Google itself. Sliding left from the home screen and you will find HTC Blinkfeed (your go to source for news and social updates). You can easily customize your various main screens, adding widgets and apps as you see fit (just like any other Android phone). When it comes to HTC Sense Apps, you have the ability to customize the look (color) of the apps and menu bar with 4 main theme choices. There are however two additional handy features I would like to focus on…

Power Saving Mode

While the 2600mAh battery in the M8 isn’t breaking any records when compare to other Android phones, they do have a pretty solid Power Saving Mode that helps you drastically extend the life of your battery from a single charge. While my experience varied slightly, HTC is touting that the M8 battery itself is 40% better than before. Additionally, the new Extreme Power Save mode will give you up to 2 weeks of standby time while still allowing for manual access to make calls, send emails, texts and other basic functions. This is impressive and a feature I find myself using often when working on the road when I don’t know when I will come across my next power source.

Motion Launch

On of my favorite features of the M8, surprising has nothing to do with the camera, but in how you turn the screen on once it has been turned off or automatically timed itself out. Instead of searching for the power button like the majority of phones, you can simply double tap anywhere on the screen to turn it on. Additionally, you can easily get access to your widget panel, HTC Blinkfeed or even answer your phone by simply lifting it up to your ear. While all of this might sound like something minor, it can help save seconds out of your day every time you use the phone, which trust me….adds up over the days, weeks and months. Below you can see an infographic with all of the details of the Motion Launch feature.

The gestures for the new HTC Motion Launch feature

The gestures for the new HTC Motion Launch feature

The Camera

Now for the reason most of you are reading this review in the first place….the new camera found on the HTC One M8. As technology has continued to increase over the years, both average users and photographers have become more critical of their ability to take high quality photos with their smart phone. While the Apple iPhone is considered one of the better options in the mobile industry, Android manufacturers have made great strides over the years to produce both compelling and unique camera features and functionality into their devices.

The M8 Camera App in use while in Iceland

The M8 Camera App in use while in Iceland

HTC One M8 Camera Specs

  • BSI sensor
  • Pixel size 2.0 um
  • Sensor size 1/3”
  • f/2.0
  • 28mm lens
  • HTC ImageChip 2
  • 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR video
  • Secondary camera: capture depth information

In my REVIEW of the original HTC One, I found that while the camera was able to produce great images (even comparing images taken with it to a $6000 Canon DSLR), it certainly wasn’t perfect. Does the HTC One M8 improve on the user experience found with the original One? Yes. Does it address the weaknesses of last years HTC One’s camera? Yes and no. Let me explain a bit about Ultra Pixel technology and the new Dual Cameras of the M8.

Ultra Pixel

In my review of the original HTC One, I extensively covered the technology behind the Ultra Pixel sensor they used, so I will be brief in going over it again. In essence, HTC opted to go with a smaller 4mp image sensor (instead of the 8mp – 20mp sensors of their competitors) and instead opted for a much larger sensor itself. This allowed HTC’s 4mp camera the ability to capture up to 300% more light than many of the 13mp cameras on the market today, effectively allowing it to work better in low light situations from a technical stand point. While the real world results from other photographers were a bit mixed, my experience definitely allowed my HTC One to capture more light in a given scene.

HTC UltraPixel

HTC UltraPixel Sensor Technology

The trade off in going with this route was that images where only 4 megapixels in resolution, which meant that while they generally looked good on the phone and even when sharing to Facebook, the moment you tried to crop into an image, the details of your photo began to degrade. If HTC was able to use a 8mp or 16mp image sensor with the same technology, it would hypothetically be able to both capture more light as well as give you the ability to to crop your images without loosing vital details. While most of my mobile images purely live in the social media world that easily exists within the 4mp resolution of the Ultra Pixel sensor, I did miss having a little extra resolution that most other mobile phones offer. In an amusing take, HTC choose to put a 5mp front facing camera for you to take high quality selfies with the M8 and yes…that means the front facing camera has a higher resolution that the rear facing camera that you generally use to take photos. Additionally, HTC choose to opt for software based optical image stabilization (to help with camera/hand shake) rather than have it physically built into the camera this time around. I haven’t experienced much of a difference between the two, but if it was up to me, I would always opt for in camera stabilization over anything baked into the software.

Near Full Manual Mode

In addition to the slew of camera modes that HTC offers with the M8 such as Night, HDR, Sweeping Panorama, Anti-Shake, Portrait, Landscape, Backlit, Text and Macro….HTC now offers a near full manual mode that allows you to adjust a custom White Balance, ISO, Shutter Speed (up to 1/8000th of a second), Exposure Compensation as well as the ability to manually focus. While this mode might take a little to get used to for some users, it does give you much more control over how your image turn out.

HTC One M8 with near full manual control

HTC One M8 with near full manual control

Duo Camera Technology

One of the most exciting new features of the HTC M8 is the new DUO Camera, which essentially adds a second camera that purely focuses on capturing depth of field information to help give you more tools and features when it comes to editing your images.

HTC One M8 Back of Phone

The most interesting of these features is called UFocus, which allows you to add artistic blur, otherwise known as “bokeh” to the background of your image. This allows you to refocus your shot on to any person or object in your frame, working similarly to a Lytro camera.

Camera Features

In addition to the Duo Camera and UFocus technology, the M8’s camera has a number of other pretty impressive features.

M8 Camera Menu

M8 Camera Menu

 

Smart Flash 2.0 The Duo Camera is the not only feature on the HTC One M8 that comes in a pair. The build in dual smart flash 2.0 does a solid job of determining the right lighting conditions to help your images have a more natural look to them. While not perfect, I found that it did a better job that the original HTC One in producing less washed out and poorly lit images when working in the dark.

Pano 360 In a similar manor to Android Photo SpherePano 30 allows you to take large 360 full panoramas of the world around you. This gives you the ability to essentially create your own “Google Street View” of any scene you wish. It is a handy way to give a view a true sense of what it was like to be standing in your shoes!

Image Match Set inside the HTC Gallery app, Image Match is a simple visual search tool that lets you search for an image and create an album that has similar or connected content. Take a photo a number of images of a specific mountain or person and you can easily find them all using this feature.

Foregrounder Working in a manor similar to UFocus, Foregrounder allows you to select your foreground (part of the frame that is in focus) and than artistically add a funky background, such as Zoom Blur, Sketch, Cartoon, Colorize.

Camera Weakness

While the HTC M8 has improved upon the camera found in last years HTC One, as well as add a slew of very welcome new features, the decision to maintain a 4mp camera is still a choice that I am split on. There is no doubt that this camera can take good photos, but the lack of resolution to allow you to crop into a photo can be a bit frustrating at times.

Additionally, I found that the auto WB sometimes can be a touch off, such as during sunset/sunrise when there are a lot of magenta colors. This doesn’t mean the photos look bad when this happens, but color tones look a bit too unreal for my taste. Generally a manual selection of the White Balance solves the issue…for the majority of times this might come up.

The M8 also can suffer from the tendency for highlights to be blown out when taking photos with bright objects. This is a limitation of many mobile phones, but seemed a touch more pronounced on the m8 itself.

Photo Gallery

Most of these images were shot in situations with little to no light, essentially pushing the camera to its limits. Overall I found that it did a good job, allowing more light into a scene that any of the other phones I had with me would allow.

Final Thoughts

In nearly every way, the HTC One M8 is a step above the original HTC One from last year. It continues to have the absolute best build and design quality of any Android device currently in the market while the new rounded edges help give it a much more natural feel in your hand. The screen, much like last years model, is top notch with very accurate colors and deep blacks, traits any photographer should demand in a phone. While HTC and Beats Audio have parted ways since last years model, the speakers found on the HTC One M8 are still phenomenal, playing crisp, clear audio that has a good amount of bass. While I am not a fan of Blinkfeed, HTC Sense 6 has added a few new features while also somewhat getting out of the way of itself, something many Android manufacturers fail at doing. The camera on the M8 probably isn’t the best camera available, but it certainly does have its strengths. I am hard pressed to not be happy that they have improved both the camera application itself and the picture taking quality of the phone when compared to last years model. I found more details in my images, better focusing in low light and overall a more enjoyable experience. A near full manual mode was a nice touch. The down side? You are still stuck with a 4mp sensor, which in this day and age, can be a touch frustrating when you want a little more from your images. Additionally you will still notice noise when shooting in low light, even if you are allowed more light in your photos when compared to other competing cameras. For your average shooter, the M8, like the M7 will be just fine. If you buy your phones solely based on having the best camera available, you might want to look at other options.

As of today, this is certainly one of the better Android phones out on the market and it is one that I can easily recommend to a new Android user. If you are an owner of the HTC One, you will most likely enjoy all of the new features and upgrades. That being said, I am also intrigued by both Sony’s new Z2 waterproof smartphone as well as OPPO’s new Find 7 that houses the worlds first 2k screen and a feature that allows you to create 50mp images. Time will tell how everything plays out with all of the new mobile phones from Android and Windows Phone, but until then, I will most likely have the HTC One M8 as my go to daily phone.

Full Disclosure: HTC did not pay or ask me to write this review, although they did ship me a near final build of the HTC One M8 to use as I pleased


An In-Depth Conversation With Sony – Focus on a7/a7r

Sony A7r CameraWhen Sony announced the a7/a7r on October 16th, 2013 it lit the photography world on fire. For the first time, a camera manufacturer had managed to make an affordable full frame mirror-less camera in an ultra portable body. Photographers all over the globe, myself included, began to realize that the mirror-less revolution might be here sooner than we realized. Unlike other mirror-less cameras from companies like Fuji, Olympus and Samsung, Sony finally offered a Full Frame camera system that might actually replace the use of a standard DSLR for professionals.

Once the camera was released, I began to comb through various social media posts and message boards , realizing that many photographers had questions. This technology was brand new after all and if photographers were going to make the switch to a new brand, they needed to know about GPS units, flash compatibility and AF accuracy.

After hearing from all of you, I decided to reach out to my Sony contacts and schedule a number of meetings/conversations with Mark Weir (Senior Technology Manager) and Kenta Honjo (Lead Product Manager) to discuss a number of topics and questions that many of you have been asking over the last few months.

My full review will be posted in roughly two weeks, but enjoy this post in the mean time.

Why Did Sony Create the a7 Series?

Before jumping into the questions to discuss various aspects of these cameras that are important to photographers, I wanted to give Sony the opportunity to talk a little about the motivation and backstory of the Sony a7/a7r series of cameras.

Mark Weir started things off, “In terms of the motivation behind developing the cameras, many photographers are often interested with opposing virtues which involves better and better image quality and performance with smaller and smaller size. Most photographers seem to have become acutely aware of the size and weight of not only the bodies, but also of the lenses. So what we wanted to do was realize the virtues of full frame interchangeable lens cameras at half the size and weight of a DSLR, to allow photographers to enjoy that level of performance with more convenience and give them the ability to shoot in the moment in a way that a large DSLR might make it difficult to do.This is true not only for the cameras, but also the lens. We are not only creating smaller and lighter FF cameras, but smaller and lighter lenses as well”.

A close look at the sensor on the Sony a7r

A close look at the sensor on the Sony a7r

Lens Road Map & History

One of the challenges of releasing a new camera with a new camera mount is the lack of a camera lens eco system. Luckily for users, the a7/a7r can take advantage of most lenses out there from other manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Zeiss) through a variety of adapters. While this works for photographers like myself that are still running hybrid setups (Canon/Sony for me), the reality is that the Sony FE mount still has a way to go in terms of options. After-all, what is the point of a lightweight/portable FF camera if you have to put massive lenses on it to truly take advantage of the sensors?

Sony's new 55mm FE f/1.8 Lens

Sony’s new tiny 55mm FE f/1.8 Lens

When I asked Mark about the current small lens ecosystem, he said, “We were aware from the beginning that lens availability was a concern which is why we released at the time of announcement our lens road-map for 2014 and 2015 to assure those that want to use the a7/a7r of our commitment to developing 5 lens initially, 10 lens by the end of 2014 and 15 lenses by the end of 2015. At the same time it is important to realize that e-mount is e-mount. Therefore the 13 e-mount lenses which are already in the market can operate very nicely with the a7/a7r in much the same way the other manufacturers sub-frame lenses work with their full frame counterparts.”

Personally I am looking forward to more FE mount lenses, even though I have truly been enjoying a few Sony Alpha lenses (namely the Zeiss 16-35 f/2.8) and of course my Canon lens line up with the Metabones adapter. Recently the Zeiss 55mm 1.8 ZA lens (FE mount) was reviewed by DXO Mark and was awarded as the best AF lens ever tested. If this is any indicator of things to come, I think all Sony a7/a7r users are in for a treat.

Telephoto Lens Vibrations

One of the few issues I came across in terms of using the a7/a7r has been perceived as shutter vibrations at certain shutter speeds when using a telephoto lens, such as Canon’s 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. When capturing an image around 1/100th of a second, the vibrations of the shutter appear to cause your shot to be out of focus (as small vibrations/camera shake become more of an issue with any telephoto lens over a wide angle counter part). Seemingly, when using slower or faster shutter speeds, the issue is not apparent. I can attest to this issue as I have experienced it first hand when using this setup in Iceland. Luckily there is an easy short term fix, which involves making sure your tripod head is secured tightly and then applying light but firm pressure on the lens hood (pushing down towards the ground). This will stabilize your setup and provide solid results. I even do this with my Canon 1dx setup when using my 1.4 TC (Tele-converter) to help mitigate for any wind or shutter shake.

Sony a7r w/ Canon 70-200 f/2.8 (Photo by http://www.nicolasgenette.com/)

Sony a7r w/ Canon 70-200 f/2.8 (Photo by http://www.nicolasgenette.com/)

While Sony’s has not officially responded to this issue, Mark was aware of it and has been reading the same message boards I have. While he believes that the issue is somewhat situational, depending on a variety of variables that are outside of Sony’s control (such as weather and tripod/ball head selection), he didn’t rule out a possible firmware fix, saying “anything is theoretically possible”. He did however stress that a software fix might not be as simple as instituting a “shutter delay” mode to delay the time in which the shutter kicks back up after taking the shot (which is the most likely cause of the vibrations). One of the challenges that Sony faced when building this camera was the sheer size that had to work with to fit all the necessary parts. With a Canon DSLR, such as my 1Dx, there is so much more room between the lens mount, the mirror and my sensor than with the Sony a7r mirror-less setup. This was bound to cause some unforeseen issues.

Once I released this was a potential issue, I made the necessary adjustments to how I shoot with a telephoto lens on this camera and it hasn’t effected me since.

AF System Accuracy

Soon after the camera was released, a few reports began coming out that focused (pun intended) on the AF system of the a7 and a7r cameras. The consensus of these reports was that the AF system wasn’t as fast as some competitors cameras and that it also wasn’t as accurate as it should have been, especially with the a7r which uses a different AF system than the a7. When I brought this up with Mark, he was aware of these reports and offered up an explanation. Much like the Nikon D800e, there is no AA filter and the resolution offered up by the a7r is impressive, sitting at 36mp. What this means is that you will find imperfections in your photos much more readily than with a smaller cropped sensor body for example. When you mix this with size and portability of the a7 series cameras themselves, you begin to see photographers using these cameras much like they use a point and shoot camera, rather than a DSLR. This isn’t to say that you can’t handhold these cameras when taking photos, but rather that you need to be more consciously aware of your movement and vibrations, especially with the a7r.

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In all fairness, the Nikon D800 had similar reports. At an event in SF two years ago, I spoke with a rep for Adorama (one of the largest camera retailer stores in the US) about the D800. He said while these cameras are flying off the shelves, they have a higher return rate than nearly any other pro DSLR because photographers thought their cameras were broken. Their images kept coming back just slightly out of focus when they zoomed in 100% in post to check focus accuracy. His conclusion was that photographers might not being as meticulous as they needed to be in order to truly take advantage of the sensor of that size. Having taken a 60mp Phase One IQ260 to East Africa for a month, I can vouch for the challenges of using such an impressive camera sensor.

As for the a7 series cameras, the more I have used them over the last four months, the better I have got at learning how make the most of their AF systems. On top of this, just a few days ago (March 18th, 2014) Sony officially released its first firmware update for the a7/a7r and one of the included features is a faster AF system. More info can be found below.

A6000 Comparison

Just before my last conversation with Mark and Kenta in mid February, Sony had announced the a6000. While it is a completely different camera (with an APS-C cropped sensor), Sony has been touting it as offering the most robust AF system in the world (including AF speed and AF point coverage). Since we had already been discussing the AF system on the a7 series, I felt it was a good time to bring up the a6000 and ask how it compared. In all honesty, I was simply curious to know if this technology would eventually trickle into other camera lineups (like the a7r’s successor).

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When asked about the difference between the two, Mark said, “It is the same processor but has an all new image sensor and what we have done is leveraged the APS-C size of the imager, which is easier to do with APS-C than full frame, to realize not just speed, but coverage. Allot has been done with speed previously, but coverage has been a big problem for on sensor phase detect AF, largely due to the nature of pixel shading, but we have been able to leverage our image sensor technology to overcome many of these challenges of pixel shading”.

When I further pressed about the challenges with this technology, Mark said, “We believe that what we have done with realizing coverage and speed really represents a landmark development in the move away from opto mechanical cameras of the past to full electronic cameras of the future. If you think about it, phase detect AF has always required a very high procession (separate) optical sensor with high manufacturing costs and very close tolerance alignments and there are tremendous advantages in doing it, but it is very expensive to make. If you look at the very top end of DSLRs, you can see the point of diminishing returns that has been reached. These days a Canon 1dx has 65 line sensors and covers maybe 50-60% of the frame and these are the most expensive sensors available. We are effectively brushing that aside and by doing it on the silicon with the image sensor, we can make a $650 body with 179 cross points that covers 90% of the frame.”

As for where we might find this technology next, Mark alluded to that as well. “The fact that it is in this camera is an accident of timing. I think it is the development of the technology that is important and it is going to be the way cameras are going to be made in the future by companies that have access to this kind of silicone.”

Does this mean we might some day find a FF mirror-less body with 90% of our frame covered in AF points? I think so!

Menu System Limitations

One point of contention with certain photographers is the lack of complete control over the bracketing system with the a7/a7r. The issue is two fold. 1.) You are limited in what brackets you can do, such as a 5 shot bracket can only have a max difference of .7 stops per shot, rather than 1 stop or 2 stop difference. 2.) Currently the remote shutter and bracketing options live in the same single choice menu, meaning that you can set your camera on 2 second delay or your bracketing setup (such as a 3 image bracket at 2 stop differences) but not both at the same time.

When I asked Mark about this he admitted that he (and Sony) are well aware that the system is not perfect. The saving grace in their minds is that the option to turn on the functionality of using a remote control is now separate (a relatively new update to their older NEX systems), which allows you to use a remote as well as choose your bracketing setup of choice. I have personally used this out in the field with a cheap $6 IR remote from Opteka and it works great. Regardless, Mark’s main response to the issue was that Sony had been so focused on creating the technology to make a FF sensor fit in these small bodies, that software enhancements had been pushed to the side. However now that they have pushed the boundaries of what many of us thought was possible, they can look to improving the software side of things.

Additionally, check out the section in this post that talks about smart phone mobile app support.

GPS Unit Availability

If you are like me, you have gotten used to having the ability to geo-tag your images when out shooting in the field. After all, it is always nice to know exactly where that one rock or tree was that you stumbled upon while hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains so that you can revisit it under different conditions. As of right now, there are no easy solutions. I for one do one of two things; 1. Use my Canon GP-E2 GPS unit on my Canon 1dx to take a photo to mark a certain spot 2.) Engage my Garmin Tactix GPS watch to create a “track” while shooting out in the field, which requires me to to use 3rd party software to import this data back into LR and sync my images with their corresponding locations. Neither of these solutions is ideal in my mind.

Canon's GP-E2 GPS Unit on my Canon 1Dx in Iceland

Canon’s GP-E2 GPS Unit on the hotshoe of my Canon 1Dx in Iceland

When I pressed Mark and Kento about a GPS unit, they kindly said that there are currently no options….but that this will be changing “very soon”. My hope is that when Sony does release a GPS unit, it works like the Canon GP-E2, sitting on the hot-shoe and running from its own battery (AA in Canon’s case). With the size of the battery on the a7/a7r, the last thing I would want is a GPS unit pulling more power from these small batteries.

Flash Compatibility

While I personally rarely use flash with my photography, questions about the use of flash, specifically TTL (Through The Lens) support, came up numerous times from users like yourself. When I asked Mark to explain the issue, this is what he said.

“In 1991 Minolta abandoned the ISO-518 hot shoe and decided to create their own. We (Sony) inherited that hot shoe in 2006 in the transfer of assets and maintained  the auto lock shoe, for better or worse, right up until last year when we introduced the multi-interface shoe. When I talk to the guys at pocket wizard and radio poppers they always tell me they would love to develop for our system, but they don’t because simply because of the cost of molding dye for the auto hot shoe. Now that has changed and we have an ISO-518 shoe on the camera and we are hoping, or should I say encouraging third party manufactures to use the benefits of our multi-interface shoe to create off camera interface devices and we expect that they will.”

Sony's current flash option, the HVL-F60M

Sony’s current flash option, the HVL-F60M

All this being said, there are manual flash wireless options available now, but TTL (which can be thought of as auto exposure flash) systems still have to wait as Mark mentioned above.

Professional Services

As a professional photographer one of the often overlooked aspects of any manufacturer is their customer service. Both Canon and Nikon offer exclusive programs for professionals that use their gear in order to make sure that they always have the best CS possible, often times getting discounts on gear repairs and expedited loaners being shipped out at the last second for a project or trip. As of today, Sony doesn’t have any such service available to the general public, but when pressed Mark Weir let me know that good things are coming.

“The irony is that we already have professional services that far exceed what Canon and Nikon are already doing and have had it for 3-4 years but we haven’t outwardly promoted it. We already have a significant number of professional photographers are using our products and they wouldn’t be using out products if we didn’t have it in place.” said Mark.

It seems the challenge that they currently face is determining which model to take after (Canon’s paid services or Nikon’s free version) or to create something entirely different. Either way I was promised that within the next 6-8 months, we will see something announced. In the mean time, I was told that if your average user dropped their a7r, they can call Sony customer support and be well taken care of.

RAW file compression

When combing through the message boards of DPreview and Fred Miranda, I came across a series of posts that focused on Sony’s RAW file compression. The consensus was that Sony’s raw images from the a7r where half the file size of the Nikon D800e (which is virtually the same sensor). This lead people to worry that Sony was using a lossy file format to shrink the file size down. In my experience with editing a7r files, I have personally not seen any instance of a loss of image data because of any compression, which many others had reported on as well, which leads me to think that Sony might be using a lossless file compression, much like tiff or dng files retain all image data. To be 100% honest, I have been blown away by the RAW images coming out of this camera so far, both in terms of sharpness/detail and dynamic range.

However when I asked Mark and Kenta about this, they were not 100% certain about the file structure or of any lossy compression. When they get back to me, I will update this section of this blog post.

Firmware Updates

One of the common worries I kept coming across from users like yourself was the continued support of the a7/a7r series. All too often camera/technology companies release a product, which is never perfect, talk about updating it, and then release a newer version instead. When it comes to Sony and the a7 series of cameras, it seems that Sony is turning a new leaf. Both Mark and Kenta spoke to me at length about the shifted focus for Sony as a whole to a few of the divisions, including Imaging. I suspect as Sony continues to diversify their camera/lens lineups, that we will begin to see a longer shelf life of these products…meaning more regular firmware updates.

1.0.2 Sony a7/a7r Firmware Update

1.0.2 Sony a7/a7r Firmware Update

In fact, as I was writing this post, Sony officially announce the 1.0.2 Firmware update found HERE. Below you can see the release notes…

Firmware 1.0.2

  • Provides support for SEL70200G
  • Improves auto focus speed
  • Adds functions including the “Focus hold button”
  • Reduces start-up time
  • The start-up time has been reduced in cases when the camera is switched on immediately after being switched off.
  • Improves image quality
  • Provides support for additional ”Play Memories Camera Apps” and additional features for previously supported apps.
  • Provides support for “Liveview Grading” and “Smooth Reflection” applications.
  • Provides support for the smooth automatic exposure feature in the “Time-lapse” application ver. 2.00 and later.

Smart Phone App Ecosystem

Sony-Alpha-A7R-PlayMemories-AppsWith the increased popularity of WiFi and NFC being built into cameras, including the a7/a7r, it isn’t too surprising that there has been a call for smart phone/tablet application support. Currently Sony has the “PlayMemories Mobile” app on both Android and IOS devices that allows you not only wirelessly transfer images from your camera to your smart device, but also control your camera, albit this feature is a bit limited.

When I asked Kenta about the future plans for the app eco system, Kenta said “This is another area that we are putting a lot of effect into. We do have an API library that can be downloaded, but we are aware that it is limited, but it is something that we are working on. We aren’t 100% sure on timing just yet, but we will be rolling out more APIs to expand the API wifi capability so that users can create more advanced apps to control the camera.”

When I asked for more details on what capabilities these APIs might unlock, Mark said “It isn’t that we have opened the API’s for the camera, it is that we opened the API for the PlayMemories mobile so the idea is the the camera can follow the directions of the phone”. To me, this sounds like we might start having mobile apps that will allow for a much more expanded feature set/functionality of the a7 series cameras in the future. Don’t be surprised if you see a camera app being developed with my name on it in the near future :)

Full Review

You can expect my full review of the Sony a7r to be released next month. While I know that the camera has been out for a while, I generally prefer to truly put the gear I review through the ringer before I fully share my thoughts. Over the last four months I have been to Iceland twice, the Canadian Rockies during a polar vortex (-45 degrees) and I am currently in the humid, but temperate climate of The Big Island of Hawaii. Stay tuned!

If you have any questions about any of the above topics, please leave them in the comments below!


Who Says That Travel Photography Is Not A Contact Sport?

Iceland_Tent_Glacier_Photography_Colby_BrownWhen it comes to travel photography, I am not all that surprised that many emerging and aspiring photographers have a somewhat over romanticized notion of the challenges many of us face in making a career out of this profession. In all honesty, I was just as guilty nearly nine years ago when I purchased my first DSLR and decided that this was going to be my path. Like many people, I had a love of travel and figured that photography would be the glorious means in which I would be able travel to exotic locations, meet amazing people and of course…take photos of gorgeous scenery all day long. Who wouldn’t want that right? :)

Reality is of course, much different. While I know that wedding, event, studio and portrait photographers all face their own challenges, travel photography is a different sort of beast. Have you ever wanted to travel to places like India or Bolivia? You are almost guaranteed to get food poisoning of some sort. Want to photograph the amazing Northern Lights in northern Canada? You better be prepared to work in -38 degree weather. What about going ice climbing or photographing adventure sports? You better get accustomed to the inside of hospitals and medical clinics while traveling.

What is amusing about these “myths” and romanticized notions surrounding travel photography is that they are perpetuated by the vary people that do this for a living…such as myself.

The Building of the Myth

As a travel photographer, it is hard not to get sucked into the stories and experiences you have as you begin to travel the globe. The human species tends to prefer to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. The epic scenery surrounding you while you capture a sunrise rather than the fact that you have been lying on the floor of your “hotel” room (notice the quotes) for two days as you try to figure out what is attempting to claw it ways through your digestive system. When you follow a photographer such as myself on social media, you tend to see images such as this one…

Zion_National_Park_Narrows_Colby_Brown

This is me in the Narrows in Zion NP. Photo by Casey McCallister

or maybe this one…

Iceland_Jökulsárlón_Iceberg_Colby_Brown

Me in Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Photo by Michael Bonocore

or what about this one?

Karijini_National_Park_Western_Australia_Colby_Brown

me in Karijini National Park in Western Australia

These photos and experiences look great right? Epic scenes. Beautiful colors. Wonderful marketing content. While they certainly serve a purpose for my various businesses, the reality is that they only tell a faction of the story. In fact…probably a fraction of a fraction of the story.

The Physical Realities

The reality of travel photography is that it isn’t easy. Between the jet-lag, questionable food, sleepless nights, unpredictable weather and physical nature of the job, there are allot of things to overcome. And no matter how much you prepare, or how trained you think you are…”bad” things can still happen.

Last fall I spent 10 days exploring the gorgeous state of North Carolina. From the epic waterfalls to the grand landscapes to the amazing fall colors, I had an amazing time and came away with some incredible photography, such as this image of the the Blue Ridge Parkway just after sunrise one morning.

Grand_Father_Mountain_Blue_Ridge_Parkway_North_Carolina

Fog rolling over the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall

What many of you might not know is that when I took this shot, I had blood tripping down my arm after I slipped on a rock while using forearm to brace my fall (instead of my camera). The result was 7 stitches and a fun trip to the local emergency clinic, after I finished photographing the gorgeous sunrise of course ;)

Colby_Brown_Stitches_North_Carolina

The results from a slip on a rock while photographing sunrise from the top of a mountain in NC

Last week I was in Iceland with a few friends, focusing on capturing the Northern Lights and the Ice Caves found in the south of the country. As many of you can assume, Ice Caves are typically located on glaciers, which require professional equipment (crampons, ropes, ice axes) to safely explore. One morning we headed out onto one of the glaciers with a guide and all the proper equipment to photograph a particular ice cave, which turned out to be amazing.

Iceland_Ice_Cave_Nokia_1020_DNG

Ice Cave in South Iceland taken with a Nokia 1020

However as we began descending into the area where the cave was, my crampons caught one another and I began to slide on a fairly minor slope for about 15ft. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had placed my ice axe in my harness to free up my hands to hold the rope. As I was sliding, the tip of the ice axe caught a lip of ice and the flat part of the axe jettisoned into my right rib cage, instantly knocking all the air out of my lungs and delivering a loud internal “popping” sound. Turns out that I have a pair of lateral fractures on my 9th right rib, which should be fun to deal with for the next 8 weeks. Of course during that time I have project I am working on in the Canadian Rockies, a return trip to Iceland and two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. Have you ever traveled let alone done physical activity with a cracked rib? Let me tell you how fun it is!

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X-Ray of my rib cage. Good times :)

And imagine that this is just in the last few months. I won’t even get into the number of bugs I have picked up over the years or how many times I have had food poisoning. I mean who has had the giardia parasite 4 separate times. Oh ya…me ;)

Why I Love What I Do!

A logical question to come up with after reading this blog post is why do I still do it? After hearing about cracked ribs, trips to emergency clinics and travel sickness…who I their right mind would want to do this for a living? The truth is that many of us that do this for a living, wouldn’t have it any other way. It is not that we enjoy the pain of having an ice axe jam into our ribs, it is that most of us do everything we can to prepare ourselves for the work we do, but we also accept the inherent risks of the profession. Not everything on this planet is easily accessible or attainable. One has to be aware of these challenges if they also want to enjoy the “spoils” of being a travel photographer.

For me personally, my biggest driving force is the notion that I can share in these experiences with my family. One day soon I will be able to show the world to my son as he joins me on these trips…and that alone is enough to help me get through the “unpleasantries” of my adventures.

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My little adventurer!

Do you have any tales from the road from your own photographic adventures? Share them below!


A Year in Reflection – 2013

It is that time of year yet again where the promises and resolutions of a new year fuse with the reflections of what the last 12 months meant to each of us. While 2012 was a year of growth for me and my photography businesses, 2013 was about broadening my horizons, expanding business opportunities and cherishing the time I had with my family. Lets take a look at the recap of 2013 before I share my favorite images of the year.

The Giving Lens

My humanitarian photography company, The Giving Lens, had a wonderful year, successfully running trips to Peru, Nicaragua, India, Tanzania and Cambodia to help fight for a number of causes such as child education, families affected by HIV, women’s empowerment and those living in extreme poverty. 2014 is shaping up to be another great year for TGL as well with trips to Jordan, Peru, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Cambodia, India & Thailand (along with others in the works). The idea is to continue to expand our operations and begin to work with new organizations in new countries that are supporting projects focused on clean drinking water, species preservation and protecting the ocean. While I don’t have the ability to go on every trip, it truly warms my heart to be able to continue to get like minded people together to help make a difference in the world through the art of photography. Moving forward, TGL and myself are looking for more and more ways to get people involved, especially those that can’t join us on our trips.

Spending some time with the Maasai in Tanzania

Spending some time with the Maasai in Tanzania. Photo by Kate Havercroft

The Business of Photography

On top of leading two great photography workshops with my good friend Ken Kaminesky in Iceland, 2013 gave me the opportunity to work with a number of new companies including Phase One, Sony, Toshiba, HTC, Nokia, Motorola while also writing a new e-book titled “Android Photography – Take Better Photos With Your Android Phone or Tablet”. Additionally I worked on a number of marketing campaigns, including ones for entities such as the Australian Government and the State of North Carolina among others. My income from photography comes from a wide variety of sources, which is something I have worked hard to achieve over the years. However there is always room for improvements and you will see a number of new ventures for me in 2014; including online workshops, multiple e-books, photo editing presets and more co-branded products available in stores around the globe, such as my “Colby Brown Signature Edition Landscape Photography Filter Kit” that I worked on with the great people over at Formatt Hitech this past year.

Capturing a gorgeous sunrise/sunset during the Summer solstice in Iceland

Capturing a gorgeous sunrise/sunset during the Summer solstice in Iceland

It is no secret that I don’t think of photography as a competition and have never consider myself to be the “best” photographer in the world…2013 certainly didn’t change my mindset. While some photographers might balk at the idea of the business side of photography, I am some what fortunate in the fact that I actually love it, which has helped me get to where I am today. In my mind there is no reason that one can’t be “creative” when it comes to networking, advertising, branding and marketing one’s companies. In 2013 I set out to expand my various photography companies brands reach and have been incredibly happy with the results, making it the most financially successful year to date. In 2013, I continued the mindset of thinking 10 steps down the road, rather than focus on short term gains. In my opinion, one must learn to think beyond just what is happening today or tomorrow, and begin to look 6, 12, 18 months down the line. The best place to start is to create a business plan of your own.

Making Room For Personal Projects

At the Loi Krathong lantern festival in Thailand

At the Loi Krathong lantern festival in Thailand

While I continue to focus on the year on year financial growth of my businesses, I always make room for personal projects/trips along the way. Many photographers think that it has to be about business all the time, but where is the fun in that? Early in my career I got a very big break by getting hired by National Geographic to teach photography workshops in South America for a number of months and one of the things that stuck with me was the conversations with other much more established Nat Geo photographers. Nearly every one of them initially got hired or got a job with Nat Geo partly because of their work on a personal project that they were passionate about. Most never garnered much financial gain from their projects, but they never set out to do it for the money in the first place. The pursued these projects because it spoke to them as artists and individuals first and foremost.

Outside of my projects with The Giving Lens, each year I try to knock atleast a few of items off my “Bucket List”. In April I finally made my way to Northern Arizona and got to explore Coyote Buttes South, White Pocket and Antelope Canyon with my good friend and travel photo partner in crime Peyton Hale. In March I finally got to return to Australia after a 7 year absence and I was also fortunate to spend a month in East Africa, focusing on a variety of projects with the Maasai, families with HIV and the wildlife of the Serengeti. Near the end of the year I was able to spend two weeks exploring Myanmar, a country that had caught my attention years ago. While tourism is starting to pour in since it became some what of a Democratic State less than two years ago, Myanmar still offers a very unique and special look at what SE Asia was like years ago. Lastly, my good friend and TGL photographer Michael Bonocore and I spent a number of days in northern Thailand for the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong lantern festivals (seen in the photo to the left). To round out the year, once Typhoon Yoland hit the Philippines, I felt compelled to travel to the worst hit areas and document the lives of those most effected. I connected with Jacob Maentz, a local US born photographer, and spent a number of days in Tacloban. If you get a chance, check out Jacob’s work as he is a phenomenal photographer.

All this being said, most of you that know me know that there is always an opportunity cost to the work that I do. Working as a travel photographer is great, but I always miss my family back home when I am on the road. In 2013 I made sure to schedule a number of family specific trips while also attempting (albit poorly at times) to spend more time at home. Moving forward, the plan as usual, is to continue to work smarter…not harder. To continue to hire more employees, spend more time with my family and work on more projects that speak to my heart.

Favorite Images of 2013

As I mentioned previously, 2013 was a very busy year for me and outside of exclusive contract work, I didn’t have much time to edit and share my images with everyone. It is for this reason that most of these images have never been seen publicly before, which brings me to a similar point I brought up during my 2012 Year in Reflection. Too often I see photographers focus on the number of “Likes” or “+1’s” a photo gets to determine its worth, which to me is absolutely ridiculous. If we all adopted this mindset, the world would think that Brittany Spears is the best singer and that cat videos on YouTube are far better that Academy Award winning movies because they get more social interaction.

All in all, I prefer to bring things back to the personal nature of the creation of art in the first place. The story behind an image and the personal experiences that an image can represent should, in my mind, offer far much more value to an artist than how many other photographers press a button to “Like” a photo on Facebook.

Over the next few weeks I will release each of these images via Google+ & Facebook, where I will talk about the story behind the image, how it was edited and what each photo means to me. Until than, enjoy! *Click on the images to see a larger version.

 

Kirkjufellsfoss_Sunset_Iceland

Sunset Over Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall in West Iceland

Sheikh_Zayed_Mosque_Abu_Dhabi_UAE

Sheikh Zayed Mosque Reflections in Abu Dhabi

Karijini National Park_Australia

Karijini National Park in Western Australia

Boy_School_Tanzania

Young boy in an orphanage in rural Tanzania

Grand_Father_Mountain_Blue_Ridge_Parkway_North_Carolina

Fall Colors over the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

Burj_Kalifa_Night_Photography_Dubai_UAE

Dubai Night Cityscape of the Burj Khalifa

Iceland_Puffin

Icelandic Puffin from the West Fjords in Icealnd

Tacloban_Philippines_Humanitarian

Young man burning debris at dusk after Typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban, Philippines

Loi_Krathong_Thailand

The Loi Krathong lantern festival in Northern Thailand

Lower_Antelope_Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon near Paige, Arizona

Monk_Candles_Bagan_Myanmar

A praying Buddhist monk in Bagan, Myanmar

Baboon_NgoronGoro_Crater_Tanzania

Baboon in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Jack_Brown_Boy

My son Jack at an old family house in Northern California


Your Favorite Images of 2013 Photo Contest/Giveaway

As the end of 2013 approaches, photographers from all over the globe have begun compiling their photos from the past year to share with others. While I enjoy this time of year as an artist, I tend to see too many photographers get way too wrapped up in having others choose their “best” images of the year, often relying on something as ridiculous as how many Facebook “Likes” or Google+ “+1s” an image got to help determine the quality of a photo. Instead, I prefer to look back at the last 12 months of experiences and photographs I captured and reflect on their significance and what they meant to me as an individual. Photography is not only an artistic median, it is a very personal art form that allows each of us to capture the world around us as we see it. So why should we look to our followers on Facebook to determine our “best” images of the year?

It is within this context that I am very pleased to announce a new photo contest/giveaway that centers around the idea of singling out the images that mean the most to us from over the last 12 months and sharing the stories behind them with the world. The contest will run through January 8th and I am stoked to announce that it is sponsored by Wacom, Adobe and onOne Software, who have provided a nice mix of some of the best photo editing tools around that I use one my images nearly every day. More details can be found below…

Colby-Contest-1

Contest Rules:

End Date: January 8th, 2014

Prizes:

  • Grand Prize – (1) Wacom Intuos Pro SE Medium Tablet + 1 Year of Adobe PS & Lightroom ($589 Value)
  • 1st Prize – (1) Wacom Intuos Pro SE Small Tablet + 1 Year of Adobe PS & Lightroom ($489 Value)
  • Bonus Prizes to Win
    • (1 Pack) Nik Collection by Google + onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 8 ($328 Value)
    • (1 Pack) Nik Collection by Google+ onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 8 ($328 Value)

Prizes

Who Can Win?:

Contest is open worldwide and only to individuals who have reached the age of majority in their jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry and who do NOT reside in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, the Province of Quebec, Sudan, or Syria. CONTEST IS VOID IN CUBA, IRAN, NORTH KOREA, THE PROVINCE OF QUEBEC, SUDAN, SYRIA, AND WHERE PROHIBITED.

How To Enter:

In order to enter in this photo contest, you must follow all of the instructions below…

  • In the comments below, upload an image (2mb size limit) of yours that was captured in 2013 and tell me why this image is one of your favorite images of 2013. Tell me why it means so much to you.
  • Below, you can sign up for my monthly Newsletter. I only send one Newsletter out per month and you can opt out at any point after the contest.

Monthly Newsletter Sign Up





Do note that you have up to THREE entries to win and every photo uploaded with the above stipulations counts as a single entry!

Bonus Chances to WIN:

For a chance to win the bonus prizes you can do one (or all) of the following. You do NOT have to enter the main contest to win these prizes:

  • Sign Up for my Monthly Newsletter, found just above or in the right hand sidebar.
  • If you entered the contest, Upload any of the photos that you entered into this contest to Google+, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr and include the text that explains why this is one of your favorite photos of the year. Include the hashtag #Photosof2013 in the post so that I can track the uploads + include a link back to this post.
    • You MUST be the owner of the copyright of any image you choose to upload.
  • Share this blog post on your social network of choice.

How Are Winners Picked:

  • The Grand Prize and 1st place winners will be chosen based in part on the image they entered, with a heavy emphasis on the personal story attached to the image. In order to win, you must also subscribe to my monthly newsletter.
  • The two “Bonus Winners” will be chosen at random based on the bonus chances to win stated above

Disclosure:

  • You retain FULL copyrights for any image you choose submit into this contest.
  • By submitting an image in this contest, you grant Colby Brown Photography Ltd. the right to share your photos (full full credit and attribution) via any social networking platform or blog of our choosing, solely to promote this photo contest.
  • Winners will also be asked to join a Google+ Hangout to showcase their winning images and talk about the back story behind the images in question.
Colby Editing while in the Colorado Rockies in 2013

Colby Editing while in the Colorado Rockies in 2013

UPDATE – AND THE WINNERS ARE…

Please congratulate the following two winners (picked at random) of the Bonus Prizes (complete suites by Nik and onOne Software):

Ashley Gangadean & Örjan Gustavsson

For the Grand Prize winners, I picked to two based on partly on the image they submitted, but more so on the story behind their images. There were so many great submissions that it was difficult to narrow down!

Jacob Bage

Grand Father and Grand Daughter

No, this is not a grand landscape, but over 2013 I’ve realized that my grandest photos are the ones I’ve taken right at home. This is my father… He has a hereditary disease called Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) – it is a
genetic mutation that does not inhibit tumor growth. He has had three brain surgeries and surgery on just about every other part of the body to remove tumors. As a kid my dad was a superhero to me. As an adult, he’s the superhero I try to be. So this is my father, holding my youngest daughter Zoe. He’s still kickin’, and I still look up to him very much.

Ken Wah

A Photographer's Journey

Sometimes a photographer’s journey can be lonely. Such is the case for me. I have mostly always gone out photoshooting alone, as I have not had the chance to meet some of the local photographers in person. I was at a very low point of my life at one stage, having taken on a new role at work that was stressful and I did not know how to handle, everything was going the wrong way, no one trusted in my skills, and no friend to confide to except for my partner. I’ve lost my self-esteem so much I considered a career change, which is impossible. Then one weekend I decided to go on my own ‘journey’. It wasn’t too far away, just a conservation park with waterfalls about half an hour drive. I needed this trip to step back and put everything into perspective. I did not plan anything, just walking and climbing along the track and taking photos when I felt like it. Then by chance I came across this place. It is a rock platform just above one of the waterfalls, and the vista view is unbelievable.

I felt a sense of relief and calmness, and I knew everything will be ok. I post processed the shot according to what I envisioned in my mind. After I finished I realized how similar it is to the movie version of Rivendell from LOTR and The Hobbit, hence I named the photo “Rivendell”.

I picked myself up again after that, and everything worked out fine in the end, and I was glad that I went on this little trip to rediscover myself.


Camera Awesome for Android Released – The Best Camera App on the Market?

Camera Awesome Logo by SmugMugWhile the Android mobile ecosystem has no shortage of photography related applications (i.e. SnapSeed, Sun Surveyer, Touch Retouch), there is one area that it has always seemed to fall short, camera apps. Now before I upset Android fans, Android does have a handful of well built camera apps such as Camera 360 and Camera Zoom FX, but the most popular camera apps on IOS have typically stayed in an Apple focused world. That is until today!

I am beyond stoked to be the first to let you know that SmugMug’s incredibly popular camera application, Camera Awesome, has now been released on Android. As a close partner with SmugMug, I was given early developer access to CA and have been using it over the last month as I traveled through Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Myanmar and Thailand with my HTC One (click for in-depth review). With over 20 million IOS users, it will not be too surprising to see the app take the Android market by storm. The icing on the cake is that SmugMug put a lot of work into the Android build, giving all of you a number of Android Specific Features that IOS users don’t have just yet.

Camera Awesome's new HDR Android specific mode

Camera Awesome’s new HDR Android specific mode used in Myanmar

So does Camera Awesome live up to the hype? Will it change the way you use your Android phone or tablet? Lets find out…

Device Availability

An HTC One Android Phone Running SmugMug's Camera AwesomeAs many of you know, one of the biggest challenges of developing apps for the Android ecosystem is the sheer fact that there are thousands of devices with various specs out there on the market. Unlike the iPhone, which generally only has a relatively small handful of deviations between its devices, Android’s options are across the board. Different configurations of CPUs, RAM, Storage Space and Cameras can make it difficult to write an app that works on every device. This is an unfortunate side effect of the “choice” that many Android users highlight as one of the systems best features. If you want to shell out the money for a high end phone with a top notch camera or save money and purchase a mid level phone, you have that option. However when it comes to app development, developers have to make a choice as resources are finite and not infinite. In this case, SmugMug decided to focus on the best and the brightest of the Android line-up. If you have a top tier Android smartphone that you have purchased in the last two years, chances are that Camera Awesome will work on it.

Here is the complete list of phones that are supported right out of the gate: Samsung Galaxy SIII, S4, Galaxy Nexus, Note 2, Note 3, HTC One, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, (Nexus 5 coming soon), Sony Xperia Z, Moto X, Motorola Droid Razr, (Kindle Fire HDX 7″, 8.9″ Coming Soon).

The Game Changing Feature

Before I jump into the Android specific features of Camera Awesome, I want to briefly talk about the #1 reason I love this application…having the ability to separate your exposure and focus lock. What does this mean? Most mobile devices are limited in their ability to control both exposure (brightness) and your focus point. For example, if you tap on your screen to focus on an object, your phone will most likely try to properly expose that subject as well. While this setup might work for most casual mobile photographers in most situations, it can quickly become incredibly frustrating to use in highly contrasting scenes (with dark shadows and bright highlights). With Camera Awesome, this is no longer an issue as you have the ability to select the part of your image you want to focus on as well as the area you want to properly expose.

Screenshot of me photographing the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building.

The Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building.

In the above screenshot of my setup for photographing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, you can see that I choose to focus on a specific area of the image while exposing on different section. This allowed me to easily control my exposure while making sure that my image was properly in focus. To do this with CA, you will need two fingers. When you press your first finger down, it will lock focus while you hold your finger in position. Your second finger will lock for exposure. The lack of this feature on Android devices has easily been one of my biggest frustrations. I am happy this is no longer an issue.

Android Specific Features

android_logoaFor the most part, there is no doubt that Android generally gets left behind when it comes to app development when compared with IOS and the iphone/ipad. Most developers, if they choose to port their app to Android, will usually just make a carbon copy of the iPhone version of their application. However with the launch of Camera Awesome, it is nice to see a little change of pace. As I mentioned above, there are a number of features baked into the Android version of Camera Awesome that its IOS counter parts don’t yet have access to. How cool is that? :) Exclusive features (with each feature being dependent on device support):

  • Shooting modes: includes high-speed burst, panorama and HDR
  • Anti-shake video mode: video image stabilization
  • Face recognition and tracking: automatically identifies and tracks multiple faces in the shot to keep subjects in perfect focus
  • ISO, White Balance, and Exposure: power users can choose among multiple white balance modes, exposure compensation values, and manually select ISO settings from 100 to 1600 to capture the perfect shot
  • Resolution settings: shoot both photos and video in multiple resolutions
  • Selective Editing: touch to add or erase which parts of image have filter applied
  • Sharing: in addition to sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Sinaweibo, Google+, Instagram, Photobucket, Picasa, Tumblr, YouTube and Flickr, users can now share to any other services via supporting apps installed on device

Additionally, SmugMug has partnered with NVIDIA to introduce three more features for those devices that currently run on the Nvidia Tegra 4 processor:

  • Tap-to-track object tracking: select an item in the viewfinder and the camera will track and keep it in focus as shots are composed
  • Slow-motion video: shoot great slow-motion video at up to 120 frames per second on supporting Tegra devices
  • Pressure-sensitive stylus support: gives pin-point precision in Selective Edit mode

Backup/Cloud Features

With most mobile devices these days, you have the ability to back up your images straight from your phone to the cloud. Even most Social Media websites (Google+ and Facebook for example), allow you to do the same, making it even easier to post images on the go, since they have already been uploaded to these various networks just about instantly. While these backup solutions are nice if you ever loose your phone, the reality is that all of them offer a finite amount of space. Google+ allows for 15gb storage…Facebook gives you 2gb. While this may sound like a lot, it can fill up quickly.

Connecting SM with Camera Awesome is as easy as logging in

Connecting SM with Camera Awesome is as easy as logging in

Enter Smugmug’s unlimited JPG storage for active Smugmug users. If you are one of the millions of users out there that use SM to host your photography website, gallery or online store, you can easily connect Camera Awesome to your account and enjoy unlimited mobile image backup. Afterall, it might not be this year or the next, but eventually your other online storage accounts will become full and who wants to go through all those images to delete the ones you never wanted to keep in the first place? ;)

If you are not a Smugmug user, you are more than welcome to use my 20% discount code to give it a try: “colbybrown“.

Additional Screenshots

Here is a collection of screenshots of Camera Awesome in action (compliments of SmugMug)…

* I will update this post with my own screenshots of CA once I have left Myanmar and headed to Thailand. Solid internet is not Myanmar’s strong suit :)

Final Thoughts

Image taken with Camera Awesome in Abu Dhabi

Taken with Camera Awesome

After having extensively used CA over the last month, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have it released publicly. Not only has SmugMug built a camera app with an extensive (and partly exclusive) feature set, but they have done a phenomenal job on the User Interface. On top of that, the app itself has not crashed a single time for me, even while I was testing a BETA version, something I can’t say for most of the applications that companies send me to test out. Is the app perfect? No…no application is. For example, while the editing tools are great, especially the selective editing feature, I don’t see myself leaving SnapSeed just yet.

All in all, SmugMug hit it out of the park with Camera Awesome. Between the separation of focus and exposure locks, built in horizon level and expansive feature sets that are unique to Android, there is certainly alot to love. If you have $2.99 to spare and you want to revitalize your Android mobile photography, I recommend that you pick up Camera Awesome from the Google Play Store immediately. For me, it will be my new go to camera app to use around the globe with my slew of Android specific devices.

For more information about the launch of Camera Awesome, check out SmugMug’s own announcement HERE. If you are looking for other Android photography apps, check out my Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the Twenty Apps Every Android Photographer Should Have blog series.

Win an HTC One

For a chance to win one of two HTC One Android phones, check out my Fall Photo Contest that runs from November 9th – 23rd, 2013.