An Experiment in Monochrome iPhoneography

 
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Lately, I've been feeling a little inspired to get back into photography. I know I mentioned in my last post that I might dust off the ol' DSLR (a Canon EOS 20D, if you care to know) and shoot with that, but right after writing that post, the family and I took a vacation and I hate carrying a camera bag around all day long. Instead, I decided that I was going to shoot exclusively with my iPhone 4S, and to make it more interesting, I was going to do a little experimenting with monochrome.

This is an experiment I've been wanting to do for a while now, especially after reading about the Leica M Monochrom camera, which ONLY shoots in monochrome. I have to admit, the Monochrom takes some incredible photos, but there is no way I'm putting down $8,000 even for a camera like that.

Luckily, an app exists for iOS called Hueless, and it performs the same basic function as the Monochrom: it forces you to shoot in black & white. This isn't like applying a filter over a color photo, though. Photos shot in Hueless are truly black & white, with deeper blacks, crisper lines, and a relative lack of photo "noise" compared to, say, Instagram's black & white filter. And the app is only a couple bucks, so the price of entry is obviously much lower than buying the Monochrom.

Now that I'm back from that trip, I'd like to share some of the photos I captured, as well as a few things I noticed along the way (which will seem obvious to your average professional photographer, but I'm kind of self-teaching here so please excuse my amateur-isms).

One of the things I first noticed is that this app is perfect for capturing sunrise/sunset silhouettes.

1877 Elissa, a fantastic little cargo ship that has been (and is still being) kept up by volunteer workers.

1877 Elissa, a fantastic little cargo ship that has been (and is still being) kept up by volunteer workers.

It also performs surprisingly well in low-light situations. In most cases it's a much better alternative to using the iPhone's terrible built-in flash, which tends to make photos garish and unflattering.

This one reminds me of Peter Pan, for some reason.

This one reminds me of Peter Pan, for some reason.

This was taken at night with only a nearby streetlamp providing light on top of what the moon was giving us. I was impressed with how well this turned out, even with the photo noise.

This was taken at night with only a nearby streetlamp providing light on top of what the moon was giving us. I was impressed with how well this turned out, even with the photo noise.

Of course, when you've got some real light to work with, you can capture even better images. Reflective objects photograph especially well in monochrome.

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I really wish I could have captured this statue without the person swimming in the background. You can't unsee it now, can you?

I really wish I could have captured this statue without the person swimming in the background. You can't unsee it now, can you?

I absolutely love the way architecture (or any other large structure) looks in monochrome.

Had to walk into the middle of a 4-way intersection to get this one. I don't necessarily advise this, but sometimes it's worth it to get the shot.

Had to walk into the middle of a 4-way intersection to get this one. I don't necessarily advise this, but sometimes it's worth it to get the shot.

Absolutely loved this coffee shop. Wish I could've brought it back with me.

Absolutely loved this coffee shop. Wish I could've brought it back with me.

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Purposely-sunken ship. According to our boat tour guide, some guy once lived on this thing by himself for about 10 years without anyone knowing about it, growing his own food and raising chickens and everything. Crazy.

Purposely-sunken ship. According to our boat tour guide, some guy once lived on this thing by himself for about 10 years without anyone knowing about it, growing his own food and raising chickens and everything. Crazy.

Rocket boosters from the incredible Saturn V rocket.

Rocket boosters from the incredible Saturn V rocket.

Black & white photos can show a surprising amount of detail (like lines and shadows) compared to their full-color counterparts.

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I can't shake the fact that this looks like the trollface guy from Reddit.

I can't shake the fact that this looks like the trollface guy from Reddit.

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Overall, shooting with Hueless seems like an easy way to make your photos "pop" in an interesting way. I wouldn't say it's a fix-all for every boring photo, though. Obviously, subject and composition still play a huge role in the shot, and sometimes it's just plain better to shoot in color.

Take this motorcycle, for example. I shot both a full-color version and a monochrome version, and I honestly find the color version more compelling visually:

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[These photos remind me of the inherent limitations of the iPhone 4S' camera, even as capable as it is. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to adjust the depth-of-field the way I'd like. Had I been shooting with my DSLR, I certainly would have shot with a larger aperture in order to have a hazier background while keeping the foreground in focus. Not a huge deal, but something to keep in mind if you plan on shooting with just about any smartphone camera, as of this writing, anyway.]

I shot two versions of this engine-order telegraph as well, and also found the color version more interesting.

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Almost looks like an Instagram filter, but this is just how the iPhone shot it.

Almost looks like an Instagram filter, but this is just how the iPhone shot it.

I have other examples of this phenomenon I could display, but hopefully you get the idea. Don't just expect that a monochrome photo will automatically look better than a full-color version. Shoot in both if you must, but always try to capture the best image you can without trying to force the subject to fit into a certain style of photography.

Overall, I'm pretty happy I tried this experiment out. I feel like a whole new level of photography has opened up to me, and I fully expect to capture more monochrome shots in the future. I found that I was composing photos differently than I normally would, because certain perspectives are more visually appealing in black & white, and vice versa. It has also reminded me that photography can be fun.

Even if someone hates the photos I took with Hueless, they can't take away the fact that I had a blast with it.