TheAppWhisperer – Mobile Macro Photography Interview with Meri Walker @iPhoneartgirl

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I am truly delighted to publish this phenomenal interview by MaryJane Sarvis (our Mobile Macro photography Columnist) with Meri Walker aka @iPhoneartgirl.  You are going to love this! (foreword by Joanne Carter).

How did you get started with macro photography? Briefly explain your background with photograph and mobile photography.

I got interested in macro photography long before I got my first 35mm SLR and could imagine being able to control focus and exposure, which was more than 40 years ago. As I recall, I made my first actual macro photographs when a friend gave me some extension tubes for my first 50mm lens. Those tubes – and then some reverse adapters I got – allowed me to focus close enough to capture the tiny details of flowers and rocks and all the small things in the natural world that I’d been entranced with since I was a tiny kid, wandering around in my backyard. After awhile, I got real macro lenses for my 35mm cameras, of course, and always enjoyed using them … until I fell in love with my iPhone.

From the moment I picked up an iPhone (and put down the other cameras) I’ve been using the phone camera to capture close ups. But it’s only in the last six months that the built-in lens and the algorithms and the apps have started catching up with what I’ve really wanted to be able to do with the phone camera without add-on lenses. [I’ve got nothing against using add-on lenses and there are some very fine ones, including the Olloclip. But they’re so small, and I keep losing them with the way I’m shooting these days, so I’ve been working primarily with the built-in phone lens. I’m embarrassed to say it, but the the same thing happens with tiny, add-on lenses that used to happen with my mittens when I was a kid: I take them off and then can’t remember where I left them. I’ve lost a half-dozen add-on lenses.]

 

‘Big Sister’ – ©Meri Walker

Which macro subjects particularly interest you? Natural history- flowers, insects,snowflakes, etc? Other subjects?

What interests me most in the macro world is flowers and textures of rocks. I’m also fascinated with playing with macro subject matter and turning it into abstract and/or mythical imagery on the phone, using apps like iColorama and Rollworld and Percolator and Long Exposure.

 

‘Clothe my Desire’ – ©Meri Walker

Tell us about your macro equipment set up and techniques. Tripod? Do you use an Olloclip?

I shoot mostly handheld, using my iPhone6 and Camera +, although I do have a Gorrillapod and a selfie-stick with a bluetooth remote shutter release that I use sometimes when it’s really almost dark and I just cannot handhold. Since my favorite time of the day to shoot is late afternoon, when my dog, Blaze, and I walk, I pack the small tripod in my pocket in case it gets too dark to work. But I really prefer to handhold and/or prop the camera whenever possible. I had an Olloclip, like I said above, but I lost it and several other add-on lenses and haven’t replaced them yet.

 

‘Come closer I can’t hear you’ – © Meri Walker

Have you experimented with flash techniques, camera supports and/or light tents?

I have always preferred natural light photography, whenever possible. I do sometimes take material with me to use as a reflector/diffuser. But these days, I’m having a “camera bag liberation experience” with my iPhone and I really don’t want to tote around a lot of gear. I have a gorillapod and a selfie stick with a bluetooth remote trigger, but it I can’t put any extra gear in my pocket, it’s rare that I take it with me. I’m not selling this way of working, at all. Of course there are really great tools we can use to manage and/or add light. I used to use them a lot when I was shooting on assignment for publications and corporations but what I’m doing with my iPhone these days is shooting as “gear-free” as possible. I have hundreds of apps, however, and at least three dozen different kinds of camera apps, and I make the best possible use of them, depending on the light and terrain I’m working in.

 

‘I ain’t gonna eat my heart out anymore’ – ©Meri Walker

Is there a particular time of day that you prefer? Many natural photographers prefer early mornings or evenings for example.

I wish I was a morning shooter, but it’s rare for me to shoot early morning, unless it’s summer. Almost every day I shoot in the late afternoon/early evening light. It’s a magical time for light and vision up here in the Northwestern US.

 

‘Just now as the light fades away’ – ©Meri Walker

What processing techniques do you use, which apps do you prefer for both capture and post processing?

These days, my go-to-camera-app for macro work is Camera+. It used to be ProCamera, but when Camera+ added the macro function into the last release, it took first place for me. Because I’ve been a black-and-white photographer/printer for a long time, I’m often “seeing” macro images I’m shooting in black-and-white, even if I’m going to capture them in full color with Camera+. Sometimes, I do shoot directly with Hueless or Provoke or Contrast by Hornbrook. Sometimes I use Long Exposure when the composition I’m going for doesn’t have to focus as closely as Camera+ will and I can tell that what I’m interested in is going to end up as a monochrome and more painterly image.

Post processing, I am totally addicted to using iColorama and Leonardo for what I call first-stage “darkroom” processing (that is, adjusting basic contrast, exposure, tone balance, clarity, sharpness, etc.) Depending on where an image takes me, I also use Pixelmator, Snapseed, HandyPhoto, Touch Retouch and Stackables all the time. I used to shoot a lot with Hipstamatic but now I mostly shoot with the other camera replacement apps and if I want to employ a Hipsta look, I’ll post-process by importing it into Oggl. Besides these, there are dozens of other apps I use for specific tools that the bigger consolidator-apps don’t offer.

 

‘Knight in Shining Armour’ – ©Meri Walker

How important do you think composition is in macro photography?

Well, I think composition is everything in photography of any kind. But, composition is particularly critical, with macro work, because it’s so much about simplicity. Less is always more for me in macro photographs.

 

‘Like a virgin’ – ©Meri Walker

How do you feel about abstract art/photography and in terms of macro photography?

Since I was tiny, I have “fallen into” flowers (I call them flowerscapes) and miniature landscapes of natural materials. The world where things are very small is truly magical and the magic for me comes from the abstract possibilities and mythical “scapes.” When I put aside everyday vision, and use my iPhone camera to help me see better what’s right in front of me, even if I happen to be on the street making images, I’ve left “the street” behind for the pure beauty of form, color, texture, light and shadow. It’s so beautiful there. It’s my sanctuary in the upside-down political world.

 

‘Meet me on the moon at midnight’ – ©Meri Walker

What advice would you give someone just starting out in mobile photography?

As a woman who’s had a camera of one kind or another in my hand for over four decades – either shooting assignments or making fine art – I’d say that the most important thing a person new to mobile can do is to forget about who’s an artist and who isn’t. That’s a 20th century conversation. Mobile photography now provides every human being with a smartphone with support for seeing/feeling more of what’s right in front of them. And then sharing what they’ve seen/felt with others – using the communicative power of the device – to open their minds.

It’s so obvious, but because of the way that smartphones evolved, it can be hard to pay attention to the fact that almost everyone on the planet is now using a communication tool that human beings used to think of as a language-link to others to make visual images. Certainly, a smartphone is a phone and a tool for text messaging. But it’s also a very powerful computer with a networked lens. And that makes it possible for us to immediately link our experiences with others without using language. It’s impossible to say yet what having “shared” vision – peer-to-peer – is actually doing to change human intelligence or human civilization. But it’s certainly changing it. I say we’re developing a new “language” without words. It’s a language that I don’t expect to understand fully before I die, but I find it very exciting to participate in it.

Having a camera in my telephone/pocket-computer-on-the-internet allows me, as a human being, to build visual intelligence in ways I never had access to before. Using my first cameras, I could “stop” time and really look at what was around me. But I did it alone. Inside my camera. Inside my darkroom. And it took a long time to get a print I could “share” with others. Now, I stop time all the time using a lens that’s on a network. And I can share what I “see” immediately and globally, using images instead of just words to exhibit/publish a snip of my visual experience. Being able to be “social” whenever I want to, right as I’m exploring my world, allows me to build new kinds of learning relationships with people who are also using images to make sense of their experience of being human. It’s utterly astounding, when you think about it. I certainly couldn’t do this with my “solo” cameras.

Mobile photography is, on the one hand, a lot “easier” than big-camera photography because the equipment and apps make it really hard to make a “bad” photograph. On the other hand, it takes a lot more than luck (or automatic exposure) to use images to describe and connect with others about our human experience.To do it well takes visual literacy, something that we used to only expect “artists” to develop or need. Now we all need visual literacy and we can use mobile devices to help us build it.

Because of its limitations, mobile devices require human beings to center ourselves right where we are and open up all of our senses, not just vision. Using a phone camera, it’s difficult to focus on subjects that aren’t in close proximity to our bodies. We often can’t “see” as clearly on the glass screen as we might if we were using a viewfinder in a traditional camera. So, we have to/get to “see” where we are and what we’re doing with more than just our eyes. This is both a great joy and a great challenge for people who have never thought of themselves as “artists.” So is “sharing” what we’ve seen with others, using social media, and learning more about ourselves and our world from others’ responses to our images.

We are, truly, on the threshold of a whole new way of communicating with one another that has very little to do with words. And we can’t do it “wrong.” The device makes it easy to capture images. What’s more difficult is paying attention to what we really see and what we’re actually feeling about it. This is the great gift of mobile photography and we can take all the time we’ve got to practice. Together.

Good thing the device is so easy to use.

 

‘Something in the way he moves’ – ©Meri Walker

What is your guiltiest pleasure, in photography terms?

My guiltiest pleasures are two:

One is… how much I love downloading and playing with new apps – anytime and anywhere I happen to have time.  Because I had the first version of Photoshop available (eons ago) and I’ve been a traditional black-and-white and alternative-process color printmaker, I know a lot about making images, both analog and digital. But, from the first moment I picked up my first iPhone 4, I say that I’m having a “desktop-darkroom-and-camera-bag-liberation experience.” I love the way apps enclose different sets of tools and routines into “packets” that I can open, play with, and close as needed.

The other is… how much I joy I get from simply travelling around my world with my little glass-faced-companion. It’s freeing up parts of my vision and mind in ways I never imagined possible. The simplicity and compactness of the phone and the editing apps – and the immediate access to global exhibition/publication/learning relationships with other mobile artists just makes me want to cheer!

Besides my bike and my first transistor radio, my iPhone is the best thing I’ve ever owned.

 

‘The Newborn’ – ©Meri Walker

‘Unfathomable Tenderness’ – ©Meri Walker

‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know’ – ©Meri Walker

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8 thoughts on “TheAppWhisperer – Mobile Macro Photography Interview with Meri Walker @iPhoneartgirl

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this. The point she makes about visual literacy is spot on – especially since everyone has access to a camera in their pocket. LOVE that!

    Her work is lovely and jarring and lyrical. Several images made me wish I’d taken them!

    Besides my bike and my books, my favorite possession is my iPhone! Thanks for the article.

    • Hey Kathy, thanks so much for the love. Clearly there are more and more of us coming to see that what we’re doing with our smartphones isn’t just snapshotting and selfies. There’s something amazing going on underneath our experimentation and sharing and it’s so exciting! It’s such a pleasure for me to be sharing here because The App Whisperer was one of my early “guiding lights” when I didn’t realize there were really other serious artists and photographers playing with their telephones. In fact now there’s a whole GLOBE full of us. How do I find you and your work?

  2. Dr. F, you are just way too kind. I love having a chance to share with you here and elsewhere. I’m not sure there needs to be a book on me, at all… but if there needs to be one, how about you writing it? I’m so busy making art I can barely find the time to manage files on the phone and in the cloud. Would love to meet you in person anytime you’re on the west coast!

  3. Flowers- a nice antidote to the crap Northeast weather the last 5 months with Spring not even really here yet. Cheers~

  4. I’ve been so jealous of all the water you’ve had in the NE, Tracy, while we have had almost none here. It’s going to be a trying summer out west… Trying to make the most of the new growth before we can’t water here. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the photos!

  5. Iʻm not really sure how I missed this before…or maybe I bookmarked and never got to read it. Or things have been crazy enough this spring that maybe I read it and forgot that I did. But I read this today, in mid June, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

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