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Photographing SFO with BlackBerry Torch

I’m an enthusiastic amateur photographer.  Part of my enthusiasm comes from being married to an art photographer, and part of it is fascination with the creative process in the digital age. So, I like to think that I might occasionally take a decent photograph (check out my flickr stream).

Last week I was strolling through the SFO International Terminal on my way home after a couple of days at the GigaOm Mobilize Conference, and at the RIM Redwood City offices.  It was late in the day, and the International Terminal was empty – a lull period between the late day flights to Asia, and the redeye flights back to the east coast of North America.

I didn’t have my Nikon DSLR with me, so I snapped the image above with the new BlackBerry Torch 9810.  The BlackBerry is a pretty simple camera, but surprisingly versatile.

This image is actually a composite from 3 images stitched together in Photoshop Elements. I stood at the centerpoint in the image, and slowly rotated left to right snapping images, which I then merged later. The original images are these three (click on any of them if you want to see a larger version):




All three images are quite noisy.  Noise, in photography, refers to chromatic or pixel distortion that occurs when the picture is taken.  It’s a very common problem with snapshot cameras, especially in low light, and my BlackBerry is no exception.

On my first attempt to stitch the photographs together, I noticed clearly visible bands as a result of the first photograph being quite a bit noisier than the second.  So, I used PictureCode’s Noise Ninja filter to clean it up.  Here’s an enlarged before and after from a section of the terrazzo floor in the first photo so you can see the difference.  The noise reduction removes some detail, but it also gets rid of the graininess of the original.



Next I used Photoshop Elements “merge panorama” tool to create the composite image.  Now, there are a number of settings you can use on this tool.

If you use the defaults, you’ll get an image like this:


There isn’t a lot of usable photograph in this merge, however.  So I generally add the “remove vignette” and “correct geometric distortion” settings which results in an image like this:


The corrected image has much more usable picture in it than the uncorrected image.  Plus, I like the slightly curved distortion that it has introduced into the photo.  It gives the impression that it was taken with a wide angle lens.

After that, the remaining adjustments I made included:

  • brightening the image by about 20%
  • adding a warming filter.  Elements has a feature that allows you to imitate the effect of an old-skool glass filter, and in this case I chose an 81B, which compensates for the bluish cast of fluorescent lighting.
  • bumping saturation by 10%.

Then I straightened, cropped, and uploaded.

And this was the final result (click on it to see a larger version).  It turned out pretty well, and more than a few people have been surprised that it was taken with a BlackBerry.

SFO 3 copy

So next time you’re wandering around without your SLR, and you see something interesting, just snap it.  You won’t be disappointed.  You can take great pictures with a camera that’s as simple and easy to use as the one in my BlackBerry.

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Buy mobile phones October 3, 2011, 12:59 pm

    wow these pictures are very high in the quality!

  • @ekkescorner October 24, 2011, 3:26 am

    thx for the tips … my Nikon D1 got broken and I have to buy an new Nikon SLR. in the meantime I have to take photos using my smartphones.
    BTW: did some photos at night from my hotel room in SFO while attending BBDevCon. iPhone failed – but snapshots from BB 9800 – Camera set to 'Night' – are well done. …will follow your tips …

  • Anthony Reinhart January 2, 2012, 2:48 pm

    As a BlackBerry photo enthusiast myself, I love what you've done here. I love my DSLR, but there's something alluring about the challenge of making artful images on a smartphone. Well done!

  • Carlos Longarela May 4, 2012, 10:12 am

    God shot and post-process Alec. A good example of mobile photography!!!

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