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An iPhoneography Stair Study

Michael Clawson - Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Over a week ago, I journeyed to Carmel, California for a working/family vacation. I say working because, being a digital entrepreneur equipped with laptops and mobile devices, I ended up having to travel with a few pressing client deadlines. Fortunately, I was able to finish them in a timely manner and enjoy the rest of my vacation! Now, Carmel is a truly beautiful seaside town perfect for any photographer wanting to capture its splendor and magic. While I spent time capturing images of the sea and surrounding wildlife, I found myself drawn to the many decorative stairways that reminded me of my visit to Europe. The stairways beckoned me to make a study, and so I set about to collect stairway images with my trusted iPhone 4s.  

For most of my iPhone shots, I start with an HDR master shot. If you are curious about my exact methodology, take a look at my Macworld presentations on Creative iPhone Photography and Creative iPhone Editing on For me, it’s very important to capture as much detail as I can with my original photo since I typically process my final creation using several apps and I want to make sure I have enough to work with from the beginning. Ironically, I decided to abandon this approach in favor of focusing in on the study itself, in that, I captured with the Apple Camera App in HDR mode, and then processed the images in my go to editing app, Snapseed. This really streamlined the process for me and allowed me to focus more on my subject, telling more of a story perhaps. 

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Below I have the original HDR camera app image on the left, and the corrected Snapseed version on the right. 


As you can see, even though there is quite a bit of detail in the original image, the highlights are rather predominant, giving the image a bit of a washed out look. So, how did I fix that? Snapseed has a fantastic adjustment tool called ‘tune image’ that allows you to adjust several color and tone aspects within the image in much the same way as you would using curves in Adobe Photoshop. Another cool tool in Snapseed is the selective adjustment, which basically allows you to drop an adjustment pin anywhere on your image and change the brightness, contrast, and saturation targeted for a specific area or areas, i.e. you can add multiple adjustment pins to a single image! Pretty cool. So, for this image, I started with the tune image tool and adjusted the brightness down, to emphasize the shadows and mid-tones, then I dropped a selective adjustment pin on the doorway and increased the brightness to bring back the highlights in the darkened doorway. I ran most images through the details filter to sharpen them slightly. Finally, as with almost all my images, I added a vignette using the center focus tool in Snapseed, which allows me to emphasize a particular area in my photo. In a nutshell, I essentially repeated this process with all my images to create a consistent feel for my study.  And, to create the illusion of depth of field, for some of my images I used the tilt-shift tool and blurred specific areas to add a dimension of depth, which is difficult for an iPhone to capture in a single shot.

Here is the complete Stair Study Gallery for you to enjoy! 

I really found myself liking the whole aspect of an iPhoneography study, and certainly intend to do something similar in the future. I would love to hear your feedback and comments as to the specific methods and approaches that you take with your iPhone photos. Note, I do moderate my comments since I receive a lot of SPAM, so if your comments don’t appear right away, please be patient and check back soon. 

Michael Clawson is Chief Fish at Big Fish Creations. Specializing in branding across multiple media platforms, Michael’s diverse repertoire includes a hybrid combination of designer and developer with emphasis on graphic design, branding, photography and communication. As a speaker, Michael has presented at several industry-specific conferences including Adobe Max and MacWorld.


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