the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



World in my pocket: a typical “tiny planet” app for making landscapes into well-rounded domains.


PHOTO-PROCESSING APPS HAVE PROLIFERATED WITH INCREDIBLE SPEED over the last ten years, making it possible for even the casual snapper to achieve nearly any look, either on the cheap or absolutely free. It’s created a miraculous marketplace. Impulse is immediately entertained, and the old risk and costs of trial-and-error attempts at certain effects are all gone. Trying something fresh costs us little but patience and time.

Fun thing is, even though lots of such apps are only designed do one thing really well, some are actually little trojan horses of alternate effects if you only, well, use them “wrong”, or at least counter-intuitively. For example, an app that’s made primarily to blend together double-exposures could also act as a cheap, fast HDR generator, with the combining of light and dark copies of the same image resulting in a composite that has a wide range of light-to-dark dynamics. It’s just a matter of ignoring the rather boring thing the app was designed for, or, if you like, using a kitchen knife as a screwdriver.

Some of my favorite one-trick-pony apps, ones that I would normally play with once and then forget, are the so-called “tiny planet” converters that take a horizontal landscape and make it look as if it were rolled up into a small separate world (see top) in which skyscrapers and trees jut out into empty space like something out of The Little Prince. It’s was a cool trick ten years ago, but, since everyone has now pounded what used to be a unique illusion into a single-stroke cliche, it becomes boring rather quickly. However, most of the tiny planet apps have adjustment controls that can actually take the “ball” and turn it inside out or even fold it over on itself. You just do the effect “wrong”, and go from there. And so, you’d start with something like this:


And use the orientation controls in the app to churn and twist it, until you get this..


The reason this becomes fun again is because it’s damn near uncontrollable. That is, the adjustments are so clumsy and crude that it’s hard to fine-tune them, meaning that it’s damned difficult to get anything like the same result more than once in a row. As a consequence you wind up producing one happy, unrepeatable accident after another…and that, actually, renders the thing perversely interesting to me. In fact, I’m now so into fun-intended consequences with apps that, when someone asks me about a new one, my first question is, “how do the pictures look when you totally screw it up?” Turns out, going nowhere in particular at warp speed is pretty trippy.


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