Is £2 enough for one man’s dream?
Every time I download an app, I wonder…what’s the story behind the app and what do I really get for a few pounds…how much blood, sweat and tears does £2 buy me? Well, let’s find out…
Two of the many reasons I love photography because it grants me access to see into other peoples worlds to understand their story and I get to test pilot new cameras, apps and new versions of photography apps before they are released.
Hueless has been my old faithful black & white app since I switched to iPhone last year and became a finalist in the iPhone Photography Awards:
So, having worked with the developers of Hueless, I was curious to find out the inside perspective of whether £2 is enough for one man’s dream? Over to Christopher:
Dreaming in Black & White
“I’m not even sure that’s possible on the iPhone…”
My development partner and ninja-level coder, Michael, looked at me with a doubtful shrug, but agreed to check into it and see if there were any ways to achieve the kind of image control I was looking for.
While enjoying the photographic freedom I had discovered with the release of the iPhone 4, what I wanted was an iPhone camera that mimics what its like to shoot real black & white film.
Exposure control, contrast control, color filters. I was aware of several post-processing apps that could give me the photographic result I was looking for, but none that could do it in real time, as I was taking the shot. I wanted taking photographs with my iPhone to feel like “real photography”.
I knew how I wanted to shoot photographs with my iPhone, and that idea became Hueless.
We can’t do that in iOS 4
We got really serious about building Hueless in May 2011. The early days of development were tough going.
It became clear there was no easy way to hook into the iPhone camera and gain control over the image before it made it’s way to the screen… and the photographer’s eyes. iOS 4 simply would not allow us to do the image adjustments we wanted in real-time.
Compromises were discussed, alternatives formulated… and then something fortuitous happened.
The announcement of iOS 5 on June of 2011 opened whole new areas of image manipulation to us. Suddenly we had direct access to the image from the iPhone sensor. We could take that image and manipulate it in real-time, layering effects and calculating their interactions on the fly.
We could give photographers true black & white photography with a wide range of adjustments that they could preview as they composed their shot. The possibilities were exciting to say the least.
Early results & creating a design language
As soon as the iOS 5 beta was available to developers, we began working on the basic interface language and rudimentary image capture/storage.
Our early working tests were promising, propelling us forward as each test build of the app brought faster and better photographic results. Experimentation with effect layering, sequence and formula yielded photographs that reflected real world film camera abilities and results.
We mapped out the basic Hueless feature set: Black & white preview, exposure slider, contrast slider, color filters in red, orange, yellow, green and blue with intensity control and 4 aspect ratios covering 4:3, 3:2, 1:1 (square) and 2.39:1 (cinema).
We also made the decision to save photos directly to the built-in iOS Camera Roll. We felt that consolidating all photos into a single repository made sense from a photo management standpoint, a workflow point of friction for every photographer, and with the introduction of iOS 5 and Photo Stream your Hueless photos would be available on all of your devices.
I shoot therefore I am
One of the biggest questions in terms of app features that remained for us to decide was one of shooting vs. post-processing. I had no illusions, if we did not include the ability for Hueless to post-process photos users had already taken with other camera apps there would be blowback from some photographers.
Post-processing iPhone photos had become very popular in the early days of the App Store and Hueless was going to be a different take on the iPhone camera. Staying true to the original vision of Hueless as a shooting app was important to us (me especially), but might turn out to be controversial.
In my next segment/post I will talk about the process of building Hueless from the ground up, squeezing every ounce of speed possible out of the code and preparing Hueless for its debut to the world.
Scraping the Metal
When I left you last week we had started testing concept versions of Hueless and mapping out the 1.0 feature set. After a successful 3 months of testing, which included shooting hundreds of photos to test variations in b&w processing formulae, all with a skeleton of a camera, we dug into the task of creating a polished app to contain and control this new-found photographic freedom. Working from our basic feature set, it was time to put flesh on the skeleton.
One of the main goals for the interface was to provide easy access to the various camera controls and image adjustments from within the shooting interface. We didn’t want photographers to navigate cumbersome menus or separate panels for access to the critical functions needed during composition and shooting. We had made the commitment to Hueless as a true shooting camera and it was important that translate to the user interface.
A helping of features and a dash of personality
As Michael worked on the Hueless image processing underpinnings, I designed a straightforward camera control scheme consisting of small, semi-transparent on-screen buttons overlaying the live image to act as switches, expand to access options, and reveal image adjustment sliders. The semi-transparent buttons were a good balance of functionality and subtlety, with the added ability to hide them with a tap for a distraction-free live image.
In order to create something unique that would impart personality onto Hueless and provide useful function for the photographer I created a shutter button control cluster consisting of a mock filmstrip with a shutter button at one end and 4 frames that contain thumbnails of your most recent shots. The filmstrip advanced with each new capture into an SLR style film roll at the other end. It worked well as a simple review mechanism and the animated filmstrip seemed to endear itself to our early testers.
The Hueless interface has evolved as we have added & refined features and supported new device capabilities. I will touch more on updates and the evolution of Hueless in part 3, coming next week.
Putting some color in our black & white
Creating digital filters that mimic real world results was no easy task. Screw a blue filter to an SLR and the effects are instant and dramatic. Replicating that aspect of traditional photography was a painstaking process that involved math that is beyond my comprehension. Thankfully, Michael had the math firmly in hand and I set about the task of testing his various different approaches to implementing the color filters against real-world results.
Using a Studio Neat Glif, Manfrotto tripod and various accessories, I crafted a rig that would allow me to take the same photograph with my iPhone as with my Canon DSLR. I took series after series of test shots with optical glass color filters on the DSLR and our digital color filters in Hueless in order to compare our filter effectiveness and color balance with the optical filter reference shots.
Over a period of 2 months we refined our methods and achieved color filters that produce very similar results as shooting black & white film with optical color filters… with the added ability to adjust the intensity.
Pulling the pieces together
With months of concept testing, design, development, and refinement behind us, we found ourselves in October of 2011. Hueless was really coming into focus. We had successfully integrated the interface I had designed with the amazing real-time filtering that Michael had created. There was a long way to go before Hueless was ready for the App Store, but we had bested the main hurdles in our path.
Although we had been showing our progress to a few select people, it was time to create a pool of interested amateur, semi-pro and pro photographers that could help us take it the last mile and make Hueless great.
Testing and tweaking
In November we began a concerted effort to put Hueless in the hands of photographers to test and comment on. It was exciting to see the black & white photographs they were sending back and the feedback we received on the Hueless interface proved to be useful from the very beginning of the beta cycle.
Beta testers are invaluable to creating an app that is bug-free as possible and intuitive to the user. Even app behaviors and interactions that seem trivial were greatly influenced by the feedback we received from our beta testers and it made a world of difference in the overall polish of the app. Many hours were spent tweaking the user interactions so that everything from focusing to adjusting the black & white image feels responsive and seamless to the photographer.
Refining the app based on tester feedback was going well. We had established a dedicated pool of beta testers and as February 2012 came into view we could clearly see our remaining path to Hueless 1.0 and release on the App Store.
I hope you enjoyed part 2, in my final post I’ll bring you a bit of what it was like to ramp up for release of Hueless, how it was received, and the ways we have evolved along the way. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy shooting!
Ramping up for release
In last week’s post we had Hueless in the hands of photographers to beta test and were nearing the finish line. They had been feeding us a steady stream of feedback and Hueless had grown into a refined app with the image adjustment capabilities, speed and usability that would make Hueless a unique and powerful addition to the toolkit of iPhone photographers.
In mid-May we submitted the final build of Hueless to the Apple for review and eagerly waited our turn in line. After 5 long days Hueless went into review, was approved and was released on May 21st, 2012, almost a year to the day we had begun development. Huge amounts of mental, physical and creative energy were expended to bring Hueless to life and it was time to see how the word of iPhone photography would receive and use our black & white camera.
A black & white reception
From the start it was clear that Hueless would find it’s place with photographers looking for the type of shooting experience we were offering. Hueless challenged photographers to think about the end product before they shoot the photo, something that in my opinion was sorely missing from the App Store photography offerings at the time. iPhone photography was dominated by post-processing apps with heavy-handed filters that tended to make everyones photos look over-processed and the same.
The flow of photos
As Hueless gained in popularity and the volume of photos being posted to Flickr, Instagram and Twitter grew daily it was apparent that photographers were recognizing the power of real-time black & white photography and using Hueless in creative and amazing ways.
We saw the need for more features and over time we added `aspect ratios, refined the filter picker and adjustment sliders, added presets so photographers can save and recall their favorite Hueless image formulas and given Photogs the ability to save Hueless photos in TIFF and Maximum Quality JPEG formats, expanding their ability to edit and print high quality output.
It is a humbling experience to create a tool like Hueless and release it to the world. Hueless is enjoyed by thousands of photographers all over the world and the results have been amazing. When I see a Hueless photo posted to social media from a new country I feel a great sense of pride and renewed commitment that Hueless will continue to evolve and grow along with the iPhone photography community.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the process and passion behind Hueless. Enjoy shooting!
______________________________________________________________________________________Bio: Christopher Radliff
Christopher is a designer, photographer and co-founder of Curious Satellite, developers of Hueless & Huemore camera apps for iPhone.
Over the past 20 years he has directed small, focused design & development teams, taught design and authoring techniques to the unsuspecting and given his best for the online lives of companies large & small.
Christopher currently designs things, shoots photographs, and lives life on the northern front range of Colorado, USA.
______________________________________________________________________________________If you enjoyed this and other articles….subscribe below or like Lightism on Facebook to keep up to date.