Smartphone Perspectives


Not so long back a blog post by photographer John Steele on the pros of using a smart phone for taking photographs turned up in my timeline.

Of course, you’d have to live under a rock, and that rock would have to be in the middle of a very large and uninhabited space to not realise the dominance of smart phones in 21st century everywhere. Not just for the photographic capability, but also for their connection to the wider internet, and all their other conveniences. Let’s not forget the well worn trope of folks staring mindlessly into their screens 24-7.

I’m a bit of an Instagram nut as you already know, but when I’m not posting pictures there I can be found taking pictures of other things. Like John Steele, I also use Snapseed, but mostly on my iPad where I actually edit pictures taken with my DSLR. I decided I’d download the app again to my iPhone and try it out on my shots there.

I’ve used other apps for editing photos before, like Camera+, but I’m more familiar with Snapseed’s simplicity of use, and I quite like the colours and tones that come from the editing process. They’re not as smooth or natural as Lightroom on a desktop, but they can almost give an HDR effect.

Here’s a few recent spring type shots taken around Suwon, with a Gangwon-do cameo in there for added effect, that I’ve edited with Snapseed over the past week of two.

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As I am the proud owner of the humble iPhone 4, which is approaching vintage status at this stage, the pictures probably don’t have the clarity of newer and more advanced Smartphone cameras. When I put them up on a larger screen they could do with some more clarity as the graininess is pretty obvious. I could buy a new phone I suppose, but after dropping over 500,000 won on this one a few years back I‘m inclined to want to get more milage from this – I also like the idea of have a phone bill of a mere 30,000 won every month.

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And yes, I know that all of these pictures are in colour.

A Year in Instagram


Here is my Year in Instagram. 508 Images, I believe, and over 9 minutes of wonderful filtered goodness.

Just in time for the new year I’ve come across a neat little app for the iphone called Flipagram. Essentially it collects all your photographs and allows you to organise them into a very simple slideshow, which you can then share across your various social networks, or whatever.

I had been looking for something like this to share my past year of photographs taken on Instagram, an app I’ve a lot of time for and one I enjoy not only posting but also looking at other people’s photographs. Of course it has it’s critics, but it also has its avid users (such as myself) who have taken amatuer mobile photography to a different level. For me, I use it as a photo-blogging or daily-photo tool (not that I post every day), as well as a convenient way of sharing photographs across multiple platforms.  I’ve spoken about Instagram a bit before so I’ll try and break new ground here.

You can read other Instagram related pieces here:

Instagramming My Environment October 2013
Italian Students Speak August 2013
In the Evening on the Twentieth Floor September 2012

What I’ve managed, eventually it has to be said, is to put together a slideshow of every instagram shot I’ve taken over the past twelve months, totalling over 500. I say eventually because this only came about after a number of mishaps which can probably be blamed on my slowly aging iphone 4, my dodgy internet connection, and faults with the app itself. I know there are faults because the person who made me wise to this app also expressed frustration with the actual processing.

It turns out that you can’t leave the app during the creating process, so I had to keep tapping the screen and to watch the percentage dial gradually progress towards 100%.  On more than one occasion my vigilance failed me and it was back to the start with my slideshow creation game, and by back to the start I mean all the way back.

That being said, both of us have created an almost 10 minute long slideshow with over 500 hundred shots, so perhaps it isn’t easy to actually develop an app capable of doing this fluidly. I think sometimes with the over propenderence of new tech and apps we just expect outright for things to work to our incredibily far reaching and rigid expectations. Nothing is ever really perfect, is it? But the more we see new things our expectations seem to spiral further beyond a reasonable level.

I could go about doing it the way I was actually considering doing which is to go through my folders on my computer and copy and paste all my backed-up instagram shots from the past twelve months. This would not only be frustrating, but undoubtedly one hundred times more tedious and prone to mistakes than this newer means of accomplishing the task at hand. Equally handy is the ability to go through Facebook albums to create a similar experience, and it is something I might do next.

The Flipagram app just about to process another slideshow,

The Flipagram app just about to process another slideshow,

In the end the final product came out rather well, and if I had some nice long piano concertos uploaded onto my iphone it would have been ideal. As it turned out I had no music at all. So once the slideshow was finished processing I had to save it onto dropbox, and from my laptop upload it to youtube where I used some of their ad supported music – the only free music they had was the Funeral March, which was not what I was looking for.

Do you use Instagram? Why not make your own Year in Instagram and share a link in the comments. 

Also, a big happy new year to all my readers!

Hwaseong Again


I’ve been living in and around Suwon for over four years, and without doubt one of the most interesting places to visit is Hwaseong Fortress at the centre of the city. I’ve written about it before I believe, and I think if you spend two minutes with a Google search you’ll find ample information on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only from your typical Korean government websites praising all that is wonderful about Hwaseong, but also a shovel full or two of blogs in English by other visitors (if I could suggest somewhere to start, I’d suggest taking a walk with the Qi Ranger).

But me being who I am have grown a little used to the fortress and can only explore so much of its windy wall. It’s always enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but what I find more worthwhile is a wander in between the many streets which snake in and out on either side of the 300 year old (or thereabouts) fortification. This space is old Suwon. It is where the city sprung from, and from the busy markets of Paldalmun to the laziness of the pretty much everywhere else, there is a maze worth getting lost in.

I think I’ve had a look at about 5% of what this area has to see, but regardless each step on a familiar pathway still intrigues. There’s something about the unspoilt ugliness of these narrow, often poorly maintained streets. And while they create this impression, the closer you look the more you see that they are in fact well looked after, just not by the city, but by the people who live there. It’s a bit of a paradox I suppose, but again, that’s probably why I find it interesting.

On Sunday (November 24th) I was wandering around with Herself, her folks, and of course +1. It was a dreary afternoon, a day that only Hwaseong’s surrounding area could only look well in. We took our time strolling around trying to find a restaurant which didn’t specialise in either fried chicken of boiled pig’s feet, both of which I adore, and needless to say I took a few pictures.

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Of late I’ve been experimenting with editing. Previously, I have just taken pictures and posted them here as I consider getting as many pictures taken as possible and then sharing them to be my main objective. I’ve also attempted to use editing software and failed royally, mainly due to my own impaetience.

A good friend in Korea put me on to an easy way of editing quickly and effectively, and I’ve been doing it regularly of late. It’s a simple as this. I use the Snapseed app on my ipad to edit quickly photos which I can now transfer to my photo album simply through dropbox, or indeed directly off my memory card thanks to a simple card reading device which I picked up for a very reasonable price. I’ve always thought that Snapseed was a good app, although not having the ease to upload and edit photos quickly seemed to turn me off using it (I am realising that I must be very impartient with technology and my use of it). Over the past few weeks though, I’ve been enjoying editing my photos, especially touching up the colours, shading, light, and some moderately effective sharpening. The success I’ve had with my photos is encouraging me to challange myself again and learn how to use photo editing software.

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All in all though, photography has been keeping me quite busy of late, and if you pop over to my flickr page you’ll see some of my many uploads, some edited and some not, including some late uploads from holidays in 2012 to both Thailand and Malaysia.

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All photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013. All rights reserved.

Instagramming My Environment


Friend and travel blogger Steve Miller a.k.a. The QiRanger, has started a new October series of videos titled Eye on Your Environment. His aim is to look a little closer at the world around him, and to talk about what makes his environment special to him. I can see a lot of worth in this kind of post (and have tried myself before), but especially because Steve doesn’t live too far away from me and in an environment which is not too dissimilar to Yeongtong.

I thought after watching Steve’s video that I could do something similar. Regulars to this blog will know that I don’t really do video, although I do do photographs, in fact arguably too many photographs. Although that may be others opinion’s of me sneaking into my work, but still lots of photos is me, regardless of the quality.

One way of photographing I’m also quite passionate about is with Instagram. Now, frankly I don’t care about your opinions of the photo sharing phone application, as I have mine, and if it’s something you feel is close to the most evil thing in the planet then I imagine you should reconsider your priorities, or whatever.

I use instagram to basically chart my motions and impressions, although I limit it to those which I believe to be aesthetically pleasing (in my own eye) or particularly interesting. As I live in Yeongtong you can rest assured that a lot of my images make a big deal of trying to make Yeongtong look aesthetically pleasing. This may be the biggest challenge at times.

I stem from the belief in photography that there is a certain amount of beauty to be found in everything ugly. In fact, I find that so-called ugliness is in fact more pleasing to photograph as it is the effects of humans on the environment which interests me. And with regard to the environment which is itself a human creation, the effects of time and weather and lives interchanging in all the multitude of ways it does is where my eye will usually be drawn for a closer look.

Instagram, the social photograph sharing app, is ideal for showing what I see as unique, and worth letting others see also. Of course the fact that the app is linked with my twitter, flickr, tumblr, and facebook, and there’s the convenience of having it always with me on my phone allowing for me to be in a position to have a photograph taken, tweeked, and shared within moments. I think I do have a problem with over-tagging, but then one must do one’s best to try to attract more followers. This is the internet afterall and if I don’t stake my claim (which is basically the same as screaming my side of the argument as load as possible), who is going to listen?

Back to the QiRanger and what I started out to say.

Yeongtong itself is not a pretty place. It seems to constantly shape itself into a copy of everything else in the neighbourhood. It is a place where you can imagine everything constructed or used to construct sitting on a shelf with a pricetag. You can feel that all which was made here was in the imagination of an architect, and not a particularly good one at that. Everything was once shiny but now after fifteen or so years the price paid for the sparkle has proven to be a poor substitute for the more durable alternative.

The broken paving slaps and cobblelock tiles where the poorly levelled earth has come uneven. The benches have detiorated and but still usable. The footpaths are uneven and the streets are a mess of cars poorly parked and those basing the rules of the roads on their chances of not getting caught by the police. The facades of the buildings are long past any notion of contemporary, not just because of the red-blue-green neon flashing constantly, but typically tacky bad christmas decoration like attachments to the painted concrete. Lets not even start with the now unwashed glass that gives a eerie mottled effect to so many businesses. Let me not forget to mention the constant buzzing of delivery scooters.

But Yeongtong has its charm. It has its coffee shops and it has, for the most part, clean streets. It has restaurants and children ploughing the streets between hagwon hours and drunks jostling for each other’s shoulder space as the leave restaurants later in the night. There are parks and trees which fill with sunshine, laughter, and silence as the rest of the neighbourhoold rumbles around it arguing with car horns. There is an independence about Yeongtong in its many boutiques and restaurants which can be found away from the usual franchise filled streets. There are people who smile when you walk in and talk with you like a person, who share a story, and ask you about your day. And this may not seem like something to talk about but often you forget in some places that there are people working there, not just teenagers programmed to chirp 안녕하세요 in the same nasally annoying voice.

From where I work on the outskirts of the neighbourhood to my home on the twentieth floor, Yeongtong is a vista on a world in motion. Yeongtong was made to facilitate living both for the Samsung behemoth and Seoul behemoth. It is not a perfect place, nor is it so imperfect that you cannot live there. Its perfections and imperfections are in many ways subtle, and in that regard I feel that the immediate displeasure you may have here will soon be overrided by the time you find what it is that gives Yeongtong its own sense of place, and that is its livability. Yes all places are livable, but for me Yeongtong will never be perfect and I could not stand living in the perfect home.

Home is where we do our best to subsist and survive. It is where we go to escape from the outside, and where we delve into for our own pleasures, be they a favourite chair, a flatscreen television, complete silence, or every so often a stunning sunset or the brightest of sunlight streaming inside right into the late evening.

Yeongtong is where I live, it is my environment, and I document this with Instagram as my medium. Please join me for my so-called ride of living in the bellows of Korean suburbia.

Instagram: conzieinkorea

Please click on photos for larger images on flickr

Rando Man


The photo below does not inspire much, I imagine. It is in many respects quite depressing. A dry and slightly burnt piece of toast, a cold strip of streaky bacon, and the end of a rather watery looking class of orange juice, all wrapped around a white circular border. It is, other than the leftovers from my breakfast, a pitifully ordinary scene worth no moment of fame in any media. It is not artistic, so don’t go thinking it is. The loose crumb is only a loose crumb, the juice was as I left it, as was the toast and bacon. Just to the right was a eggy plate and a mug with a thin brown layer of leftover coffee. The photo was entirely random. So why bother?

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Regulars to this blog are probably familiar with my use of instagram and flickr, and even on this blog itself my photographs can take up a large amount of many posts, although not all. I use an iphone 4, which by today’s standards is quite a simple piece of phone tech, but it does have a camera on it, which I have with me always and which is very easy to operate and relatively decent quality pics. I also use a Sony DSC-H9 and a Nikon D5100 of course, but my phone is undoubtedly my main camera.

As well as being addicted to taking pictures, I’m also quite interested in new apps and phone related tech, including of course new phones which I cannot afford, or indeed apps that I don’t want to pay for because I’m cheap. It’s quite a dynamic area of the tech market now, and unless an app is successful you can see many being replaced by something similar within a short period of time. For example, I’ve lost count of the amount of different apps I’ve downloaded to help arrange my time, for want of a better description, and I have deleted all of them, prefering to use my regular phone calendar and Evernote. The thing is if you visit the Apple App Store you will always find some new fangled app lauded as app of the week or something which promises to be the next best thing in productive time saving organisational technology.

I’m ranting. I should stop before I lose control.

The point I’ve been getting to is there are always loads of apps which always seem to have some greater purpose, some means for making your life better, or for making your smart technology experience smarter and more wholesome. This takes all apps, from photograph taking, games, organisers, and social networks, to spirit levels and voice recorders, into consideration. But with this little camera app which took the photograph above, there seems to be absolutely no real significant purpose whatsoever. And that’s why it’s worth talking about.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not selling out, not that I was every sold in or anything. The app is free, or comes at no cost to you, Mr or Mrs/Ms Downloader. I, like every other single person on this planet, am a consumer, and I, like every other consumer on the planet, like to flaunt my consumed goods. So please allow me this moment.

I want to look at what the app actually does, and how what it does fits in with how I often look at how the world exists with so many people in it. I think it does something kind of special, something which we don’t look at enough in the realms of technology and even in terms of human existence. I’m getting pretty deep here, so let me take a couple of steps back and explain what the hell is going on.

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The name of the app is Rando, and it’s a camera app. It functions by simply taking a photograph of something within a white circular border, such as some of the images in the examples above. There is no title, there is no ability to like or share, there is no way to edit, stylise, or even upload a particular photograph. All you know is that there was a photograph taken and more often than not, you can find out where it was taken. It is then sent to the great cloud in the sky where it is randomly sent (although I’m sure there’s some algorithm at play) to another user somewhere in the world. In return you recieve another users photograph. There is no way you can tell who sent or received the photograph. You may or may not find where this user is. It’s as complicated as that.

So says social media addicted world, what’s in it for me? Nothing whatsoever. And that’s what is so great about it.

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It’s no secret that the internet has been inundated with egotism since social media took off. And the greater its influence grows the more we see the egos expand, myself included. One word which is constantly bandied about with social media which is generally not used in the correct context is the word ‘share’. We see it all the time, and particular websites use this term to insinuate that they are providing a fantastic opportunity for you to provide your loved ones and friends with snippets of your life. Of course, this is the idealistic perspective, because anyone who uses social media knows that it is rarely used as a place for sharing, more as a means of displaying.

What this particular app does is different. It is not in any way social, it is more voyeuristic, but not in the sense that you actually know what you are looking at. It sends a picture of nothing, really, other than something which is happening or exists in another place which you cannot see. There’s no liking or sharing of this photo, there’s no applause or means of advertising, there is simply a picture within a white round border. It’s simple but it is effective in its own little way.

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This little app has a fair amount going for it in terms of how we interpret the world. Take exactly where you are sitting or standing at this very moment. Look around you, and while you’re looking make sure to closely examine some fairly rudimentary objects in your proximity. I’m writing at my desk in work so obviously I’ve my computer with a printer just to the side left of it, and too the right I’ve a phone and pen holder, a jar with a dried flower, some paper clips, a stress ball (never used), some throat sweets, photographs, and other nondescript objects which on their own are unnoticable and insignificant. But they are there, sitting, minding their own businness and waiting to be interacted with, much like everything else in the world.

How we choose to interact with much of the world is our own decision. It is unfortunate that humans have chosen that our interaction is mostly on the phyisical and destructive level, rather than a visual one, where we just accept and appreciate each individual element. With Rando though we are seeing tiny scraps of originality, perspectives of this huge planet shared indiscriminately for the purpose of … well I’d like to say enlightenment but I’ve a feeling it’s a lot simpler than that.

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If you think of it in the way that it is simply just informing you or whoever views the photograph that this part of the world exists, and that someone is here, doing something similar to you. We get that impression that the world is not that small, and that we are all less unique. Despite how much we like to think about it people everywhere share the same gripes and concerns, and they see the same things, granted they may be in different shapes.

To conclude, if you could imagine yourself flying on a transcontinental flight as I have done many times, flying over the massive Eurasian continent, and somewhere over Kazakhstan or the Ural Mountains, you look at the flightshow and all you see is a green expanse of country with a few rivets here and there to imply terrain. You stretch your head into the window as much as possible to try and glance down at the land below. There is nothing you can see but you know without a doubt that something is happening there, and someone is there living away and not trying to fly with you. If you thought for a minute what they are doing you would not find a recognisable image, or anything remotely familiar.

I don’t think that this phone app really bridges any gaps here, as it’s completely random, but it does allow you the simple moment, like flying 20,000 metres above or even just driving by fast in a car, where we can catch a closeup of another part of the world. For a minute, we are given the opportunity to consider it. That is all. And then let the world continue to rotate again, until you take another picture that is.

You can download Rando here if you want.

This blog post is not intended as a review and I don’t get any money or kudos from the company who made the app. It was just something that struck me as being worth talking about.

P.S. It seems there’s an incredible amount of Korean pictures coming through. What’s up with that?