Tips and Tricks

Top 5 Pieces of Gear Every Photographer Must Have by Adrian Galli

Sorry, I got you to click. It is a clickbait title but bear with me for a moment.  

I read a lot of technology articles and a lot of them are about photography or cinematic gear. I’m the first to admit I LOVE new gadgets and gear but I also am very pragmatic about what is needed versus what is wanted. I will spend good money for good gear but I'm also a huge fan of doing a lot with less.

A lot of articles about photo gear are all “you need this to be a photographer” or whatever... blah, blah, blah.

So here is my list:

  1. Camera
  2. Lens
  3. Memory card or film
  4. Tripod  
  5. Lens cleaner

That’s it. Don’t be duped by people telling you that your camera is not good enough or your lens is bad or whatever. Go out and shoot. If you said, "Adrian, I have $500 and want to be a photographer," I'd say, "you can get everything above."

  1. Nikon D3100 — $239
  2. Nikon 35mm f1.8g DX— $166
  3. Sandisk 16GB SD Card — $11
  4. Polaroid 42" Travel Tripod — $17
  5. Zeiss Lens Cleaner Kit — $30

A grand total of $463. It may not be superlative gear but you’ll be photographing. And that’s more than can be said about a lot of gear reviewing and blogging clowns. Check out a few examples of photographs taken with the Nikon D3100 and Nikon 35mm DX lens.

Adrian's Life Rule #56: Go out and shoot.

Messages in iCloud by Adrian Galli


With the release iOS 11.4, a new feature that was promised for iOS 11 is now available. Many times we have messages on multiple devices: iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc. When we read them on one everything is fine but deleting messages between those devices was a bit of a challenge. This new feature will sync messages across all iOS devices logged into the same iCloud account. The good news, too, is as one gets new devices, messages will appear as you left them on the previous device.

If you have not an install iOS 11.4, I highly recommend it. If anything for this feature but also for the many minor fine-tunings that come along with any iOS update. 

Photos Tips and Tricks: Using Black and White Controls by Adrian Galli

Black and white photography is the original; classic, striking, moody, and reduces the photo to a more fundamental state. It is one of my favorite forms of photography and from some of the most famous photographers, there is nothing quite like it. Ansel Adams, Mary Ellen Mark, Yusuf Karsh, amount many others, are renown for their use of black and white.

In today's digital world, there are very few actual black and white cameras; the Leica Monochrom, Red Epic-M Dragon (monochrome) are a few notable examples that come to mind but, generally, if you're using a digital camera, even with a black and white mode, you're shooting color (RGB — red, green, blue) and it is converted to black and white. In other words, if you're making or seeing black and white digital photography, chances are you're look it was originally color.

Without giving a long scientific explanation of why or how digital cameras work, a "general" digital camera have a sensor with pixels, each capturing its own color: red, green, or blue. The Leica M Monochrom uses a sensor where each pixel captures only luminance.

Many of us simply can't afford a Leica or we would really like the option of color photography. Sadly, we can't, or currently can't, have a camera that is "dual-action" color or mono. As such, we'll need to settle for one or the other but don't be discouraged, a color photo can be altered into a stunning black and white photography.

In OS X's Photos app, there are three filters for use to convert your images: Mono, Tonal, and Noir (my personal favorite). Having covered how to use filters in a previous post, we'll forego these and move into a more advanced technique for black and white conversions and more flexible.

Original image, enhanced, no black and white.

Original image, enhanced, no black and white.

Opening an image and entering the edit mode, one will click on Adjustments. Even with the default option for adjustments, black and white is a already visible. Using the adjustment is a simple using the slider until the desired black and white appearance is achieved. This adjustment mimics the effects of using a color filter on black and white film.

Red Filter (right) vs. Blue Filter (left)

Red Filter (right) vs. Blue Filter (left)

This alone will give you more flexibility than just the general black and white filters. However, opening the adjustments will bring more control and a finer look should the basic black and white slider.

Upon opening Black & White, four additional sliders are available: Intensity, Neutrals, Tone, and Grain.

These adjustments are the key to taking advantage of the black and white capabilities of Photos. While it is a simple toolset, there is a great amount of flexibility, like nothing found in iPhoto, and also found on the iOS version of Photos. It is far different from yours average black and white conversion tool found in other apps, I have come to enjoy the ease and power.

Intensity: The strength by which the effect is applied to the photo.
Neutrals: Lightens or darkens the gray areas (midtones) of the photo.
Tone: Adjusts the photo for a more high-contrast or low-contrast look.
Grain: Adjusts the amount of film grain that appears in the photo.

For the final version of Art Deco Mountain, I initially expected I would use the Noir built-in filter, however, I found it too intense. While I wanted a nearly black sky with high contract with the highlights, the shadow area of the building was too dark.  Applying the Black & White adjustment and fine tuning the Intensity, Neutrals, and Tone, the sky looked as I wished as did the building. 

Art Deco Mountain

Art Deco Mountain

Making good use of these four adjustments on can achieve many high quality black and white effects on a photograph. This is to say, we should not forget about the many other adjustments available in Photos as things like Color, Contrast, Definition, and many others will also impact your black and white photography.

Polarr, A Powerful Photo Editing App I've Been Waiting For by Adrian Galli

While I was initially going to post another Tips and Ticks for Photos, this tops that by far. If you were looking for a tool to bring Photos to nearly the level of Aperture's editing, this is it. Polarr is an app I was only recently introduced to. I found its simple interface enticing so I gave it a try. The first impression encouraged me to dive deep into the features.

There are a whole lot of editing tools out there for OS X, iOS, Windows, etc. Many of them are only available on one platform or the other… maybe two if you’re lucky. Polarr, to my knowledge, is the only editing app that is available for iOS, OS X, Windows, Android, and for the Web. When discussing these cross platform features, they aren't “watered down” feature sets between desktop and mobile, mobile and web version; nearly full functionality is available across the platforms.

The adjustment toolset is the first and most impressive attribute. Here is a list to start:


  • Temperature 
  • Tint
  • Vibrance
  • Saturation
  • Exposure
  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks
  • Diffuse
  • Dehaze
  • Clarity
  • Sharpen
  • Denoise
  • Vignette
  • Grain
  • Distortion 
  • Fringing
  • HSL
  • Curves
  • Tones

This list is extensive and evolved beyond the basics. The HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) adjustments allow changes to specific color ranges. One can select a specific spectrum to adjust, green, for example. This is one of the main features I sadly missed from Aperture.

Polarr includes a distortion control; a very powerful feature in the age of digital photography. Most applications that work with RAW files include lens specific distortion correction, however, having a manual control is very welcome to the professional.

Curves, a standard for most any pro-end photo editing application, is included and permits adjustments to channels (RGB and master). Additionally, Tones, a not-so-common tool, allow one to adjust highlights, shadows, hue, and saturation independently.

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

One feature that piqued my interested was the denoise tool. Many applications have a noise reduction feature but few independently allow control of luminance and chrominance noise. They two are in the same family but have two different natures and, as such, having these two separate deniers is a win.

With its forty core adjustment functions, it begins to look very appealing to an editor. To take this a step further, in the age of Instagram, so many tools can overwhelm. Included in Polarr are over 100 filters to suit one’s many needs. A few of my favorites I’ve had the pleasure to playing with: Clear, Fujicolor, Vista, TM2, and IF5 (an Infrared filter!). Even with all these filters, creative types want their own, custom features. Polarr give one the opportunity to create and save custom filters and use them at one’s leisure.

These filters and adjustments work together but sometimes it is needed for an area of a photo to be adjusted while other areas are left alone. Simple gradient tools can give the virtue of a mask to one’s adjustments and fine-tune portions of the photo rather than the general global changes.

As one works on a photo, the beauty of a digital workflow, experimentation leads to great discoveries and can lead to not so great discoveries. Polarr, with its many features, not only gives unlimited undos but an history palette; a timeline of all the adjustments one has made; jump back one step or one hundred steps and all the way to the original if needed.

But the reason I put another post on hold in favor of this review, the feature that sold me beyond the afore mentioned, Polarr, as of today, released an update to their OS X version with full support for Photo Extensions. And this isn’t a half-hearted attempt by many other applications. When a photo is processed into Polarr using the extension, the entire Polarr editing suite is available; every adjustment, every filter, unlimited undo history, all of it. There is no need to organize in one application and edit in another. No need to export a RAW or JPEG from Photos, save to desktop, open another application and import it for editing only to do the same process in reverse to return the newly edited photo to Photos and using additional storage space: organize in Photos, edit in Photos, edit in Polarr.

With a simple, clean interface Polarr caught my attention. Having nearly all the same tools available to me on my iPhone and iPad impressed me more. Being able to use even other platforms as Windows and Android, online through a web browser, gave the impression the developers were serious. Having a rich toolset and access to them via extensions in Photos, really sold the whole package.

Polarr for OS X runs $19.99 and can be complimented with an iOS version for free (though, all the features is an in app purchase of $9.99). I highly recommend it. Having use many photo applications from Photoshop to Aperture, Affinity Photo (another favorite) to Pixelmator, iPhoto to Tonality, this is a simple yet sophisticated imagine editing application that I’ll be utilizing a lot.