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Oakland's Jackson London Square staton, a stop for the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

Oakland’s Jack London Square station, a stop for the Amtrak Coast Starlight. — ©IBIT/G. Gross

Smartphone apps that let you do more than just send your pics and videos give you tools to creatively share your travels with family and friends. IBIT is playing with a few of them, but there are lots.

Cellphone cameras have come a long way in a short time. Many now have sensors actually many times superior not only to those of earlier phones but even to the earliest full-fledged, full-sized digital cameras.

Learn a little about how to compose a photography, how to make use of light, shadow and color, and you can produce stunning pics with your iPhone or Android device — and perhaps even the newest Blackberry. Small wonder then that more than a few travelers now bring their smartphones to visually document their trips, and leave their cameras behind.

Even better, smartphone app designers have been busily cranking out applications designed to make the most of these miniaturized digital cameras. Everything from photo and video editing programs stripped down for use in a smartphone to applications designed to enhance the cameras themselves.

Of late, I’ve been dipping my digital toe into this world, and there’s more than enough out there to justify all-out, all-in, head-first plunge.

Let’s start with the smartphone camera itself.

the basic iPhone camera has some nice features, especially the Panorama, which lets you take super-wide-angle shots by slowly panning the phone across the horizon. The image at the top of this blog post is an example of an iPhone panorama.

But what if you want more than that out of your camera when you travel? Here are a few apps to consider.

There are lots of photo apps with filters and other special effects to let you jazz up your pics in artistic of playful ways, or try to salvage a bad shot — and more often than not, you’ll end up paying them.

My biggest interest is in apps that help me control the photographic process before the shot, the ones that do a better job of composing a shot and controlling the exposure than your basic smartphone camera.

The first of those that I came across was Camera+. Among the features I really love are the:

  1. Horizon Level — No more cockeyed horizons that need to be straightened out after the fact. Really effective when used in combination with the next feature.
  2. Stabilizer — A feature common on today’s digital cameras, you may need it even more with your smartphone camera. This app gives you one.
  3. Burst — This feature allows you to shoot multiple frames in rapid sequence with a single push of the button, about 5 frames per second, ideal for capturing fast action. Camera+ warns you in advance that shots taken in Burst mode will be of lower image quality than those in Normal mode, so try to save this for shooting in good light.
  4. Timer — to give you a chance to put yourself in the picture, without the now clichéd arm-extended pose — or even worse, the mirror shot.

Something a lot of iPhone users will appreciate. If you have a shot taken with the default camera app and you think it needs some tweaking, you can import it to Camera+ and enhance it there. Nice.

A montage made using Pic Jointer. ©IBIT/G.Gross


Even better, both for capturing fast action giving you more control over your pics while you’re shooting is Fast Camera, which claims to be the fastest camera app out there for iPhones. With a shooting speed of 800 frames per minute, it just might be.

It’s not free, costing $1.99, but you get all its filters and other effects when you buy it, no nickel-and-diming you for all-ons. Gotta like that.

Other iPhone camera apps worth checking out include:

Any of these will help you shoot better and edit better. But there’s another aspect of smartphone photography that’s almost as important as the images themselves, and that’s being able to share them via social media.

Pic Jointer
This is where smartphone cameras really come into their own for travelers. The combination of camera, camera app and social media make it possible not only for you to share your travels with family and friends in real-time, but to do it in creative ways unthinkable in the days of film photography.

One that lets you get creative with presentation is called Pic Jointer. This app lets you combine and frame multiple pics together in your own digital montage.

Specifically, Pic Jointer gives you 16 different image frames, each holding from a single shot to four different images in a wide variety of layouts — square of rectangular, vertical or horizontal. What’s more, you can use all 16 of those image frames in your choice of four different ratios — 1:1, 4:3, 3:4 or 3:2.

The flexibility doesn’t end there, though. You can use your fingertip to position each image within its individual cell. There horizontal sliders and other touch controls that lets you change the size ratio of each pic in the montage, as well as an auto-enhance filter and other visual effects.

And once you’re done, you can save the finished montage to your smartphone photo album email it, or post it online via four of the most popular social media outlets — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram, itself a great smartphone app for sharing images from anywhere.

But if it works as advertised, something tells me my favorite way of sharing my travels and travel pics is going to revert to a 21st century version of an old-school custom — sending postcards.

Not digital one, real ones, sent from your iPhone via an app called Postagram.

No, you’re not misreading that. Postagram turns your smartphone pics into actual postcards. You write your brief accompanying message just as you would on an actual postcard, then that will show up in the snail-mail boxes of the family and friends that you designate from your smartphone address book contacts.

This is not a free service. Once you’ve used up the handful of free trial postagrams you’re allotted, you pay 99 cents per card.

Yes, you can send your pics digitally anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds, but there’s still something pretty cool about getting a travel postcard in the mail — especially one that you know was custom-made just for you.

TRAVEL TECH THURSDAY: In search of travel apps, Part 1
TRAVEL TECH THURSDAY: In search of travel apps, Part 2
SAFE TRAVEL: Can your hotel room be hacked?

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