SHOTBOX Photo Studio: a review

SHOTBOX Photo Studio: a review

When it comes to light boxes for photography, there’s no shortage of options. They come in a wide range of prices, sizes, and materials. You can spend anywhere from thousands to tens of dollars. I hadn’t had much experience with trying one out, so when the folks at SHOTBOX offered to send me one to play with, I was happy to give it a shot (pun intended).


Given my aforementioned inexperience with using light boxes, I asked my friend Dave to come help me test it out, as he regularly uses them. Dave has a rather unique use for light boxes- he shoots miniatures, often pairing them with food items. Having used a few different light box setups, and having heard of this one, he was happy to help me put it to the test. He brought over some of his gear and we had some fun trying it out.


The first draw for us was the portability factor: the entire kit folds up and fits into a flat tote, which can easily slide into the corner of your car trunk. Part of the reason for this is that there are LED lights built right into the frame; there’s no additional lighting required, unless you use the SideShot, which is a small arm with additional lighting that can be aimed at the front opening of the box.


The LED lighting in particular was another attractive feature: the box has a switch on the front which allows you to toggle between the left or right light strip, or, have them both on simultaneously. Better yet, there is a dimming switch which allows you to experiment with different levels of brightness. If glare or other lighting issues are a problem, there is a Shield Kit included, and the website has a FAQ section which includes tips and a video on ways to reduce glare.


While the design of the box is geared towards mobile photographers, we found that, for the most part, it also works just fine with a DSLR camera. The box has a set of openings at the top which allow for aerial views, which most ‘big’ cameras can shoot through also.  If you’re using the SideShot, you’re going to need to use a mobile phone to get a straight on picture. It’s designed so a phone can lay on it (upside down) and shoot through the opening.


While we didn’t try inserting our own backdrops, the set of four that came with the Deluxe Bundle worked nicely. They come in green, blue, black and white; we stuck with the white as it suited our purposes. The backdrop kit is made specifically to work with the base kit, with a small rod which hangs nicely on the back of the interior. For those looking for an easy way to provide a wider range of background colors, some colored poster board will do the trick.


One thing to keep in mind is the size of the box: depending on what you’re planning to shoot, the area inside might be a little tight. Of course with Dave’s miniature figurines, this wasn’t an issue. The inside measures 14 1/4″ wide, 15″ deep, and 15″ tall, and then, depending on what you’re shooting with, you’ll need to figure out what type of crop will work best for your photo.


A top professional light box model can cost upwards of $10,000, whereas the cheapest kits can be found for around $20 on eBay and other similar sites. The SHOTBOX base unit falls on the lower end of this spectrum, at $149 (currently on sale for $129), while the Deluxe Bundle — which includes a tote, a backdrop set, and the SideShot — rings in at $219 (currently on sale for $199). If you’re someone who is looking for a solid light box, with mobility and ease of use as top factors, then SHOTBOX is for you.


Finished shots by Dave:

IMG_1023 IMG_1024


Polaroid Swing: Not Just Another App

Polaroid Swing: Not Just Another App

You’ve heard it before: “omigosh you have to check out this new app, it’s so cool!” So you install it, but within a week, it’s just wasting precious megabytes, sitting unused on your iPhone.

With this in mind, I was a bit skeptical about trying out Polaroid Swing; I’m already an avid Instagram/ Snapchat user and I wasn’t looking for another distraction or creative outlet to take up my time. However, after a week of trying out the app, I’ve been won over.

by @postaljeff

To call it a photo sharing app is a bit of a misnomer, because in reality what you are sharing is something like a one second GIF, which then has an added dimension of interaction to it. That added dimension is this: when you tilt your device, or swipe across the screen, you see the GIF move or come alive, in a way. It’s ideally experienced on a mobile device, but for those viewing this on a regular computer, you can swipe your cursor across the image to get the effect. Go ahead, try it on some of the examples shown in this article.

by @jps

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with some of the folks behind the app, and there were several things in our conversation that stood out to me.

For one, the very birth of the idea started with a different process than most. Rather than starting with a concept, such as coming up with ‘the next Instagram’ or some similar theory, co-founders Tommy and Freds’ vision was focused on the Polaroid brand, and what it might look like were it to have continued its legacy of innovation into the modern age. The result was this app, which captures the same ‘instant’ magic of its namesake, while adding an element of hands-on interaction. In some ways, when you’re holding your device in your hand and seeing the photo move, you’re actually emulating the emotion produced when a piece of Polaroid film comes out of a physical camera and develops before your eyes. It’s like seeing a Polaroid come to life: a kind of before and after.

by @parkerj

The second thing that I was impressed by was the preparation behind the product. As an example, they had two hundred hand-selected beta testers spend an entire year working on developing and polishing the end result. One of those people is Cole Rise, who was influential in Instagram’s beginning stages. The two guys behind the app are no slouches either. Co-founder Tommy worked for Barack Obama on his first presidential campaign, and both he and his partner Fred have extensive business experience while holding degrees from the London School of Economics. These two aren’t just a couple of friends working out of someone’s garage; they know what they’re doing.

by @colerise

I should probably talk a little bit about what I love about the actual app, as well. Visually, the design is sleek and extremely appealing. Each creation is meant to look like a classic Polaroid photo, with the easily recognizable white rectangular border. On my iPhone 6, the feed runs super smoothly and the image quality is amazing: it’s sometimes hard to believe that these one-second images were all created on iPhones. Enabling a high frame-per-second ability was one of the primary goals when creating the app. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, the app will soon support Android devices.

by @lola
I’m also a big fan of the simplicity of the app: everything is done in-app (i.e. no uploading fancy DSLR videos), with just a handful of filters to choose from and a 48 character caption limit (make them count!). For me, the allure of this simplicity is that it really encourages me to be creative within the simple confines of capturing a moment. Photographers may be used to framing a scene in their mind’s eye, but framing a one second video scene becomes a completely different adventure.

by @molly
Currently users are only able to ‘swipe’ or ‘like’ someone’s Swing, but plans to add the ability to comment will very likely roll out in the future. If there’s one thing I’d love to see more of on the app, it would be the ability to interact and be social with other users. Given the attention to detail and user input that they have demonstrated thus far, I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before these things become part of the app. So, let me just say: omigosh you have to check out this new app, it’s so cool!

You can find Polaroid Swing on the App Store.

New Release: Union App

The all-star Pixite LLC photo app suite gets an impressive boost this week with the launch of Union, a pioneering photo enhancement app
designed for intuitive, high-level image stacking, editing and masking. A natural extension of Pixite’s established photo editing apps, Fragment and Tangent, Union lets users quickly and easily replace backgrounds and combine photos in unique and creative ways. Union’s design appeals to professional photographers and hobbyists alike, featuring a clean, intuitive interface and the latest technologies in mobile graphic design. “It’s a brand new take on the entire masking procedure hanging the way you’ll think about layering, blending, and combining photos,” said one of Union’s creators, Ben Guerrette. “But it’s also easily understandable, ushering you through the steps without having to be super explicit.” Union artists can create superimposed, silhouetted, and double-exposure edits from their iPhones or iPads by combining images for surreal and sometimes radically creative compositions, while retaining uncompromising professional quality results. To begin, Union users load a background image, color fill, or transparent layer. Then, users load a foreground image or color fill that can be composited onto the background image. During either or both processes, users can make adjustments for brightness, contrast, color temperature, and saturation levels with a precision-focused slider.

In the final step, users add a mask layer that dictates the parts of the foreground to be erased to create the final blended image. Since the mask layer is non-destructive and separate from the foreground image, users don’t have to worry about permanently erasing or losing any parts of the foreground. Additionally, users can swap out the foreground and retain the mask that they have been working on. Editing supports both broad and minute adjustments for foreground image position and size, creating tight, smooth blending for an organic finish.

Highly precise tools erase unwanted image sections for seamless background and foreground integration. One of Union’s tools that has been optimized for mobile editing, the Magic Wand, is unique among those offered by other apps by allowing real-time adjustments, which drastically reduces time-consuming back-and-forth editing. Using Union’s Magic Wand, photo artists can complete both larger-scale sections and minute erasures with simple tap-delete functionality. For up-close detailed work, the brush tool’s solid, gradient, and square brush options coupled with zoom-adjustable brush size give the users unmatched flexibility and precision. Used together with the Highlight tool, which clearly shows the masked areas using a semitransparent red overlay, Union allows users to achieve pixel-perfect blending. On top of its exceptional masking tools, Union brings a whole new level to blending by including shape and image loading for masks. Instead of starting from a blank mask layer, users can select from various geometric shapes or convert any photo in the Camera Roll into a high contrast black and white image to be used as a mask, offering opportunities for silhouetted compositions that weren’t previously possible. Finished Union images can be saved in full-resolution format, exported, and shared on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or via email. Union can be used on its own or in tandem with other apps in the Pixite suite, including Tangent and Fragment. Both have already created big footprints in the iPhonography community–Tangent was named one of App Store Best of 2013 and Fragment topped the Photo & Video category charts–earning a loyal following while pushing the limits of mobile artistry. To function more symbiotically with Union, both Pixite apps received fresh updates— making room for Tangent 1.6 and Fragment 1.3. Overall, it’s a powerful vote for Union’s clean, uncluttered interface that gets out of the way so that users can focus on editing artistry and creative vision. Among Union’s enhancement options:

• Combining background and foreground images, then isolating a desired section

• Advanced real-time masking with specialized, high-precision erasure

• Both shape and image based masking with image adjustment, scaling and blending


• Easily produced superimposed, silhouetted, and double-exposure effects for radically

surreal, spacious compositions

It’s super easy for the hobbyist, but it has the deep tools a professional expects,” Guerrette said. “It covers both spectrums. There are both commercial and recreational possibilities.” Union’s design features were created based on direct feedback from photo aficionados. Much of what we do is inspired by the community of artists on Instagram,” Guerrette said. We’re constantly pulling inspiration from them. We look closely at what they do in order to create tools to ma

ColorStrokes HD now available for iPad

Back in July I wrote a review of ColorStrokes for iPhone.  At the time, ColorStrokes was only available for the iPhone. Well MacPhun, the makers of ColorStrokes, FX Photo Studio and other great apps has released a brand new iPad-specific version of ColorStrokes. The already easy to use app looks even better on a bigger screen and is much easier to use with an interface custom-tailored for larger screens. The functionality of the app is the same as before, so there isn’t really a big learning curve. But for those of you who love spot color photography or even colorization of photos with extreme detail, then this is the app for you. Definitely check it out.  It will help kick those spot color photos up a notch!

– Kewiki

App Review: “ColorStrokes” (formerly Color Splash Studio)

Well MacPhun is at it again. They’ve taken an app and made it even better than before. The app I’m talking about is what is now called “ColorStrokes”. This is a spot color app on steroids. Yes, I have done a previous review on the existing features, but what I wanted to highlight are what really sets it apart from the “other” guys.

Let’s look at why it’s called ColorStrokes. Just like a painter paints strokes of color on a canvas, you can now color your photos to whatever color you want. You can take color or black and white photos and select from the color palette tool any of the preset colors to begin painting your photo.

As an added bonus, they’ve included an eye drop tool that lets you create your own colors to paint with! This is something I haven’t really seen in other spot color apps and definitely makes it worth the $0.99. (Limited time price. Normally $1.99)

Another thing that I have to mention that has really set MacPhun apart from other app developers is their loyalty to their fans. Did MacPhun come up with the name “ColorStrokes”? No! This name was selected from thousands of user-submitted names. This is a brand new concept and one that other developers should pick up on.

The other really amazing thing MacPhun has done is the creation of their “fan club” for the ColorStrokes app. It’s still early on in development, but MacPhun is in the process of recruiting what they are calling “Lemon Headz“. This apparently is a club for the fans where you can get free Mac-based apps, news on upcoming apps and inside info on contests and other opportunities to win prizes.

ColorStrokes is definitely a great app to check out if you don’t have it already. But besides all that, I applaud them for not just trying to sell apps, but for also doing such a great job at creating community on Instagram (@colorsplashrocks), Facebook, Twitter and other social avenues. Make sure you check out their feed or visit for more info.

Perfect Photo Review

Like all good mobile photographers, you probably have multiple folders of apps on your phone. Every once in a while, it’s fun to use one that you haven’t used in a long time. For me the app is Perfect Photo for the iPhone.

Perfect Photo is not your typical photo app. Although there are a few filters included, the good stuff is really the different tools they provide to touch up your photos. Below is a list of the features available:

  1. Crop,
  2. Rotate/flip,
  3. Alignment,
  4. Brightness/contrast,
  5. Gamma,
  6. Exposure,
  7. Shadows,
  8. Highlights,
  9. Levels,
  10. Hue/saturation/lightness,
  11. Color balance,
  12. Color temperature,
  13. Sharpen,
  14. Denoise,
  15. Red eye reduction, and
  16. Spot healing.

The two features I think are the best are denoise and spot healing. Denoise is extremely helpful for those extra grainy photos. It also will help save your night shot that you may have had to brighten due to under exposure. The Spot Healing tool is also extremely helpful when editing those portrait shots that may have a blemish or two that need to be removed.

You may find some of these features in other apps, but what makes this app so nice is the ease of use and simple interface. Complex edits can be made by the most novice of mobile photographers. This app is perfect for cleaning up portraits, enhancing macro photos and saving those photos you think you may have lost.

Definitely check out Perfect Photo!

You will love it!

– Kewiki

Color Splash Studio Review

Ever have problems finding the perfect app for your spot color pictures? If you’re like me, you answered yes. Or if you’re normal, you didn’t answer at all because that’s just weird when you’re reading something alone.

Anywho, I’m pretty picky about my app use. It has to feel right and I haven’t had much luck finding that. Until now.
Color Splash Studio from MacPhun, makes it easy.

The Features:

Selective Color-
Now you can have color, only where you want, with the swipe of your finger. The brush settings help keep the edges clean and allow you to adjust the opacity of your brushes too.

I love the pan and zoom function, really letting you get close to what you want with less work. This REALLY helps with the fine details. The small preview window also makes it easy to edit since you can’t always see what you’re doing with your finger.

Effects and Filters-
The app comes with three filters, grayscale, sepia and blue tones. Normally we only see spot color done with grayscale, but you can change things up a bit by trying out sepia tones for an antique look or the blue tones for a retro look.

The drama effects aren’t bad, but could use some toning down. Keep in mind though that it’s a new app and there should be improvements in the future to the dramatic effects area.

This is one of the best parts of the app! You can use the adjustment sliders to adjust the intensity of the grayscale, sepia and blue tone filters. This allows you to bring back in some of the colors you erased. You can also adjust the hue and saturation levels of your colored layer. This lets you increase the intensity of your spot color and maybe even change the color itself. Finally, you can adjust the brightness and contrast of the overall image and even add a nice vignette for that classy look.

I love this app and have had a lot of fun trying out the different options. Color Splash Studio is definitely in my favorite apps folder! It really packs a punch and is totally worth the $0.99! Great job MacPhun for bringing us yet another amazing app!

To see the app, visit

See below for some photos by @Kewiki and me (@Musiccityace) edited with Color Splash Studio.

OPEN MIC NIGHT: “Facebook Camera App?”

Many of you heard the announcement today that even after purchasing Instagram, Facebook launched its own app. The minute I heard this, I hurried to the app store and started downloading.

My first thought was, “Is this the end of Instagram?” My second thought was, “Why is Facebook coming out with a competing app?”

Once I downloaded the app, I quickly discovered that this new Facebook Camera is NOT a replacement app. It’s just an easier way for Facebook users to view photos on Facebook and to post their photos with better filters. I did find it odd that it wasn’t just integrated into the Facebook app itself.

This brings me to my question of the week: “Have you downloaded the new Facebook Camera app? If so, what do you think? If not, do you plan on it?” Let’s discuss!

OPEN MIC NIGHT: “Revisiting an Old Favorite”

Do you remember when you first got onto Instagram and started taking pics? You used the filters and saw that someone else was posting something amazing! Then, you find out it’s a new app and YOU have to have it! So you hit the app store, shell out a buck or two and start playing. Then the next week, someone shows you something new and you start playing with that new app too. Before you know, your old favorite is forgotten.

This week, I wanted to highlight an old favorite of mine. It’s one of the best-selling iPhone apps in the Camera/Photography category of the app store. That app is FX Photo Studio. This app comes from MacPhun. They have several best-selling apps for both iDevices and Macs.

The cool thing about FX Photo Studio is that it has a TON of effects, does color splash (spot color) editing, allows you to save your effects as a new effect and also integrates with multiple social platforms. It’s ONLY $1.99 in the app store and is well worth checking out.  My lady bug from last night was edited using the color splash effects.

This brings me to my open mic question this week: “Have you used this app? What do you like/dislike about it? What features would you like to see?” Let’s discuss!

Stay tuned to my feed at 7AM EST tomorrow morning. I will be announcing a special one-day only promotion. And tomorrow night at 7PM EST, I’ll be announcing the most amazing challenge I have ever done! Bwahahaha!!!!

Home is where the heart is

Photo courtesy of @kewiki

Fine, I’ll admit it.  I got spooked with the announcement of Facebook buying Instagram this week.  Everyone complains about Facebook so yeah, spooked.  But on the other side of that, if I developed and ran a very popular app that could sell for $1 billion?  Plain and simple. You’d be crazy not to do it.

So I did some flirting.  I checked out PicYou, Eye’em and Streamzoo.  I didn’t join any of those for various reasons. The reviews in the app store are very helpful and they either had too many things I didn’t like or didn’t have enough.

I did join Tadaa.  It was all sparkly and new at first!  And I’ll even admit, I couldn’t close that app to go check Instagram for a good few hours.  I was distracted by the fun little bunny that comes out of the hat when you pull down to refresh! Like his cute furry ears are excited you’re there, “Tadaa!” And he taps his fluffy paws on the hat rim in excitement.

The editing capabilities are pretty impressive. You can actually post any size picture you want, or crop to any size. It has your normal adjustments for brightness, contrast and saturation. Plus, adjustable clarity, tilt-shift, vignette, frames and several nice filters to choose from. And it’s pretty cool that you can zoom in on any photo there.

(Before I go on, I should state that this blog is purely my opinion. And for some entertainment, because I can only be serious for so long, even if I’m the only person I make giggle.)

Like I said, I enjoyed playing with it for a few hours. But that’s when the real magic of the app happened…

That cute furry bunny now had a menacing glare, impatiently tapping those killer paws on that stupid hat, “Tadaa! I would like to refresh for you but you won’t see your notifications for 2 hours! Mwahaha!”

Tap, tap, tap go the paws.  “Tadaa! You can keep trying to follow people back but I won’t let you! Mwahaha!”

Tap, tap, tappity tap tap. “Tadaa! I went ahead and deleted that first picture you posted this morning, it sucked! Mwahaha!”

Well, you get the picture.  That bunny’s not as friendly as he first seems, folks.

So I don’t think I’ll be doing any more app flirting. Changes may come and they may not. It can be scary.  I know things have changed a lot since I first joined Instagram in late 2010 and nothing has been bad enough to separate us yet.

I gave my heart to Instagram 16 months ago.  And I’m happily at home.

Holly (@musiccityace)

D-Series . In Space . (App Review)

As you and my other Hipstamaticaddict brothers and sisters may have heard by now… The Hipstamatic D-Series just pushed it’s second update since the shiny new app was released last week.  Not altogether surprising in the world of brand-new apps.  Bugs happen of course and this app is no exception, however the updates we’re seeing are much more substantive than bug fixes.   It seems the backlash has been heard loud and clear, and four new unlimited cameras and higher resolution images were added to the D-Series  earlier today.  (see notes below)  This could have all been planned to grow the buzz, but I’d like to think they responded to customer demand in an honorable way.

As I relayed in a previous post, my initial reaction to the newest Hipstamatic family member was somewhat unfavorable.  It would seem I’m not the only one.  In fact, I’ve seen quite a bit of chatter on the web and honey… it ain’t pretty.  I think by now it’s fair to expect any app with a following like Hipstamatic would have superfans.  And the superfans of Hipstamatic are not afraid to speak their true feelings loud and clear. The most common complaints I’ve read focus on three areas:

Full resolution only available on additional paid cameras.

[Resolution issue was addressed on 12/20 after I had already queued up this original post. Yay, thanks D-Series Team!] Have to agree, this as a significant negative if you don’t have the cash/inclination to buy extra cameras and you want to save or print full quality images.  Also, I suspect many of us with the 4S aren’t going to waste precious shots on 600×600 output.  [as of 12/20 images now save in “high quality mode” for all cameras. Not sure if that means full resolution, but thats still awesome!]

On the other hand, these sample images shot with the free unlimited D-Fault camera are pretty decent for a casual user who is only posting to Facebook.  I haven’t had a chance to get too creative with the holidays upon us here, but I think the following shots fairly represent the D-Fault camera’s capability.  The requirement to take all 24 shots before you can view the photos means I wouldn’t use this as my go-to camera.  As a casual or party camera, these limiting features won’t stop me from sharing a laugh or two with friends.

Taken with D-Fault Camera, f/x level 22.0
Taken with D-Fault Camera, f/x level 12.4
Taken with D-Fault Camera, f/x level 22.0 

Relatively high cost when compared to original Hipstamatic

I can see both sides of this one.  I definitely had sticker shock when I first learned of the pricing structure: for the BlacKeys 44, each camera has 24 shots and purchase options are $0.99/9 cams, $1.99/36 cams and $4.99/99 cams.  [pricing issue addressed on 12/20, four unlimited $0.99 cams were added to the Hipstamart. Thanks again, D-Series Team! Still no unlimited black and white option though. Boo.] It’s significantly inflated from the pricing structure of the original Hipstamatic camera, which I think explains the visceral reaction of Hipsta superfans.  However as one of my Instagram colleagues pointed out on my last post; it’s not terribly out of line for a novelty camera and it isn’t outrageous to financially support the folks who created the original app which so many of us use on a daily basis.  BlacKeys is notably the only black and white option so that does put Baby in a corner.  And nobody puts Baby in a corner.  Fortunately for the D-Series, it has one major redeeming quality; namely the ability to adjust effects on a sliding scale.  The effects range is demonstrated in the following shots.

Taken with BlacKeys 44, f/x level 22.0
Taken with BlacKeys 44, f/x level 13.8
Taken with BlacKeys 44, f/x level 2.8

Requirement to connect via Facebook

In order to take advantage of the D-Series ‘worlds first social camera’ feature, users must connect via Facebook authorization.  Invitations to share a roll are sent by one user, and then that group cooperatively shoots all 24 photos of a disposable camera before anyone can view them.  Once the roll is shot, everyone sharing has access to the entire roll of film which can then be saved to the camera roll or re-shared elsewhere.  It’s a very cool idea.

As someone who values privacy and a certain level of anonymity, I understand and respect those who prefer not to filter every move they make through the Facebook machine.  I understand the outrage here.  There is something unsettling about requiring it in order to use the full functionality of the app.  I’m no developer so I don’t know if there are other ways to accomplish sharing here, but logic dictates there would be.

I did link my D-Series to Facebook and have to admit;  It’s actually pretty fun to see what my friends across the globe are shooting just for fun.  I’ll definitely be taking more shots over the holidays and will post more examples here for those who are curious.  Bottom line: D-Series has won me over.  Will I buy every camera like I’ve collected every Hipstamatic lens, film and flash?  Not likely.  Will I use it for fun with friends and long photo walks?  Absolutely.  I like it.

So what do you think?