Before the Filter: Improving mobile pics by improving the photographer

Antony Tran and Ben Watanabe, with Shutterstock VP
Antony Tran and Ben Watanabe, with Wyatt Jenkins of Shutterstock

Earlier this week we told you about the Back to the Future web app, which was the first prize winner at the recent Photo Hack Day Japan event, held by Aviary [1] . The second place winner from the event was perhaps an equally clever idea, shifting the focus from improving your photos with filters and effects to honing the user’s composition skills.

It’s called ‘Before the Filter’, and it introduces users to basic photography concepts like the rule of thirds, showing some examples of that technique in use. It then uses a grid or template overlay on your phones’s screen/viewfinder to help you use the same technique yourself, providing editing tips after the picture is taken. Subsequent edits can be made using the Aviary editor, which the team implemented using the Aviary API.

The pair of developers who made the app – Ben Watanabe and Antony Tran – managed to get a working app up on Google Play before the hackathon was even finished. I was curious to find out how the two could pull this off so quickly. So I got in touch with them by mail after briefly meeting at the event. Ben explains that it was largely because of Antony’s ability to code for a quick paper prototype for Android:

Android is great for hackathons with just hours of review time needed to get on the store, compared to weeks (for iOS). Antony is a wizard with Android and is ridiculously fast at developing a UI. I had trouble designing in Sketch to keep up with his live coding.

before-the-filter02 before-the-filter04

Antony is actually an Android developer at Origami, an up-and-coming Japan-based startup that we have covered on this site in the past. As for Ben, has produced his own iOS photo app Cobypic in the past, but he wanted to get more familiar with Android during this hackathon. Update: Ben clarifies he is the founder of a Tokyo startup called TenTen (TenTen Tech Ltd. in Japan with its parent company in Hong Kong.

The two also benefited, says Ben, from great photos contributed by his brother Alex, which Antony says “give [the app] a very polished feel […] that sets us apart from others.” Before the Filter won second place at Photo Hack Day, walking away with 200,000 yen (about $2000) in prize money, as well as $1000 from Aviary awarded for the best use of their API.

The idea of improving pictures at their very root, in the imagination of the photographer, is an intriguing and much overlooked notion in the currently mobile photography landscape packed with filter-stacking and sticker decorations. But now that smartphone cameras have improved to the point where they can produce quality images, it’s certainly a valuable service for any aspiring mobile photographer.

If you’d like to download Before the Filter, it’s available for free on Google Play.

before-the-filter01 before-the-filter03

  1. In the interests of disclosure, I should note that I volunteered to be a judge for Photo Hack Day, as a way of lending my support.  ↩