Thru the Keyhole … a photography lesson

by Chris Guld
This was written during my
writing retreat in Tuscany. The prompt was: “Thru the keyhole” I wanted to write about my experience taking pictures with a smartphone and making them better.

Is this our room? The door is locked, I peer thru the keyhole trying to see if this is the right room. I thought it was going to be unlocked, we hadn’t bothered to get a key. I see a comfortable couch and two easy chairs. I squint to see further. I see a glass door and bright sunlight. I see a splash of red. I think this is my room, and I can’t wait to get in. It is a wonderful room

We are on vacation in Italy. I have signed up for a 9 day workshop on writing. It is in a medieval town in Tuscany called Castiglion Fiorentino. This really is a medieval town. I thought they only existed on movie sets. The town covers a hill, not just a hillside, but a complete 360 degree hill. You can walk all the way around, look up, and see the town rising to a crest. I am in awe. It is beautiful. I take pictures. I take lots of pictures! Everywhere I look is a scene worthy of a renaissance painter. I can’t take enough pictures.

We get the key to our room. It is dark in the living room area. There is a fireplace. I don’t think I will need that this week. It is May and it will not be cold. If anything it may get hot. But, right now it is just perfect, with a cool breeze out on the terrace.

I have to get a picture of this room. Just as I saw it when I first opened the door. I saw the comfortable living room with a fireplace and beyond that I saw the glass doors and a view of the bright sunshine and red begonias outside. In the distance are green fields, tall cypress trees, and mountains.



I try to take a picture, but it isn’t going to work. The inside is so dark, and the outside is so bright. I can’t capture both at once. So I try all the techniques I know. I’m using an iPhone and the native camera app that comes with it. I tap the phone’s screen where I see the fireplace and Pop! The darkness disappears. The exposure is set perfectly to see the fireplace and the yellow couch, the room is no longer too dark. BUT, the sunshine outside is blinding. You can’t see anything out the glass doors, Just bright, white light. So I tap the screen on the outdoors. Now that is properly exposed, I see the deck, the chairs, the red begonias, the cypress trees and the green fields and mountains in the distance. They look perfect. But now the fireplace and couch are hidden in darkness.


I know I can fix a lot of exposure issues later with editing tools and the HDR setting. But I can’t fix anything quite that extreme. It is easier to bring shapes out of the shadows than to create objects in bright light. There is nothing to help if a scene is completely overexposed and bright white, so I will start by tapping the iPhone’s screen at the glass door and the sundrenched terrace. Since that leaves the inside too dark, I will drag my finger on the screen. I drag up to lighten the exposure a little, just enough to see some structure in the shadows. And I take the photo.

The photo is not great, but there is content visible in both the bright areas and the shadows. Now I open the photo using the Google Photos app on my iPhone. I’ll try the editing tool called auto and it makes the photo a little better but not good enough yet. I tap the 3-dot menu and choose edit in Snapseed. Snapseed is a companion app, also free, also by Google and it has more capable editing tools. I use the HDR-Scape tool all the time. It works magic. It brings out all the detail in the shadows without washing out the bright light outside. It makes the reds of the begonias and the green of the fields even more vibrant. It gives a 3-dimensional quality to the photo. It does get quite grainy inside. This photo would not be accepted for a magazine article, but I don’t mind, I’ll call it my dream effect!


I like this picture. This is our room at Residence Le Santucce, in Castiglion Fiorentino Italy.

If you are a Geeks on Tour member, here are some tutorial videos to watch: