Photo apps have evolved from adding filtering, to being social, to smashing up the two. Instagram grew like a weed based on this philosophy. EyeEm has grown by making your feed of friends’ photos look so good, you know you just have to take great photos as well (there’s some clever algorithms at work there). Now a new app, designed by one of the world’s best photographers, wants to bring it all back home: to the picture itself.
And not just any picture. The new Lenka app for iOS is like having Kevin Abosch — who has photographed everyone from Steven Spielberg to Yoko Ono — hovering over your shoulder, reminding you that all you have now is your eye.
Developed by a team in France, the app uses proprietary image processing with automatic exposure. Costing $2.99 and requiring iOS 7, it’s built for the iPhone 5 series but can be used on any iPhone.
With Lenka, Abosch has stripped back the process of photography to its bare essentials. Lenka shoots only in Black and White, and will only allow you one ‘filter’ which is a high contrast mode, will only allow you to light a subject with the iPhone light switched on, or off. There is no flash. It’s this kind of discipline he demands, and it shines through in the app he has had produced.
Now, while there are competitors include Hueless and the ‘Dramatic Black & White’ app, when you fire up Lenka you immediately realise that it’s capable of much more subtle greys and textures than most normal camera apps. There is a feeling of quality and simplicity about it.
Its auto focus and auto exposure makes the process of shooting fast and easy. Editing it also paired-down. You can crop or rotate a photo. That’s it. After-all, that’s probably all Abosch does himself. You can almost hear him saying ‘just take the best photograph *first*’.
Instead of a flash, you can switch the iPhone light on continuously – again, this is to help you take the best photograph, not the best quick snap. You can also choose between a rectangular or square aspect ratio with a pinch.
No serious photographer would use the poorer front-facing camera. Thus, with Lenka, that is not available to you. What real photographer chooses a worse lens, after all?
You can’t post-process other photos from the camera roll. Either you take pictures in Lenka, or you don’t. Again, Abosch is almost saying, ‘hey, I do this for a living, trust me.’
Lenka is not a social network, but you can export your images to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook or via email or message. Your images are also saved in the app’s own gallery and the camera roll.
When I first saw Lenka images I realised quickly that the subdued monochromatic character of the images sets it apart from many other smartphone images I’d seen.
Abosch says his team spent a lot of time analysing the characteristics of the iPhone camera sensors, modelling their behaviour, and compensating for inherent weaknesses through real-time image processing. It shows.
Applying a filter to a color photo is “just not the same as previewing and conceiving an image in black & white from the start,” says Abosch. “For me the story now is about changing people’s approach to taking pictures,” he says.
“Up until now, it’s all about frequently shooting and then considering what to do with the results. Trying to turn mediocrity into something greater through post filters. Lenka encourages thoughtful creation. When I think of black and white I think of the moon set against a black sky… In alchemical teachings this represents feminine energy, so I always thought of this app in this sense.”
But where does the name comes from? “I’ve always been drawn to early Czech photographers like František Drtikol. I picked a popular Czech name… Lenka.”
Lenka appears to have been well-received on the app store already. Abosch guesses it might be “a reaction to the overly complicated apps that in my opinion, get in the way of just… taking the photo.”