June 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 6

Book Reviews

We Can All Be Photographers: A Review of Get the Picture! Viewing the World with the iPhone Camera, by Judith M. Dixon

Long before Apple's groundbreaking introduction of the 2009 VoiceOver-equipped iPhone--a smart phone that blind people could use right out of the box--some of us in the blind community were fooling around a bit with photography. Twenty years ago, with a then state-of-the-art camera, I remember trying to get a picture of my husband cutting down a Christmas tree and being proud that I actually got all of him in the shot. Years later, I tried my hand at taking my own picture with a flip phone. I sent it to a friend with a request that she act as my "talking mirror" before I stepped out my door to attend an important event.

With the image explosion wrought by the ubiquity of iPhones and social networking, everyone around us seems to be taking hundreds of pictures and videos every day. Maybe you've played with this functionality a bit, too. I've used FaceTime, for example, to show my daughter a shipping carton and to consult on the health of a certain aloe plant. Many of us, with the advent of handheld text-reading devices and/or object-recognition apps for our smart phones have begun thinking a bit more about the process of aligning a camera lens with an item as solution to a problem.

Judy Dixon has taken that general "fooling around" that some of us have done to an entirely new and absolutely wonderful level. Recognizing that everyone around her was capturing images on a regular basis, she writes that she wondered, "Why not me?"--and she didn't stop at wondering!

Dixon researched. She studied. She took lessons from a professional photographer and, in that uncommonly clear way she has of communicating information, she has gathered her findings into a singularly fascinating and useful book.

Get the Picture! Viewing the World with the iPhone Camera was produced, of course, by that publisher nonpareil, National Braille Press of Boston. National Braille Press has released a variety of books containing practical guidance for blind users of iOS products, but this addition to the collection is the first to take an in-depth look at one particular iPhone function--the very function that would typically be deemed off limits to people who can't see--the camera.

Whether you have ever played with the iPhone camera or not, you will want to read this book. From the perspective of a blind person who is writing in order to share what she has learned with other blind people, you will learn about concepts that have perhaps seemed traditionally out of bounds. Judy Dixon writes about distance and light and glare and framing a shot -- and yes, even if you have never seen, I promise that the discussions you find here will make sense.

She writes about tools and techniques we can use to have a better chance of capturing a reasonably clear image with our phones, even images we can't see with our hands--like a sunset or the view from a window. Through this book, you will learn something about the art of photography in general and the specific details of using the iPhone camera. You will learn about apps that can assist you in getting the proper light and distance and ensuring that you have all three friends in view. In addition, the book guides you through such matters as identifying photos long after you've taken them, as well as provides information for organizing photos and sharing them with others.

There are wonderful instructions in every chapter, but this book does not read like a dry instruction manual. Judy engages the reader with plenty of personal examples and a conversational tone that holds your interest while always staying right on track in delivering the information.

If you just don't care about taking pictures for fun, though, there are still plenty of reasons to read this book. If you are blind and use an iPhone, you already know that there are hundreds of amazing apps that can enable you to do things that you possibly could not do otherwise. Judy experimented with droves of them that utilize the iPhone camera and she shares the best of them in this book.

Light, Color, Money

There are countless questions unique to blindness that many of us ask every day. Is there sufficient light in the living room when a guest is about to arrive? Are these the blue shoes or the identical (by touch) green ones? Is the unopened box in your hand the crackers or the cereal?

These sorts of nuisance questions have always been there for us and a number of wonderful gadgets have been developed over the years that offer solutions: one device to detect light, one to identify color, one to tell you whether that bill in your hand is a $5 or a $50, and one to read bar codes (enabling you to distinguish shampoo from conditioner and a Louis Armstrong CD from one featuring Josh Groban). Now, you can add a selection of apps to a single device, the iPhone, and many of those gadgets are no longer necessary.

Of course, with so many apps to choose from--some delivering the solution promised and others not so much--the process of investigating them all can be daunting and even costly. The book covers apps that address all of the above questions and more. In the realm of color identification, for instance, she tells us that she has used 32 apps for the purpose of identifying color, and then proceeds (wisely) to list the top five.

A number of apps that can recognize objects are included as well as several designed for reading bar codes. While the seasoned iPhone user who is blind will undoubtedly be familiar with some of the apps included in these pages, I can almost guarantee that the book will hold surprises for everyone. Did you know, for example, that there is an app that will let you know when a person or dog walks past your office? Or one that will take a panoramic photo of your newly remodeled kitchen? Again, Judy Dixon engages the reader effectively while conveying details about these applications, thus making lively conversation out of what might have been, in less capable hands, a sleep-inducing catalog. The book is extremely well organized and consistently formatted. With each app we are given the relevant details first (name, developer, price, and so on) and then a careful explanation of what the app can do, how the screen is organized, and the purpose and location of each button or tab.

Why Not You?

For Judy Dixon, what began as curiosity has clearly become a passion. She approached the picture-taking puzzle with both merriment and scientific accuracy, and then wanted to share what she had learned with the rest of us.

What she discovered--and what the book reveals--is that we can all be photographers, whether we have sight or not. Whether you wind up sharing Dixon's passion for pictures or just learning some new tricks for using your iPhone more productively, you will enjoy reading about one woman's quest to find solutions for participating in yet one more task skeptics may have deemed "for sighted only."

Product Information

Get the Picture is available in a two-volume, soft-cover, embossed braille edition or in a variety of electronic formats, including DAISY, .BRF, and Microsoft Word, any of which can be either shipped on CD or downloaded directly from the National Braille Press site.

All versions are $15 each.
To order via telephone: 800-548-7323 ext. 520.
Visit Judy Dixon's blog for more information.

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