In this Blog post I will discuss why it took me almost three full hours to only shoot one photo for my smartphone’s new wallpaper image.
First things first. We all know that there are two kinds of people out there. The kind that does not care at all about phone wallpapers and the ones which do.
I for myself considered me to be a person that does not really care as long as it is pretty and the resolution isn’t total bull crap.
I for example never changed my Wallpaper on my Windows computer. Since Microsoft introduced Windows 10 I’m rocking the blue Windows 10 logo visual.
Same goes for my phone when I bought the Google Pixel 2 two years ago, I set it up once and choose an “out of the box live-wallpaper”. I never touch the wallpaper option again. However, knowing that I most likely won’t change any wallpaper for a year or even two, I decided to shoot my own Wallpaper for my next phone.
During summer 2019 the Battery-life of my Google Pixel 2 started to become a pain. It was never a strong battery but it started to empty out at around 3 to 4 pm. Also, the USB-port seemed to be damaged and I had a hard time charging the phone at all. Therefor I mad the decision to keep my Pixel 2 alive just as long until Google would release their Pixel 4 smartphones in fall 2019. Luckily the Google Pixel 4 was one of the most leaked phones ever, which mad it very easy to plan ahead.
The Google Pixel 4 XL Smartphone was expected to have a resolution of 1440×2960 pixels. So, the resolution was set. Now I only had to paint my subject onto this canvas. From already using a phone with the Pixel launcher I knew how my home-screen and app-screen layouts most likely would end up looking.
I tend to have a very clean home-screen with no apps on it at all. It only features the “Search Box”, the “Quick-launch bar”, as well as the “Google At A Glance” Widget. This helps me focus on important events which will be shown in the “At A Glance” Widget.
The following pages are then usually field to around 33% by Apps i frequently use, but not too frequently as that they would be in the quick-launch bar. Apps for my second and third page would be for example the ticketing App of the local transport authorities, or the light-controls of my rooms smart lighting.
Another important aspect was the “parallax” effect that comes with the Google Pixel Android Launcher. Therefor I wanted to establish a parallax effect already in the camera. Ok. I might have to explain this one. I understand that there is no such thing as a parallax effect in a single picture. My goal was to establish en element that would feel dynamic when scrolled to the left or right. Something that would change size or proportion when scrolled. But nothing as harsh as vertical lines from a support beam or wall.
What are the limitations and boundaries?
With that knowledge I was able to define DOs and DON’Ts for my future wallpaper. In other, more media like words, I defined safe-spaces for the phones control elements, as well as a “subject area” for my actual subject of the wallpaper. Those Areas created a clear stencil in which my future subject had to fit.
Speaking of future subject there was also the question of WHAT could be my new wallpaper. It was clear that it had to be a roller coaster of some sort. BUT! Roller coasters are usually not a very calm subject because there is a lot going on in the photos. For example support beams, the construction of the track, crossing lines, multiple different colors, people, architecture and so on.
After a moment or two of thinking about this problem I came up with a roller coaster which would not be affected by most problems described before, yet could fit into the template. Additionally, it also is one of my most favorite roller coasters ever built (even tho it’s a Vekoma…).
My choice of Roller coaster fell onto “Hyperspace Mountain” formerly known as “Spacemountain: Mission 2” at Disneyland Park Paris.
This roller coaster features an iconic building containing the ride. Therefor hiding all the for this project distracting parts. To establish the top “safe-space” was rather simple, what’s usually above a building? Right the sky. So for the top Safe-space I had the sky as a calm and rather neutral element.
Establishing the bottom safe-area turned out to be a lot more tricky than the sky and was responsible for most of the time I spent shooting this wallpaper. My first ideas were to use the small “lake” in front or even the street leading to the Building but it turned out that those elements were not calm enough to not distract the viewer’s attention away from the “control-elements”.
After realizing that my original Idea for a calm bottom safe-are would not work I went back to my most favorite tool when time is short. Trail and error. Usually I am a person who likes to think things through and especially when visiting Theme parks I find myself staring for hours at Google Maps or Street view just to get an idea of the situation to make sure to be at the optimal location to take roller coaster pictures. But when I’m already in a theme park and therefor time is running I prefer to stop think and just follow my line of sight and feet to places that I haven’t considered yet.
So I started to stroll around and try a lot of positions for a good photo. My camera still buried in my backpack, just me, my line of sight and sometimes my fingers creating a Frame around the subject. I started nearby the attraction because that was the original Idea and went further away on every side. If someone had tracked my path on that day they would have asked themselves why there is a guy walking in circles around Space Mountain.
After literary Hours of strolling around and pointing at space mountain I ended up behind “Sleeping Beauty Castle” which is around 300 m away from Space mountain. As I walked by the castle and finally re-established line of sight with my subject I knew I had found the perfect location for my wallpaper. After adjusting my final position for a few more minutes I digged up my camera from the bottom of my back pack, took three pictures and had what I was looking for!
How does the result look?
The result as show below ticks all my requirements. The safe-spaces on top and bottom are soft, calm and don’t draw the attention away from the control elements of the phone. Yet the Subject, the space mountain building with its recognizable architectural style is well visible in the “subject area” and presents its full beauty. Furthermore, the “Buzz Light year Laser Blast” building as well as the grassy hills on which “Sleeping Beauty Castle” sits are creating a soft separation from the subjects exciting lines.
Thanks to the nature of the slope leading up to the “Sleeping Beauty Castle” I was able to establish an element that is amplifying the parallax effect when sliding to the left or right. The size of the green surface at the bottom will just ever so slightly change with every slide. This effect is very subtle yet noticeable but not disturbing.
I can take away three big learnings which might also help you one day.
Preparation is key!
Knowing what your picture will be used for helps a lot. If you know your picture will be used by an application, website or even on a print AD make sure to know where elements will be placed and were your subject can shine. In this Project it was important to me (I could be a customer) that the areas which are covered by control elements such as an app-list, search bar or info widget are not drawing away any attention from the control elements. To achieve this I made myself a template in which I defined where to put which elements of the photo. This helped me to only take three pictures to get to my goal.
Courage to experiment
When you see that something is not lining up like you planed. Don’t be scared to just try to find something else that could work. Don’t let you stress yourself because you missed a detail in the planing process. You haven’t pressed the shutter yet. Don’t be afraid of moving one step backwards in order to move three forwards.In my example I noticed that the composition was not adding up like I imagined. But this did not stop me from finding a composition that worked. Many would have had pressed their shutter buttons anyways and moved on. Just with an “OK” image instead of the golden one they wanted
Don’t be like me.
I am way too serious about my Wallpapers. I walked around for almost three hours in a theme park not riding any attractions (i paid for) just to get one picture for my phone as a wallpaper. WHO ON EARTH WOULD DO THAT?!