iPhone Photo Tips for Budding Photographers

I wrote this blog post just before learning of the terrible tragedy at the Boston Marathon today. I offer these images as a tribute to all victims of senseless violence, with deepest sympathy to their loved ones, and as a small symbol of hope for a more peaceful world.

Following Yo-Yo Ma’s presentation in the spirit of arts education, I send out into the interwebs a few simple tips on how I use my eyes and my iPhone to create a photograph filled with beauty and meaning…and utility as a Facebook Cover Image.

iPhone Photo Tip #1: Look.

First I look. Simply look. Be calm. Be curious. Look. What catches my eye? An object? A color? A shape? A composition or contrast of objects or colors or shapes or textures or lighting? A transition from far to near, or near to nearer? What, of all that I see, captures my attention, resonates with my personal aesthetic preference in this moment and/or holds meaning to me beyond the visual that I’d like to preserve in photo form? What seems worth my effort to transfer from out there into my camera roll?

About two years ago I bought a little orchid plant in full bloom. The blooms persisted for many weeks but eventually dropped. I left the tiny potted plant sitting on the kitchen window sill and diligently watered the little leaves and small gnarled roots.  For a year and a half nothing much happened.  The orchid didn’t grow new leaves or buds or air borne roots. Then again, it didn’t die. I wondered if this plant would ever flower again.

Just a few weeks ago a stem grew out, buds formed and a blossom appeared! I admired the little orchid’s buds and blossom for several days. Then one afternoon, light from outside came in through the window reflected off the petals and caught my attention enough to motivate me to record this little blossom, this miracle of nature, in a photo using my iPhone:

iPhone Photo Tips by Alison Shull

Stop reading now, if all you want is to admire this blossoming orchid.  If you’re curious to learn how I capture this orchid glamor shot, the read on…

iPhone Photo Tip #2: Frame & Focus

Using the built-in camera program on my iPhone4S I first take a photo of the orchid sitting on the window sill. I frame the image to include the entire plant.  I tap the screen where the flower is to autofocus (adjusts focus, exposure and white balance) on the flower. When I look at that photo I see that backlighting (from light outside, behind the plant) caused the flower petals to come out dark and boring.  I delete that shot. I turn the iPhone flash from “Auto” to “On” in hopes of lighting the front of the flower. Here’s what I capture:

iPhone Photo Tips for Budding Photographers - by Alison Shull

Too bland. More sunlight streams in and I capture a slightly more artful image.

Orchid iPhone Photo Tips by Alison Shull

Sure these both recorded (visually and date stamped) the happy occasion of the blossoming for me. But neither photo does justice to the essence of the beautiful elegance of the stem loaded with buds and flower extending out from the plant. Compared to what caught my eye and motivated me to try to take a photo, the first image is too drab and with too many distractions – the reflection of the flash, the lines of the window frame behind the flower, the over exposed sky and vertical tree in the busy background. When I look in the real world somehow I’m able to ignore these distracting aspects and look at the striking beauty of the flowering stem. Yet when I look at the 2D photo, I see a flowering orchid but no striking beauty.

The second image, taken after I turn off the flash and raise the angle of the camera to allow the frame to include more of the forground, begins to get at this with the contours of plant mirrored by it’s own delicate shadow…but still seems too busy to read comfortably and soak in the specific, refined elegance of that budding stem.

iPhone Photo Tip #3: Minimize Distraction

Maybe if I simplify the background that would help highlight the stem with buds & flower? I look around the kitchen, pick up a black notebook and place it behind the flower, keep the flash off and take this photo:

iPhone PhotoTips for Budding Photographer by Alison Shull

Better, but now the lighting from outside is washing out (over exposing) some leaf areas and dulling the surface of the petals that face the camera. And I still haven’t really isolated the features that I find striking.

iPhone Photo Tip #4: Crop to purposely accentuate a strong feature

Using the edit-crop option in the iPhone camera roll I crop the image to be ~twice as wide as it is high to accentuate the length of the stem. In the western world we tend to read photos left to right, like text. I’ll shift the flower out of the center to the right side of the image to have the final “word” be the flower itself.

iPhone Photo Tips by Alison Shull

iPhone Photo Tip#5: Make the Most of Available Lighting

I’m starting to like this. To reduce glare and highlight the face of the flower, I move the plant & backdrop (black notebook cover) off the windowsill onto the kitchen counter top in order to orient the face of the flower to face the natural light coming in from the window.  I notice a few more aspects I can adjust to better the image for my taste:  I shift the frame to move that bud poking straight out of the center to away from the center of the image.  I shift the angle that I’m holding the iPhone so that the flower is looking at me. This also nicely angles that bud to off center. I take care to hold the camera at an angle that allows less light to reflect off the leaves (eliminating those bright (overexposed) leaf areas). I adjust the area I’m framing (by changing the angle and distance between the plant and the camera) to leave out the preforated holes in the black notebook (did you spot the holes in upper left corner of the photo above?). I capture another image and again use the edit-crop feature in the camera-roll to crop to an elongated, rectangular aspect ratio. Here’s the result:

iPhone Photo Tips by Alison Shull

And that’s it. No digital image processing (other than crop). Total time involved with shooting this orchid glamor shot: ~2 minutes. (Writing this blog post took a lot longer!)

For those who avoid taking photos, I hope this tempts you to pick up any sort of point and shoot digital camera to try out these simple techniques of framing, focusing, cropping and using natural lighting along with the ease of digital capture, inspection and re-takes. Try it – I bet you’ll have fun creating an image that you’ll like.

Wait, what about the Facebook cover image offer?  Here it is (the orchid image sized to 851 x 315 pixels to fit the current Facebook cover image specifications).

Please share in honor of the Boston bombing victims and with hope for a more peaceful world.

Hope for a more peaceful world

Alison Shull is an artist who welcomes you to send in your own iPhone photo tips in the comment section below. View her paintings and, soon, more of her nature photography at her on-line gallery:  www.alisonshull.com and/or follow her artwork on Facebook: AlisonShull-Art or Twitter: @alisonshull.  Feeling generous but not ready to do anything other than take a screen capture of the photo she’s offering you here?  Here’s a chance to make a donation & know you are appreciated – read more about making a donation here or just go for it: Keep ArtLightNow ad-free and kindly snag yourself a screenshot

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