Take Better Cell Phone Photos

The Columbia River

What did we ever do without our cell phones? In this era of miraculous technology it's hard to remember how it was to wait until we got home to make a call or to search for a phone booth along the way. They have revolutionized communication. These little devices have also revolutionized photography as well.

Gone are the days of limiting the amount of photographs that you take or the need for delayed gratification due to having to send the film out for developing. We just snap, smile, share with our friends on social media or email then forget about them as we continue to record in more pictorial detail our day to day lives.

As cell phone camera technology is improved the pictures become better and better. They have become so good that they have essentially replaced the point and shoot camera. They are all the average person will ever require for their personal photography needs, and even though they have become incredibly capable, they still take a little experience to master, especially in challenging light. A few tricks can make your photos even better.

Don’t shoot with a dirty lens. As we carry our phone here and there we can put them through a lot. Dust and dirt can collect on the lens of the camera. A little lens cleaner on a soft cloth will help to keep your photos clear and crisp.

Don’t miss the shot. Cell phone cameras won’t give you an instant shutter actuation. They take a second or two to find and focus your subject. This is referred to as shutter lag. Anticipate this shutter lag and be prepared to get the shot a few moments prior to the moment. This is especially true with moving objects.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t use direct sunlight when photographing people. Find bright shade to eliminate sharp contrast of glare and shadows. Your subjects eye won’t be as apt to be squinting.

Don’t use your flash. The stark light of your flash will wash out your photos. There’s an HDR (high dynamic range) setting, use it. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I like to use a flash when my subjects are back lit, such as at sunset.

Dont zoom. Zooming with your cell phone camera is not an optical zoom but it an electronic enlargement of the image. The image quality suffers when you zoom in. Choose to move forward or back to fill the frame. If you have a cluttered background move in to fill the frame to make your subject dominate the scene.

Don’t use harsh light.. If you are going to do portraits choose to do them in either mid morning or late afternoon. The light during these times has a less harsh feel and is more warm and welcoming. The camera will struggle less with the light and the photos will turn out nicer.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t settle for straight out of the camera. Post process them. Your camera does, why not you? Download applications such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to adjust the photo to make it look its best. Most camera phones come with their own image editing application.

Don’t be selective in what you shoot. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital. You increase your odds of getting a great photo if you take more of them.

Don’t forget about them. In the past we would take our photos, print them and put them into a photo album. We can still do that today even though we’re no longer using film. You can either print them yourself if you have a printer, go to the drugstore and use their kiosk or you can send your digital file to a company online who can print them and send them back. Even better is that you can now self publish your own book in any quantity, including a single issue of your vacation photos.

Do have fun with it. It’s always with us when in the past we would leave our cameras at home today it’s usually within arms reach at any time of the day. You have a much better chance these days to get a unique photo of life as it happens around us. With these few little tricks you can make your photos better, but it takes practice and the willingness to tell your camera what to do.

Alaska Glacier Workshop 2016

Matanuska Glacier Workshop 2016

Alaska is an amazing place. It's so expansive that the scale is nothing that can be imagined but needs to be experienced to comprehend. Even the travel from location to location can be challenging in its distance. There is so much to see in Alaska that careful planning or a lot of time to wander is required.

Darlene and I have just returned from our trip to Alaska. We were there to conduct a workshop at the Matanuska Glacier. I guided seven photographers out and onto the ice for a four day Alaska workshop, and what a time we had. Everyone was blown away by the experience and the photos. The chance to explore a glacier is one that is not experienced by many.

The months prior to our arrival were unseasonably wet in Alaska. We were fortunate that the weather cleared up to provide optimal conditions for the workshop. The skies cleared and the temperatures become quite moderate which made walking around on the ice much more comfortable. Nobody was uncomfortable the whole time.

Our home base was the Long Rifle Lodge in Glacierview. The food was great, the view of the glacier from the dining room is breathtaking. A couple of the attendees stayed there as well. The rooms there were quite adequate, clean and comfortable especially considering that during the workshop all that one has time to do in them is sleep. Other's stayed in various cabins or bed and breakfasts in the area.

On day three we all decided that the conditions for Autumn colors was optimal so we all decided to go to Hatcher Pass. While there we all wandered through the tundra, photographed arctic ground squirrels and explored the old historic Independence Mine with a side trip to Summit Lake and the amazing highland views through moving clouds and mist that created beans of heavenly light. It was a truly incredible day and a good call to go there.

Everyone was tired at the end of the four days, but were all left wanting more.

If you're interested in an Alaska adventure please consider joining us next season.

The Perseid Meteor Shower 2016

Perseid Meteor Shower 2010

This is a composite that took 360 images taken as 30 second exposures over a three hours period of time layered over a single 30 minute exposure.

The secret to this shot was to be patient for three hours as the camera snapped away its 30 second exposures first, and then in post processing the additional patience to sort through the 350+ images to separate the frames that held a meteor, and then to mask out all but the meteor in the shots prior to layering them onto the base image. But that wasn't the end of the process. Once the meteors were layered over the base image I had to rotate them to align with their point of origin. Over the course of three hours the Earth rotates and so the point of origin changes. To correct for this I had to use Polaris as a pivot point and then to compute the time in relationship to the position and then rotate the meteor to correspond with that position. In all there is over 8 hours of time spent to create this image.

The point of origin is close to the position of the galaxy Cassiopeia and Perseus, thus the name of the meteor shower. When you go out to get your meteor shot make sure that you have a clear view to the northeastern sky that's not affected by the lights from a city. The meteor shower will be the most intense during their peak August 11-12 after midnight. It is estimated that we could expect up to 200 or more meteors per hour this year, but one never knows until it happens.

To get your photo set up your tripod and mount your camera. Use a programmable shutter release and set it to take 30 second exposures one after another. This will allow you to be able to capture every meteor that will fall within the frame of your camera in that three hour period of time. Don't move it while you're getting your shots. You want all of your frames to be the same. I chose to shoot for three hours but you can shoot as long as the sky is dark and your battery and memory lasts.

Remember when you are shooting 30 second exposures that you will need to open your aperture and raise your ISO to allow you to expose the night sky. When shooting the 30 minute exposure you will be lowering your ISO and stopping down to about 5.6 or so. It all varies on how much ambient light in the sky.

Once you return home you will need to use Photoshop to allow you to import the photos with the meteors in as layers, and mask out all but the meteor. Sometimes changing the blend mode will help to blend them more naturally over the base image. For the base image choose one of your best ones for static stars or create a single star trail photo for a different effect, like I did with this one. Once they are all masked and layered over, locate the pivot to the center of the rotation of the Earth which is Polaris. Rotate the layer until it is moving away from the northeast sky and the Perseus galaxy. I used a formula that allowed me to determine how many degrees that it had moved in the time that it was taken and move it roughly that many degrees. If that's all just a little too much, just layer them and call it good. It will give you a chaotic display as if they are coming from all points of the sky, but it's still very cool.

I hope that this helps. Even if you don't get a photo it's such an amazing experience to be able to go out into the night and stare at the sky and count falling stars.

Thank you for your support and thoughtful comments.

The Evolution of The Darkroom

Mount Hood in Black and White
Trillium Lake Pinhole Photo
Trillium Lake Pinhole Photo

Mountain Times August Edition - I remember getting my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye box camera. It used medium format 620 roll film. I wasn’t much more than six at the time and a roll of 12 exposure black and white film was a luxury especially considering that after the photos were carefully taken, you didn’t want to waste a shot, it was sent to the drugstore to be developed. That was where the mystery happened. All I knew was that I had to wait about a week for the photos to be returned to me in their colorful envelope complete with their negatives. Opening up the envelope, I had two things on my mind. Did they turn out and what the heck did I take photos of? It was like opening a gift.

Gary As a Boy
Gary As a Boy

As time went on I grew up, transitioned to 35mm film and dabbled in the mysterious darkroom processes as a hobby. I would photograph in black and white and develop the photos myself. At the same time I was still shooting rolls of color film and sending it to the drugstore to be developed, but I was starting to understand how the best photos were made. I learned how photographers who were considered artists made their photographs.

I learned about tools and methods that were used to balance the tonality of the photo. The most notable may be Ansel Adams and his zone system that, in simple terms, used a system to balance the brightness and darkness of areas in the photo using methods such as “dodging” and “burning”, which used a small light to expose more or a paddle to block light to underexpose areas. I realized that the mystery could be affected.

Grand Tetons 1969
Grand Tetons 1969

I enjoyed playing in the darkroom, but I’ll admit that I probably would have preferred doing the same process with the light on. Not everyone is interested in learning the complexities involved in the chemicals and mathematical formulae to develop film photos. Welcome to the 21st Century and digital technology.

I think that it’s finally safe to say that digital photography has developed, no pun intended, in the last 15 years to rival and in many ways surpass film as the chosen imaging choice with both hobby and professional photographers. Both the cameras and digital imaging computer software can now replicate quite effectively the mystery of analog darkroom film processes. It’s quite easy for those who prefer to develop their own photos to pull up to their computer, download their photos, start a program and process their photos chemical free all while enjoying a nice tasty beverage of their choice.

The digital single lens reflex cameras that have replaced their film counterparts create what is called a RAW file which can be considered a digital negative because it can be developed with software and saved as a finished photo file but can always be returned to in the future, reset and redeveloped into a new photo. With so many popular programs available a RAW file gives the photographer the ability to apply the digital equivalent of traditional darkroom developing to their photos and a lot more. The photo can then be sent to a company who can print your image as a frameable ink and fine paper print or on metal or a canvas print, dare I say coffee cups, t-shirts or even your own self published book?

Jackson Hole Wyoming 1969
Jackson Hole Wyoming 1969

On the other hand, for those who still have the simple need to “make snapshots and take the film to the drugstore” in the digital age, you're covered as well. Each camera can make jpeg (.jpg) files developed automatically with presets within the camera’s onboard software. You can choose one of several “image effects” or styles such as Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape as well as the ability for you to set and save your own custom effect. This allows you to set your preferred style, take your photos, connect your camera to your printer and just print your own photos. You can even set your camera to make black and white photos. Digital technology and the software included with the camera make it all very simple.

Couple this all with how we use our camera phones and you can see how, in this day and age, digital photography has become so popular. When I was a boy my enthusiasm for photography was limited to twelve photos in a matter of a month or maybe two. Today the sky’s the limit when it comes to how many photos one can make, and we no longer must wait a week for the drugstore to let us know if we failed. It is adaptable to all levels of skill or interest, from snapshots to fine art photography.

Today everyone is a photographer. It has been computed that one trillion photos will be made this year alone. Like I always say, “Film’s cheap when you’re shooting digital.”

Mount Hood Wildflowers

Jacobs' Ladder

Well it's shaping up to be a great year for wildflowers on Mount Hood. The flowers are about gone at the lowest elevations but they're moving their way up the side of the mountain. We had a great year for snow and a wet and cool Summer so far, generally speaking. The flowers seem to be taking advantage of the conditions.

I started this year in the Columbia River Gorge photographing Rowena Crest and Dalles Mountain Ranch on the Washington side of the river. I photographed balsamroot and lupine there. In time the dogwood and rhododendrons in the forests became my game and my primary pursuit, as well as the bear grass. This year's bear grass bloom was a fraction of last year's amazing bloom. It was incredible last season but a bit disappointing this year and understandably so considering it's irregular bloom cycle. Now that the rhododendrons are about finished my next wildflower pursuit are macros of the little flowers that tend to be a bit more singular in their dispersion. These are the ones that I enjoy photographing close up. At this time the lower meadows are blooming and in time the upper alpine meadows will be covered with flowers as well.

Here are a few photos that I have made so far this season. Most are close up shots, I love macro photography, but I plan on getting up to those upper meadows soon for some nice photos of Mount Hood so I hope to have more landscapes with nice flowers in the foreground. We'll see how that goes.

I have plans for a wildflower workshop next Summer. I hope to be able to use it as a venue to show my macro photography techniques. Stay tuned for news about that when I post next year's schedule. Look for it soon.

Thank you for all of your support everyone.

Flower Season

Mt Hood Rhododendrons Oregon

Flower Season

Spring has come and gone and now we look forward to Summer here on Mount Hood. Summer on Mount Hood is our best time for wildflowers. Most of the flowers at the lower elevations have come and are starting to go, but our elevation and snow cover delay’s the bloom and gives us amazing flower filled alpine meadows and forests full of native rhododendrons and dogwood trees.

Glacier Lily
Glacier Lily

Many landscape photographers wait in anticipation of the Spring Bloom. And because of this a they develop an interest in understanding the cycles of nature including weather patterns and celestial occurrences such as sunrise and sunset times and moon phases. The more one understands nature, the better that they are able to interpret it through their photos.

In the early Spring the flowers at lower, warmer elevations such as the east end of the Columbia River Gorge bloom. Beautiful purple grass Widows are usually the harbinger of Spring in the hills around Hood River and The Dalles, on both sides of the river, and can be seen poking up through coatings of fresh snow some years. Amazing views of the gorge with lupine and balsamroot in the foreground can be had in April and May. The lupine and balsamroot are the larger more visible flowers and will, on a typical year, bloom along side of each other, complimenting each other perfectly, yellow balsamroot and purple lupine.

As the season progresses the flowers move up into the hills and in time to the high altitude alpine meadows of our snow capped peaks. The flowers can cover fields or they can be scattered along roadways. They can even be in your yards. The more that you look for them, the more you notice.

Columbia Windflower
Columbia Windflower

Photographing flowers can be a way to create some beautiful photographs. It can also be a great way to spend some time outdoors. The combination of the two can create a peaceful and centering situation. I can get lost in my own little world as I wander with my wide angle lens among the fields that cover hills or meadows or on my knees with a macro lens in my yard getting close up photos of flowers, mushrooms and bugs.

When I’m out to photograph the grand landscape I try my best to be there either in the morning during a sunrise and into the golden hour or conversely in the evening when the light is nice, but don’t discount a beautiful blue sky especially one with some nice clouds to break up the space. I mention that as an ideal, but the reality is that we live in Oregon and a nice drizzly day can yield beautiful photos as well. On an overcast or cloudy day the light is even and the raindrops on the flowers are beautiful. No raindrops? Use a squirt bottle filled with water to must the flowers.

Let’s talk about the two previously mentioned forms of flower photography, wide angle and macro, or closeup photos. Both forms can be done with any camera.

Forget Me Nots
Forget Me Nots

Let’s first take a look at our cell phones as an option. Taking a nice photo of a field of flowers is pretty simple and the basic tenets of composition apply no matter what kind of camera that you use. While framing your photo tilt the camera up toward the sky or down toward your foreground to make sure that the sky isn’t too bright or the foreground too dark. Turn on your HDR (high dynamic range) setting and turn off your flash unless it’s getting dark and you want to try to illuminate your foreground. Another use for a flash is to shed light on a person especially when you are pointing toward the sunlight. To take a macro photo with your cell phone you can get a clip on macro lens that doesn’t cost much. The lenses usually come in a set. The other lenses in the set I can live without, but the macro lens works reasonably well.

Using a bridge camera, or an all in one non interchangeable lens camera, is handy. The zoom range can go from 24mm to 400mm and some have a fixed aperture of f/2.8 no matter the zoom range. So you can use the zoom in to get close to your subject or zoom out to get the wide view.

False Hellabor
False Hellabor

A digital SLR (single lens reflex) or even a film SLR, yes you can still use film, can give more options for photographing flowers but the basics, as mentioned previously, still apply. The biggest difference is lens options especially for macro photos. On a SLR you can get a close up photo two ways. One is to put on an extension tube to extend the focal length of one of your prime lenses such as a 50mm, or you can use a longer focal length zoom lens. With an extension tube set up you will be closer to the flower than you could normally get, but it will allow you to fill the frame with the photo and still maintain focus. It’s not so good when you’re photographing bees. The second way is to use a longer focal length zoom lens and zoom in, a much safer way to photograph bees.

Buy a field guide to flowers. It’s fun to identify them. Be a Leave No Trace photographer. While in the field be respectful of the plants around you and try your best to not crush them under your feet. It’s easy to look out away from you while getting the shot and not see the flowers below you.

As always, the technical details mean less than the action of actually getting outdoors with your camera. I may discuss a few minor details about the process but I always stress that it’s less about the process and more about the real reason.

Oregon’s Alvord Desert

An Alvord Desert sunset

Alvord Desert Sunset - I had a great time shooting these amazing mud tiles at the Alvord Desert with my friends Jason Brownlee and Matthew Grimes.

I had an excellent time visiting with about 40 of the Pacific Northwest's best photographers this last weekend. It was an honor to have been invited to your get together folks!! I'm sorry that I left a bit early. I couldn't fathom enduring the heat any longer without some sort of acceptable shelter... like a travel trailer. I think I need one of them. 😀 Does that make me old? Sleeping in the back of the PPV seems to be getting harder and harder lately. lol

If I could have handled the heat better the photo ops at the Alvord would have been incredible. There was a reflection in the last of the standing water lake on the playa. There were amazing cracked mud tiles. The stars are completely unencumbered by light pollution. They are some of the most amazing star filled skies in the state. The nearest town with a light bulb is 200 miles away. We're talking remote. And completely awesome.

After this trip I am more motivated to save up for a 500mm lens to take wildlife photos, especially birds. The incredible variety of birds that I saw non the drive there blew me away. And I have lived among millions of birds while living at Midway Island. I got to see a pair of Sandhill Cranes. I think that I saw some great egrets but they could have been white herons. I saw blue herons too. I saw yellow headed blackbirds and red wing blackbirds. I saw kerlews and sandpipers and pipits. I saw pigeons and mourning doves. I saw vulchers and some hawks and crows of course. I also saw antelope and wild horses and various rabbits and rodents.

It really is one of my favorite places, but I like it when it's not over 100 degrees fahrenheit. 😀

Photography Tips and Tricks

Darlene at Cape Kiwanda

Have you ever stood next to someone as you both took a snapshot of the same subject, looked at their screen and wondered what the heck they did or why didn't you think of doing that? Trust me, it happens more times than you would think, and it happens to the best of us. Taking a photo can be all about luck. Luck to be at a place or a moment or having the camera work just right, just having everything line up all at once if you're really lucky. But if you leave it all to luck, as in life, your chances of getting lucky will be slim. Therefore, it pays dividends to increase your chances of getting lucky by understanding a few basics of how to be more in control of creating the image with your camera.

Image creation is different that just taking a photo. Ansel Adams famous quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” explains it best. Think of it this way. You can walk up to a scene and point the camera at it and get a photo, or you can take a moment and look around the area around you. What do you see that can be a foreground interest? Let's say that you're shooting Mount Hood, for instance. Many folks, I'm sure, point their cameras at the snow clad peak beyond, ignoring the rhododendron bush close by that would give the photos some scale and depth. Is there some sort of trail or an element that would make a lead in line. Perhaps a gateway of trees to frame the scene. Look around and find some components that, if you position yourself properly, will create a more thoughtful composition.

And then there's photographing people in landscape and photographing landscapes with people. I tell landscape photographers to include someone in the photo. It gives the photo scale and perspective as well as allowing the viewer to create a story in their minds as they view the photo. Conversely, I tell photographers who photograph people to put the landscape in the photo. Create a compelling photo of a friend or family member of a great time or location by including the whole scene. Get close to your subject and use a fill flash if you need to to illuminate them, or have them walk off into the distance and stand on a rock using a noble adventurer stance, pointing off into the distance like Lewis and Clark or their arms thrust into the air air in triumph. It will add a dimension of emotion.

Mount Hood View
Mount Hood View

Now that we've discussed adding a subject to a scene, or adding a scene to a subject, let's talk a bit about composition. I have an understanding of and yet an aversion to standards and rules. I understand how I can learn them and understand them but I love to break them. Learning compositional standards is learning the mechanics of art. Learning how to break them is when art happens in my opinion. In the beginning the first standard one learns in art is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds dictates a few rules that I feel is always a good place to start, such as not centering your subject, putting the horizon on either a top third of the frame of the bottom third of the frame and, in some forms of interpretation, in no case shall you center your subject, to which I would reply never say never, ever. Although I may start with the rule, it typically stops once I put my subject off center, such as a person at the side of the frame as not to block the view of the of Mount Hood scene behind. At that time I will look to each side and up and down to position the frame to include everything that I want in the frame and excluding all that I don't. Move in toward your subject or further away, zoom in or out. Try shooting lower or stand on something to put yourself higher. Picture your photo inside of a frame. Be creative.

Light is important when making a compelling image. Try to go out and get your shot either in the morning light or in the late afternoon when the light is less harsh and more warm. Mid day sunshine is the most challenging light to get a nice photo in. Don't be afraid to photograph your subject into the light. If you're photographing people, try filling them with a fill flash because they will be in their own shade, or put them in shade and do a nice fill flash. One thing that I rarely do is put my subject in a position where the sun is shining into their faces, primarily because they will be squinting their eyes, but their faces will be too bright in most cases. Use the light to your advantage but don't fight it. If you have the ability to do so return under a nicer light.

You have a lot of options to be able to create an image. Don't be afraid to experiment with some of your manual setting if you have them. It always pays to know your camera and to override the Automatic setting if it isn't getting it right. Conversely, don't be afraid of the Automatic settings. If your manual settings aren't getting the shot, flip it over onto Automatic and give it a try. The last thing that you want to do is miss out on the photo by messing with camera settings.

The next time that you're out with your camera consider what Ansel Adams said and make your photograph, don't just take it. Create an image not just a snapshot, but whatever you do capture the moment.

The Aurora over the East Fork of the Hood River

The Hood River Oregon

The Aurora over the East Fork of the Hood River on the east side of Mount Hood, Oregon.

Some people enjoy a nice Sunday drive. One that's warm and sunny where you can just relax, roll the window down, put your elbow on the door sill, crank the music up and hit the open road, destination not required... worries be damned.

I enjoy that too, probably more than the average person, and thankfully so does Darlene, but we do it in the middle of the night a lot of the time. Last night was one of those nights. Darlene came and picked me up at 10:30 pm to go look at the night sky.

My Jeep has been at the Jeep Whisperer being attended to and so I have had no wheels for the last couple of weeks. Thankfully I get it back today, but in the meantime I have missed a few things that I would have liked to have been a part of, including the amazing aurora show the night before last. I think Darlene could sense my anguish and felt sympathy for me. 😀

It was a beautiful night. We were in communication with another night owl photographer, Erika Eve Plummer. who got some incredible aurora photos the night before. Darlene and I decided to get out from under the clouds that were over us here on the rainy side of Mount Hood and go east where we ended up standing in hurricane force gorge winds at Rowena Crest, near The Dalles.

We set up and took a few test shots and the aurora was faint at best, so we took off and headed back toward Mount Hood, not hoping for much as we headed back toward the clouds, but as we approached Mount Hood we stopped at a little spot that we like to go to pee in the woods, and decided to take a photo or two to see what kind of color aht we could see in the sky.

This this photo. The time stamp is 1:17am. The aurora was glowing again, although not near as strong as the night before, but it still set a nice mood for this simple photo.

We drove back home on deserted highways, after visiting beautiful places, with no people. I can't understand why more people don't take their Sunday drives at Midnight. 😀

#oregon #randallpics #aurora

Workshop Results – Candee Watson

Candee Watson Before and After
Candee Watson Before and After
Candee Watson Before and After

Here's a photo that Candee Watson and I worked on during her private workshop. Candee took this photo and I processed it during the post processing segment of her workshop.

Although the photo was practically perfect straight from the camera, I demonstrated a few techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop on this image, which include:

  • Healing brush and clone tool.
  • Brightness and contrast adjustment with levels and curves adjustment layers globally as well as selectively using luminosity selections.
  • Dodging and burning using luminosity selections.
  • Light Bleed using eye dropper and Soft Light blend mode.
  • Applying a tasteful and effective vignette.
  • Selectively applying an Orton effect using masks.
  • Blend If for shadows and highlight recovery.
  • Sharpening techniques.

Although I demonstrated these techniques, I also stressed the importance of being subtle in the use of them and to do all that you can in your power to get the best photo while you're in the field.

You can easily see that the photo is great the way it is, and would be fine with nothing more than a minor brightness and contrast adjustment in Lightroom. She nailed it in the field.

If you're interested in taking your photography to the level of fine art, perhaps consider a workshop. I conduct more private workshop sessions than group workshops. Contact me and schedule a day playing... I mean, working on improving your photographic art.

If you aren't already following Candee Watson, Like her Photography page. You'll be glad that you did. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/candeewatsonphotography/

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