When I’m not working at my real job (the one where I get paid) or volunteering in the band concession stand, or chauffeuring adolescents to activities, my favorite activity is wandering around the nature preserve and taking pictures with my iPhone.
I have many reasons why I use my iPhone instead of a “real camera”. First, I enjoy the challenge. Second, it’s’ a lot easier to carry around a phone than lugging around a lot of equipment. Third, I have two teenagers who like to eat (a lot), and my grocery bill is astronomical. I can’t afford a camera; I’m lucky to get Starbucks once a week. I admit that when I’m out on the trail and I see photographers with their high-end equipment getting some fantastic shots, the little green envy monster rears its ugly head for a few moments, but then I’m distracted by something cool and out comes the iPhone.
I’ve learned a few things about nature iPhone photography that I am passing on to you, in case you are tempted to try a little iPhone nature photography yourself.
1. Lighting is everything. If you can get in good light, your pictures will look better. Experiment with your phone and the natural light and figure out what works for you.
2. Watch out for snakes. I’m not kidding. Not because I am afraid of snakes—I like snakes. But I also don’t want to get bitten by a copperhead while trying to get a picture of something else.
3. Start out by taking pictures of things that don’t move, like plants or fungi, especially if you are just getting started with iPhone nature photography. You can take all the time you want to practice with your phone. When something is stationary, you can experiment with what angles work best, how to get a focused shot up close, and maybe even get a little artistic.
4. Be zen with nature. I know this might sound a little weird, but I think the critters pick up on your vibes. If you’re calm and patient, you will have success.
5. The time of day can have an effect on your results. I’ve gotten some good pictures of dragonflies in the early morning while they are still settled on a branch.
6. Accept the limitations of the technology. For example, I will never get a picture of a belted kingfisher with my phone. When you see something good and you know it isn’t going to work, just be in the moment.
7. Take a lot of pictures. If they aren’t any good, you can delete them. When you get home, you might be surprised at what you get- and the more pictures you take, the better you will get at it.
8. Lesson learned the hard way: Make sure you charge your phone before heading out onto the trail.
9. Don’t compare your pictures to others’ in a negative way. My personal philosophy is that it’s all about the process- hiking, being outside, learning about the natural world by observation. My iPhone pictures aren’t as good as a professional photographer’s, but I enjoy taking them, and I enjoy finding plants, animals and fungi to take pictures of. When I do get a good shot, I’m excited about it.
10. Be prepared to branch out depending on the opportunities offered. If it has just rained, I’m out looking for fungi—but if I see a butterfly, I’m going to see if I can get a picture of it. You never know what will cross your path. A few weeks ago, I was walking down a trail. and right in front of me was a very colorful stump stabber depositing its eggs into a tree. Did I get a picture of it? You bet I did, even though I actually didn’t know what it was doing when I took the picture (ovipositing).
11. Don’t be afraid to change your angle by getting down on the ground or even standing on your tiptoes to get a picture. Just be aware of what you’re doing and where you are. I once got down on the ground to get a picture of some moss and when I stood up, my son pointed to a plant that was right where I’d been and said “Hey, Mom, isn’t that poison ivy?”
12. Learn a little about the habits of the critters you are trying to capture—when are they most active? What do they like to eat? Do they like swampy areas, or bright sun? Will they possibly bite you if you get too close?
13. Get on iNaturalist and share your observations with the rest of us. When you keep a record of your observations you’ll start noticing patterns that help plan future iPhone photography excursions. I noticed that my own photography got much better once I started sharing it.
I think people are often intimidated by the idea of getting out into nature (Snakes! Spiders!). When you don’t know a lot about wildlife, the idea of going for a hike can be daunting. When you take that first nature iPhone shot, you might feel that it pales in comparison to others’. Soon, though, you’ll find that you are getting into the moment, enjoying the outdoors, learning about the natural world, and having a great time.
Editor’s Note: For more of Jennifer’s entertaining wit and wisdom please visit her wonderful bog,The Mom of No.