nature

Smart Shots: How to Take Great Nature Photos With Your Cell Phone

By Chrislyn Johnson

Cell phone camera

Here in the Heartland, we have an abundance of beautiful natural scenes from Missouri’s Ozarks to the plains of western Kansas. By fulfilling our mission to protect the environment, all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in its unspoiled glory.

You can create spectacular images of our pristine lands and waters with a familiar device nearly all of us carry every day. Cell phones are handy multipurpose tools, so why not take full advantage of their capabilities?

While earning my degree in photography, I learned how to capture on film the images in my mind’s eye, but sometimes my cell phone still throws me for a loop. Making a snapshot into an exceptional photo is a little more challenging with the limited controls of a cell phone, but it can be done. The key is to concentrate on the main elements of a good photograph: exposure and lighting, composition and subject, and focus and angle.

Exposure and Lighting

Exposure seems simple, because the camera usually does a pretty good job of metering (measuring) the light. However, the quality of the light can drastically change the mood of an image. With practice, you can learn to differentiate average from better lighting, thereby improving the look and mood of your photographs.

  • Get accustomed to overcast days. The muted light won’t cast strong shadows and can make colors more intense. Alternatively, go out early or late in the day to capture the golden light professional photographers love.
  • Use the color of the light to your advantage.
  • Learn how far your flash will reach and use it all the time for close subjects. It will help soften bright lights and add dimension to soft light.
  • If your subject is dark, try to direct your camera’s focus to another, darker object the same distance away. The meter will automatically adjust the lighting.

Composition and Subject

The subject of a photograph is not always a person, but sometimes a bird, an old gnarled tree, or a beautiful ice sculpture.

Composition is the arrangement of visual elements in your work. This arrangement can be accomplished through selective focus on the subject, a change in the angle you are shooting from, or strategic placement or contrast within the photo. However, the easiest shortcut is to use the Rule of Thirds.

This rule involves imagining two lines running vertically and two horizontally to divide the scene into three sections each way. The ideal subject placement for beginners is along or at the intersection of these lines.

  • Practice using the Rule of Thirds.
  • Find uncommon patterns and angles to create interest.
  • Get in close and at the subject’s level, and get a good view of their eyes (especially if you can see a reflection in them).
  • Be sure the subject is sharply in focus.

Focus and Angle

Where you focus within the scene and where you aim your camera can change a lot within a photograph. Focus can involve placing certain parts of the scene in sharp contrast as others fade into the distance, or finding that a shot is in focus from the foreground to the horizon. The camera’s angle and the placement of a photo’s focus are important in directing the viewer’s eye to the desired location. This can be performed through the lens, or by using an app to provide the illusion of a shallow depth of field (not much is in focus). The goal when making a remarkable image is to artfully accentuate the parts you choose.

Ferns in various light

This series demonstrates how altering the camera angle and focus can change a photograph. Left: From above, the fern is uninteresting. Center: The camera is focused on the fronds and at a lower angle, while the background fades away. Right: The eye is drawn through the image toward the waterfalls in the background. The lighting has also changed and is more golden in this last image, which changes the mood as well.

  • Consider the subject and overall composition, and the “feel” you want to portray. Where do you want the viewer to look? Take a different angle and focus there.
  • Different settings can provide different moods. A bright, sunny day calls for sharper focus, whereas an overcast day with muted colors begs a softer touch.
  • Use photo editing apps to further edit your images.

It’s not enough to simply possess the knowledge of how to take excellent photographs or to have the best equipment. The ideal strategy is to practice the art, take feedback and learn, and enjoy it. I still prefer my digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) camera for the best photos. However, more and more I find that my cell phone does the trick for most of what I want to accomplish: capture precious memories!

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri. Chrislyn loves all things nature.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Developing the Lorax Within

Isabel and her son Dante enjoying a walk at BLM- ES Meadowood Recreation Area during National Public Lands Day (NPLD)

Isabel and her son Dante enjoying a walk at BLM- ES Meadowood Recreation Area during National Public Lands Day (NPLD)

By Isabel Long

“You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula Tree. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water.  And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
And all of his friends
May come back.”

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

As a non-native English speaker, I didn’t grow up surrounded by Dr. Seuss’ rhyming language. But, some months ago, my husband bought The Lorax for our three and half year old son. One day I came into the room and saw our son looking at the last pages showing the destruction of the unique Truffula Trees. He had a serious look. We turned to the last page, where the Once-ler sends out his manifesto, and I was captivated. With no scientific words, and in a very graphic way, that children’s book was telling the story we often have seen: the harm caused by the unlimited use of natural resources.

The story goes to the core of a question that has been on my mind for some time, especially after becoming a mother: how and when does an environmental ethic start to develop? Aldo Leopold, in my favorite quote, said, “The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process.” In my case, the emotional relationship was there for many years as a silent visitor, with no knowledge of the intellectual discussion. During my childhood at the dinner table, discussions were about politics, arts and literature, never science.

It wasn’t until I worked for one of the largest environmental organizations that my land ethic reached its intellectual process. And click, the circle was completed. Working in DC, I was obviously informed about the policy discussion. Most importantly, I understood the personal relation between those pristine landscapes that I love and our personal and societal responsibility: not only for the landscape, but also for the water we drink and the air we breathe.

In March, I heard the same message at the White House Environment and Women’s Summit.  In a compelling speech, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urged us to bring our children outside to connect with nature. And she went further, highlighting the importance of having a “visceral” connection with the outdoors. She explained that only then will we and our children understand what might be in peril.

So today, one more time, I will argue in favor of developing that emotional connection to the land that Aldo Leopold and Gina McCarthy reflected on. The land ethic will naturally develop if the emotional process is in place. But, if the emotional connection is lacking, we’ll be only individuals arguing, not leaders. Let’s be more like the Lorax, standing up for the Truffula Trees, protecting those marvelous untouched places around the world, and demanding clean air and water for our families and the future generations.

About the author: Isabel Long is originally from Chile. She works for the Bureau of Land Management – Eastern States at the Department of the Interior. She is the co-founder of BLM-Eastern States Diverse Youth Outings Project in partnership with the Sierra Club, the National Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC), The National Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC), and the Cesar Chavez Charter School in Washington D.C

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Creating a Haven for the Creatures of the Florida Keys

 

Taken by: John D. Ivanko/ecopreneuring.biz

Taken by: John D. Ivanko/ecopreneuring.biz

As my family drove our rental car along the unfamiliar Florida highways, I looked out the window. When we arrived where we staying, I got out of the car.  I stood still and the animals popped out. It revealed to me that you have to slow down to truly see nature at it’s fullest. You see more of nature in the middle of a hiking trail, standing still, than driving by.  What really struck me when I got out of the car was the sheer diversity of the plants and animals surrounding me. In the marina behind our rental house, there were pelicans, cormorants, anoles and so much more. It was not only the diversity of animals but also the diversity of plants that amazed me. I saw everything from coconut trees to mangroves (and in the rental next to us they even had a cactus).  Filled with this wonder of the nature surrounding me, I slept that night with my dreams filled with amazing plants and animals. The next morning my parents woke me up and we went out to an island. As we sped our boat out to the island, I looked in the water and I saw nothing. As I looked at the island from a distance, I saw no living animals. But as soon as I got off our boat and slowed down, it was like my vision had changed.  There were pelicans in the mangroves and anoles climbing around and little Sergeant Major fish swimming around the shallows of our island.  I learned from my trip to Florida that to enjoy something to its fullest, you have to slow down.  Just like eating chocolate bars, you slow down to get the deep flavors.

 

Unfortunately, some animals in this amazing ecosystem have problems:

• Turtles

The turtles have problems because a large part of a turtle’s diet is jelly fish. A turtle can very easily mistake a plastic bag for a jelly fish and eat the bag and then have stomach problems and possibly die.

• Cormorants

Cormorants are a small, one-and-a-half-foot tall bird (only slightly larger that a duck) . It waddles along road in search of food.  A hungry cormorant is a determined one. If it spots a fish in a pond across the road, the cormorant will waddle across the road only to be hit by a car.  Since cormorants are so short, drivers can’t see them and accidentally hit them.  I learned a lot about what I know about cormorants from Kelly Grinter, founder of the Marathon Wild Bird Center.

• Gulls

Gulls are a nuisance to fisherman because they eat the bait off of their fishing poles. Some fishermen get mad and throw rocks at the gulls. The stone could cause serious damage. Gulls also swallow hooks and fishing line from fishing poles when they steal the fish.

But there are people and organizations out there that are working to help these poor injured animals.  The Marathon Turtle Hospital is located on Marathon Key in Florida.  They work to help turtles that have been injured in the wild.  They have an operating room, a physical therapy room and even a lab. They save over a hundred turtles every year. Not content with just saving turtles, they also give lots of educational programs to help people understand how to protect turtles.

It’s not just turtles that people are working to help. The Marathon Wild Bird Center is working to help heal injured birds. Kelly Grinter and her volunteer staff are constantly working to help get these injured birds back into the wild.

But you can also help make life a safer place for these animals!  Just doing simple things like picking up trash and using reusable water bottles can save an amazing animal’s life.  If you are a fisherman, and you have broken fishing line, be sure to dispose of the line properly so it does not end up in the water.

If we all work together we can create a safe haven for the amazing creatures of the Florida Keys and animals everywhere!

Liam is eleven years old and lives in Wisconsin. He likes to read books and go on adventures with his friends. He also likes to have fun with his family. Liam enjoys exploring nature, writing about it and, most of all, helping protect it.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated with the change of seasons. I marvel at how the bare branches of seemingly lifeless trees and bushes come to life overnight. It’s part of the beauty of nature that never ceases to amaze me.


Just recently I was looking at my garden’s revival. While the garden itself will definitely need some attention in the coming weeks, there is still a natural beauty even in its current status. That’s how I focused on the tree that my father, youngest daughter and I planted on Earth Day six years ago. The ornamental pear tree that was barely four feet high has grown to more than fifteen feet tall. It stands tall, healthy, and proud in my garden.

I believe that tree-planting is a great way to instill in children the value of protecting our environment. The process of selecting the tree, preparing the soil, planting the tree, watering it regularly and watching it grow and thrive is a unique experience that benefits all involved. Furthermore, as the tree begins to grow, it also provides shade and improves air quality. Basically, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Even today, as I look at my tree I relive those memories. I still have the vivid images in my mind of the intergenerational experience of seeing my father, my youngest daughter and I working in the garden. I look at my garden and see many of the flowering plants that he helped me plant. He has always loved gardening. Even as he no longer has the agility to do some gardening in the same manner he did many years ago, he still enjoys it. Together, we still can share the experience.

Are you planning to do some gardening around your home this weekend? I’m including some tips that may help you keep your garden waste-free.  Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Harbinger of Spring

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

Spring is the season associated with the awakening of nature and rebirth.  You see it in the trees and bushes that begin to sprout new shoots and buds. You see it in the leaves of the bulbs that are starting to push up through the ground. You see it the increasing activity of wildlife. And you hear it in the sounds of nature that rise from their wintry slumber.

The other day as I returned home from work, I noticed a loud chirping.  I looked around and found one robin redbreast perched at the very top of a tree. There were no other birds in sight.  In my mind, it seemed like he was calling “look at me” and proclaiming “spring is right around the corner.”

This time I was equipped with my camera in my handbag and was able to capture the scene.  Since that evening, I’ve seen plenty of robins actively hoping around my back yard. Now I’m looking forward to seeing other colorful birds visiting the area.

During springtime, it’s a great time to consider greenscaping techniques to have a greener and healthier yard to protect the environment and save money. By creating a healthier garden, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of nature while creating a happier setting for your family, pets, wildlife and the environment as a whole.

Have you seen any early signs of spring in your neighborhood? As always, we love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

It’s Not Always About You – or – Environmental Gratitude in my Work and Life

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Eric P. Nelson

Having recently emerged from the holiday season that now runs from the day my Jack-O-Lantern takes up its position on the compost pile to the day my Christmas tree gets tossed onto the grim-faced Jack-O-Lantern, I feel rather drained from all the sentiments of gratitude and goodwill that I have both expressed and received during this extended season. They’re genuine, mostly, and seem appropriate at the time, but I’ve now shifted into New England-style winter survival mode, and quite prefer it after a long season of excess.

Recently, I read an article about “environmental gratitude.” The term was new to me, but after I read the article I realized I had discovered what motivates and guides me at work, and in many aspects of my life. Environmental gratitude was defined as, “a finely tuned propensity to notice and feel grateful for one’s surroundings on a regular basis, which generates pervasive attitudes of concern for planetary welfare and commitment to contribute ecological benefits to the extent of one’s ability.” It’s a bit dense to digest, but the article goes on to describe the phrase in simpler terms.

Unlike the gratitude one may feel during the holidays, environmental gratitude is not beholden to particular benefactors, does not require mutual intentionality (Thank you for that 2,000-calorie holiday meal!). Instead, simply recognizing and appreciating the very existence of the natural world and your connection to it can instill a sense of gratitude that can, in turn, influence your general attitude about protecting nature and motivate you to take action.

This has happened to me over the course of my life, and it’s how I approach my work at EPA, at least most days. No thanks sought, or needed, from those living things in the watery world that hopefully benefit from my actions. In truth, though, I do get thanked through my interactions with the natural world. And while I’ve seen nature in some of its most impressive forms, I’m just as enchanted by brief encounters close to home: a passing glimpse of a hawk flying through Boston Common; a hummingbird pausing on a branch above my shed; crows calling, winter quiet in snowy woods; a pungent whiff of exposed mudflat on a lonely beach; the jewel-like stars overhead at my bus stop on a clear, dark winter morning; the iridescent beetle that landed oh so briefly on the back of my wife’s neck. Such encounters are everywhere for all those who care to take notice. And to me, they matter.

The article, “Environmental Gratitude and Ecological Action,” by Richard Matthews, was featured on the website.

About the author: Eric Nelson works in the Ocean and Coastal Protection Unit of EPA New England in Boston, but prefers being underwater with the fishes. He lives in a cape on Cape Cod with his wife and two daughters, and likes pesto on anything.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Fresh Start

By Lina Younes

On the first morning of the New Year, I was taking my dogs out for their morning walk. There was a vigilant cardinal chirping away from a tree top watching our every move. I was fascinated by the little bird. That cardinal infused new life, color and sound to the otherwise bleak, wintry morning. It seemed as if the lively bird was eagerly embracing the new day and, in fact, the New Year!

I quickly went back in the house to fetch my camera. However, the lively cardinal was long gone by the time I returned. All that was left was the cold morning silence occasionally interrupted by the sound of the bushes and trees rustling in the wind.

With that in mind, I decided that in 2013 I would look for more opportunities to enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Every season has its own special beauty. While I must confess that personally I prefer the summertime, I have begun to enjoy the wonders of winter as well. Even the shorter days and gray surroundings have their own special charm.

So, I decided to share some snapshots of my recent outdoor experiences. Do you have any outdoor plans for the New Year? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

What New Projects Are You Planning For The New Year?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 is about to begin, I would like to share some thoughts with you for the new year. I don’t want to call them New Year Resolutions because those don’t seem to survive longer than the month of January.  So, how about talking about healthier choices,  or even green projects? Essentially, I’m thinking about actions that will lead to a healthier lifestyle on the personal level and for the Planet as a whole.

  • How about dedicating more time to the important things in life such as family and friends? We often get so tied up with work and rushing from place to place that we often forget to really value those who mean the most to us in our daily lives.
  • Let’s enjoy the great outdoors!  We don’t have to live in a wide open space to enjoy nature.  So, how about get away from those electronics that seem to dominate our lives for a moment? Take a walk, visit a local park or do some gardening.
  • Let’s take the clutter out of our life! Look around you. Do you really need to keep all those things at home or in the office that you never use?  We have a great website with useful tips as what you can do at home, on the go, in the office, or at school to practice the three R’s: Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling!
  • How about saving one of our most valuable resources—water? Simple steps like closing the faucet while you brush your teeth or taking shorter showers can go a long way to conserving water.
  • How about saving energy? It’s as easy as turning off the light when you leave the room. Simple steps will allow you to save money and protect the environment.
  • Want more suggestions on how you can protect our natural resources and engage others in environmental protection in your community? I recommend our Website www.epa.gov/pick5 that has numerous tips on how you can adopt a greener lifestyle today and everyday of the year.

As the saying goes, our actions speak louder than words. Let’s lead by example so that our children may also learn how to be healthier and better environmental stewards for years to come.  And finally I would like to wish you a happy New Year!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Environmental Expression

Last summer a group of inner city kids in Chicago had a cool learning experience when they took part in summer camp activities that included gardening, exploring nature, understanding conservation, and the importance of environmental awareness.

They expressed an interest in environmental stewardship through writing about the projects they participated in. These are some of the words they used to describe their connection with the environment. 

What words would you use to describe your connection with your environment? 

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She currently works at EPA in Washington, DC in the Chemicals Control Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Girls Scouts Strike Again

Girl Scouts

The Girl Scout Cadette Troop# 10717 from Florida is at it again.  They are not only talking the green talk, but walking the green walk.

After educating themselves on the possibilities of energy from waste during their ‘Breathe Journey’ stage–a step that they took to connect and take action to earn three leadership awards and to engage in improving the world’s air quality, they are connecting to the outdoors through tree planting.

Recently, the troop organized a planting event to give back to their community in Coral Springs.  Girl Scouts of all ages participated in activities to become Junior Forest Rangers and to earn their legacy naturalist badges.  Over 130 participants took part in a tour of the Coral Springs Community Garden, learned to identify at least 5 different types of trees, and planted a tree –which will be tended to by the girl that planted it for a month.

Why tree planting?

The troop recently uncovered that most kids these days spend close to 7 hours a day connected to electronics and are no longer in tune with nature.  They are wired and tuned into portable electronic devices instead of nature and the environment around them.  The Girl Scouts don’t want to forget everything nature has to offer, and so with a little sweat, planted over 130 trees!

Great job for the next generation of young environmental stewards!

What about you?  Have you unplugged from the electronic highway lately and taken part in some kind of act of environmental stewardship?  Tell us about it!

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree at DePaul University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.