Photo

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.

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Design for the Environment Teams up with Business Leaders

It’s always exciting and encouraging to see companies across the country recognize the benefits of sustainability goals and expand the availability of products with improved environmental characteristics. At the 2014 Walmart Sustainable Product Expo, dozens of leaders and thousands of attendees came together with non-governmental organizations and EPA representatives to learn about sustainability initiatives, share information, and build a network for constructive collaboration and leadership. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Make your mark for Earth Day

Jeanethe Falvey

Earth Day is April 22, so help make history with Environment in a Day!

Where will your Earth Day defining moment be? In Iowa? American Samoa or Rhode Island? Idaho? Wherever it is, we want to see it! Tell your friends, your family, shout it out through Facebook. This is your chance to share what Earth Day 2012 looks like where you are. One photo from each U.S. state and territory will be featured on a map and image of the moment.

map

Starting the day before and for the following week, EPA’s State of the Environment Flickr project will be taking only one submission from each Flickr member that participates. That means, give it your best shot! To be featured your photo has to be taken on 4.22.12. We’ll be checking the date, so no being sneaky. Besides, where’s the fun in that? You’ll already be out enjoying the glorious day where you and your fellow humans celebrate and take steps to better protect our environment. Take just a moment to share in a picture what the day means to you.

I should also mention a little secret. To be featured, you’ll have a limb up if your photo is cool and creative and that happens by simply having fun!

Will someone on the Maine coast capture the first U.S. sunrise of the day? Who could get the final sunset? Will you be leaping for joy, cleaning up litter by the masses, or hugging (gently) that newly planted tree?

Celebrating outside the U.S.? Fear not! It’s a happy globe day for all Earthlings of course and we haven’t forgotten about you. We invite you to still take part in the project. State of the Environment started out and always will be about the global picture of our single, shared, collective environment. Submit your view of the day too as we’ll continue to feature photos throughout the year and there just might be some kudos in store for you.

Now go on, be sure to spread the word. The last thing we would all want is an empty zone on the map.

EPA’s State of the Environment Group on Flickr

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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.

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Documerica Returns!

students taking pituresRecently the National Archives and EPA launched a contest that I wish I could enter myself. I could, if I change my name, age, birth date and occupation, but since that would be frowned upon I’ll stick to what I’m doing behind the scenes.

Unlike those of us excitedly working on this project, students ages 13 to 18 plus college or graduate school students CAN participate. Now is the time for teens to get inspired about their environment!

When you become more in touch with your surroundings and the state of the planet, you might develop a heightened state of eco-awareness and feel a sense of “green-powerment.” You may come home from school and roll your eyes at your parents if they toss away recyclable goods, or forget those re-usable shopping bags or leave the water running. Regardless of the manner in which you communicate your newfound knowledge, in many cases you feel good doing so, especially when your friends are doing the same.

Right now, there is an opportunity for that energy and creativity to be part of an international project, recognized by renowned judges and exhibited around the United States. On top of that, the grand prize for this contest will be $500, courtesy of the Foundation for the National Archives.

http://documerica.challenge.gov/

Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project-lead at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Boston, Massachusetts.

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.

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Enter our Photo Contest to Help Tell the Story of Sustainability in New York City

By Kasia Broussalian

“I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible”
-Richard Avedon

This quote, spoken by one of my absolute favorite photographers, has a way of resonating deep in my soul. For one short sentence, it says quite a bit. That’s what a great sentence is supposed to do, right? My becoming a photographer was an accident. For years I had wanted to be a journalist—a writer. Until a college friend handed me a camera and I thought, “Wow, I could go outside every day if I used one of these to tell stories.” Stories. That’s the other part. With a camera, I became a witness to a life so much bigger than my own. From behind the lens I had access where my ordinary eyes would not. For such a small object, a camera moves mountains.

With our New York City blog, “Greening the Apple” just launched, I wanted to share my passion for photography with others. We’ve launched a photo contest,  “A Greener Apple” Photo Contest and we hope you will all participate. The theme for the contest is, “What does sustainability look like in New York City?” Pick your best work, submit your photos easily online, and have a chance at some exposure and recognition on our blog. Photography is story-telling. Share your stories with the rest of us. The deadline for submissions is midnight, August 12, 2011 (EST).

Please read contest rules and guidelines on Greening the Apple

About the author: Kasia Broussalian is a Public Affairs intern for EPA Region 2. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at New York University, and has been with the agency since 2010.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.