Region 7

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.

Environmental Protection Takes a Team

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, herself a veteran of state environmental agencies, always reminds us that environmental protection is an “enterprise.” That means EPA is only one part of a larger effort that keeps people healthy and our natural environment productive. A very important part, to be sure, but EPA can only accomplish our mission by working with partners: state agencies, local communities, businesses large and small, and families who grow the crops that feed our world.

Here in the Heartland, Region 7 recently hosted two important conversations that illustrate why we say, “Environmental protection is a team effort.”

Region 7 includes much of our country’s most productive farmland. From Missouri’s Bootheel, which raises cotton and rice, to Nebraska’s cattle country stretching nearly to the Rockies, agriculture’s engine room drives much of America’s farm output. And when you look west, EPA Region 8 encompasses not just the Dakotas’ irrigated corn and bean producers, but wheat growers on the Plains and stockraisers along the Rocky Mountains from Montana to Utah. This immense agricultural bounty requires the EPA to know farming, and to know farmers. Some of America’s most influential innovators are ag producers and their suppliers, customers, and research institutes at land-grant universities and private firms. More

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

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.

Listening to Heartland Voices: The President’s Climate Action Plan

Leader Blog

This month, Region 7 will be doing a lot of what this agency does best: listen, learn, and lead.  The reason:  the President has tasked the EPA to take the point on one of the most important  challenges facing our generation of Americans:  cutting carbon pollution that harms our health, impedes our industrial competitiveness, and poses serious challenges to Heartland communities that depend on agriculture.

The President in June announced a national Climate Action Plan.  The President’s Plan assigns EPA a big job in accomplishing these vital goals: cutting carbon pollution from power plants, building a transportation sector for the 21st century, encouraging use of cleaner and avoidance of dirtier energy, and preparing this country for climate change’s impacts on weather and water.

More

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

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.

Here in the Heartland

130815-Iowa State Fair-2 1

Here in the Heartland, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cares about fairs. All kinds of fairs:  local, county, and the “big ones” for our four states. In a region that provides a huge share of the nation’s and the world’s food, forage, fiber, and fuel, these annual gatherings in late summer and early fall give ag producers and their families a great chance to show off their work and to educate their city cousins about the realities of growing food.

Since I became the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 7 office, I have attended the Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri State Fairs. I spent a great day in Des Moines last month at “the fair with which none can compare,” the Iowa State Fair. Hope the attached pictures show how much fun I had, and also how much new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy valued her day at the Fair.
More

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

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.

Reminiscing….

By Jeffery Robichaud

A few weeks ago I blogged about our pending office move.  The day has finally come, and this will be my last in this office.  The movers are taking our items to our new home Thursday and Friday, and I will start to unpack next Tuesday, our first day in the new digs.  This is the view out my window last night, the shadows creeping across the almost empty parking lot.

I know I have taken this view for granted over the years, but as I gazed out of it for one of the last times I was struck by all I could see… how out this one window, I could literally see before me my work over the last ten years and our mission as an Agency.  Apologies to the Little River Band (feel free to hum along) but I couldn’t help myself but do a little reminiscing.

On the left hand side just above an overpass you can make out an orangish-reddish building, EPA Region 7’s Science and Technology Center.  This state of the art facility was one of the first LEED certified laboratories in the country, and it was built on a Brownfields site, allowing EPA to practice what it preaches by re-using  a blighted property.  It is here where samples from all around our Region and even the country are analyzed to provide the necessary information for us to make decisions.  It was dedicated 10 years ago and we are just as proud of it today.   Even with the move to the new building around 80 staff will still be located here in Kansas City, KS.

Towards the center of the photo you can make out the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers at a place called Kaw Point, a place where Lewis and Clark camped over 200 years ago and which holds tremendous significance to me as a history buff.  It is from that point where we launch Carp Buster II, our electrofishing boat which we use to collect fish from both the Kansas and Missouri Rivers as part of our Ambient Fish Tissue program, the longest running such program in the country.  The information that we and our partners in the four States collect provides the public with timely information about the safety of their water’s fish.   Administrator Jackson visited Kaw Point several years ago to kick off the Summer of Service Intitiative.

Kaw Point used to be a decrepit, derelict, outcropping but through the hard work of the many partners including the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the Friends of Kaw Point, it was turned into a fantastic park just in time for the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery.  The photograph below is of my first exposure to the point at  a clean-up I worked in the rain one Fall afternoon almost 10 years ago to the day (also featuring EPA’s Larry Shepard a fellow blogger and all around good guy).

Towards the top of the picture you can barely make out a candy striped stack of the Hawthorne Power Plant to the right of the new bridge.  As a Senior Advisor to our Regional Advisor ten years ago I remember working on an event where former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman spoke about the plant which at the time was the cleanest coal fired power plant in the nation.  However just five years later, a horrendous fire darkened the sky above Kansas City, the result of a fire at a chemical plant nearby.  Many of us worked throughout the night collecting and analyzing the data from inside the plume to ensure that we could provide the public with accurate information about their health.

Finally, I need to comment on the big black silhouette that obscures a portion of my view out my window.  It is a bird, or at least a facsimile of a bird.  One of the nicer features of this building is the eastern facing facade is primarily glass, providing my view of the City built on the River.  However, it seems that birds have a tough time judging the windows and were smacking into them with some regularity.  Rather than just accept this rather macabre side effect, a group of folks including Holly (who is also contributor to this blog) decided that we might scare off the birds by use of these sillhouettes of birds of prey, and darned if they don’t actually work.

Next week the view will definitely change, and I will miss the big black splotch on my window.  What won’t change is the work that my colleagues perform everyday, their creativity, their pursuit of strong science and transparency, and their tireless effort to ensure that we work our hardest to protect the public health and the environment here in the Midwest.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He will miss his view of Kaw Point.

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.