Nature’s Smartphone Photographer: Some tips Part 2


Hello and welcome back to our because-we-love-you series of tips on photography with your smartphone!  Last time we talked about some ways to improve your smartphone photos through an understanding of perspective, cropping and focus, and we’ve already heard great results from our campers that have tried them out!  For this round we will be focusing (no pun intended) more on image quality, photography basics and a few other tempting but terrible things to avoid when roaming the wilds.  Together with our other list of smartphone photography tips, we hope to see a lot more budding shutterbugs in the campgrounds this year!

Fear the Flash
Unless you’re trying to capture Bigfoot shuffling near your tent at night, using a smartphone’s built-in flash is a great way to ruin a perfectly-good picture.  Don’t misunderstand: flash-photography is real and can be incredibly useful, but the problem with smartphones is that the built-in phone feature is NOT designed to function as a true camera flash.  Essentially the tiny LED under your camera lens is a mini-flashlight that is designed to conserve batter life, not brighten a room.  Rather than the strobe-like burst of light that visually alters exposure and balance for the better, smartphone flashes are dull flickers of light that wash out and blur their targets.  Take a self-portrait in a dark room with your phone and you’ll most likely get a yellow-skinned red-eyed demon that is emerging from nothingness instead of that classic selfie.

Raw is better than Cooked
Just like when taking photos with a traditional camera, you will most likely be much more satisfied with how much you can play with your images if you take them unaltered or unfiltered.  Unless you have a good grasp of photography or are hunting for specific image styles, using app-based filters often removes much of the original luster and energy you were trying to capture in the first place.  Once again, remember that photography is all about capturing the moments so be sure to preserve the freedom to craft your photos as creatively as possible.  Oh, and never replace your original with an edited photo!  Save it as a new picture instead.

Never be afraid to steal…frames
We’ve all had this moment: you find yourself with the perfect opportunity for a photo but no matter how hard you try, it just won’t come out like you want.  Instead of filling up your phone memory with a frustratingly large amount of garbage, it can sometimes be better to switch your phone to video and start filming a scene instead.  Smartphone cameras are impressively sophisticated for their size, but the software that governs the cameras is fairly rigid in its operation.  Autofocus, balancing, and exposure sensors all operate dynamically in video-mode, whereas camera-mode tries to find the best combination of settings for that single shot.  So long as you make your phone as steady as possible and there’s not a lot of movement in the subject, it’s completely acceptable to take a few seconds of HD video and then steal a few frames from it for a final photo.


Nature’s Smartphone Photographer Part 1


It wasn’t all too long ago that the world of photography required specialized equipment and years of training and expertise in order to capture those breathtaking gems, but in the age of the smartphone it’s possible to take professional-quality photos on the fly (and without a college degree).  Still even smartphone photographers can use a few tips to improve their game, and so for your viewing pleasure we proudly present some suggestions and life-hacks to make that next pocket-photo look stupendous!  Go and photograph the world, campers!

Don’t be afraid!  Get up close and personal!
Phone cameras lack the raw optical zoom of their pro and semi-pro counterparts, but the camera sensor itself has a fairly wide depth of field that allows you to photograph objects with ease…provided you are near enough, of course.  Getting close to your subject also means that lighting is less of a problem, as less surface area to contend with means there’s less chance of odd light distortions causing your balances and focus to go out of whack.  It can be a bit frustrating if you’re used to the magic of optical lenses, but don’t knock the up-close-and-personal approach until you’ve tried it!

Never cut the crop
Despite their small size, smartphones have the wonderful ability to take photos and videos in HD.  This means the resolution of your photos will be very nice even without zooming in from 500 yards away.  To that end, it’s important to appreciate one of your best photo-editing tools: cropping.  Try taking a wide or panoramic shot before cropping and scaling it down, and you will see results that turn out much better than trying to make that digital zoom feature perform to professional standards.  It’s also worth noting that taking photos is all about capturing the moment, and it’s much easier to take the time to isolate those moments from wide-angle shots than it is to try and zoom and pray.  Bottom line: take non-zoomed photos and make friends with the crop feature and you will be all the more happy for it.

App-reciate your Options
While all stock phone camera apps are not created equal, third-party camera app developers are in business for a reason.  Just like traditional digital cameras, smartphones have limits on the software that controls their functions, but UNLIKE traditional digital cameras, smartphones allow app developers to tweak that software and put the control back in the hands of the user.  Some camera apps allow users to manually adjust the auto-focus separately from the exposure, or save multiple images of the same shot at a time using settings that you control.  Regardless, playing around with free aftermarket camera apps is guaranteed to open the door to some exciting possibilities.


The Curious Camper: What is a Sunburn?


Most likely every camper has felt that telltale sting of red on their skin before, but many people never stop to ask just how does sunburn occur in the first place.  Is it an allergy?  It is literally cooking us?  Sunlight is essential to Vitamin D production after all so it can’t be all bad, and yet that blistering angry red skin after a day outside seems to indicate otherwise.  That’s why we hit the books and started researching how sunlight turns to sunburn in us humans, and the results are pretty interesting.  So for all of our curious campers out there, here’s an in-depth look at the red-skin menace and why it happens!

All UV Radiation is Not Created Equal
Before we get into the specifics about sun on skin, it’s important to point out that the radiation in the sun’s ultraviolet spectrum is actually three different waves put together (UVA, UVB and UVC) and only one of them actually causes sunburns.
-UVA waves typically have less energy than their younger brothers (no pun intended), but still has enough strength to punch through the earth’s atmosphere and reach the surface.  All of those long, tanned and handsome types should be grateful, as this type of long-wavelength UV energy is primarily responsible for tans.
-UVB is the middle child and has a nasty bite when it comes to skin damage.  The wavelength and energy are just the right balance to not only slip through the atmosphere but also damage the DNA of skin cells, and this UVB is the wicked culprit that causes sunburns.
-Last but not least is UVC, which while possessing the most energy out of all of the ultraviolet radiation levels pretty much has no impact on our skin, thanks to the absorption of it all by our atmosphere.

Sunlight Burns AND Tans?  UV’e Got to be Kidding!
In fact, we are not; surprisingly the true culprit behind sunburns is not the UV energy itself, but rather your own body’s immune response reacting to the ultraviolet rays.  As UVB begins to destroy the DNA of our cells, the body senses this damage through special skin cell receptors (called melanocytes) and starts producing extra melanin, a natural pigment that’s purpose is to absorb UV radiation before it damages too many skin cells.  For those of us that remember our grade school science classes, the darker the color the more that color absorbs light, hence the “tanned” look.  This protects our skin if the sun exposure is in small amounts over long periods of time because melanin production is a slow process, but when too much UVB happens all at once, skin cells begin to die faster than the body can produce new melanin-filled ones and so the immune system kicks in.  Blood flow rushes to the area to encourage healing and jump-start cell production (hence why sunburns are red and warm), and eventually all of the dead skin cells peel off.  The trouble is that if this skin renewing process occurs too often the DNA damage can be permanent, resulting in skin cancer.  So lather up the sunscreen and be safe!
We hope this has satisfied all of those curious campers out there who are looking for answers, so until next time, respect and enjoy nature!