Cell Phone Keepers – Neptune Park
Photos and story by Nancy Kirkpatrick
Just a few days ago I posted some tips for taking fireworks photos with your phone’s camera. Since I am a full time photographer (and writer), one may tend to think my equipment is always top notch, a great camera, pricy lenses, creative filters and, of course I get the occasional question, “How much of that is PhotoShopped?”. Yes, I have some decent equipment. Not the latest or greatest by any means. Much of it I’ve had for many years. I am also quite proficient with my editing software but I use a light touch. I prefer the natural rather than the extreme. That’s just my style.
So for today’s Walk-about, I offer photos taken only with my phone camera. A Samsung Galaxy Note3. No PhotoShop or special creative filters were used. I used only two basic edits, both from my phone’s edit menu, no special filters or apps. Auto Adjust which helped to brighten overall and bring out more detail in shadows, and Crop to eliminate any elements that did not support the main subject. I’m including some tips as well – some explanation as to why these photos – taken with a camera phone – are still “keepers”. These are all things anyone can do. I also practice deliberate, judicious shooting. I took only 10-15 photos in this series. So very little time spent looking for the “best” of 100 and very little space used for file storage.
I chose Neptune Park on St Simons Island to “walk about” with my phone since this is a well travelled, much photographed area, especially in the summer months. I went about 9:00 AM in order to beat the heat and avoid the harsh sun and shadows of later in the day. An hour or two earlier would have been even better, but since I planned to be there no longer than 30 minutes to get my images for today’s blog it wasn’t that critical. I finished in 1/2 that time then spent the next fifteen minutes in the shade of the Live Oaks just watching the world go by. It’s a good life when you can enjoy your job outdoors and not be in a rush!
For the lighthouse, I was standing quite close to the base, shooting up at an angle. I included the top edges of the structures clustered around the lighthouse’s base to give it a sense of place. I took only two images, the first one I discarded because the upper tree branches were centered, which was distracting instead of interesting. So I moved slightly to the right and the branches now draw the eye easily up to the top, typically the focal point of a lighthouse.
Next, I took three views of the gazebo: close, closer and closer still. Both horizontal and vertical. Always a good method to follow whenever you have the opportunity. You get three very different looks for almost no effort. One of my favorite instructions goes like this: “When do you take a vertical shot?” The right answer to that question is, “After you take the horizontal”. Again, two looks; no effort.
This is the second view of the gazebo – a bit closer.
And last – closer still. In fact. I am inside the gazebo now and waited until the children on bikes were framed in the openings, giving another layer or dimension to the scene. For this one, I did brighten with Auto Adjust in camera so that the gazebo structure is not a dark black mass since it was taken against a very light area.
Next is the picnic area under the live oaks. A little more difficult for the auto exposure on the camera, but it did OK. The sky is still blue and the massive tree fills the frame because it is the star, after all. The brick lined grills add foreground interest and the pier in the background adds more dimension. For memory images, the sense of place is all important. The tree by itself is impressive enough, but by itself, it is just another live oak in the south. By framing the tree carefully with the other park elements, you now have a memory photo. You know where you were.
Look in all directions after you take a shot. Behind, in front, the sides, beyond. Here is a sweet shot taken right after the picnic area. I did not have to move from my shady spot. Just zoomed in and used the hanging branches for a frame. Auto Adjust again to brighten the interior a bit and bring the rocking chairs out of the dark shadow. If auto adjust doesn’t get the look you want, play with the slider until you have something that pleases you.
Lastly, the wonderful mama and baby whale art by the play ground. This one is a little tougher. Children are usually climbing all over it and the big folks in their lives are gathered round taking pictures. I had to wait a little while – not long. While I waited, I walked all the way around paying attention to what would end up in the background of my subjects. And this, with the sea behind the sculpture was what I liked the best. More pleasant than the playground fence, for sure. And more naturally supportive of a whale’s own habitat.
So that’s it. You do not have to have expensive equipment to get wonderful images of your vacation or your home town. Your camera phone is always with you. With a little care, a little thought, your phone can take great photos. Ones you want to keep, share and be proud of. To recap all the above: 1) try for early or late in the day; 2) take a moment to study your surroundings; 3) take it close, closer, closer still; 4) take a vertical, then a horizontal; 5) take your shot, then look in all directions for the next one; 6) try to layer elements to get dimension – foreground, middle, far; 7) if you have the time, wait for your best shot; 8) make use of framing, both for sense of place and for supporting elements for your subject; 9) watch the background so it does not compete with the subject.
But the most important tip anyone can give for better photos – always – is to enjoy where you are first. Put the phone away; switch it to airplane mode! Find a place to sit and take it all in. Discover the personality, the light, the sounds, the activity or the peacefulness. What I call the local color. Find that first. Then get your phone out and record what you were just feeling. The best images are the ones that evoke a feeling. Make you want to go back there. Be there. Be in the moment. Enjoy!
by Nancy Kirkpatrick
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