Focus On The Details

Photography is a powerful tool. We wield our cameras with the possibility to share a different perspective of the world. In this day of instant everything, I find myself taking a majority of daily photos with my smartphone. This little device has become a great resource for documentation, and it often acts as a lifeline for keeping me present in the moment as an everyday photographer. It’s so convenient, always in my pocket and inconspicuous while in use. I’m still loyal to my “real” camera gear, but most days I swing toward the lightheartedness and ease of the iPhone.

Focusing on the details of nature really helps to create an optical illusion of space in my photography. Belly down in the wet grass with fog and rain all around, I look for a certain smallness that reminds me of childhood imagination. Mushrooms found on a dewy morning, conversing with butterflies and toads, even a resting raindrop, all have the potential to become an interesting (and perhaps challenging) subject. Working within creative restraints can be frustrating. So when I walk away from these photography moments muddy-kneed and happy, it’s not because of shutter speed and lens size, but because what I’m really doing is connecting with nature and meditating with my camera.

How can looking through our cameras teach us more about light and life, and how to merge it all into a beautiful photographic package? Balance is the feeling your photograph evokes. Balance is what makes images look and feel harmonious (and, no, not always symmetrical, and, yes, you can break the rules). Balance, composition, space and light: Each one of these elements of photography has a certain amount of value in direct relation to all the other elements. They’re all connected.

Without them, the image loses its emotion, the subject falls off the page, the viewer loses interest of the subject or the moment has passed. All of this swirls around my brain as I look at this tiny mushroom and wonder, “How do I photograph a single blade of grass, the dew on a small mushroom or the expanse of fog surrounding me?”

I gain more control over my focal point by using the Camera+ app. A shallow depth of field will change any snapshot into a more visually pleasing image.

I start by getting grounded. This helps me find balance and breathe. Most often, I look down right where I’m standing and get small; I crouch low and gather up my surroundings, one tiny detail at a time.

GET SMALL

Yes, I always smile and think of Steve Martin (circa the 1970s) telling his audiences, “I like to get small.” But this motto actually works well with photography. Get low. And then get lower. Placing your iPhone (with the camera lens side) to the ground will include more details in the frame of your image. Blades of grass stand front and center, and fungi grow to gigantic proportions with this ant’s-eye view that humans normally don’t see.

WEATHER

Seek out variations in weather. Fog is your friend! Use this opportunity to shoot a full landscape to capture the white space of fog. The details of this scene become the color of the tree, the power lines at the edge of the frame and the frost heaves in the cracked road. Don’t run from rain! Grab an umbrella and head out to find raindrops and puddles.

When I first began shooting with my smartphone, it left me inspired with creativity.

FOCUS

I gain more control over my focal point by using the Camera+ app. A shallow depth of field will change any snapshot into a more visually pleasing image. Try Camera+ or look for a photography app that allows you to retain full resolution of your files. There are many to choose from, and you’re guaranteed to find a favorite just as I did. Each of these images was shot in Camera+ specifically for its manual-control feature. Camera+ allows me to create a crisp focal point on raindrops while simultaneously creating a bokeh background of forest.

Get closer! Composing your bokeh background will help accentuate your subject. I intentionally positioned these raindrops against the dark green bokeh pine trees to help the individual drops stand out.

COMPOSITION

Tricking the eye to find details hiding in something ordinary is another fun way to shoot landscapes or nature scenes. I gravitate toward reflections for this sort of optical illusion. Shooting reflections in puddles or still ponds can create an image that feels otherworldly. The detail becomes not just yet another image of fall foliage, but a ripple in still water or the shape and texture of a puddle on concrete with a dream of autumn hidden inside.

BACKLIGHTING

Being able to control exposure definitely adds to the mood and overall feel of your image. Camera+ allows for this type of manual control. Backlighting flowers, leaves and petals can reveal an extra-fine sharpness to your iPhone image, as well as provide strong emotion. This is different than creating sun flare (which is also fun); backlight creates a glowing halo effect that feels heavenly on the eyes.

Get low! Kneel down and risk getting muddy knees for your shot. By placing my iPhone lens lowest to the ground, I’m able to focus on details of the grass and mushroom from an ant’s perspective.

CREATE A NATURAL LIGHT STUDIO

When my son was little, we called it “treasure hunting,” a nature walk that resulted in handfuls of acorns, interesting leaves, shiny rocks and other goodies found outside. Shooting the details of leaf veins or a well-placed heart-shaped hole is a welcome practice in composition, but also a good study in natural light. By placing your “treasures” on a black backdrop near a window, the natural light will aid in showcasing the beauty of the found object. The natural light of a window is best known for portraits, but works beautifully for still-life photography, as well. My windowsills are commonly used as tiny natural light studios for treasures found in nature.

Look up! Use a clear sky to clean up your composition with space and light. For this shot, I got low and then angled my camera up the flower stem to position the sun behind the petals.

WHO KNEW MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY COULD BE SO FUN?

When I first began shooting with my smartphone, it left me inspired with creativity. My innate desire to make something beautiful met new parameters with which to create. This was exactly the challenge I needed, and I still find it fun (and instantly satisfying)! Some days, I shoot exclusively with my smartphone, and quite honestly, it’s a freeing experience. Gain creative control over your mobile images, and have more success a
nd fun with your phone the next time you get out in nature.

Meredith Winn is a writer, a photographer and Associate Editor of Taproot Magazine. She’s a contributor to Shutter Sisters, featured in our Point of Focus column. You can see more of her photography at meredithwinn.com.

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