How to Take a Still Life with Your Phone Camera

As I mentioned in my post last week, I have been really energized by the practice of carrying my phone along on my walks and trying to capture some of what I see around me.  The fact that I give myself the task of capturing one good image from each walk means that I am looking around me more carefully, and when I see something interesting, I am then thinking about how best to frame it, capture it, translate it.

Here are some of the steps to capturing a great still life in nature.  If you are inspired to go out and take any photos after reading this, please post them and tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.  I’d love to see where your walks take you.

1.  Pay Attention.

What moves you?  What brings you a moment of joy?  Pay attention to your surroundings and tune into what’s important to you, what catches your eye.  What has been capturing my attention lately is colour and light.  Who can resist the bright flowers and the crisp greens of spring?  I took this picture on a really bright day, and what caught my attention was the way the leaves cast shadows on each other.



The shadows multiplied the shades of green, and highlighted that really juicy pale green of the young leaves.  I tried it from several angles and distances.

This was too close to capture the feeling of the wide bright sky:

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And this captured the blue sky but not the intensity of the bright light, and the background is too busy:

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I finally realized that I would have to get underneath the tree and shoot towards the sun from an angle only possible from the ground, so I sat down on the sidewalk and got this:

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Now I had the shot that captured what I was seeing: new leaves, green shadows, bright light, blue sky.  This was taken with my iPhone camera with no filters, and it’s pretty close to the final image that I published on Instagram.  I then edited and framed the photo in Phototoaster so that the leaves on the bottom were off centre and in sharp focus, leaving the background foliage blurry, and I made the colour more intense.  These are effects that I added after the fact with my photo editor app: Phototoaster.  I love Phototoaster.  I am not the kind of person who likes to experiment or play with technology because I don’t have the patience, but Phototoaster is the exception.  With this app, you choose a photo from your phone camera album (the original is not changed), and then you have fun and play.  You can add shading, intensify colour, blur the edges, make it black and white or sepia, choose a texture that makes it look like an oil painting or an old photo.  So many possibilities and so much fun.  Taking the picture is really only the beginning; most of the effect comes from using the photo editor.

2.  Get Close.  Really Close.  Closer!

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I lost some of the resolution by using the zoom to get so close to this tiny lilac blossom, but I still like the final effect.  Get as close as you can without using the zoom to get the best resolution, and then play with the zoom when you edit.

3. Compose.

I did not want that lilac flower to be in the centre of the square photo, so I composed the photo with it off-centre, and the eye travels from bottom left to top right with the movement of the stalks.  Figure out where you want the eye to go.  Do you want symmetry or asymmetry?  Do you want attention all in the foreground, or do you want to keep details from the background?

4. Crop.

I do all my cropping in Phototoaster so that my original is not changed.  It’s a really important step that allows you to cut out any extraneous “noise.”

5. Edit.

This is the really fun part!  I have so much fun taking a photo through different incarnations.  When I took this photo, I wanted to capture my sense that the poppies were on fire.  Something about the early morning light shining through those fragile, feathery petals looked like flame.  This is as shot:

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And then to intensify the colour I played around with focus until I got the best impression of fire that I could.  I actually had a hard time deciding between these.

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6. Frame.

It’s the final step to making your image pop.

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What We’re Reading This Summer

From Beth-Anne

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs undertakes an entire year devoted to living as literally as the Bible prescribes.  Raised an agnostic Jew, Jacobs religious preconceptions are put to the test as he discovers the root meaning of biblical laws and a new way to look at the world.  Like with all of A.J. Jacobs writing, be prepared to laugh out loud and question some of your own ways.  Visit his blog for a taste of his writing.

The Alchemy of Loss by Abigail Carter

After her husband is killed at World Trade Centre on September 11, this young widow with two small children must navigate life as a single mother and come to terms with her new life.  Carter’s emotions are raw the first two years following her husband’s death, but she doesn’t hold back in this memoir.  After reading her reflection, I hugged my family a little closer because in a second it can all be taken away from you.  Abigail Carter writes a blog about widowhood, motherhood and raising teenagers.

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I admit that I am struggling to get through this one.  I am too much of a pragmatist to get into the “romance” of it all.  I can’t stop thinking about who cleans up the Red Room of Pain?  Why doesn’t Ana have her own computer?  She’s a university English major in 2012 not 1995.  How can a virginal girl go from never been kissed to discussing the merits of anal fisting?  And really, if I have to read the words: jeez, oh my, crap, double crap and inner goddess one more time, I may gouge my eye with a pen.  Just sayin’.  (Side note:  Call me a quitter but I couldn’t finish it!)

From Nathalie

Two amazing books by Joseph Boydon, Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce.   These are books one and two in a projected trilogy about several generations of a Cree family from Moose Factory in northern Ontario.  What impressed me most about Three Day Road is how Boyden yoked the harsh conditions of trench warfare in WWI and the struggle for survival outside of the residential and reserve system to which his protagonist Niska refuses to submit.  That struggle to resist cultural erasure continues in the second book, and I found both of them simply riveting.

It would not be summer without a murder mystery!   I read Still Life and A Fatal Grace, two murder mysteries by Louise Penny, set in Three Pines in the Eastern Townships in Quebec.  These are the first two in a series of eight.  Penny’s books are an interesting read, because some of her characters are really quite unlikeable.  Of course, one is not supposed to like the murderer, but all of her characters have serious flaws.  This makes what could be a two-dimensional cozy murder mystery into a more jarring read.

Two books billed as the cure for The Hunger Games hangover: Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth.  These are young adult dystopian novels set in a world where the population is divided along lines of personality traits rather than colour or religion.  Addictive and perfect summer fun to share with the older kids in the clan.

From Carol

For the Time Being – it’s a kind of meditation on life and everything by examining seemingly disparate and almost disjointed topics, like the history of sand, the teachings of a Jewish mystic, and birth defects.  But it’s somehow lyrical and related, and I was surprised how riveted I was reading about sand.  It also isn’t a parenting book, which was nice.
There’s Lead in Your Lipstick – the subtitle says it all, really:  toxins in our everyday body care and how to avoid them.  Apparently, the average woman applies or spritzes 127 chemicals on her body every morning, including formaldehyde, coal tar, and lead.  The author also begins with a stunning revelation that she discovered she had breast cancer and had a masectomy while writing the book.
An Everlasting Meal – paraphrasing the author’s words, it’s a book about eating affordably, responsibly, and well, and since that requires cooking, it’s mostly about that.  It was modeled after a book by M.F.K. Fisher called “How to Cook a Wolf”, written in 1942 during wartime shortages.  Essentially a quiet celebration of food and eating.