I love the convenience of my iPhone camera for spontaneous photos wherever I may be. If you’re among the 77% of Americans with a smartphone you probably make a lot of pictures with yours, too. Smartphone cameras have gotten significantly better over time, but they’re still not ideal for night-time photography. But you’ve got a camera in your pocket and you’ll shoot at night, especially the holiday lights on display this month.
Here are a few tips to help you make better photos of your favorite light display.
Your camera’s auto exposure system may not be able to figure out how to properly expose bright lights in a dark environment. You might get lights that are washed out or lacking much color or detail. The solution? Under-expose. With the iPhone’s Camera app, touch the screen to focus and notice the little yellow sun that appears. Now take your finger and drag up (to make the picture brighter) or drag down (to make the picture darker). What you see is what you get, so adjust until you have a nice balance of the lights and the environment. You’re usually going to want to darken the photo to hold detail in the lights.
My favorite time to photograph holiday lights is at dusk, 20-30 minutes after sunset. At the winter solstice in Bellingham, sunset is 4:15 pm so shoot at 4:35 to 4:45 to hold a little deep blue color in the sky.
Hold it Steady
Longer exposures are the norm when shooting at night, so you need to take extra steps to hold your camera steady. I like to find something solid to brace my camera on before I gently touch the shutter button. I’ve used walls, door frames, light posts, tree trunks, fences, the top of a trash can, a traffic control bollard, or the ground at various times for night photos with my phone camera. You can usually find something to brace your camera on.
Embrace Movement and Blur
Although I generally like my photos crisp and sharp, sometimes it’s fun to play around with moving my camera during the exposure. On my iPhone I use an app called Slow Shutter Cam ($1.99 in the App Store) for long exposures. Experiment with different shutter speeds and rates of movement. For the holiday lights on the Fairhaven Village Green I settled on a 2-second exposure to record just enough movement for an interesting effect. I like to start moving the camera and then press the shutter button for a smoother effect. Try both panning (sideways movement) or rotating your camera for different effects.
While there are lots of apps that let you add filters and effects at the moment you take a photo, I’m a firm believer in capturing the best possible exposure and then adding any enhancements later. I edit almost every smartphone photo I make before sharing it with anyone. My favorite editor is Snapseed, available free for both iPhone and Android. There are other apps with some of the same features, but I keep coming back to Snapseed. It’s powerful, flexible, and pretty easy to use. If you want to learn how to use it (and are afraid to play on your own) sign up for my iPhone photo class at Whatcom Community College (next offered February 27, March 6 & 13). You’ll be able to crop, adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, highlight and shadow detail. You can even adjust different parts of the picture selectively and edit out bits that don’t belong.
Print Your Favorites
Although it’s tempting to just keep your photos on your phone or share them on social media, prints are still a great way to enjoy and preserve your photos. You can print to your home printer or get prints made at Quicksilver here in Bellingham or at Costco. Both Quicksilver and Costco have apps that let you upload directly from your phone, order prints, and then pick them up a day or so later.
I made all the photos accompanying this story with my iPhone in the course of about half an hour walking around Fairhaven. I had fun playing and experimenting with my camera and then edited them when I was back home and curled up on my comfy sofa with a favorite beverage at hand. The point is to engage your playful spirit and have fun. Delete the experiments that don’t work, polish the good ones in your favorite editor, and then share as you see fit.
A few months ago my friend Tom Kilpatrick, who owns the Hilltop Restaurant on Guide Meridian just south of Axton Road, called me to inquire about a couple of new pieces of mountain art for the restaurant. I prepared a preview gallery and Tom picked a couple of favorite photos. I snapped pictures of the walls in the restaurant so I could show him how his choices would look and to help decide on the right size. We came to agreement on the size and price and I got printed ordered.
Today I took two beautiful canvas prints out to the Hilltop with my tools and got them on the walls.
At the back of the restaurant, where you can enjoy it from the moment you walk in the door until you leave, is a photo of Mt. Baker I made at sunset. It’s a panoramic image, shot on film with my Fuji GX617 camera almost 20 years ago. The finished print is 28″ tall and 80″ wide. Continue reading →
One of my favorite places to explore the saltwater shoreline near Bellingham is Larrabee State Park . It’s just a few miles south of town on Chuckanut Drive, aka Washington highway 11. Larrabee is Washington’s oldest state park, established in 1915. Originally just 20 acres, the park now includes 2,683 acres from Bellingham Bay to forested upland ridges.
I opened my copy of the Bellingham Herald this morning (yes, we still get the newspaper delivered daily) and saw another of the homes I photographed on the front of the real estate insert.
Michelle Harrington, the listing agent at Windermere in Fairhaven, is a delightful go-getter who has been one of my clients for real estate photography for about a year.
Real estate photography is a service I added to my business late in 2013 when Kena Brashear, the realtor in my BNI networking group, asked me if I photographed homes. Kena knew me primarily as a portrait photographer — I photographed her family and her business portrait. I photographed a high-end country home for Kena, she loved how I approached the job and the final results, and we’ve been working together ever since. She connected me to Michelle, who referred me to several other agents in her office. Real estate, like many other businesses, really is built on personal connections. Continue reading →
The painters and the painted came down to Fairhaven on Sunday morning, April 26 to have their portrait made with the Fairhaven Village Green Mural.
Lanny Little originally painted the mural some 13 years ago, then refreshed and updated it in the summer of 2013. In the process he added eleven people who have played a role in modern Fairhaven over the last four decades or so.
Longtime “Mr. Fairhaven” and proprietor of the Fairhaven.com website, aka John Servais, invited all the people who had been painted into the mural, as well as those who helped Lanny with the painting in 2013, to come to the Village Green for a dedication and group portrait during Dirty Dan Day on April 27. This photo is the result. Continue reading →
We awoke to a dusting of snow on the day before the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. I had to wait a few hours for the sky to brighten enough to rush out and photograph our “old” garden for the last time in the snow and then to photograph our “new” garden for the first time.
Santa loves talking with kids, hearing their wishes and asking whether their parents have been good, too.
Here’s a video slideshow of the kids who visited with Santa on Sunday, December 8 at Bellingham’s Holiday Port Festival in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
This is the fifth year I’ve had the privilege of photographing kids with Santa at the Holiday Port Festival. We see a lot familiar faces each year as kids come back again, a little more grown up each time.
Thank you, parents, for sharing your children with us and with Santa. The prints you ordered will be on their way to you soon, just as fast as we can get them into the envelopes, stamped, and in the mail.
Each year since 2009 I’ve spent the first weekend of December photographing kids as they visit with Santa at Bellingham’s Holiday Port Festival, at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven. We see quite a few children come back year after year. It’s fun to watch them grow up, and to share their wishes with Santa.
This video slideshow is of the kids who visited Santa on Friday evening, December 6, 2013.
Sunday morning Natalie said, “let’s go for a walk in the woods” and I suggested we hike the loop trail at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve near Lake Whatcom. It’s an easy 3-mile loop through nice old- and second-growth forest, perfect for a quick getaway on a morning when light rain threatened.
Just a tenth of a mile up the trail there’s a viewpoint to a large beaver-built wetland. This is the view from the trail, with the wetland framed by western redcedars, Douglas-firs, and red huckleberries. The wetland plants are still brown, not yet having started their spring growth in the cold water.