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.
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 →
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.
A few days ago I had a little time to kill between appointments in Fairhaven so I headed down to the North Chuckanut trailhead for Bellingham’s Interurban Trail to see what I could find. It was a glorious warm and sunny spring day, somewhat uncommon for late March around here. I didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t hike far with my camera and tripod slung over my shoulder.
A couple of weeks ago I ended up with an hour or so to wander around Fairhaven, where my studio is located, when a client failed to show up for an appointment.
I gave myself the assignment to photograph bricks. I ended up straying a bit from the theme and included a few other textures, but with all the brick in this old commercial neighborhood I was able to keep myself busy and come up with some interesting views of the subject. Continue reading →
Here’s a video slideshow with highlights from the 2011 event, held on May 12:
Prior to the event most of the bachelors came into my studio for a portrait to help promote the auction. The gals who won the bidding on each of these guys are going to have a great time on their dates. They’re all relaxed, easy-going, and ready with a smile.
I enjoyed the challenge of photographing the event, which is so very different from the more deliberate kind of photography I do most of the time. I shot with my Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 1600 with an on-camera fill flash with a small modifyier to soften the light. A little quick adjustment work in Lightroom, and then the slideshow was created in Animoto.
Dirty Dan Harris is credited with being the founder of Fairhaven, one of the four communities on Bellingham Bay that merged in the early 20th century to form Bellingham. The fine citizens of Fairhaven celebrate this bit of history each April with a two-day festival of seafood, music, and all-around fun on the Fairhaven Village Green. I spent the day photographing. Here’s a quick video slideshow, with music by The Gallus Brothers who were performing live during the event.
You can see a handful of photos at a more leisurely pace over on the Fairhaven website.
It’s always fun to hang out at an event like this. I ran into lots of people I knew, and even recognized some of them. I’m a bit conspicuous with a big heavy camera and lens hanging from my neck. I shot a lot with my 70-200mm, using a little on-camera fill flash to put highlights in eyes and brighten things up a tad under the overcast skies.
If you haven’t been to Dirty Dan Days, put it on your calendar for next April if you don’t see this in time to get down there this (Sunday) afternoon for the chowder cookoff and piano race.
Here’s a video from Sunday, with lots of happy people enjoying the chowder cookoff, dancing in the sun to the Gallus Brothers, and the world’s only piano race.