Using HDR With Your Cell Phone

One of the things I love about my iPhone 6s camera is the High Dynamic Range feature (HDR). When you set your camera to use HDR, it exposes three images when you press the shutter button: high, medium, and just right.

The dynamic range of a scene refers to how different the brightest parts of the scene (the highlights) are from the darkest parts of the scene (the shadows). So without HDR, the exposure isn’t balanced throughout the image – instead it is biased towards either the shadows or the highlights.

This is important because our human eyes can see a much higher dynamic range than any camera, including cell cameras. That means that when I took this image, I could see the details of these ospreys against the bright sky because I was able to even out the light. But my camera can’t make these distinctions.

So for the purpose of this concept, let’s look at this photo that was taken with my Canon, using a 270mm lens. ( Cell phones are good, but they aren’t capable of taking this kind of image…yet!)

To expose this image correctly, I metered off the green trees nearby and set my exposure for that reading.


Here’s another image taken in the same series. In this one, I let my camera do the thinking. Uh-oh.


 I can use Photoshop to try and correct this image,  or I can set my camera for the HDR feature, and let it combine the best characteristics of the highlight and shadow areas and create one image in which both the bird and the sky look great.


So how to use HDR? You’ll find that option at the top of your camera screen. Just turn it on when you want to use it, and turn it off when you don’t. One caution. It takes longer to take an HDR photo than a regular one since it has to capture three separate images at different exposures. Therefore, it’s important to hold your phone very still. Obviously this is a lot easier with a scenic image than it is with moving subjects.

Note that HDR photos don’t always look better than regular ones, so save both the HDR image and the normally exposed version. Go to Settings, select Photos & Camera, and turn on Keep Normal Photo.

Play around with this feature and see how you like it.

Good shooting.


Collages From Photographs…Way Fun!

So I posted my collage art entry on Facebook, with a note that I’d share a bit of the process in this blog. I think using your photographs to create collages is way fun.  You can create in so many different directions depending on a spur of the moment idea as you go along, or a well thought out plan.

This collage started with a photograph from Charleston, South Carolina where I was fascinated by the side of this barn.

First I threw it into Photoshop and started experimenting with filters and saturation.

Once I got the saturation where I wanted it I brushed on two layers of gloss medium to seal the canvas so I could start pasting.

From there, it’s a creative process of adding and removing shapes and objects. You just have to keep pasting things on and removing them until you are happy with the arrangement. At the point above, I also started painting in certain areas to soften up the saturation of the wheels and doorway. The shine is caused by the gloss medium which is very visible here (but not in the final,) because I used a flash to record this. It’s important to keep putting down layers of gloss medium between each layer of your project. The gloss seals each layer so that you can go in and remove the top layer if you don’t like it and start over on the layer underneath.

And twenty thousand changes later…voila! I was finally pleased with my end result. Here it is framed and hanging at the show.

Well I didn’t win a ribbon, but I sure had fun and I’m ready to start on my next collage. Next year I plan to win!  (Hope springs eternal….)

Good shooting,


Working with Photoshop

My last post was titled, “Play,” which I’ve obviously taken to heart because I haven’t posted since January. Yikes. Where does the time go? Winter in southern Florida is always a bit crazy. Every friend you’ve ever had suddenly wants to come visit, so doing much work becomes secondary to trips to see the dolphins, the turtles, the beaches, the restaurants, the fun everywhere.

In my spare moments I’ve experimented a bit with taking photographs I’ve made and digitally manipulating them in Photoshop. Here’s a good example…an image that  I submitted to our local art show that started out as a picture of a door in New Orleans. It’s really fun to throw these files in Photoshop and see what you can do to change them. (Stay tuned to see what I submitted this year in the next blog.)

Below is the original image. The first thing I had to do was use the straighten tool in Photoshop. It’s amazing how well this tool works if you take a photo that is catawampus.

After getting it straightened, I cropped it and went to the Filter tab to start playing. Way fun!

I like to have the finals printed on canvas, but you can use traditional photo paper. However, if you want to take the process a step further and add paint, I think it works best if you print the original image on canvas.

Here’s one I just finished. With this small image, I just wanted to enhance the foliage and add some flowers to give it more color and interest. So I started by brushing on several layers of acrylic gloss medium. This will give you a good surface to work on and make it possible to wipe off anything you don’t like as you start painting. (See my web blog from 6-27-15 for another look at this technique.)

The original is above, and the finished picture is below. If you look closely, you’ll see that I added quite a bit of color to the foliage all around the path. Plus the image has a lot more saturation due to the layers of gloss.

This is an easy fun way to start to create beyond the images you make with your camera, so find an image you made and give it a try.

Good shooting!



I’ve been having a lot of fun manipulating my images with Photoshop…it’s amazing how some simple editing can change the look. Photoshop obviously isn’t the only program you can use to edit your images, so find a program you like and give it a try.

Sunset with simple color correction. It’s not very interesting, so let’s give it some flair.

Pushing the saturation…

Adding a brush stroke filter

Adding text

The options are endless. Give it a try!


Alfie, The Christmas Tree by John Denver

Did you ever hear the story of the Christmas Tree
who just didn’t want to change the show?

He liked living in the woods and playing with squirrels, he liked icicles and snow.

He liked wolves and eagles and grizzly bears
and critters and creatures that crawled.

Why bugs were some of his very best friends, spiders and ants and all.

Now that’s not to say that he ever looked down on the vision of twinkling lights,
or on mirrored bubbles and peppermint canes and a thousand other delights.

And he often had dreams of tiny reindeer and a jolly old man in a sleigh full of toys and presents and wonderful things, and the story of Christmas Day.

Oh, Alfie believed in Christmas all right, he was full of Christmas cheer.
All of each and every day and all throughout the year.

To him it was more than a special time, much more than a special day,
It was more than a beautiful story. it was a special kind of way.

You see, some folks have never heard a jingle bell ring,
And they’ve never heard of Santa Claus.
They’ve never heard the story of the Son of God.

And that made Alfie pause.

Did that mean that they’d never know of peace on earth
or the brotherhood of man?

Or know how to love, or know how to give?

Why if they can’t, no one can.

You see, life is a very special kind of thing, not just for a chosen few,
but for each and every living breathing thing. Not just for me and you.

So in your Christmas prayers this year, Alfie asked me if I’d ask you
to say a prayer for the wind, and the water, and the wood and for those who live there too.

~ John Denver, 1979

How To Take A Great Christmas Photo With Your Pet!

Merry Christmas Out There In Photography Land. Here’s a popular post that I rerun every Christmas. Enjoy!

If you want to create a Christmas photo complete with costumes and props, it will take some advanced planning. Start with your idea, get your Christmas clothing ready, set up the location and decorate. But remember not to get carried away unless this is part of the fun for you.

If you are as creative as Hal and Rae Quanbeck from Key Largo, Florida,  then making a really unique custom card is what you are working on now.  Every year Hal and Rae figure out something different and totally imaginative. I thought everyone might enjoy seeing how it’s done. Once you have an idea, (the hard part!) the rest is just a standard photo shoot, but as you will see, there is careful planning each step of the way.

It starts with setting up the location.

Here is the Quanbeck’s idea taking shape. Remember we’re in Key Largo…one has to be inventive down here without snow or fireplaces. The idea is to crop the image just above the boots so it will look as if Santa has just dropped in for a visit.

While the setup is evolving,  my job is to take test shots and view them on my LCD screen so I’ve got the exposure nailed.

It’s important to do this ahead of time before the pet and owners are placed in the scene. Nothing is more frustrating than having everyone ready and waiting while I’m all thumbs with my settings, so I always run exposure tests ahead of time. 

Check. The exposure is set. Now I’m ready and Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong) has been considerably reduced.

Once the shoot gets rollin’,  I start by moving everyone around until I’m happy with the composition.

Then it’s time to do a final check of the exposure and composition on the LCD screen. I look again and ask myself if the background is clear? If there is anything that will detract from what I am trying to make?

Ok good. Then I look again. This is one of the biggest problems with poor photographs. The photographer doesn’t see what is right there in front of the lens.

Next I go to work making both vertical and horizontal images. That way the Quanbecks will have more choices for their final pick.

Tucker, the Quanbeck’s  Westie, is an easy dog to photograph so the ears aren’t a problem. But normally, to help things go smoothly, I’ll enlist a “prop person”  to keep the attention of the pet and keep everyone looking right at me. Easier said than done! I start by giving Hal and Rae very specific instructions to stay relaxed, smile, and look directly at me. The main point is to tell them not to look at their pet. That’s my job. Their job is to keep their pose no matter what is going on while I concentrate on Tucker.

With difficult pets, you need more than one prop. Pets have a very short attention span,  so I have my  prop person keep changing props. By introducing new props every few minutes, I’ve got a great chance of getting a good image with the ears up.

I’m still working with the composition and I want to try putting Hal and Rae together on the chair. Nice.  I move  in closer and cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the final image. I want to give the viewer a sense of being right there.

Voila! We’re finished. Hal and Rae used this photo for their card with a colorful snowflake cover and the caption “Wait’n for Santa in Paradise.”

Can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!

Merry, merry,


Zoom With Your Feet When You Photograph With A Cell Phone

So many of us are grabbing photos on the quick with our cell phones, that I thought I’d make a few suggestions for great professional looking shots.

What? No way! Real photographers use digital SLR cameras!

Well hmmm. Not any more.

Yup, we know the resolution is still low compared to a digital SLR, and we know it’s almost impossible to take good action shots with them, but cell cameras are getting pretty amazing. Making large prints is a no go, but who prints photos anymore? Cell photos are great for email or publishing online. Don’t blink. The technology for phone cameras is getting better and better every month.

My iPhone camera lens is just over 4mm. That’s a wide-angle lens so it’s great for capturing images where you want to include a lot in the photograph. I like this scenic picture. My cell phone did as well as my digital SLR with this image.

But if I am taking a photo of my dog swimming in a pool, the wide-angle lens of my cell phone is going to produce a scenic image of the pool and Morgan is going to be too small.

That’s ok because it’s a beautiful pool, but I really wanted a photo of him swimming and in this image I can’t see him very well. I can’t zoom…I don’t have a zoom. Most of us don’t have one on our cell, but egad…zooms are now available for cell phones and I just read an article about a printer that can be attached to your cell so you can print out photos. How cool is that!

Back to the pool. I have to zoom with my feet to get closer. Moving in close and filling the viewfinder with the subject is my number one suggestion for good cell phone photos.

So here he is…I love the pool scenic, but this is a better photo of Morgan. I can crop it even tighter in post production. I can crop it tighter because I took the photo much closer than the original one. If I tried to do a crop of Morgan from the first shot, it would totally fall apart. (There’s a chapter in my book on this subject if you are lost right now.)

With this tight crop, it’s easy to see that Morgan is carrying a toy in his mouth.

This isn’t perfect photography, but if you are careful and move in close, you will be able to make some good images.

Remember to have fun and enjoy the creative process. Cell phones are great for helping us to do that because they are so easy.

Good shooting!


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Here’s a fun exercise for animal photographers. Let’s look at each picture below and figure out what the problem is in each one. Once you have your answers, go to the second set of photos to see how much you already know.

Ok, ready?

Now let’s look at the corrected images.


1. Answer: The subjects were not looking at the photographer in the image at the top of the post.

When making a photo of a group that includes people and animals, your first task is to give the people instructions to hold their pose and look straight at you and not pay any attention to what the animal is doing. You need to pay attention to the animal. You can’t concentrate on everyone, and the more people/animals there are the harder it gets.  So if the people are holding their pose you will be free to concentrate on the animal. Pre-focus, and wait, watching the pet for cute expressions (eyes on you, ears up), then shoot, knowing that the people are poised and ready.

2. Answer: The black dog is the wrong color in the image at the top of the post.


Remember that to expose for black you need to close down your aperture 1 or 2 stops. (You have already set your shutter speed on 1/250 of a second to freeze the movement.) If the aperture reading is f5.6, try f8 and f11. You want to shut out some light so that the dog is exposed as black and not gray black. Experiment until you find the best aperture setting.

3. Answer. In the photo at the top of the post, the focus is behind the dog (look at the edge of the chute), so the dog is out of the zone of focus and thus blurry.

When you have a problem like this, the first thing to look at is the rest of the photo around the subject to make sure the problem isn’t a faulty holding technique (you moved the camera, causing camera shake). When we study the image, we see that everything else is rendered crisp on the file. So we know the photographer didn’t cause camera shake, and we know that the shutter speed was fast enough (1/250 of a second).

This is a tough shot. There is no way to pre-focus because there is nothing to pre-focus on. If we were shooting a horse going over a jump, we would focus on the bar and expose the file as the horse passes over the bar. But here, the dog is jumping into thin air.


Try this. Set your shutter speed on 1/250 of a second, let the camera choose the depth of field and put your auto-focus on the setting for moving subjects, AI Servo. This is the mode for moving subjects when the focusing distance keeps changing so when you hold down the shutter button half way, the subject will be focused continuously. Just keep shooting as the dog falls into the water. With luck and good concentration, some of them will be in focus.

4. Answer: There is no right answer, because the interpretation of this subject matter is subjective. But my answer is that the photographer should have moved in closer. That way, the image will conform to my most important rule…keep it simple.

So while the image that includes more information, is a good record image of this colorful outside mural in New Orleans, a more interesting image can be made by moving in close and filling the viewfinder with just the mural. Eliminate everything (keep it simple) that doesn’t contribute to the final image. Moving in close cuts out the extra information  and gives the viewer a sense of being right there. Obviously this works well with animal photography too.

Try running some tests with these suggestions. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about your photography at:

Good shooting!


Using Flash On Your Cell Phone

Even though I wrote a fun go-to book for anyone who is a serious animal photographer and even though it’s full of useful information for using an SLR camera, what you really want to use is your “take anywhere camera,” your cell phone.

Ok. I get it, I really do. Plus cell phone cameras are getting better and better. But you still need to understand the concepts that make for a great image because using a cell doesn’t allow you to skip the basics. We want results not frustration, so grab my book and study up!

Once you have the knowledge, you can apply all the techniques to your cell camera. Here’s what I mean. Take light. When you shoot animals outside, bright sun is not your friend. You can ‘work it’ by finding a spot in the shade, but it has to be total shade because a combination of sun and shade never works with a cell camera. You just don’t have the controls an SLR camera gives you to deal with that kind of lighting.

So find a good spot in the shade to make an image and turn on your flash. The default setting for your flash is AUTO, but you can fix that. Don’t let the cell camera make the decision to fire or not fire the flash! Open the camera app, tap the flash button in the upper left corner and set it to ON. To turn it off, just tap the button and set it to OFF. Easy peezy.

Backlighting is another time when you always need your flash. You don’t want to let the camera decide if it should fire or not. Here’s how the camera “thinks.” The camera reads all the light and decides it needs to shut down a bit to average out the light. That means you need to do some thinking and set the flash to fire. This will add enough light to properly illuminate the subject. (Quick review. Remember the last two blogs? Remember that the camera doesn’t know what the subject is…the computer in the cell phone is programmed to produce 18% middle gray.)

As always, it is easier to see the concept in a photograph.

With an SLR camera, it is easy to take a reading off the animal’s wool and open up the aperture one or two stops to get good detail in the animal’s face and wool. Since this isn’t possible with a cell, be sure to set the flash to ON so it will fire regardless of the amount of light the sensor is reading in the scene. (If you are an advanced user, you know that newer cells are capable of using apps that can adjust the settings, but this blog is for folks who want to keep it simple.)

Good shooting!


Get the Book !

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Pet Photography For Fun; Let’s Have Fun Photographing Dogs, Cats, Horses, Alpacas, Llamas and Everything Else ! by Susan Ley: A fun, easy to use book on how to take better pictures of pets. Nineteen chapters broken down from beginner to advanced, so readers can immediately start learning at their own level.