People asked me to dive into some smartphone photography and I am going to try to discuss some techniques I use. Taking pictures of pets and children can be daunting. They always seem to be moving in the wrong direction and you are always taking the shot at the wrong time!
I use the “Burst mode” a lot to get the right shot of my dogs. The Burst mode feature is mainly used when the subject is in successive motion such as wildlife, or sports photography, or moving children. You can get multiple frames in one second. iPhone burst mode is 10 frames per second, which is pretty amazing for any camera, period. You can get the greatest funniest action shots that you would not normally get.
You open your camera app on your iPhone or Android smartphone. On iPhone, you have to move the “Shutter button” to the left and hold it. In Samsung phones, open the camera app, press and keep holding the shutter button. In both scenarios, the Burst mode automatically gets activated and you hear lots of shutter clicks and voilà you have now multiple awesome photos to choose from. Remember for it to work, you need to be in a good lighting scenario so outside with plenty of light. Indoor action photography like taking a picture of someone riding a horse using burst mode can get blurry, see the image below. Never use the zoom on a smartphone and Burst mode. The result is a disaster! Zooms on smartphones are not the greatest and you combine that with Burst it gets even worse. Picture in Bust mode has slightly lower quality than single-shot pics in general in smartphones.
In contrast to above, a sport action shot taken with iPhone in good lighting can look pretty professional as seen below.
I made short videos of how this is done below. There are two techniques I use. One is I am in front of my subject that is running toward me or on my side and I am aiming my camera at them and shooting in Burst mode. The other is I am walking or running with my subject I want to shoot in action behind me and I will hold the camera upside down when I am ready and activate the Burst mode and walk or run ahead of my subject. You can see my shadow and how I hold the smartphone in one of the pictures below, and both are taken with the latter technique. s
The first video above shows how to activate the Burst mode on the iPhone and start taking images. The second video shows how to select the images you want to keep.
In the end, 2 pictures ended up being the best ones which were cropped the way I want it and presented below.
Below are more pics I shot using Burst mode on my iPhone 12 Pro. It is my favorite thing to do to get those happy faces of Mona (our Standard Poodle who is from an awesome Breeder in Reno, NV) and Shadi (our Miniature American Shepherd-mini Aussie who is from an awesome Breeder in Minden, NV) when we are outdoors.
Hope to see some of your active wildlife and sports shots with smartphone.
I really like Street Photography and Photojournalism which is storytelling using the medium of photography as your main storytelling device. Street photographers work in public places but photojournalists can be everywhere, like war zones, etc. This is the Code of ethics as described by The National Press Photographers Association. Documentary Photography is somewhere between Photojournalism and Street Photography but more like the first. You will want usually faster lenses for these types of photography meaning with lower f-stops so you can take pictures handheld in the lowlight situation quickly. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens do an amazing job. If you want a lens with a bit more range, but also fast Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens is a great choice too.
“Street photography is the ultimate democratic photography-art form“, said Eric Kim, one of the awesome street photographers, artists, and blogger. Eric’s “100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography” book is free to download and a great resource. Street photography is hard and can be at times dangerous, but is all around us. Smartphone cameras with their somewhat good capabilities in taking pictures in low light situations can be legitimately used for Street, and Documentary Photography to tell a story if we do not want to spend on superb gear.
Photographers are exposed to chemical, physical, and psychological hazards during the course of their work. Photojournalists are at physical risk from motor vehicle crashes and work in war zones.1
In 2004, I made a trip to war-torn Afghanistan. I could not afford a DSLR at that time, so I owned low pixels point-and-shoot camera, which did a good job for my budget and needs at that time.
Tommy Thompson was our Secretary of Health and Human Services at that time and had an interest in a healthcare and delivery improvement project in Kabul, Afghanistan in the largest Maternal Care Hospital in Kabul. The University of Wisconsin (UW) and CDC were involved in that project as well and I was finishing up my training at UW at that time. One of my mentors encouraged me to be involved in this project which was also going to be an elective during my last year of residency. I understand the “Dari” language which is a version of Persian (Farsi). We were going to be involved in helping to teach resident physicians at that hospital and introduce a better flow of care.
I was not nervous at all but on the opposite, very excited about this opportunity. I took a United Nation flight to Kabul from Dubai to Kabul, Afghanistan. Then was assigned to a driver, given a walkie-talkie, and driven to a home. When I arrived at the home I saw that most of the window glasses were covered with plastic because few days prior to that a bomb exploded across the street that shattered it.
In the hospital, we had morning case presentations every day and after that rounded on patients in the Obstetrics Unit. I also spent a lot of time in the Nursery and took care of newborn babies. I was the only “American” in the hospital who knew their language.
It did not take very long and I was bombarded with people and their families and medical questions. I even was asked to come and see people after my hospital work. People would come and knock on the door where I lived. It was a humbling experience that I never forget. The gratitude and honesty were mind-blowing. I did not have to deal with “Google Reviews” there!! Just providing plain honest, caring medical care and advice. All of the foreign doctors had code names and we had drivers to take us from home to hospital etc. Mine was Romeo-2. I worked with two other US physicians, both Gynecologist and a Pediatric Nurse from the United States in the hospital together for the duration of that project.
I would step out of the hospital during lunchtime and cruise around Kabul’s downtown area. No one did that. I did not feel any fear. I was dressed differently and looked different as well and everyone was aware of it but I felt everyone instantly knew I was different and less threatening in some way. I even cruised more in the streets of Kabul after work. It was awesome. I loved the look on people’s faces when I spoke their language and it was instantly Jackpot. I spent a lot of time in different countries in the past and knowing their language well, made a huge difference. I interacted with people and they felt less threatened by me. I believe developing one’s social skills is important if one wants to take on a street and photojournalistic adventure.
I had my camera everywhere with me and snapped some pictures of people’s life in Kabul and some posed even for me and loved doing so. I volunteered my weekends in pediatric clinics and, pediatric ICUs, and orphanages for physical exams. It felt great to be a family doc doing what I had been trained to do.
Below images are in the largest Pediatric ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in Kabul.
Here are some more shots I made in Afghanistan. I personally love the first picture I took in the most iconic spot in Kabul for Kite Runners. I hope you have read the book “The Kite Runner” or watched the movie.
I believe we all should be extremely grateful for what we have in the Western World. We need more accessible and affordable healthcare for sure in the United States but we can access care if we want, no matter if we have the money or not. A lot of people don’t have that luxury across the globe and I have seen a lot of young people die because of lack of it.
The icing on the cake for me on that trip was an infant left behind by the hospital door early after my arrival which was brought to the nursery, whom I cared for every day for more than a month. She had no name and I named her “Emily”. She was my other project in the busy day I had to take care of besides others. I approached the hospital management to get help to find her step-parents, and after few weeks of a long search, we finally did found one couple and I was so happy and proud to take Emily to her new home. They promised me to keep her name.
Emily must be 17-years old now. My Journey in Afghanistan had a happy ending but for a lot, it did not. A lot of children die yearly of injuries suffered from land mines, malnourishment, and simple infections in Afghanistan, and maternal mortality remains one of the highest in the world.
Later I received an appreciation letter from the Secretary of Health and Human Services acknowledging the President’s salute as well to the service I rendered in Afghanistan, but in the end, I just did my job. I did appreciate very much the acknowledgment.
Now listen to this! Can you imagine the look on security faces in the airport when you are checking in to fly back to the United States from Europe with my “sexy passport”?
Iranian-born dude with an American passport with Visas from Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would get instantly the highest attention as to what I was doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I had to get a Pakistan visa in case things got dicey and had to leave Afghanistan by car or foot. After few trips, I was more prepared and had a copy of a letter I received with me to show. Thankfully I renewed that passport a few years ago!!!
Where does your next Street or photojournalistic adventure take you?
Rosenthal J, Forst L. Health hazards of photography. Occup Med. 2001 Oct-Dec;16(4):577-82, iv. PMID: 11567918.
I know this is not surfing, but photography can have different levels of gear and so different height of waves you can surf on. Having the correct tools and gear helps you create better images for sure, but that does not mean everyone has to.
Nowadays good starting kits can help beginner photographers express their creativity. Personally, I believe there are now only actually 3 categories in Cameras: (4th one is dying fast);
Mirrorless cameras, which are now replacing DSLR’s
DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex), which have mirrors, and now being replaced slowly with Mirrorless ones but still great to use and invest in for beginner photographers because they are becoming more affordable and still great. The awesome lenses that go along with it can be purchased a lot of times used, since more professionals are going full force with Mirrorless lenses.
Point-and-shoot cameras, but they are becoming extinct, and I would rather use my Smartphone to shoot. I would not recommend investing in them any longer. The only ones I see Shutterbugs like me would buy would be more advanced ones for travel purposes if one likes to have a light and capable camera like Canon G7X Power Shot for instance.
I personally would recommend buying your photography gear from a professional source even if you are not a professional. You can get very good feedback by talking to them about what type of photography gear would be best suited for you but also have very reliable customer rating on their website where you can do your research extensively to see reliable reviews. I exclusively use B&H. They are in New York and used by photography and videography professionals all over the world. I visited New York once in my life a long time ago 23 years ago maybe, as I am not a big fan of large cities. I was not aware of them at that time. Believe it or not, it is now on my to-do list to stop by at their only store in New York next time when I am on a pilgrimage to NY!
For BEGINNERS, I would recommend buying a kit. A good DSLR with a good kit would do the trick. A decision has to be made to go with a full-frame (35mm) or a crop sensor (APS-C). I personally recommend going full-frame. You get more bang for the buck if you plan to do a lot of outdoor photography. If you like shooting sports and action and portraits and don’t care about landscape as much, a crop sensor is a good buy. Crop sensors in Canon have a 1.6 crop factor (magnification factor), which means if you put a 100mm lens on a crop sensor Canon DSLR you will have to multiply the focal length of the 100mm lens by a factor derived from the size differential of the sensor to calculate the 35mm equivalent focal length and you get 160mm. Crop sensor cameras are good for beginner action and bird photographers. I would like to highlight that my recommendation below is based on what I think will give you 7 years at least of awesome images where people do not feel they are behind the technology curve. One can get less expensive kits but I do not recommend it.
For more ADVANCED and SERIOUS Shutterbugs I recommend investing the following camera bodies and a quality starting all-around lens with a wider range that can be used anywhere. Remember “Sky is the Limit” of how many lenses one should have for this or that scenario. I would recommend at this stage to go fully Mirrorless not stay behind the technology curve and these are my recommendations:
Canon EOS R5 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 24-105mm f/4L Lens This is an amazing camera that is great for everything I said but also great for people who like to do large prints and bird photographers who need to crop their pictures with their zoom lenses frequently and still get the sharpest picture because it is a large megapixel camera and definitely a notch above R5.
The much newer R3 is just announced but that is for ultimate professionals.
For most folks including myself 20-megapixel camera is more than enough. B&H has a large selection of used lenses, cameras, and gear as well. I would recommend checking that first in case you want to buy any gear.
Buying versus renting lenses, and protecting your investment
Last but not least, you should consider renting lenses to try before you spend all that cash on a lens you don’t know if you love or not. A great source I have used for many years is Lensrentals. Remember for the hardcore, photographers are all about our “Glass”, our lenses. It is a huge inventment for Shutterbugs like me and likely you since we don’t get sponsored. My last set of lenses I used for a good 10 years. I do take care of them, meaning cleaning frequently, using a UV Protector Filter immediately after I buy a lens (it comes in various sizes). I would recommend servicing your expensive lenses every few years and also your camera body as well.
Finally, I would recommend in protection care plans that companies like Canon offers and I am sure others do as well. Canon CarePAK PLUS Accidental Damage Protection for EOS DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras and lenses is a minimal expense in the grand scheme of things. If your camera slides from your hand and falls on the ground and gets destroyed, you have lost thousands of dollars but with CarePAK you get a replacement.
My Gear + Safety
I always have my MacBook Pro and iPad Pro with me if traveling for photography purposes with good portable iPhone Battery backup if I am hiking. I would also highly recommend having handheld satellite communicators like Garmin inReach Explorer®+ with you if you are hiking, in case you get lost. You should know how to use a compass and map. The satellite communicators are especially a MUST if you are going wild and want to explore and they can save your life.
Shooting RAW is crucial in photography, and some may not know this. You have the option of shooting in JPEG or RAW or both in most advance camera and nowadays newer smartphones like the iPhone 12 and the newer Samsung Galaxy.
RAW is also known as .DNG format or “digital negative” which developed by Adobe and used as the industry standard. RAW file formats contain unprocessed data of an image on a digital camera’s sensor. Canon cameras RAW files have a .CR3 extension that can also be worked on in all photography software, like Adobe Lightroom.
RAW images contain more information and save a wide tonal range and can be processed using software on PC or Mac and also on the smartphone itself without damaging the image. So, they are non-destructive. I highly encourage you to start using RAW exclusively with your larger cameras and if you are using a smartphone, remember switching to RAW format for pictures you care about getting right 100% of the time but the Smartphone’s RAWs are still inferior to DSLR and Mirrorless camera RAWs.
JPEG is an acronym for “Joint Photographic Expert Group” which created the standard in 1992. It is a compressed digital image and honestly can be called the “worst version of oneself”, in this case, an image. I will explain a bit later why I used this term. Any adjustment made to a JPEG image (on all smartphones and point and shoot cameras) will be destructive to the image and decrease its quality as a result.
Here are examples of smartphone JPEG (iPhone 12 Pro), Smartphone RAW (processed to the best possible color image in Lightroom), and my R6 Canon Mirrorless RAW processed picture. As you can see there is a night and day difference with Smartphone RAW and Mirrorless RAW processed to correct exposure, let alone compared to JPEG.
Now, this is my philosophical and leadership approach to RAW versus JPEG. We use the expression RAW talent. Why? I believe we use it because RAW talent has many layers, that can be exposed, and there can be just multiple good different versions of it. Like in photography a RAW image can be correctly processed without losing its quality to B&W (black and white) and color image. A lot of leaders and companies love JPEG personalities and hate RAWs. JPEGs are easy, point and shoot, and one-dimensional they don’t express opinions and don’t’ have many layers. They should actually consider RAWs who can actually become the best version of themselves many times over as is the case with an image.
So, I would encourage people to be RAW, shoot RAW, because only then you can find the best version of an image or yourself. Don’t be JPEG!
I hope by now I have convinced all of you to shoot RAW when you take a photograph.
Composition is the most creative portion of photography. There are some basic rules that one needs to follow depending on the style of photography but there is also a lot of just pure creativity involved to draw attention to your photographs. You want to make people see what you see.
The “Rule of Thirds” is very important to know. One does not want to put their subject in dead center. That is boring! Rule of third will draw more attention to your subjects and photographs and make them visually pleasing as well.
A photograph is two-dimensional and we can bring out the third dimension if we work with leading lines and elements in the photograph, which will draw more attention as well. This can also be achieved using depth of field.
I move around my subject a lot to try to find the right viewpoint that I am trying to shoot. I switch lenses sometimes to see what different points of view are out there for the subject I am trying to photograph.
Balancing images is not the same as having everything on the left and right be the same. It subject can be in the center but there should be harmony in the picture and other parts need to complement each other. This is frequently done in architectural photographs as seen below. This looks to be in dead center but not boring at all.
Other compositional techniques are used in post-production, for instance, cropping images. Cropping is available on every smartphone. I use Lightroom exclusively for my processing and workflow. These two pictures were taken differently first horizontally, then vertically. Look at how they draw attention using cropping as another tool for composition of a photograph.
Finally, there are so many ways to get creative to get the perfect compositions. Over time one can develop an eye for subjects or scenes. I am always thinking about it. You have to be ready and sometimes get down and get dirty! A few weeks ago I was on a photo trip for a couple of days to Bishop, CA, and was driving and saw this very small patch of Wheat on the side of the road with beautiful mountain backdrops. Instantly I shot an image on my head, I drove back to find that stop to take my shot. I do not think it turned out great but I tried. The other picture is the round parking lot of Bank of America in Charlotte, NC. I parked the car there and saw how beautiful it is and had an instant idea of an image. I walked all the way down and jumped 4 feet as well to be at the bottom portion and laid down on the dirty cement floor and shot that with my iPhone upwards.
So we covered some basics. We will discuss some gear next and dive into my favorite types of photography. Have you bought your cameras yet? Do you plan to? Hope you are learning something so far.
Photography is all about Light, Timing, and Composition. Every photographer must decide what type of opportunity they are facing, be it freezing action or taking landscape shots, portraits with shallow depth of field, etc. There is something called “Exposure Triangle” resulting in a correct exposure, which is a combination of Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO.
Aperture indicates the diameter of the hole in the lens that lets the light through. We talk about f-stop in photography when we talk about it. It is the volume of light that enters the camera. The main f-stops are f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16. f/22, and f/32. From each stop, the volume of light gets cut in half. For instance, f/1.4 gets double the light than f/2. The smaller f is on a lens, the faster the lens since you need less time in seconds to shoot the same picture. It is also pricier. Fast lenses can create the most creamy Bokeh’s which is the term we use for the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas, as seen in the image below at f/4
Shutter speed goes from 60 seconds to 1/8000 sec. depending on the model of the camera. It is easy to remember them because it starts with 1 sec. and cut in half to ½ sec, ¼ sec, and so on but for the ease of it, it was changed to 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000, and 1/8000 sec. Some cameras have what we call a Bulb mode, which allows having the shutter be open for as long as we want, which is used a lot in Astrophotography.
Freezing action at 1/8000 sec at f/2.8 aperture to get that shallow depth of field to bring more attention to the subject. This was our “Indie“. She passed away last year. The next image is taken with a longer exposure of 2.5 sec at f/16 to with deep depth of field to get all the details in the picture
ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensor which can be changed. Increasing ISO can help you capture images in darker environments, but it comes with a caveat. It will increase the “noise” of your picture which is the term we use for grainy pictures. Most cameras have an ISO setting that starts at 100. The number gets doubled then to 200, 400, 800, 1600 and so on. You can imagine it like this; you are building a home with 100 workers, if you increase the number of workers to 200, you can build faster in half the time. Let’s say you take a picture at 100 ISO and 1/250 sec. You can increase the ISO to 200 and take the same picture at 1/125 sec. Now if you have too many workers building your home like 1600 of them, you will have a home faster built but may not be “quality work” and in the photographic term “noisy”. The lowest ISO always gives the best quality, which is used frequently by landscape photographers who are also married to their Tripods as well. 🙂
The first image is taken at “Blue Hour” which is 20 min after the sun has set which can last for another 30 min at ISO 1600 but you notice the noise in the picture because I had to use high ISO. It was handheld and I was in the middle of the lake far from the shore. That is an island on the lake. The second image is taken from the same lake on a tripod with ISO 100 which shows even moon details.
This brings me to the gear section which most photographers should have. TRIPOD is so important and keeps the camera steady and free of vibration, so absolutely Zero movements. Tripod Head and a Shutter Cable Release is also a Must if one wants to get that sharp image with low ISO (better quality) without moving the camera. Tip: Always put one leg of the tripod in front of your lensbfor better sturdier support of your lens. More on gear later!
Composition is everything in photography, which is framing your subject and we will dive into more details on my next blog.
To me, photography is the ultimate expression of one’s feelings and soul in images captured and created. It can bring out the most creative side of us. The best photos are the ones that will teleport you to that site or time for a moment.
How did I get sucked into photography and the kind I love?
My father was a mountaineer besides playing Rambo in Special Forces here and there, so I spend countless weekends with him mountain climbing around Tehran, with the closest being about 13000 feet. Damavand is the tallest mountain (18,406′) in Iran, about 40 miles from Tehran, so it is very mountainy where we lived. Spending outdoors frequently gave me the feeling that I am more connected with nature. My interest piqued for photography in the early days, playing with the Yashica Electro 35mm that my father bought in the United States while training at 82nd Airborne Division.
My passion for the outdoors after the intensive exposure I had as a child and my profound interest in photography worked well. I believe many people who enjoy photography also become more active and spend more time in nature. It is an excellent way to be outdoors, get exercise, capture scenery and be creative. I backpack a lot with my gear, and landscape photography is my thing. I love pet photography, portrait, and macro photography as well. I also like street photography, but with the social media boom, fewer people are willing to be in pictures in the United States due to privacy issues. Europeans and Latino countries usually care less.
Photography is not inexpensive and can get pricy fast. The more you do it, the more you want this or that lens. With the advancement in Digital photography and cameras, it is undoubtedly more affordable today than ten years ago. One can get a good starting kit and start exploring. Smartphone cameras have also advanced quite a bit but still inferior to DSLR and Mirrorless ones. Most people don’t even use all the features on smartphones with AI built-in them for photography nowadays.
It is such a great time to be living in, especially as a photographer. There are so many great gears out there by different brands like Sony, Nikon, and Canon. I believe social media has opened so many doors for photographers, especially Event Photographers who cannot do without Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
I was a Nikon user, but I switched in 2009 to Canon. I exclusively use Apple products for my work. Still, I know that Android smartphones have similar capabilities when talking about tricks and features for the smartphone photography section.
Many people I have met always ask me for tips on photography and gear, so this is a chance for me to share it all in one space and update as we consider the ever-evolving technology.
I hope to pique your interest in taking your photography skills a notch further to empower you to capture more beautiful moments that will transform you back in time the way you experienced or felt it.
Photography can be the story one fails to put into words and very powerful indeed.
Disclaimer: I do not receive any royalty of any kind from any sites or companies I talk about. All opinions expressed are my own.