Smartphone Nature Photography – part 1


We almost always have our smartphones with us….ready for those natural events that just happen and for planned photoshoots. I pulled together a presentation of a Maryland Master Naturalist retreat on the topic and am using it as a basis for the blog posts for today and tomorrow.


Learn about the camera in your phone. Two critical aspects: 1) Usually the autofocus is reasonably good but tapping on the screen where you want the focus to be can sometimes improve results. Do some experiments to see how close you can be and maintain the focus on your subject. 2) Realize that the zoom is digital – not optical. You are better off getting close to your subject rather than zooming. This is difficult if your subject is an animal that will move if you get close. Birds are notoriously difficult to photograph with a phone.

Consider a lanyard. I like to carry my phone on a lanyard (one that is structured to not obstruct the camera) so that I can be ‘hands free’ while I am hiking or rolling over logs…just doing regular naturalist things.  I want my phone to be easy to access – easier than getting it out of a pocket or pack.


I enjoy using macro lenses. I have 3 different kinds (8x, 15x, and 60x) and tend to use the 15x clip the most. Sometimes I just have it on my phone so that I can move it over the camera as needed. The depth of field is very shallow with the magnification and the phone must be close to the subject. Practice the best stance to steady your hands. I find that tucking my elbows into my body helps….and using one had to hold the phone and the other to take the picture.

Examples of Smartphone nature photography

BioBlitz. Almost all the BioBlitz pictures are taken with smartphones or tablets. Sometimes we use hands for scale – and sometimes the macro lens gives a new perspective! These are pictures taken during BiobBlitz: spotted salamander, wooly bear caterpillar, milkweed.

Landscapes.  The joy of being outdoors! Try to get something of high interest in the landscape: the trail as a leading line, clouds over the trees, an early winter scene with bare trees/large rock/pines.


Macro. The macro lens offers to many opportunities to observe more closely than you can observe with just your eye: clams filter feeding, the center of sunflower.

A chicory flower, a newly hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar turning to eat its egg covering, and damselfly larvae.

A few minutes observing. I play a game with myself looking closely at one thing and taking photos as fast as I can over a short period of time. In this case it was a sweet bay magnolia. There were seed pods at several stages of development and some eggs under a leaf (maybe a leaf footed bug…if I was patient enough I could see what hatched but that was outside my time box).

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Morning Walk at Mt. Pleasant (part 2)

Today I’m focusing on the plants I photographed during my morning walk earlier this week at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant. The seed pods on the sweet bay magnolia are in all stages of development: from green to

Seeds bursting from the pod (I always think they look like red M&Ms) and then pods that are mostly empty and dry.


There are always chicory flowers after each rain. I liked the blurs of yellow and green behind this macro image.


Goldenrod is beginning to bloom. Goldenrod is one of the nectar plants for butterflies into the fall. People thought it caused their terrible fall allergies but now ragweed is said to be the primary culprit.

There was Queen Ann’s Lace in the meadow as well. It’s always interesting to me how different a plant appears in the macro view.

As I hiked along the narrow path near the stream there was a young sycamore that had leaves that were beginning to lose their chlorophyll for fall. The leaves were backlit so I took some macro images to show the changes.


There are still new leaves being unfurled on the tree too; this one was about the size of a dime.


Thistles are not very friendly looking! Too many prickles.


Bind weed is an occasional plant in the meadow. The flowers always look like they have little pleats.


This mint flower – taken from above with the macro lens – was coated with morning dew.


Dandelions are always attention getters. They look a bit like bursts of fireworks…or yellow streamers.


Even the clovers that are usually not noticed have a unique beauty seen through the macro lens.

Do you recognize mile-a-minute? It’s an invasive plant that grows very quickly and has wicked thorns.

And now for the Pokeweed. The ones I photographed were still blooming and the fruits that were formed were still green. They’ll turn purple later…and the stem will be bright pink. I’ll remember to photograph the plants through the fall to track their development.

By the end of the walk – I was hot…ready to cool off in the air-conditioned car as I drove home and to drink a lot of water.