Shooting Reptiles With Your Cell Phone Camera
Question: I saw you give a talk once many years ago, and you poked fun of people who used their cell phones to take herp photos. I bet you’re eating those words now with all the new camera phones available, not to mention instant messaging and social media to share those photos so quickly. Can you give everyone an update on how you view the quality of cell phone photos now?
Katy Eison, Levittown, N.Y.
Answer: Nom-nom-nom. Yes, those words were pretty tasty! OK, mea culpa. Technology has caught up and tucked the ability to record a publishable-quality picture into nearly every new cell phone. I have to admit I’m amazed at the quality some of them achieve with tiny lenses the girth of pencils. In fact, it has turned everyone owning one into an instant expert photographer. Not !
Maybe more new smart phone owners are capturing more pixels than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they’re all magically transformed into seasoned shutterbugs. In some ways, it’s hurting those people’s learning by giving them a false assumption that “you can’t take a bad photo with this camera.” The thrill of having a new toy that snaps high-resolution images doesn’t automatically mean everything recorded is of great quality photographically.
Composition will always be an ultra-important aspect of photography, and it’s one that many ignore or simply don’t comprehend. Composition is the layout of the subject and background in the image. Most efforts to use it advantageously try to achieve a kind of balance across the entire image to make an eye-pleasing photo, typically through seeking interesting angles of view or by manipulating the subject and/or background manually. Both methods can work when shooting herps in the field and in captivity. Paying composition no heed at all, though, results in less-inspiring photos that lack balance—the pizzazz in a shot that’s noticed subconsciously.
One other reason for confusion about the importance of composition to a good photo is that some herpers have seen the term “in situ” (meaning as encountered or not altered) floating around a lot lately and have misconstrued it to be synonymous with “perfect.” This is partially fueled by the insistence of a few overly zealous (in my opinion) nature photographers who have decided that taking in situ images is the only proper way to record wildlife because that’s what they prefer and specialize in.
In the field, a blurry leaf or awkward twig showing in a herp shot may be natural, but often when shooting herps, the option exists to fix such distractions and take an even better shot. A hook or other long tool can be extended to move obscuring objects or tweak an animal’s pose. The result may no longer be 100-percent in situ, technically, and thus upset a few prudes who might fuss over that minor technicality. To me, it’s far more important for a good nature photo to preserve the essence of the scene and also be pleasing to the eye.
One other comment in response, this time regarding the instantaneous sharing of pictures via the internet and phones. The modern rush to quickly get your photos online is understandable for amateurs who are more interested in simply showing what they saw and beating their pals to the bragging rights. But for professional photographers to jump the gun by posting unedited pix, sometimes mere seconds after snapping them, is demonstrating the amateur characteristic of impatience. I wouldn’t want mediocre work bouncing around representing me in cyberspace forever.