by Abbie Warnock-Matthews

We live in an amazing time, when documenting our lives and loved ones has never been easier. The built-in cameras on today’s smart phones have image quality that rival the cameras I started shooting with professionally in the mid 2000's. Even with all of the technological leaps that we now carry in our pockets, it still takes some thought and technique to take an image from automatic to awesome. Here are some quick tips and things to consider the next time you take a picture:

Resolution – Not many people take the time to go into their camera's settings and see what size and file type they're actually shooting when they click the shutter. You can access this through the camera app settings on your phone, or through your camera's main menu. The higher the resolution, the better quality and bigger the image. You can always shrink an image's size later, but you can never increase it once the shot's been taken. If you want to be able to print your images or put them in photo books, you need to be shooting at a resolution of at least 2000 x 2000. I personally set my phone camera to 4032 x 2268.

Storage – Higher resolution images will take up more room in your phone's storage, but the quality will be SO much better in the long run. To make room for these bigger photos, make a routine of backing up to a cloud and/or transferring your images to a hard drive or computer at least annually, or monthly, if needed. Phones die and get lost, so always keep your images in a second safe location. Android users can add a bigger SD card to their phone and set their camera to store the images on the card instead of the phone's hard drive. This is a MUST if your phone ever breaks, because you can simply transfer the SD card to a new phone with all of your pictures still intact!

Framing the Shot – It's important to choose what gets to be in your shot, and what doesn't. The best images end up catching your eye because they focus on something specific. Choose what you want in the shot, and then zoom in/out or move your camera around to get rid of things in the frame that would be distracting.

Straight Horizons/Lines
– Straight lines and horizons in photos leave less variables to detract the eye from what you're trying to convey. If a person is having to tilt their head to see your photo properly, it's usually a bad thing. When you take a picture, straighten your camera as much as you can to get the proper
perspective for the shot.

Exposure – A good exposure can make or break an image, and the goal is usually to find something in the middle. You don't want a shot where your shadows are too dark, or your highlights are too white. If you can retain some information in every shade of the image, you're usually in a good place. If conditions are tough and you can't find a good middle ground, it's better to shoot a darker image than a lighter image. Photo editing software from Photoshop to Instagram can lighten a photo pretty well, but a blown-out white image can’t really be salvaged.

Using the Flash – A flash can be a HUGE help to images, but a lot of people use it at the wrong time and place. A good thing to remember is that a camera or a phone flash will only light up things within ten feet of the camera. This means that using a flash at a concert or football game is definitely NOT going to do anything except light up the hands and heads of people standing in front of you. Flashes should also be turned off when shooting through windows, like at zoos or aquariums. If you leave it on, the flash will only bounce off the glass and into your lens, ruining your picture. However, a flash can really help out pictures with a bright light in the background. Example – If you're shooting a group of people with a sunset behind them, be sure to turn on the flash so that both the group AND the sunset show up properly in your image.

Interesting Details – When I'm traveling, I like to grab shots of all of the little things that make up my trip, because it's these little things that bring a smile to my face when I look back through my albums. Shots of the shells I picked up on the beach, the funny roadside attractions, or the cool shops I visited are great memory triggers when they're included in the photos. Selfies are all fine and good, but there is a LOT more to traveling than just your face infront of a place you saw. Plus, the front-lens camera doesn’t have as high of a resolution as the lens behind the phone screen! Be sure to use both.

Contrast and Saturation – Sometimes, even the best cameras don't really capture the scene the way you saw it – the picture can look a little flat, with muted colors. If you have an editing app on your phone or computer, running your images through a simple contrast and saturation adjustment may be just the thing to make your images *pop.*

- Abbie has been an independent professional portrait and landscape photographer for over ten years. You can see her own work in the Wanderlust Window segments in the RidgeCrest Herbals Almanac, or at www.abbiewarnock.com -