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I write extensively throughout this blog about Bali.  It would be easy to say – This is Bali, but there are so many sides to theIsland of Gods.  If you prefer Bali is also “Paradise Island”.  How your refer to Bali all depends on why you visit.  If you travel to Bali with an open mind and open heart, it is quite possible to have a travel experience you never expected and even an experience of a lifetime.  In other words, you can have everything Bali has to offer.

Bali is beaches, beach resorts and the vast Indian Ocean that can sometimes be unforgiving.  Bali is sacred temples, some of which date back seven hundred years.  Bali is some sort of ceremony every day of the week.  Bali is the jungle and the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud.  Bali is creativity and the Balinese’s openness to share.   Bali is motorbikes zooming past you in rapid fire.  Bali is lush green rice terraces and palm trees.

Bali is spicy food.  Bali is the great sense of humor of the Balinese.  Bali is friendly and welcoming.  Bali is rich in tradition.  Bali is Balinese Hinduism.  Bali is winding roads through lush green tropical plants and foliage.  Bali is peaceful and quiet.  Bali is yoga and meditation.  Bali is art.  Bali is woodcarving and basket weaving.  Bali is spiritual offerings to the gods.

Bali is anything you want it to be quite honestly.  I think what you experience in Bali is entirely up to you.

The first time I visited I went on a whim.  I had just traveled to Bhutan and Bangkok and thought “What the heck?  I’m  close enough I might as well go to Bali.”  I stayed in Ubud and didn’t venture much further than a fabulous resort.  I did meet Ketut Leyir in person and saw a rice field, but that was it.  I left Bali wondering what all the fuss was about as it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  The truth is, however, I didn’t take the time to know Bali.

For some odd reason I was drawn back to Bali during another trip to Asia.  I can’t tell you why I thought I had to go.  I just did.  Instead of staying in Ubud, I stayed in Nusa Dua at the Conrad.  I love the Conrad, by the way.  

There must have been an invisible hand guiding me during this trip as I was led to a full moon ceremony in a small village.  It was in this village when I met Gede.  And in an instant, both my world changed and so did Gede’s.  It is because of Gede that my love for Bali began.  He is my touchstone to Bali.  Gede is my teacher of everything Bali and Balinese Hinduism.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Gede.  That was five years ago and our friendship turned to brotherhood.

My best suggestion to you as you consider if Bali is the right destination for you is go.  Make the long trek to Bali.  Travel with no expectations.  Travel with an open mind and an open heart.  And once you are in Bali, let her take you in her arms and take care of you.  Let Bali and the Balinese teach you.  Your peace and happiness are already inside of you.  Allow Bali to bring those elements of life out of you.

Bali is a treasure trove of travel photography moments.  Consider the following iPhone travel photography tips for your next journey.

22 Travel Photography Tips And Tricks

1. Do Your Research
While planning your trip, make a note of destinations that are beautiful. Find out if they are easy to get to and what sort of transportation you’ll need. Will you need a permit for the area? Figure out the logistics ahead of time so you don’t run into problems after you’re already there.

2. Get Inspiration From Others
The best way to learn is through others. Look at other photographer’s blogs and social media to see if they’ve been to the location you’re visiting. As you look at photos, create a bucket list of places you’d like to photograph while exploring. And make note of the composition and angles to capture.

3. Practice At Home
You don’t need to travel far to practice your travel photography skills. Look up local attractions and go visit them with your camera. Learn how the light works in natural settings compared to more industrial ones.

4. Travel Light
You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) bring every camera accessory you have with you on your journey. Not only will they be heavy to lug around, but there’s a danger of losing or forgetting pieces behind. Bring only the key items such as the camera, a charger and memory cards.

5. Charge Your Equipment The Night Before
Make sure everything is charged and ready to go before you set out for the day. Bring along 2-3 extra charged batteries for your camera and external flash.

6. Learn A Few Words In The Native Language
If you’re going to a foreign country where the language is not your own, try learning a few phrases. Things like “hello”, “thank you” and “Can I take your photo?” will go a long way and might lead to a better photograph.

7. Listen To The Locals
Ask the locals where the best places to shoot are. Ask about their favorite photo spot and they’ll likely be excited to share the wonders of their home. Be sure to be respectful of their space and leave them alone if they’re not interested in talking with you.

8. Follow Basic Photo Rules
If you’re a beginner photographer, take some time to learn the basics. When taking photos, keep in mind guidelines like the rule of thirds and your depth of field. Learning photography terms will help you take better quality photos.

9. Get Candid Shots
Not all your shots should be posed and planned out. Try a variety of angles, capturing candids. Take photos of everything, the one you least expect may be the one that ends up the best.

10. Give Yourself Time
When shooting, make sure you give yourself plenty of time at the location. A time crunch will lead to blurry and rushed photos. Leave yourself enough time to set up, learn what setting your camera should be on and find the right light. This may mean starting your days earlier than normal.

11. Embrace Golden Hour
Lighting is everything. Make sure you know the different sunrise and sunset times of the location you’re at. Even places only a few hours away can differ. It may also be helpful to know what direction the landmark is facing that you’re trying to photograph so you can plan to be there when it’s in full light.

12. Get A New Angle
If you’re visiting a place that’s been photographed thousands of times, try a new angle. Find hidden details that aren’t always noticed like paintings on the ceiling. Shoot through an alleyway that frames the photo or move around and try to find a new vision.

13. Stay In The Moment
Don’t overthink the shot. Stay in the moment and go with the flow. Don’t be afraid to switch around your schedule to get a good photo.

14. Take Notes
Bring a small notebook with you as you travel and when you take photos to make sure you’re noting the place and your camera settings. This will help you later on as you go back to see what worked and what didn’t.

15. Be Wary Of The Weather
Look at the weather forecast if you’re shooting outdoors. Remember, just because it’s raining or snowing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Sometimes a foggy backdrop can reflect the light and make for an even better photo.

16. Bring Secure Bags With Locks
You’ve probably invested a lot in your camera and accessories, so make sure they are kept safe. Bring a camera bag with you that has a lot of padding and can be locked.

17. Backup Your Photos
Every time you return to home base, whether that be a hotel or friend’s home, make sure you backup your photos. This will free up space on your camera and will keep your images safe.

18. Always Bring A Camera When You Can
Bring your camera with you wherever you go. The perfect shot could be where you least expect it. This will also let you document your whole trip, not just parts.

19. Be Respectful Of Your Environment
You may be visiting this place but to others, it’s home. Be respectful of the people and animals you meet along your journey.

20. Get Lost
Get out of your comfort zone and a venture off the beaten path. Try finding something unique to photograph. Get a little lost.

21. Share Your Work
Once you’ve returned from your trip, make sure your photos don’t just sit on the memory card or computer. Share them by creating a photo board on your wall or styling a travel photo book.

22. Print Everything Ahead Of Time.
Before you start your travels, don’t forget to print your boarding passes, itinerary and other documents just in case your phone isn’t working properly. By printing everything ahead of time, you do not have to wait in any lines, worry about the digital kiosks in the airport or lack of wifi connection

Travel photography is a fun way to document your trips. It allows you to take your stories home and share them with friends and family. Try creating a collage with a photo collage app and sharing your experiences on social media.

 

 

 

Called the Queen of the Adriatic, Venice has a setting that no other city in the world can rival. It is a network of rii (streams), canali (canals) calli (streets) and campi (squares). The richness and charm of Venice does not derive solely from the presence of significant works of architecture and art (Bellini, Tiziano, Veronese, Tintoretto, Palladio, Sansovino, and many others) but also from the general layout of the city and its way of life.  “The rules change in Venice,” I’m told by Janys Hyde, long-time Venice resident and friend.  For me, Venice is pure magic.  In some ways the city is like a movie set tho’ it’s not fair to minimize Venice to make believe.

Venice is unique among all great cities of the world in that its streets are full of water.  Made up of 118 islands only two to four feet above sea level, crisscrossed by 117 canals, and connected by some 360 bridges, its main avenue is the curving Grand Canal, its buses are the vaporetti.  There is no other city in the world of this size and sophistication where the automobile is absent.  With no better way to explain, Venice is all about the water.  Janys tells me “when furniture is delivered to your home, it’s done by boat or when an ambulance is called it arrives on the water.  To truly understand and ‘get in touch with Venice’ one must embrace the water.”  Embrace I did, and instantly, feeling a sigh of relief from the usual bells, pollution and whistles of the big city.

The richness, color, light, texture, and history create a scene of overwhelming beauty. Venice is the city of canals, stunning Venetian Gothic palaces, intimate restaurants, and intrigue. Whether slipping along the canals on private water taxis, strolling the labyrinth of meandering alleyways, or sipping a Spritz to the mellifluous sounds of a live orchestra, there are plenty of ways to experience this charming mecca.  Once the economic pulse of Europe, Venice is replete with many cultural and historical activities and treasures. In fact, there are few more memorable things than a cruise along the Grand Canal, disembarking among the cooing pigeons at St. Mark’s Square.  The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.  While the glories of the past are evident at every turn, the outlying neighborhoods and islands are still animated by a villager lifestyle which must have been unchanged through the centuries.  The Lagoon of Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

No one seems to be in a hurry and no one seems to be trying to own the sidewalk as they stroll with friends and greeting passers-by.  I love the quiet of Venice.  No motor vehicles nor loud noises,  just the slap slap of the water against Venice’s buildings and people calling out to each other.  The incredible shifting light from dawn to dusk changes the dramatic mood of this Italian jewel and can fill the soul with a sense of pure fulfillment.   I could have loved Venice on my own but Janys and her husband, Claudio graciously opened my eyes to “their Venice” and ensured I made it my own.   Janys sums my Venetian experience best by saying “it is like a never ending story.   Falling in love with Venice is a love affair which is difficult to shake off.   Once you fall, you are lost and there is no way to appropriately tuck Venice neatly into a little box.”  And fallen I have.  There is no doubt in my mind that you, too, will not only be mesmerized but also madly deeply in love before you leave Venice.

The mysterious moon.  The full moon with rays casting shadows as if it were day.  The illuminated rays stretch from the heavens across the lands below.  I close my eyes, and travel.  The nocturnal vibes invade my body, my heart, my soul.  I hear the mystic, yet soft voice of the wind whisper in my ear, “the night is yours”.

The moon guides me, the stars tell me not to worry, guiding me towards a place unknown by the world, yet so familiar.  I sit in silence in awe of the natural glow as if a comforting night light guides me down the hallway.  Melodic sounds of swaying branches, crashing waves, or blowing leaves tell me the night is alive with beauty.  They scream their joy.  They sing life.  Crickets hiccup their nocturnal sounds, bull frogs bellow in deep harmony and critters scatter under the brush here and there.

The moonlight disperses through my skin, through my bones, through my soul.  I become one with the night.  The sounds and stress of the day are a distant memory.  Calmness sinks into me.  Peace surrounds every bit of my being.  I join the symphony of the night.  I once again become human, I become the night; I feel the pains, and I feel the joys.

At last I feel warmth.  I was a prisoner of the present – surviving through days, weeks, months, and years.  Never knowing that what I missed most was inside my soul.  The drums of the night were my heartbeats, the guitars spoke through my voice, the moonlit night shining in my eyes, and my surroundings revived through my skin.

Now I am back again.  Whole.  Centered.  As One.

I have been photographing idyllic landscapes illuminated by the full moon for over ten years.  A new book project
is on the way.

I have been capturing landscapes under a full moon for over a decade.  From Fredericksburg, Texas, to El Paso to Croatia and Venice and London to the Sahara Desert and Bali – I’ve been there.  It’s been me, a tripod, a remote control and my camera all in the silence of the night. 

Photographing scenes that would normally be pitch dark are illuminated in such a way that some viewers think the landscapes were captured during daytime.  The shadows are different and at times have an ominous feel to them instead of the stark contrast during a full sun day.  The colours and perception are richer, and for me, more meaningful.

I tend to like quiet at any given time.  I also feel quite comfortable being alone.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a social sort of fellow but I thoroughly enjoy time and place just for me.  Capturing landscapes and city scenes during a full moon are perfect excuses to excuse myself from the crowd.  And in my mind, you’re never really alone being alone.  I never feel isolated.

As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve learned the full moon can be an auspicious time for both Hindus and Buddhists.  Purnama is the term used in Bali.  The Balinese believe the gods descend amongst Balinese Hindus to answer prayers and honour wishes.  This is a comforting notion.    I’ve begun researching what the full moon means to various cultures around the world because of my experiences with the Balinese and Bhutanese.  If they believe the full moon has special powers, then others must look to the soft glow in the sky as something remarkable as well.

So, I continue capturing night images during the full moon or super moon with the idea that one day I’ll have a large enough body of work to present in an exhibition or book.  This is a special project for me.  I look forward to one day sharing what I’ve seen and captured with the world.

Unexpectedly arising from southern New Mexico’s barren landscape is a natural arrangement of larger-than-life rocks reminiscent of urban high rises.   Formed of hot volcanic ash that solidified nearly thirty-five million years ago, these formations have been carved by the elements into gnomish shapes and fanciful columns that can reach forty feet high.   Only a handful of places in the world have formations like these.  I know all too well they are not easy to climb.  I tried.

Popular with many overnight campers, the “city” is webbed with pathways that I curiously trundle through, feeling dwarfed along the way, until dusk.   It is during the golden hour, when the sun begins to set, that the magic begins.   The sun’s rays bounce from the ancient volcanic rock giving off an exquisitely rich cornucopia of color—sparkling hues of pink, orange, yellow, and purple—that you can only see in these moments.   The “city” comes to life, making this an ideal time to begin clicking the camera’s shutter.

The reason to visit City of Rocks is to escape routine and stress.  Trust me, it will be you and the rocks and no phone signal when you visit.  The landscape is a nice blend of the west’s rugged rock formations and grassy plains.  You’ll be in the desert, tho’ the land is not barren like you see in Arizona or Southern Utah.

I always to see Fred Flinstone as the large rock formations literally remind me of Flinstone’s Bedrock.  Close your eyes and envision for a moment.  You see this, too.  Don’t you?

City of Rocks
LATITUDE
32 ̊35’24” N

LONGITUDE
-107 ̊58’33” W

ELEVATION
5,250 feet (1,600 meters)

AREA
1,230 acres (497.8 hectares)

Flying high above Elephant Butte offers a delightful study in contrasts.   The lake’s stunning cobalt-blue water strikes my eye as if a painter had left masterful strokes on the desert floor below.   Draining into the once mighty Rio Grande, the blue water sends out tendrils in brilliant complex shapes, like veins.   The colors vary splendidly in pastoral shades of green and yellow where water nurtures the conspicuous vegetation clinging to life at its banks.  Have Van Gogh or Monet been here with his artistic touch, I wonder?   The answer is clear, as is the evidence of the importance of the Rio Grande.

Over one hundred million years ago, this area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Once the sea receded, the area was the favorite hunting ground of the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur.  Evidence of the Rex, one of the largest land-dwelling predators of all time, and other dinosaur species have been discovered in area rock formations.  Evidence has also been found at Kilborne Hole, which I wrote about in a previous post.

Although fossils of the Stegomastodon (a primitive relative of today’s elephant) have been discovered near the lake, the area was not named for its former inhabitants, but for an island in the lake—once the core of an ancient volcano—that is shaped like an elephant.  The lake itself formed when a dam was constructed across the Rio Grande in 1916.  Forty miles long, the lake shoulders more than two hundred miles of shoreline.

The flow of  the Rio Grande River through Southern New Mexico and West Texas is controlled at Elephant Butte.  At certain times of the year river water flows like a mighty river and at other times one might wonder if the river has dried up.  

Elephant Butte is yet another example of the beauty you can find if you take the time to explore El Paso and one hundred and twenty miles around.  All of the areas I mention throughout this blog may seem like a massive amount of area to cover.  The truth is, however, each destination is roughly a day trip from El Paso.  

I’m a fairly particular traveler in that I never want to feel as if I’ve wasted my time traveling to a place.  I’ve gone to great extents and expense traveling to some places.  I know the feeling of disappointment.  So, when I highly recommend exploring the Desert Southwest, I do so with confidence.  I do so knowing you’ll be in awe if you follow these trails yourself.

Digital Photo Magazine interviewed me about photographing Istanbul.  What a treat to visit Istanbul, but to photograph this great city, too?  Wow.  Istanbul offers photo opportunities wherever you turn.

Hagia Sofia Reflection Photo

What was it about Istanbul that made you want to capture it on camera?

The Ottoman architecture of Istanbul, it’s minarets reaching to the heavens, the colourful spice market, Grand Bazaar presented a vivid image in my mind.  Hypothetically, I had been photographing Istanbul even before I arrived.   I had seen a myriad of photos while researching my trip and visualized how I would capture the various scenes differently.   Once my feet hit the pavement, it seemed as if I had already visited the city, making my task of capturing the city on camera all the more easy.  Additionally, having grown up in Tripoli, Libya, re-discovering the Islamic world has been high on my list.  Istanbul has been only one stop with regard to this journey.

Istanbul is famous for its beautiful Ottoman architecture, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and so on; artistically, do you think you did it justice?

Ottoman architecture is brilliant, isn’t it?  The style completely captures my imagination, and there is a fairytale magical element I’ve not seen elsewhere.  My eye is drawn towards curves, and lines, so Istanbul was ideal for me as a photographer.  Hour upon hour I studied Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), Süleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern following each curve and line.  I have thousands of images I captured in Istanbul.  My aim was to take the viewer on a journey with a different perspective.  I’m confident I achieved this.

Moving on to the Hagia Sophia; with it being such an imposing building, did you find it a challenge to photograph?

Absolutely.  With Hagia Sophia being so large, and the buildings around it, I found the square to have the best perspective.  At night, Hagia Sophia glowed beautifully with its lights, and a fantastic reflection can be found in the fountain.  While up close, I could capture particular architectural elements, but even with my 18mm super wide lens the entire structure could not be captured until I found myself in the square.  I did walk the perimeter of Hagia Sophia numerous times to assure myself the best perspective had been found.  At night Hagia Sofia is pure magic. 

The Hagia Sophia has been home to both Eastern Christianity and Islam; do you think you managed to capture those historically spiritual elements?

Hagia Sophia is a feast for one’s eyes, with or without a camera.   I vividly remember being awestruck upon entering the first time.   The blend of Eastern Christianity and Islam is beautifully evident in this structure, and my camera worked overtime more than once.  While I was well aware of the symbols before me, capturing each through my journey through this marvel, it was not until I viewed my images later that I knew each element had been covered.  That said, I focused on the overall beauty rather than single out one element over another.

What were the significant differences in photographing Istanbul during the day and at night?

My preference is capturing any city during the night hours as their beauty shines far brighter to my eye during this time.  Details in architecture are more pronounced against the night sky, the lights and motion of Istanbul make the city seem more vibrant and vivacious, yet the character stays the same.  With fewer people walking the pavement, I can more easily “touch the soul” of a city during the night time hours, and my creative eye wakes up.  Additionally, there is more of a challenge for me to capture urban areas with long exposures as rarely do I use a tripod, and I must discover ways to keep the camera steady as well as test various exposure times.  

This is Iceland.  An island with the wild North Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Norwegian Sea to the north.  A place where you might sometimes think  you’re on a different planet.  A country whose population is often dwarfed by the number of tourists who visit.   Home to the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.  A small island with landscapes larger than life.   

If you’ve never visited Iceland, drop everything and go now.  Of all the countries I’ve visited around the world, Iceland is not only cool (and I’m not referring to the temperatures), but it ranks near the top of my most favourite places in the world.  I’ve visited Iceland numerous times dating back well before it became a wildly popular destination.  There were few hotel choices when I first visited.  Today there are an abundance of hotels in the city centre of Rejkjavik.

Reyjavik alone is charming enough for you to know you’ve chosen the right travel destination.  The city centre is relatively small and most definitely walkable.  You’ll find numerous bars, restaurants and shops and outdoor public spaces to sit back and watch Icelanders go by.  

But it’s the majestic landscape that will capture your heart and imagination.  The mountains are glorious.  The glaciers are enormous.  There are plenty of tours that will take you to the top sights.  Private guides will take you to places few others see.  If you prefer to go on your own, rent a car.  Navigating Iceland is easier than finding your way in your home town.   Traffic and direction signs are in Icelandic but it doesn’t matter because you can’t get lost.  Drive the southern route and you’ll see everything mentioned in this blog post.  Drive northward and you’ll feel as if you have Iceland to yourself and the landscapes are even more impressive.

Geysirs burst steam in the air constantly while some erupt like clockwork.  The landscape is fascinating if you’re a nature lover.  They are literally everywhere so you can’t miss them.  If you fancy waterfalls, Iceland has those, too, and they are mightily impressive. 

If you’re adventurous like me, head to the local airport and ask a pilot to fly you over Iceland in a small plane.  It is from the air that you will truly appreciate the grand size of the glaciers.  I’d like to say they are the size of Texas except Texas is vastly larger than the entire country.  But, you get the idea.  The lakes, the rivers, the evident flow of lava when a volcano erupts, the mountains and desolate landscape are even more stunning from up above.

Iceland is also a photographer’s paradise and playground.  It’s safe to say you can’t take a bad photograph in Iceland.  Plan to travel with your DSLR.  You’ll probably want to print some of the photographs you capture.  At the same time, have your iPhone or any mobile phone handy.  Smartphones are brilliant when you want to capture a quick photo or video.

I’ve included some tips to consider when using your iPhone for travel photography.

12 iPhone X Camera Tips You Won’t Want to Forget should help you to improve the images you take with that omnipresent camera system.  It should be noted that most of these tips can be applied if you own any of the other iPhone models or even other camera phones.

1. Turn on all the lights in the room

This is a great place to start immediately improving the quality of the photos you capture with your iPhone. The pitfall you are immediately battling when you grab for your iPhone over your DSLR or Mirrorless camera is in the fact that you are working with a MUCH smaller lens in front of a MUCH smaller sensor. What this means is that your iPhone is not all that good at collecting light. Yes, that statement applies to the iPhone X as well.

When light collection is inefficient, noise can become a problem quickly. But don’t fret, I have a solution. Add light. It really is that simple. Turning on every available light will immediately enhance the quality of your image. The lights in your house are most likely placed up high (probably near or in the ceiling) and they will be familiar and flattering. This will immediately improve your photos making them sharper and reducing overall noise.

2. Turn on the flash

This is clearly related to the first tip. More light = better iPhone photos! iPhones have the tendency to not use the built-in flash as much as they should. Now, while it is a point light source and thus a harsh light source, it is also probably not strong enough to overpower your ambient light. Rather, it will add to it as a fill and reduce overall noise in the image.

Since the ambient light is still present, you shouldn’t end up with harsh, ugly shadows. That is, unless you ignored the first tip. Just make sure you’re not expecting the flash to cover any great distance. It has an effective range of about 7 feet before the inverse square law renders it less than useless.

Do be aware of the possibility of your flash not matching the ambient light in terms of color temperature. This is supposed to be less of a problem with “True Tone” flash. However, the lighting in a house tends to be very warm and can really give your flash away. Play around with it and see what works best in your given situation.

3. Utilize “Portrait Mode”

One place where the limitations of a mobile device for photography start to become more apparent is when trying to take advantage of the physics of optics to do things like create a shallow depth of field. Enter computational photography.

This is going to be a buzz phrase as we move into the future of photography. A huge strength of the iPhone X camera (like the 7 plus and 8 plus) is the ability to recognize the subject, separate them from the background and create a fantastic and convincing bokeh. While it’s not perfect, it is pretty darn good and getting better with each iteration.

While in the main camera, simply swipe into “portrait” mode and the camera will do the rest. You will notice that it doesn’t work horribly well up close but you must be close enough for it to separate the subject from the background. 7 to 8 feet works pretty well. The phone will actually tell you things like “Move Farther Away” or “Place subject within 8 feet” to help guide you to the optimum subject distance to make the feature work. Also, be sure that your background is a decent distance behind your subject. This will help the system work better.

The software takes over and creates a great bokeh that will separate your subject from the background and improve your portraits.

If you’re living in the world of the iPhone X, you also have access to the lighting adjustments in portrait mode. 

4. Tap on screen to adjust focus and exposure

An often-underutilized functionality built into the iPhone experience, dating way back to the early versions of the iPhone Camera app, is the ability to control the exposure. Many people simply stumble onto the feature.

The way this works is by simply touching the screen where your subject is. This sets the focus point on the image. Now, with your finger still touching the screen, drag it up and down to adjust the overall exposure. Now you’re in a perfect position to nail your iPhone photo exposure every time!

This works especially well with subjects like sunsets where the camera wants to automatically select an exposure that is far too bright, blowing out the details in the sky. Drag down to “under-expose” and boom… perfect sunset shot.

Another level of functionality in this feature is the ability to lock exposure and auto focus. Once it’s set how you like it, just hold on the screen for two seconds and you will see the AE/AF lock indication pop up. You can then recompose your image without the camera changing focus or exposure settings.

5. Don’t pinch to zoom when taking pictures

“Zooming” by using the pinch gestures on screen. Technically, you can’t zoom on an iPhone. Zoom would be changing the optical focal length of your lens. Pinch “zoom” is digital “zoom” and amounts to a simple cropping of the image. Of course, with the X and with the Plus versions of the iPhone, there is the option to use the second “2X” camera. But this is really more of a lens swap, or technically it’s a complete camera swap to a different system, different sensor, everything.

Note: There is a HUGE caveat with the “2x camera” that I discovered while writing this article. When lighting conditions are not optimal, the iPhone camera app always uses the main 1x camera and when you tap 2x, it uses a digital “zoom”. This is because the 1x camera has a slightly larger sensor and a slightly brighter aperture. In order to know if you’re actually utilizing the 2x optics, cover the telephoto lens (leave the main lens unobstructed and that is how you’ll know you’re covering the correct lens) and switch to “2x”. If you’ve actually switched over the image should go dark. If it does not, you are using “digital zoom” and you’re better off just using the 1x camera.

Pinch zooming is really just cropping the image live and then taking the photo committing the photographer to the exact composition they had when they hit the shutter. A far better approach would be to take the photo without zooming in and then crop later to get the desired effect. Then there is time to make it perfect and/or change it later on. A sort of non-destructive workflow applied to capture in-camera.

The other alternative, and one that is especially useful if you do not have one of the iPhones with the handy two camera setup on the back, is a set of clip on lenses that can be attached to your phone. There are tons of these on the market and many of them actually work quite well (see tip #8)!

6. Panoramas can be useful

This one might seem obvious, but I want to point out a couple of less obvious ways to use this feature. First, the obvious. Sometimes you just want a panorama. Shooting several photos with sufficient overlap and then hauling said files into Lightroom or Photoshop or your editor of choice to merge to a panorama is simply too much. So, engage panorama mode, start the exposure and slowly pan from left to right. Done.

One spot where it might not be so obvious to use a panorama is in a situation where you don’t necessarily need the sweeping 180-degree view. You can take short panoramas (is that a contradiction in terms? I don’t care) you have my permission. This is a way to achieve a slightly wider angle of view both vertically and horizontally while, at the same times, adding a fair bit of resolution.

Another useful tip with panoramas on the iPhone is to remember that they work in the vertical orientation as well. The process is the same, just hold your phone in landscape orientation at the start of the panorama and pan from low to high. Now you have a beautiful photo of a very tall subject in one shot.

The panorama mode comes with a couple of caveats and these are not unlike panoramas with larger photography equipment.

  • You’re likely to have some significant distortion, especially if you’re close to your subject. This can sometimes be OK and other times it can be fixed in post.
  • Moving subjects don’t play well with panoramas. Sometimes this can lead to some interesting stitching errors.
7. Rotate your phone rather than your body when taking a panorama

This is obviously part of tip #6, but I gave it its own heading because it will help you just that much. It has to do with parallax and other forms of distortion that are possible when the camera moves rather than rotates. If you have no clue what that means, don’t fret, just understand that you will end up with superior results when you rotate your phone rather than your body with your phone out in front of you.

The same principle is true when shooting panoramas with a larger camera system. The idea is to rotate around something known as the nodal point. With your phone, just think of the camera itself as the nodal point and you’ll probably be close enough. Throw a longer lens on and have objects near and far in the frame, and it becomes important quickly.

If you want to try an experiment that will help you understand the concept, do the following:

  • Hold your finger up in front of your face about a foot or so away.
  • With one eye closed, line your finger up with some object in the background (something about 10 feet or more away works best)
  • Now rotate your head and notice that your finger appears to shift position as your head rotates. This is the same thing that is happening when you hold your phone out in front of you as you rotate your body to create a panorama. It can mess things up pretty quickly.
  • Now try again, but as your head rotates, try to keep your finger and your target object lined up. If you are able to do this, you are rotating around the nodal point of your eye! Stitching a panorama that was taken with the camera rotating around this nodal point is much easier and much more accurate as the elements in the frame do not move relative to one another.

If you have a hard time with this, consider mounting your phone on a tripod as you would when taking a panorama with a larger camera system (more on tripod benefits in tip #9).

8. Invest in some external lenses for more iPhone photography fun

As with more traditional photography setups, good glass is critical. External lenses are a great addition to your iPhone. Be it the X, or the 8 or any of the previous iterations. Now, obviously the X and the 8 Plus (as well as the 7 Plus) have the extra camera with the longer focal length but why would you want to stop at two setups?

Right now, there are countless options for adding lenses to your iPhone setup, be it the X, 8, 8 Plus or any of the previous models. Oh, and the phones made by the other manufacturers too.  I’d start by looking at the products offered by Moment and Olloclip. 

There is also the option to look into the less expensive “clip on” lenses that are available. Be careful though as many do not sport stellar quality. Now seems like a good time to mention that many of those #ShotOniPhone ad spots you see were indeed done with the iPhone, but usually use high-end lenses adapted for use in front of the iPhone camera to create final product. So, if you’re really into mobile photography on the iPhone or any other device, a GOOD set of external lenses might be worth the hefty investment.

9. Use a tripod for excellent results

This kind of sounds like a general photography tip you’ve probably heard before, and it is. This is especially true when working in low lighting. Now, the iPhone X is not going to contend with its larger sensor equipped counterparts in low lighting (see tips #1 and #2), however it does hold its own when compared to cameras placed inside smartphones.

A tripod will help to reduce camera shake that can be a result of the longer exposures needed in these low light environments. This benefit is especially true when using a 3rd party camera app to manually control exposure keeping shutter speeds long and ISO down. Longer shutter speeds equal more light equals less apparent noise. They also equal the need for a tripod. A device like the Joby GripTight Mount will help you to easily attach your phone to any tripod via the ¼ -20 thread. A handy little piece that you’ll hardly notice in your camera bag.

10. The wired headphones your phone came with can be used as a cable release

Everyone knows about the iconic white ear buds that come standard with every iPhone. What not everyone knows is that the volume buttons that are built into those very headphones can be used as a cable release to avoid camera shake when taking a photo! Simply attach your headphones to your iPhone via the lightning port (using the supplied adapter with a normal 3.5mm headphone plug works as well) and when you’re ready to take the photo just click volume up or down.

This functionality is an extension of the ability to use the volume buttons on the phone itself as shutter buttons. A helpful tip if you like the tactile properties of an actual shutter button. Or if you need the ability to trigger your camera without touching it.

If you want to go a little more “high-tech” or you just plain love Bluetooth (and who doesn’t love Bluetooth?) you could try something like what I use, which is the Joby Impulse Remote Control.

11. Use HDR

HDR is a very popular and yet often criticized technique in photography. The basic premise behind it is to create an image where detail is remains in the very bright and very dark parts of an image where both exist. Part of the limitation of cameras in general, and especially that one that you sometimes use to make calls with, is the lack of an ability to catch these details in the highlights and shadows.

Your iPhone camera app has the built-in functionality to take multiple exposures and automatically blend them together into a seamless image showing all of this wonderful detail. It does it quite well I might add. The only real drawback is that if you have a moving element in your frame, the stitch can fail, just the same as with more traditional forms of image capture. HDR does not play well with moving subjects.

When you have a scene that has a significant difference between the bright and dark parts and you want to maintain that detail and your scene lacks moving subjects, use HDR.

12. Optimize Your Video

I love using my iPhone for video purposes. It does a fantastic job in a large variety of situations. Try not to forget that it’s there. Do pay attention to the settings as they must be accessed through the settings app in the iPhone (I really wish that I could change them on the fly from inside the camera app).

The iPhone X will shoot at various framerate settings from 720p/30 frames per second (fps) to 4K/60fps. I should note that the 4K/60 option is not available in my Canon 5D Mark IV. So, in my case, this is a great tool! Be aware of the space required for the 4K/60 video though. Apple has a handy guide built into the settings screen showing you the space required for each framerate/resolution setting.

In order to drastically increase the quality of your video, I recommend getting a gimbal for your phone. If I were to buy one today, I would gravitate toward the DJI OSMO Mobile. This device, or one like it is designed to stabilize your footage giving it a much more polished, professional look.

There are fifty shades of green, and none of them are jaded.  Welcome to Ireland!  It’s said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney delivered treasure to be kept for a lifetime.   The Western Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, the country’s history is almost tangible with ruins standing the test of time and its people seem put on earth expressly to restore faith in humanity as their warmth and humor will make all feel welcome.

My dear friend Daragh and I set out for an adventurous experience second to none along the Connemara Loop which is situated in breathtaking North West Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.   Following the Loop, we were taken on a journey through an ever changing landscape of craggy mountain peaks, spectacular expansive sandy beaches, the wild North Atlantic, mist covered lakes, pre-historic bogs and shady glens.   All exemplify the peaceful solitude and rugged beauty of the West of Ireland.   A landscape peppered with quaint but lively villages where all the convenience of the modern day is available alongside an opportunity to step back in time to a more relaxed and friendly era.  Though the roads are rather narrow for this West Texas driver there was no getting lost although the wandering sheep may be inclined to cause a traffic-jam here and there.   I must admit, too, to closing my eyes the first few times I drove past a tour bus leaving Daragh convinced he would not reach his 40th birthday, which we were there to celebrate.  

One can easily get lost forgetting the trials of the world while rejuvenating the soul and centering the mind in this small area of the universe.   Connemara is an area comprising of a broad peninsula between Killary Harbour and Kilkieran Bay in the west of County Galway or south west Connacht. From the rugged Twelve Bens mountain range in the north through lake-rich Roundstone Bog to the golden beaches reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll know you’re in Connemara by the light that constantly changes the mood and tone of the landscape and the incredible reflections on the almost still lakes.  Connemara has long been regarded as the real emerald of Ireland and I must concur this was a feast for this photographer’s eyes.  The natural terrain and unspoiled environment offers a wonderland of sights and experiences.  The people are warm, friendly and extend a hospitality which is the essence of Ireland as were greeted with a smile, a gentle hello on the street or the single finger “Mayo Wave” while driving.  It is difficult to not feel as if you’re right at home in this land far from home.

As William Thackery quoted in 1842: “one of the most wild and beautiful districts these wild mountains over which the clouds as they pass or the sunshine as it comes and goes casts such a variety of tint, light and shadow.”  I would venture to say not much has changed since the time of Thackery’s quote but this traveler appreciates a slower pace where the days still pass quickly though the abundant green Irish landscape whispered in my ear to take a deep breath and let go of the pressures of the city.

Snow white and mysteriously beautiful, New Mexico’s White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, with huge, wave-like dunes that constantly roll across some 275 square miles of desert in the Tularosa Basin.   These pristine waves affect me more than any other place in this world.   Here I am in awe of the dune’s ever-changing natural beauty.   I like the notion of the blowing wind shifting the sands into different for-mations, as this reflects my own life.   Not much ever remains the same for me over time, and I look forward to change.

White Sands touches deep within my soul, often serving as a healer—a place of solace, if you will.   When life becomes hectic, the pure silence of the dunes provides calm, allowing my mind and spirit to become centered once again.   There are no distractions, and what sometimes appears impossible in other surroundings reveals itself to be the opposite.

This is where I retreated to make some sort of sense of my father’s sudden passing at an all-too-young age, and where, saying goodbye one last time, I was able to let go.   Only me, the dunes, and unfiltered thoughts of a man who worked so hard to give me so much.   Too, after being diagnosed with a virus that will never leave my body, it was the white sands I kicked, pounded, yelled at, then cried over from fear and disappointment.   And it was among the graceful dunes that my partner of twenty-four years and I reconnected, strengthening our relationship well beyond words.

Yes, I’ve spent countless hours hiking White Sands as far as possible, seen more than a million stars overhead, watched the sand illuminate under the full moon, and have had the good fortune to view the area from overhead, hanging out of a small plane.   The dunes of White Sands have a personal hold on me.   I may go in with a heavy heart from time to time, but I always leave knowing I am not running from anything; instead I am running to- ward the day with eyes wide open.   For this, I will be forever grateful.

Gypsum sand is rare, because gypsum is usually dissolved by rain and carried out to sea.   But the deposits of gypsum washed down from the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains that ring the Tularosa Basin are trapped there, for the basin has no outlet to the sea.   When shallow pools left by the rain evaporate, they leave on the surface a layer of gypsum in a crystalline form called selenite, which forms in crystals that can be well over a foot long.   Whipped by constantly blowing winds and exposed to extreme temperature changes, the crystals are eventually pounded into a fine-grained sand that gathers in brilliant white drifts moving across the desert floor. Because the terrain is in constant motion, only a few plants and animals survive here, adapting to the changing conditions in unique ways.