Up at the Treehouse…
By Christina Moresi, Wissahickon Environmental Center
If you follow the Tree House’s social media accounts (@TreeHouseWEC), you may have noticed my love of nature photography. Although I have dipped my creative toes into TikTok, our Instagram page is still my favorite media for sharing just how picture-perfect the Andorra Meadow, and the rest of the Wissahickon, is in any season.
Although I have a degree in photojournalism, and I finally bought a fancy, nature photography-friendly digital camera, I still use my cell phone camera 99.99 percent of the time. And that’s okay. Cell phones can be perfectly convenient tools for many things while hiking, especially capturing an unexpected nature moment “up at the Tree House.”
To get the most out of your cell phone camera, first, and most important, clean your lens—often. This is your best chance for a clear photo. To get the highest quality photos, look in your phone’s settings or user manual to change the image properties/quality/resolution to its highest setting. This will allow you to use or print your photos at their highest quality.
Next, focus on lighting, framing, and thinking creatively.
Unless you are emphasizing symmetry, photos are best composed when the focal point is not center. This is known as the rule of thirds. You can imagine your image divided into a three-line or nine-box grid, or you can set your camera to show those lines. Line up your focal point with the intersection of these lines, moving the subject a third of the way in any direction. This gives the photo a more active look, adding interest and depth. Also, think three, or other odd numbers. With flowers, for example, three are said to be more eye-catching than four.
Another way to create attention-grabbing cell phone photos is to notice how the light affects your shot. Overcast days or early mornings or evenings often offer the best light, which reduces harsh shadows and allows for the capture of more color and details. If the sun is out in all its glory, shoot with your back to it, or as I love to do, tuck the sun behind a subject, like a tree, to get the rays without the harsh light. Experimenting in all weather will help you notice the little things in nature, such as raindrops on spiderwebs, dapples of sun through the darkened forest, or ice patterns on ponds.
Now, with all that said, it is okay to forget the rules and capture what you find beautiful. Notice what is around you and how you can utilize it for a more creative shot. Use natural outlines and surrounding structures, such as fences, trails, or branches, to frame your photo. Move the camera around and experiment with different angles. I love putting the camera on the ground to capture large trees or bugs up close.
Speaking of bugs, for faster subjects such as birds and bugs, I often utilize the “burst” shots by holding down the camera button to capture multiple shots in a second. Another method I use is to film a video, then pull still-frame video captures.
These are just the basics for capturing a better photo out on the trail. As with any technology, there are many lenses, filters, and apps that can be added to your phone, internally and externally, to enhance your photos. However, regardless of how basic or sophisticated your equipment is, you still need inspiration.
The Phood Phorest is my new favorite spot for photographing bugs and flowers, but there are many special spots in the Andorra Meadow that are perfect for practicing your photography skills. Here are my five other favorite photo spots:
- The Great Beech. Not only is the tree a sight to behold, but its slow demise and return to nature always offers something new to photograph.
- Anywhere along the Meadow Loop, in any season, but specifically Dogwood Hollow in the spring, when all the dogwoods and crabapples are blooming in sync. I also love the sunrise and sunset along this trail.
- The Tree House Bird Feeders always promises an interesting shot of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and maybe a frog or two. If you sit on the ramp leading up to the Tree House, and peek through the slats, you can observe the animals snacking away.
- At the tip of the Red Trail, just after the Teal Trail, is an area we call Cucumber Meadow. There you will find the most interesting, extremely photogenic cucumber magnolia. It is also in that area that I feel the most secluded in the woods and notice a diverse array of flora and fauna.
- The Detention Basin in Parking Lot 1 is another spot where you are sure to see something picture-perfect at any time of the year, especially after a good rain.
The real art to cell phone nature photography is capturing what is beautiful to you and experimenting with your phone in the field and at home. Get to know its settings; shoot your subject from multiple angles and in different lights while trying the settings. Don’t hesitate to take a lot of photos. And, most importantly, enjoy your time in nature and exploring the natural creativity within you.
Christina Moresi, M.Ed., is an Environmental Education Planner at the Wissahickon Environmental Center.
After you’ve captured images of the Wissahickon, why not submit them to FOW’s Biennial Wissahickon Photo Contest? Deadline is October 14. https://fow.org/photocontest2022/