3 Question Interview with Phoneographer Bea Leiderman (Full Interview)

How do you take such awesome photos with a device like the iPhone?  

The iPhone has a very powerful camera. I started taking photos with the iPhone 4. Now I’m using an iPhone 6 and I can see the difference when I look through my iPhone library. Each new iPhone has produced crisper images with better color reproduction. But, my macro shots do have outside help. I use the Olloclip lens, and I have also gone through a series of those. I purchased my very first one even before it was available on the market. I had to pre-order from Best Buy and wait a couple of weeks.

It takes lots of patience to get macro shots in focus with the iPhone and the Olloclip. I have to get very close to the bugs. So, I have to employ one of two strategies with the fast ones. I either move faster than they do, or I wait and wait and wait until they get used to me and let me get close enough. Keep in mind that I have to get my lens about an inch away from my bug or everything will be blurry.

When bugs let me get close, the trick is to keep the phone stable. Sometimes I use my hands as a tripod, setting my fingers down on a nearby surface. Other times I hold the leaf or stem where the bug is standing so, even when my hand moves, the distance between the lens and the bug does not change.

I find the best times to photograph bugs are early morning and close to sunset. The light is soft enough that it does not glare off wings, eyes, or shells. I live at the edge of a wooded area and across the street from a pond. These are both perfect places to find insects. Landscaped areas where fertilizers and weed killers are used tend to have fewer bugs.

What ‘technical’ advice can you offer parents on how to capture that perfect image?

While I don’t take bugs out of their environment, I do work hard to make them look beautiful and interesting. Working with something as small as an iPhone gives me the opportunity to find a good angle. I like showing bugs’ faces. Some look silly, some look serious, and some look surprised to be having their picture taken. If a bug is on a leaf or flower, I turn and bend the plant until I have what I like. Of course, not all bugs are that patient.

Bug pictures are not for everyone. Still, I think taking good pictures involves many of the same principles regardless of what you are shooting. Make sure what you want to showcase is clearly visible, so look for an angle where the background is not cluttered with distracting stuff. Stop for a moment and really look before you click. Then get several shots. Now that we don’t have to worry about running out of film and waiting to see our photos after they are developed, we have the luxury of taking many shots and then saving just the good ones. If you catch someone blinking, the next shot will be better. If you only take one, then you are stuck with the blinking.

Go outdoors often and take pictures of kids doing kid stuff.

If you do buy an Olloclip or a similar product, take time to explore the wide angle and fisheye lenses, too. My children love taking selfies with the fisheye lense, capturing much more of the background or a larger group of friends than you could without it.

How might Phoneography help cultivate creative thinking skills at home?

“Put your device down and go outside to play.” Has anyone heard this? Devices and the outdoors are not mutually exclusive. When kids take pictures of what they find when exploring the outdoors, they create a record for themselves. They also have the opportunity to observe and explore well after the weather has turned stormy. Photography teaches kids to observe, to look closely. With a bit of guidance, kids can make beautiful art with a camera.

When I share my bug photos with kids, I call attention to details that might not be noticeable when they see the bugs in the wild. Even I, as an adult, had never paid much attention to the differences between one species of fly and another. With pictures, kids can notice all kinds of details and take their time comparing, making inferences, generating hypotheses. Working with a parent, they can search online for similar images and learn both about the bug and about the research process. They can join an online community such as Project Noah. Kids could even write a book to share their findings with people all around the world. An app like Book Creator would be the perfect tool for the task.

As an educator, I’ve often wondered how we can keep kids from disliking science as they so often do when they reach middle school. Little kids love nature and exploring. They are also fascinated by the “ew” factor. Gross things attract them and they want to know why. They never stop asking even when the adults don’t have answers. I have been writing books for kids that showcase my pictures and are written in accessible language with the hope that the books will encourage parents to explore with their children to help keep the love of science learning alive. I have a big camera with a big macro lens, but I do all my work with my iPhone and my Olloclip because these are much more affordable and easier to use. So, anyone can do what I do.

Go outside. Find the beautiful bugs in your yard and other green spaces around you. You don’t have to go on a safari to a far away place to discover amazing creatures. Have fun and don’t stop learning.

Bea currently has four free Digital Books available on iTunes. Calling Nature: Macro Photography and the iPhone shares more advice on how to go about working with Macro Photography with mobile devices, and the other three are listed below.

 

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