Home & Garden

You don’t have to be a pro to take amazing nature photos – even with an iPhone

JC Raulston Arboretum offers monthly photography workshops by Susan Bailey and July is all about smartphones.
JC Raulston Arboretum offers monthly photography workshops by Susan Bailey and July is all about smartphones.

Early on Tuesdays, volunteers at Raleigh’s JC Raulston Arboretum mulch and pull weeds. Susan Bailey sees them on these busy mornings, and inevitably some ask her what she’s photographing or what the theme of her next photo walk will be. For July, she answered, it’ll be smartphones. That news went over well.

“They’re not photographers at all, the gardening people, but they want to be able to take better pictures, especially of their home gardens,” Bailey says. “A lot of them have some pretty fantastic home gardens and they’re like, ‘I could do that if you could teach me how to do something with a smartphone.’ 

Bailey is a freelance photographer and teacher, and she was coordinator of the Triangle chapter of the Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association for eight years. Since January, she’s been holding monthly photography walks at the arboretum. They’re small by design: With a cap of 10 people, Bailey is ensured one-on-one time with new photographers. And every month there’s a theme. So far, Bailey has covered topics like black-and-white photography and using wide-angle lenses. Later in the year, she’ll move on to textures, shadows and patterns. For July 20, though, all you need is an iPhone.

“It has its limitations, but it has so many pluses,” Bailey says about smartphone photography. “I thought it would be a very freeing thing, where they’re not thinking about, ‘I have to set my aperture; what’s my shutter speed? Let me fiddle with the tripod. Do I need flash?’ All they’re thinking is, ‘What am I looking at?’ 

A late, but enthusiastic convert

Bailey wasn’t a smartphone convert until a good friend of hers, who happens to teach iPhoneography, came to visit. For five days, he told her, they’d be photographing without a camera.

No way, she said.

Trust me, he said.

So they went to a Cracker Barrel, and after dinner, they spent hours walking around the store, snapping smartphone photos of the gimcracks on the walls. They were there almost until closing time, Bailey recalls, having a blast. Now she gets it.

“Smartphones are great when you’re in a place like a downtown, busy situation where people might be leery of you with the real camera,” Bailey says. “Smartphones – nobody questions anything. There are people taking pictures with smartphones all the time.”

Even though photography apps are cheap, Bailey says, she’ll only go over three during her July 20 walk. She doesn’t want people to get intimidated, after all, and think they have to purchase a ton of apps. The fewer barriers there are between a new photographer and the act of photography, the better.

“My thing is to have people really enjoy the camera experience,” she says. “It’s not all about the technical. It’s about creating something that has meaning for the person, and for other people when they look at the image.”

Garden photography adds another element. Every week, something changes. A plant has sprouted or bloomed or turned or lost its leaves, adding another level of sanctuary to the already immersive photography experience. It’s magical, Bailey says, and going into a garden or arboretum with your camera provides a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life – even if that camera happens to be part of your phone.

“They get in there, and within ten minutes they are in this other world,” says Bailey. “It’s very therapeutic for a lot of people.”

Photography Walk

What: Smartphones, with Susan Bailey

When: 10-11 a.m. Thursday, July 20

Where: JC Raulston Arboretum, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh

Cost: $10 for members / $15 for nonmembers. Advance registration required.

Info: jcra.ncsu.edu

NOTE: With an attendance cap of 10, this could easily fill up. If it does, you can still look ahead in the arboretum calendar at upcoming photography walks, which Bailey holds monthly.

Juried Print Competition and Exhibition

The Triangle Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association holds its monthly meetings the first Wednesday of each month at the JC Raulston Arboretum. It also co-sponsors the annual Juried Print Competition and Exhibition, which is August 11 and 12 at the arboretum. There are cash prizes, and the winning prints and judges’ favorites will be on display at Raulston during September.

Susan Bailey is a certified photography judge and also does image critiques for firms, so she has a pretty good idea of what does and doesn’t catch a judge’s eye. “You have just a few seconds when the judges are going by these images,” Bailey notes. “You really need the impact.”

She provided The News & Observer with two essential competitive photography tips:

1. Present a unique perspective: Even those brand new at photography can try unique perspectives. Get down below the daylily, looking up at it with the sky behind it, Bailey offers as an example. The idea is to get the judges’ attention, so show them something they haven’t seen.

“You’re doing something low to the ground, lay down on the ground and shoot down there instead of down at it,” she says. A photo is supposed to pull the viewer in, elicit emotion and go beyond the everyday. Even a technically perfect picture is going to lose if it doesn’t do these things, Bailey says.

2. Be aware of your background: “Especially new photographers have a problem,” Bailey says. “They see the beautiful flower, they snap it. They don’t even think about the concrete wall that’s behind it.” Backgrounds are important, she says, and can detract from the subject of the photo if poorly chosen.


What: Juried Print Competition and Exhibition, sponsored by the JC Raulston Arboretum and the Triangle Carolinas’ Nature Photography Association

When: Entries accepted 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Friday, Aug 11. Opening reception 7 - 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug 12

Where: JC Raulston Arboretum, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh

Cost: $20 for adults, $10 for youth category (16 and under). $5 additional fee if not pre-registered by Sunday, July 23.

Info: View full competition rules and details at jcra.ncsu.edu, or learn more about the Triangle Carolinas’ Nature Photography Association at triangle.cnpa-regions.org.