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Smartphone Photography

Do you need a fancy DSLR or a new mirrorless camera to take great wildlife photos? I’m not going to lie, it does help and the quality is better.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t create some really cool images with anything but a smartphone.

“The best camera is the one you have with you” -Chase Jarvis

Check out the YouTube Video to see how it went!

The reason I started this project was that the auto focus my Tamron 150-600mm stopped working and needed repairs.  I also decided that I would trade some of my other lenses to get the Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 mark ii.

So with only a 50mm prime left, I decided to leave my 7D in the camera bag and try to take photos of wildlife with my iPhone 7.  For my wildlife subject, I went with a fairly easy one, garden birds. 

One challenge at a time.

No Lenses!!!

As the iPhone doesn’t have a zoom function (besides digital – which you should never use!) it was essential that I had a shutter release so that I wouldn’t have to hold my phone and press the shutter manually.  Luckily, my girlfriend had one that works over bluetooth and it allowed me to be a few metres away from my camera.

Essential

Other gear I used (but not essential):

To photograph birds in the garden it’s important to have a feeding station and keeping them topped up.  Birds eat a lot, especially when it gets cold during winter.

iPhone Wildlife Photography Day 1

For the first day of attempting bird photography with my iPhone, I set up the V+ hide right next to my bird feeders.  I had already experimented with where to position a twig for birds to land on during a recent project for Tragopan, Using a hide for photographing garden birds.  You can view the video here!

Through experimentation, I found that the birds would mostly land on the twig when it was positioned right above the feeder.

I used my tripod with a phone mount on it to position my phone directly facing the branch and carefully compose the image, leaving space above the branch for the bird to fit into my frame.

Composing my frame

The built-in iPhone camera app is not a very good option for this kind of project as I quickly found out.  Every time I pressed the shutter with the remote button the camera would re-focus and my carefully placed focusing point would be way off.

So I used a 3rd party app called ProCam which I had previously purchased for filming as you can set all the parameters manually such as 120 frames per second for 1080p video.  With this app I could set my focus, as well as my shutter speed. 

Though be careful with too high a shutter speed as the ISO will automatically increase with it, and most smartphones don’t handle high ISO very well.  They tend to introduce a lot of noise.

View from the V+ Hide

Blue tit, iPhone 7 ProCam

Everything setup and I could go into my hide and wait for the first birds to arrive.  Patience is needed here, as the birds aren’t always as cooperative to land where you want them too.  And when they do land the shutter isn’t always quick enough to get a capture in time.

After I thought I’d captured a few decent images I went to check for sharpness and see if there was anything I could change with my composition.

Blue tit, iPhone 7 ProCam

iPhone Wildlife Photography Day 2

For day two of wildlife photography with a smartphone, I wanted to get a picture of a blackbird feeding on an apple in the grass.  I carefully set up my iPhone using a gorilla pod to hold it in place under an apple tree in the garden.  I picked up all the loose apples and left one in front of my phone.

The blackbirds however, were not as cooperative as the blue tit.  They were more interested in garbage in the compost heap than the suspicious looking apple in front of the massively camouflaged dome that had mysteriously appeared in the garden.

Uncooperative blackbird

The blackbirds seemed a bit more cautious than the smaller birds.  It’s possible that they would have needed some more time to get used to the hide before they would be comfortable getting too close.

I only got a couple of captures of a blackbird eyeing the apple from a distance.

iPhone Wildlife Photography Day 3

My third day of iPhone photography had great conditions.  It was a cold morning with frost on the ground and I got some golden light after sunrise.  Though, very short lasting as the low winter sun would hide behind houses very quickly.

On day three I had the most success with iPhone wildlife photography.  I set up a log on which I put some peanuts on and carefully placed the phone to capture the action.

Coal tit checking out my phone

I noticed that the birds would often land first on the highest tip of the log, before going for the peanuts further down.  This allowed me to put a pile of peanuts lower on the log and aim my iPhone at the tip of the log without getting the feed in the frame.

Coal tit, iPhone 7 ProCam

Blue tit, iPhone 7 ProCam

As always with any kind of photography, light makes the image.  It wasn’t until I got some golden light shining on the birds that I got some of the best and sharpest images.

Blue tit, iPhone 7 ProCam

Lessons learnt from bird photography with an iPhone

  • Regularly feed birds in the garden
  • Set up for taking pictures with your phone near where you already feed birds
  • Get a remote shutter button
  • A small tripod helps to hold the phone in place (but not essential)
  • Get a 3rd party Camera App – I used ProCam for iPhone
  • Get close, like really close! Smartphones have a very wide lens.
  • Find a way to be close to see what’s going on and when to press the shutter
  • Observe the birds, do they have a favourite branch or behave in a predictable way?  Information like this is crucial for wildlife photography and can inform where to point your camera and when to press the shutter.

For learning more about garden bird photography check out my post on ‘Garden Feeding Station for Bird Photography‘.

My Wildlife Photography Gear

Check out this post to find out more about the equipment I use for wildlife photography and for my YouTube videos