Smartphones Need Smart Pictures #1: Adding a Layer of Meaning to Pictures 


For each challenge, comment with an Instagram link or email me a photo ( I want to add your pictures to each post!

With our smartphones today we live in a snapshot era. Having a camera at our fingertips results in the sharing of moments. When something exciting, beautiful, or bizarre meets the eye, we can immediately “snap and share.” These moments are intrinsically beautiful; however, the images used to share these moments lack image quality and often fail to provide capture any aesthetic appeal. However, I believe that with the combination of basic photography skills and an ounce of extra effort, the fleeting aesthetic can be captured. With that, I dare say that smartphones need smart pictures. For this blog sub-series I’m focusing on the how powerful a smartphone really is. All pictures will be taken from my iPhone SE and blog post composed on my WordPress app.

Post No. 1: Adding a Layer of Meaning to Pictures (Smartphones Need Smart Pictures No. 1)

What I’m talking about in this post is one of my favorite things to incorporate into a photograph. When capturing a moment, I always try and ask myself: “can I add anything to enhance this photograph?” For example, about a month ago, I bought a burger from a food truck (moment). I took a photo of that burger (primary layer). I positioned myself in a way to take the picture with the food truck blurred in the background (secondary layer).


Here’s another example that I just put together today in my room.

Moment: I saw that one my guitar picks looks like it’s melting due to wear and tear.

Primary Layer: holding my guitar pick with my left hand (taking the picture with my right).

How I add a quick secondary layer to this?

Secondary Layer: Guitar blurred in background.

Immediately there’s an extra layer in the picture- something more for one to look at. The focus is still on the guitar pick, with the guitar blurred in the background.

This aesthetic appeal is something we always do with human subjects. When we go on vacation and see a beautiful landmark (moment), we take a picture of ourselves (primary layer) with the landmark in the background (secondary layer).

Tip: To ensure the a blur in the background, it’s best when the primary layer is somewhat close to your camera. Also make sure that  the camera is focused on that subject in the primary layer.

So I challenge you to incorporate this into your pictures!

Now the question is, can there be a third layer? I think so.

(Moment: Sunset at a beach in Fort Myers during Spring Break // Layer 1:  shells on sand // Layer 2: beach and sky // Layer 3 (time): sunset)

And to conclude, heres the challenge for this post:

Challenge: With the examples shown above, try to do the same: add an extra layer (or more!) to a basic photo.

Comment with or send me your challenge results! Along with the image, if you have courage to try, tell me the moment and layers of your photograph. I can embed your Instagram post here right onto this blog!


(Moment: Playing football with my buddy Josh // Layer 1 (focus): football // Layer 2 (blur): Josh smiling // Layer 3 (background): football field)

Photography Guide A1: Introduction

When I was in 11th grade, I was determined to buy a fancy-schmancy camera, but my parents weren’t going to pay the big bucks for it.

I tried convincing my parents: I want to become a photographer. Unless I buy this type of camera, I can’t.

I accumulated enough money through my $10/hr camp summer job and bought that fancy camera. A $750 Sony A57-SLT. It was Sony’s starter version of the DSLR. I was already spending more money for a specific brand. I could have afforded a cheaper but equivalent starter “fancy camera” for half that price.

My first fancy camera: a Sony A57-SLT.

For three years I used that camera occasionally. I didn’t bother to learn any technical skills that came from using a DSLR digital camera. I just used the Auto-Intelligence” mode.

What a waste! It was like buying an $1000 snowboard having no prior experience and using it to embarrass yourself by tumbling down the bunny slope.

Tip #A1.1: Buying an expensive camera does NOT produce better photographs.

A former Sunday School student of mine sums it up beautifully:

The camera is only a good as the person behind it. That can’t be more true. Looking back, I can shamefully admit that deep down, I did get a kick out of being a kid with a fancy camera. I felt cool.

I made an effort to look like this:

Picture taken by my buddy Yoyo

…while my photos came out like this:

Mike on that hike! (-) overexposed, (-) out of focus, (+) surprisingly, following the rule of thirds

I was using this expensive piece of hardware no different than I would use my iPhone before. Snap Snap Snap. I don’t want to miss anything.  I took lots of photos, but I had little to no understanding of the role of balancing light and exposure in a photograph.

It wasn’t until sophomore year of college (fall of 2014) that I really delved into learning more about photography and the technical skills. During a hiking trip, I was unable to capture certain scenes where the sun was very bright and affected my camera’s automatic sensors Stupid “Auto-Intelligence” mode. My friend Ariel then gave me a quick tip and showed me how to change my shutter speed. I was able to capture the scene more in a more desirable way and there was a sense of victory that came with it.

After that, I became fascinated with how a camera could capture certain images. I would see a beautiful photograph-like a starry sky or a silky waterfall-and wonder: how in the world do they do that?

Tip #A1.2: Knowing what you want to photograph before whipping out your camera goes a long way.

I would see something beautiful and embrace the challenge of capturing it. The process of completing the challenge required learning the technical skill behind using a digital camera and practicing it with lots of trials and errors.

A few months later in the summer of 2015, I was able to capture the starry sky, as well as the silky waterfall. It just took time.

…my Instagram game was weak back then.

Even after these two small victories, I still had much to learn to reach the point I am now. My interest in photography has led me to some great photographic experiences while at home and on vacation. I’ve been able to take pictures for a family-friend’s sweet 16 and be an assistant for a friend’s wedding. Now at school, I’ve had a chance to be a photographer for the career services department at my school. Without challenging myself to learn more, I would certainly not have had these opportunities. And I’m definitely still learning! With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a few blog posts with my photography journey filled with the tips and lessons that I learned along the way.

Challenge: Next time you see a beautiful image, challenge yourself to capture a photograph in a similar way.

Thanks for reading! Please comment with any questions and suggestions.

Always remember your Right to Bear Arts!

by the Creative Coalition



1#: DSLR
– stands for digital single-lens reflex camera. It means one of those fancy larger cameras toted by photographers.
-The term DSLR is sometimes used to mean a camera that has specific manual settings (for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO). A camera with manual settings doesn’t have any official nomenclature- it’s simply “a camera with manual settings. There are smartphones and point and shoot cameras that have the capability of having manual settings.
-The term DSLR is also sometimes used to mean a camera that can use different lenses. That is also incorrect- the correct term for that would be “interchangeable lens camera.” 

#2: Exposure – the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor.

#3. Shutter Speed – the amount of time a camera opens it’s shutter to expose the camera’s sensor to light.
-The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the exposure.
-Shutter speed is usually measured by seconds and second-fractions (e.g. 1/100 s, 1/30 s, 10 s).
-A fast shutter speed would be required to freeze a moving object.