How to take better photos with your smartphone

Here’s a question for you: At a gathering with friends when you want to take a photograph, do you reach for a digital camera or your phone? According to David Hume Kennerly, author of “On the iPhone: Secrets and Tips From a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer,” “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And that camera is more than likely the one on your smartphone. 

With more than 1.8 billion photos uploaded every day on social media sites, most of them taken on smartphones, we’re a generation that obviously loves to take pictures. But as you’ve probably noticed from your Facebook newsfeed, most of these photos could use some improvement. Here, then, are some simple tips for taking better photos on your smartphone, or even your tablet. Best of all, they won’t require you to use any fancy apps or add-on lenses. You already have everything you need in the palm of your hand.

Use the “rule of thirds”

Using the “rule of thirds,” this photo, taken with an iPhone, is composed with the foreground on the bottom third, and my dog Gershwin’s face at the intersection of a horizontal and vertical line. iPhone photo by Jonathan Fong

When composing a shot, resist the tendency to position your subject smack dab in the middle. Photographers and other visual artists use the “rule of thirds,” in which the subject is off center to provide more balance and visual interest. To apply this guideline, imagine the photo divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, so that the two vertical lines intersect the two horizontal lines. Then, place the subject of the photo along one of these lines, or at the intersection of the lines. To more easily apply this rule, turn on the grid function of your smartphone’s camera, and those lines will appear on your viewfinder. Just go to your camera’s settings to enable the grid.

Get closer

One of Kennerly’s tips is to get closer to your subjects. A big advantage of a smartphone is that its size makes it easier to shoot at close range without being intrusive. If you’re photographing children or pets, kneel down to their level. I often do this when taking photos of my dogs. The shots look so much more compelling when they’re taken at eye level.

Turn off the flash

The flash is not your friend. A smartphone camera’s built-in flash gives people washed-out, yellow skin tones and red eyes, like they’re extras in “Children of the Corn.” Disable the flash and rely on available light. When you look for light, you’ll be surprised how many interesting sources you’ll find. As Kennerly notes, “It can be fireworks over the Washington Monument or a shard of light funneling through a hole in the wall onto the face of a sleeping child. The possibilities remain endless.”

Use AE/AF lock

The AE/AF lock can be helpful in difficult lighting situations. iPhone photo by Sara Budisantoso

If you’ve ever taken a photograph where there is high contrast in lighting (e.g., part of the shot is in the shadows, and part of it is in bright sunlight), you know it’s a challenge to get the right exposure and focus. Frequently, your subject will be completely in the dark while the rest of the photo is washed out. The AE/AF lock solves this problem. Just place your finger on the screen where the lighting is good, hold it there until the AE/AF indicator goes on, and then move the camera to your desired subject. The photo maintains the good lighting conditions that you locked in. 


HDR improves the range of exposure in high-contrast situations for more even lighting. iPhone photo by Lynn Pelkey

Another smartphone function to improve uneven lighting conditions is HDR. You may have noticed the letters “HDR” on the camera screen but weren’t sure what they meant. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. When you turn on HDR, your camera takes three photos at different exposures, and then highlights the best of each photo, combining the three into one HDR photo. HDR works really well for landscape shots in which the sky is much brighter than the land, or for portrait shots in bright sunlight, which can cause harsh shadows on the face. HDR evens out the lighting so everything looks better.

Be square

There’s just something about the square format that makes your photos look more vibrant. For one, it forces you to leave out extraneous elements that don’t fit in the frame. Without these distractions, the eye is immediately drawn to the subject. Black-and-white photos look particularly striking in the square format. And another benefit: Square photos on Facebook are displayed larger than vertical or horizontal ones.

Take candids

Most photos that you take of people will be posed — that’s inevitable. But the more interesting photographs are the ones taken when people are not looking at the camera. Having an unobtrusive smartphone makes this possible. Kennerly advocates, “Photograph your family when they aren’t paying attention to you.” These unguarded moments create a naturalistic honesty in the photographs that can’t be replicated with a posed smile. If you’re in a situation, such as a wedding, at which you and several other photographers are aiming cameras at the same subject, take your photos when the subject is looking at the other photographers instead of at you. You and your smartphone might just capture a more fascinating image than the professional photographer. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

State Dept. condemns naming of square for Palestinian terrorist

The State Department issued an explicit condemnation of the naming of a square in a West Bank town for a Palestinian terrorist.

“We are disturbed by reports that a town square in the West Bank has been renamed in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, who was a terrorist responsible for an attack that killed 35 Israelis in 1978,” Mark Toner, the State Department’s spokesman, said Thursday. “We condemn this commemoration of terrorism and have conveyed our deep concern about this incident to senior officials in the Palestinian Authority and have urged them to address it. We underscore that all parties have an obligation to end any form of incitement.”

The statement was more definitive than one issued earlier in the week by a state department official who said the Obama administration was seeking clarification on the matter.

Jewish groups, including the foreign policy umbrella body for the Jewish community, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had complained that the earlier statement did not go far enough.

Toner’s statement appeared to be a response to those complaints: Toner is the most senior spokesman at the State Dept. right now, and he led Thursday’s briefing with the statement, instead of reserving it as a response to a reporter’s question, a signal that the State Dept. uses to convey priority.

The Presidents’ Conference, in a statement, noted Toner’s remarks Thursday.

“We hope that the U.S. Administration will demand that the Palestinian leadership live up to its commitment to end incitement of all kinds and will hold them to account for the failure to do so,” the statement said. “Progress toward peace will be impossible as long as people, especially youth, are indoctrinated with hate in schools, mosques and in the public square. We welcome the intervention of the Administration with Palestinian officials, but there must be real accountability and real consequences. The international community not only must condemn acts of inhumanity and brutality, but also must express unequivocal outrage at the ongoing incitement to hatred and violence. Mere words are insufficient; there must be real action and follow-up.”

The Palestinian Authority in recent years says it has fired some mosque imams and teachers who have incited against Israel, but Israeli officials say the incitement is ingoing and widespread.

Palestinians in an official March 13 ceremony named a town square in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Mughrabi. Members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction were on hand for the unveiling of the plaque in her memory. No P.A. government officials attended the ceremony, according to Reuters.

Mughrabi was killed in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. She had directed the hijacking of two buses on the coastal road between Haifa and Tel Aviv, which led to the murder of 37 Israelis, including 13 children.

State ‘disturbed’ by reports of Mughrabi square naming

The State Department called “disturbing” reports that Palestinian Authority officials attended the renaming of a square after a terrorist, saying it condemned such commemorations.

“We are very disturbed by these reports and are seeking clarification from the Palestinian Authority,” a State Department official told JTA. “We condemn any commemoration of acts of terrorism and underscore that all parties have an obligation to end incitement.”

Palestinians in an official March 13 ceremony named a town square in the West Bank after a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis.

Members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction were on hand Sunday for the unveiling of a plaque in memory of Dalal Mughrabi in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, Reuters reported. No PA government officials attended the ceremony, according to Reuters.

Mughrabi was killed in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. She had directed the hijacking of two buses on the coastal road between Haifa and Tel Aviv, which led to the murder of 37 Israelis, including 13 children.

One year ago, the Palestinian Authority had canceled official ceremonies to name the town square for Mughrabi after pressure from U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell and Vice President Joe Biden at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request. The planned ceremony conflicted with a Biden visit to the region.

The P.A. said at the time that it would place the official monument at a later date.

Candidates for U.N. Secretary-General post consult with U.S. Jewish leaders;

Candidates for U.N. Secretary-General Post Consult With U.S. Jewish Leaders
As the U.N. General Assembly opens, diplomats vying to be the world’s top peacekeeper are taking time to consult with American Jewish leaders. At least three of the favored candidates to replace Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general have met in recent months with leaders of the U.S. Jewish groups that routinely deal with the United Nations.
“It’s a recognition that we’re part of the equation and the political calculus,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who acknowledged “several” meetings with prospective candidates: “It’s clear that no candidate can win without the support of the five permanent members, and there is thinking that American Jewry would have some impact on the thinking of the United States.”
The United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain are the five permanent members wielding veto power on the U.N. Security Council, the body that recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly for confirmation.

Annan’s term lapses at the end of the year, and Jewish leaders are considering the disappointments, as well as its highlights. Many of the issues that characterized the last part of Annan’s 10-year term — the Iranian nuclear threat, the aftermath of the Lebanon War and the prospect of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — will be high on the Jewish agenda the week that world leaders arrive to address the General Assembly during its opening session.
“We want to gauge the international mood toward Israel post-summer conflict and get a sense of whether there’s any traction of rumors of resumption of peace talks,” said Harris, who said his organization planned 60 meetings with world leaders this week and next. “We’ll be talking about the challenges of anti-Semitism.”
After two Africans in the job — Annan is from Ghana; his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was from Egypt — the assumption is that an Asian will get the job. Of the declared candidates, Shashi Tharoor, a U.N. undersecretary-general backed by his native India, and Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, have met with Jewish groups. Another candidate, Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, has also met with Jewish leaders and is in the process of setting up a second meeting. Community leaders were loath to endorse a particular candidate, but Tharoor made a favorable impression.
“We should take him seriously as a candidate,” said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations at the World Jewish Congress. “He was instrumental in putting the Holocaust on the U.N. agenda.”
Celebrating 350 Years of British Jewry
Trafalgar Square filled with celebrants this week to mark 350 years of British Jewry. An estimated 25,000 people on Sunday visited Simcha on the Square, the centerpiece of the yearlong anniversary celebration.
In the weeks leading up to the celebration, increased security was necessary due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic activity in Britain. Also, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) cancelled its participation to protest the involvement of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a vehement critic of Israel who has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
The involvement of Livingstone’s office wasn’t a recent decision, but it led AJEX to decide on Sept. 14 to boycott the event. In light of the controversy surrounding the mayor, Livingstone had been pulled from the celebration schedule months ago, to be replaced by his deputy, Nicky Gavron. AJEX’s last-minute decision to withdraw likely was due to a Sept. 5 press release from Livingstone’s office proclaiming the mayor’s personal support of Simcha on the Square.
Despite these 11th hour glitches, the event “went beyond our dreams,” Auerbach said. “To see beautiful signs up in Trafalgar Square, we just couldn’t picture in advance how that would make us feel. To have our event there in that setting, one of the most iconic spots in Britain, and to see Jews of all sects and other people all mingling and having a good time there, I think it was the best possible way we could have shown how the Jewish people have integrated into British society.”
The festivities included live Jewish music on the main stage, which was placed in front of the National Gallery.
Rallies Call for Action on Darfur
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people gathered in New York to urge the United States and the United Nations to end genocide in Darfur. Sunday’s rally, which drew Jews from across the United States, was organized by the Save Darfur Coalition. North American Jewish groups have taken the lead in advocating an end to the massacre of Darfur residents in Sudan by government-allied Arab militias.The rally featured musical performances by Suzanne Vega, Citizen Cope and O.A.R.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright headlined a list of 20 speakers.”All the sides in the Darfur conflict are predominantly Muslim,” Albright said. “But this is not about politics, this is about people.” She added: “We need to tell the United Nations that this is what it is here for, and President Bush has to make it clear to the United Nations that the United Nations has to get in there.”
Rallies took place in 31 states and 57 cities and 41 countries, as well as in Jerusalem, according to David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.
Neo-Nazis Win Local German Parliament Seat
German Jewish leaders called extremist gains in German state elections “alarming.” Voters on Sunday in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania gave the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany 7.3 percent, passing the 5 percent threshold necessary to have a seat in the state Parliament.
The state is the fourth to have right-wing extremist parties in their local parliaments in a reunified Germany. Many observers say that high unemployment in eastern states plays a role in turning voters to the right.