Learning to Respect Elders, iPhone Style

By Matthew Stoffel

I think I’m starting to find a rhythm here at The Outdoor Campus, which is not to say I’ve found a routine. There isn’t a routine to be had for my job. It’s going to be more about juggling a bunch of projects without letting any fall.

One thing I’ve tried to consistently juggle is the coverage of our monarch butterfly eggs/caterpillars on Twitter. The growth process is intriguing, and lends itself to Twitter; it becomes an informal documentation of growth. So far, I’ve been getting decent pictures of the little guys, even when they were only the size of pinpoints as eggs. This was accomplished with the Lumix camera provided by TOC.

But today, I thought I would get a really strong shot. I ran track and cross country in high school. Neither sport lends to photography without putting up a fight, as the constant motion of running will make full focus a nightmare. When my younger brother also joined the sports, my supportive dad decided to get a top-notch Sony camera in order to get quality pictures of us. He was successful, but when my brother finished up his senior season of track and graduated high school a few weeks ago, the need for a heavy duty camera dissipated. Thanks to my father’s generosity, this was a gain for me in my efforts at TOC for the summer.

One of my first ideas of how to try out the Sony was to get a gorgeous close-up of one of the caterpillars. I figured between the two lenses, it’d be a piece of cake. However, neither could get a crisp focus zoomed in on such a small target. The quality wouldn’t be any better than what I had been getting with the Lumix. The pictures would still be passable, but I was downcast that I couldn’t improve.

As I was still trying to refocus and adjust distance in denial, Ken, a retired volunteer who works at our front desk and is a fine, experienced photographer, told me that I should use an iPhone. Now, I don’t know how old Ken is, but as a 21 year old college student, I decided that I probably knew more about iPhone’s than Ken. Sure, he knew photography – I’d just taken a course he taught on it last week. But the iPhone was a little out of his comfort zone, and I assumed he was misled on the topic. The iPhone camera is gorgeous compared to other phone cameras, but the idea of it getting a cleaner shot than one of my two camera-camera options was laughable.

At first.

As the day went on, I realized I was stalling a tweet on the caterpillars because of my disappointment with my morning shots. As I walked by the monarchs to return to my office from another task, I figured, why not?

I got one of the milkweed leaves with a larger caterpillar out and used my iPhone to focus a nice picture. In case you’ve never used an iPhone camera, I should clarify; to focus, you simply touch the part of screen you want focused. The “simple” camera almost immediately displayed a clearer image than I had obtained with either of the other cameras. Remembering Ken’s example, which was close-up of a coin, cleaner than anything he said his equipment could take, I set a bright penny next to the caterpillar for a size comparison.

Monarch Caterpillar

My hat is off to Ken. I’m still young, and there’s a lot to be learned from those with more experience than me.

Even about the things I “definitely” know more about.

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