How to get great shots?

I’m taking about birds, insects, plants, you name it! I have seen many high quality observations that I could have never dreamed of taking. I know this mainly depends on the camera but I don’t have that kind of money.

The best bird observations I got are these:

The best plant plant observations I got are these:

Makes sense why the plant observations are better quality. Because they don’t move. So how can I take great photos of birds without spending 1000$? I’ll pay up to 200$ but no more then that. I would also like to ask it anyone has tips for taking good photos. I’ve read many online articles and PDFs on this topic but I don’t know how accurate they are.


I have the same kind of problem with my iPhone. I would really like to produce those mouth-watering big lense photos, but I cannot manage carrying big gear.

So, what do you use for those photos? The Android phone, or an actual camera?


I use Android. The camera is very old and has a 2.0 zoom. I also need to upload to the computer which takes so long! Old phone had 4.0 zoom. Newest phone has 8.0 zoom. Should I look into buying a new camera? I’m also aware that it is not about the zoom, but also the quality.

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For birds, I’ve heard many people say just to take a hundred photos and pick out the 5 good ones. That probably works, but I don’t really like to have a billion pictures to sort through. I usually get as close to the bird as I can, zoom in as much as I can, and just try to get an in-focus picture. With a good camera you often don’t need to get very close, because the combination of zooming and cropping afterward results in a good close-up photo. Basically I’d say you need a camera with good zoom (I recently upgraded from one with 30X to one with 60X) and the ability to know how close you can get. I have noticed that since joining iNat my focus has shifted from “good photo” to “identifiable photo” and I don’t worry about it that much anymore.


Technically, this is a little over my head. Still, I gather it is not just the zoom level, but even more importantly, the lense quality. Although, I’m often frustrated, I’ve chosen to live with the limitations of my iPhone camera for the trade-off of convenience in directly transferring photos to iNat with metadata included and very low weight equipment.

I think there is another thread that discusses how to get into higher quality camera gear for less money. Don’t overlook the option of a getting a good used or hand-me-down camera and lense setup, if you are willing to give up the convenience of the phone app transfers.


Can’t seem to find it…

Read my mind! Same for me but I dream of becoming a professional photographer of nature and to that the key is a good and identifiable photo. Right?


I think this one covers some of that concept:


For starters, don’t ever use the zoom on a phone camera. They don’t have a true zoom like a larger lens does, only digital zoom. That’s basically the same as taking a full-size picture and blowing it up, so it’s no better resolution than taking it without zooming and then cropping the photo.

If you want to also upgrade your phone, you can get older-model Google Pixel phones for US$300-350, and I’ve seen people get some incredible photos with those.

For a dedicated camera, you won’t get much for $200. The cameras at that level can theoretically get good photos, much like a phone, but in practice likewise often don’t because they don’t have much in the way of controls. Typically they only have automatic setting and the flash is weak, which works fine for snapshots, but not great for a lot of nature photography where it’s dark, you’re shooting closeups, you need to stop motion, etc. Cameras that allow for manual controls will run you about $400 and up. The Canon SX730 and Olympus TG-6 are good starters at that level.


It’s not just the lens quality, but in digital cameras it’s the sensor size (not unlike shooting disc, 110, 35mm, or medium-format on film). When you get very high pixel density, the individual pixel sensors start to interfere with each other more and you get more noise at low light levels. Consequently the software makes the image worse when it processes it to remove noise. As an example, the iPhone 7 has a 12 MP sensor that’s 4.8 x 3.6 mm. My old SLR has a 15 MP sensor that’s 22.3 x 14.9 mm, almost 20 times the size with each pixel over 4 times as big. Even my point & shoot camera has a 7.44 x 5.58 mm sensor, over twice the size.

Some of my best photos were from my very first digital camera, which was only 4 MP. I still regret giving that away when I got a new one!


I am not sure about what good cameras are available in your budget range, but I can give you a few tips.

1: If you are using a phone camera, do not zoom. There are many lens attachments that go over top of your phone’s camera. these are way cheaper than digital cameras. they also provide better photos than zooming in on your phone’s camera via software.

2: For birds, try your best to place you main focus point on their eye. doing this helps to capture the light reflections in their eye more clearly, this also lets your camera focus on their head at the same time. if you place it on their body it might blur the head a little bit.

3: don’t be afraid to take a LOT of photos. try different exposures and angles. choose your best ones out of there.

4: Play around with focus. a blurred background in a close photo of a flower can make a hug difference.

Again, I don’t know what good cameras are in your budget range but always remember that there is nothing wrong with using an older camera. I currently use a Nikon D3300 and it works just as well as most modern cameras today. if you do find a camera, remember that the lens it has is important too. if you want to focus on birds, you might need a telephoto lens (or at least a lens with 100mm of zoom if the birds around your area are shy.) taking a photo with a zoom lens is better than cropping it as it does not have to lose quality. for flowers, any lens would work (you may have a preference), and for insects it is easier to use a macro lens.


Do you already own a spotting scope or binoculars? If so, you could try what’s called digiscoping or digibinning - essentially holding your cellphone camera lens up to the eyepiece. It takes a lot of practice and is never going to get the same results as the high-end cameras, but it could help you up your game without spending money (if you already have bins). There are also adapters that may let you actually attach the phone to the eyepiece, depending on what gear you already have.

Here’s a starter article about it:


No. Thinking about buying some.

Thanks for the link!

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If you want to get clear photos, you’ll need an actual camera. Phone cameras can’t do long range, and macro photos will always be blurry with a phone, even if you have a good clip-on lens.


If you photograph insects with your phone, definitely get a clip-on macro lens. They are only a few dollars on Amazon. I have been photographing moths and damselflies with my phone camera for years, and this is the first year I have tried a clip-on macro lens. I am amazed at how much better the quality is. They won’t be professional quality photos, but the clip-on lens definitely helps, assuming you don’t have the budget for an expensive camera (or don’t want to lug one around).


The newer iPhones (11 or 12) with 3 lenses have a 2x or 2.5x lenses.


Thats a good question. My gradmas niece takes really good shots. They look professional even though she does take a lot of pics it looks like she went to school for them. I should ask tips for her so maybe I could share them


I tried a number of the inexpensive macro clip-ons and was not too happy.

I recently got a much more expensive setup, 10x macro, and the results are freaking amazing. I really can’t justify the cost, except, it could (in theory) be shared with my husband. A telephoto lense I got in the same package is less satisfying .

Bugs on a 1” leaf:


Unfortunately, if you’re working with an Android, then I doubt there will be much you can do to improve the quality. As an Android user myself, my camera is abysmal at best, so I only really started to get good photos when I changed to using a camera. I know that there are some less expensive, used cameras on the market that you could purchase that would work better without burning a hole in your wallet!

No matter what though, wishing you luck! Photography is fun, and the joy that comes with getting a nice picture is a wonderful feeling.


You can absolutely take good pictures with your phone. But phone cameras are usually optimized for closeups and landscapes and they usually don’t get the same crispness as a proper camera.

For very small subjects I would definitely recommend getting one of those cheap, clip-on lenses from Amazon. They can actually work quite well.

As for birds in the distance, the clip-on telephoto lenses are alright but they are very difficult to keep still enough because of how small and light your phone is. So for that a proper camera with a tripod is usually your best bet.

Alternatively, if you have a pair of binoculars, you can always point your phone through those or just get creative with some Lego and an old telescope. Not very portable though :+1: