7 Smartphone Photography Tips and Tricks

By Chantal Bechervaise

I remember growing up and using a 110 camera, and sometimes my parents would even let me use their 35mm camera. I think back to all those 110 film cartridges that were wasted;  I was lucky to get maybe one or two good pictures per cartridge, and quite a few 35mm rolls came back blank because they weren’t loaded properly.

The quality of the photos I took back in those days is nothing compared to the quality of the photos I take now – even with my smartphone or tablet. With every new smartphone and tablet that I try, I am amazed at the camera capabilities. My Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone and my Nexus 9 tablet can outperform my Canon DSLR that was purchased back in 2003.

Camera phones and tablets each have their own strengths and weaknesses but learning to focus on their strengths will help you to take better photos. Here are 7 tips and tricks to help you get the most out of them.

1.      Take Lots of Photos

Don’t be shy about taking a lot of photos. Smartphones and tablets generally have adequate storage or have an option to install and use a microSD card. Try taking pictures from different angles, experiment with different lighting and be creative. Take 10, 20 or even 30 shots and then go through and pick out your favorites. The others can be deleted if need be. Using a cloud storage service is great for uploading and saving lots of pictures. That way you don’t have to worry about saving them all on your phone, and you can access them from any computer.

2.      Ensure Adequate Lighting

When taking pictures indoors, try and stay close to natural light sources like windows and doors. Or move the subject outside. Photos of food and people (their expressions and faces) look better under natural lighting. Also, keep track of where the lighting is coming from. As in regular photography, taking photos of people that are backlit creates shadows and makes it hard to see their faces. This type of picture is great if you are only trying to capture silhouettes.

3.      Composition Matters

Everything from learning the Rule of Thirds to framing and taking photos of your subjects off center will help make your photos more interesting. Always check what is in the background too, as you may think you have a great shot until you realize that there was a truck blocking the scenic view behind your family and friends. I am often guilty of cutting off the tops of buildings.

4.      Use the Remote Shutter Feature

Instead of tapping the screen, which sometimes risks moving your phone or tablet from where it was originally focused, try using the remote shutter feature. On your iPhone or Android device try using the volume up button to snap your photo. You can even use a pair of connected headphones and use the inline volume control to snap pictures too.

Some Android devices, such as the LG G Flex, will let you snap a photo by simply saying the word ‘cheese.’

5.      Use Burst Mode for Fast Action Shots

Burst mode lets you capture those fast paced shots, such as children playing, pets running or sporting events.

iPhone: Tap and hold the shutter button for as long as you need. You will see the photo count indicator go up.  When you are done, let go of the shutter button and the images will be saved and shown as a thumbnail. You can then go through them and select the ones you want to keep.

Android: (Depending on the model of phone.) Tap the mode button and then select Burst from the options menu. Then hold down the snapshot button to take up to 20 shots in rapid succession.

6.      Lock Down the Focus and Exposure

If you tap on the screen when composing your shot, you will set the focus and exposure. But if your hands are not steady or the subject moves, then that setting may be lost. To force your phone to keep the focus and exposure, tap and hold down on the screen until the setting locks. Then even if you move or the subject moves, it will keep the same focus and exposure.

7.      Experiment with HDR Mode

This is a favorite setting of mine. I love taking landscape and scenic photos and the HDR mode helps to make them brighter and clearer. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and most new smartphones come with this option. HDR mode will take 3 photos with your camera at 3 different exposure levels (low, standard and high). It will then stack the 3 photos together to create one composite image that is much sharper.

HDR mode is great for taking pictures of landscapes. It will make the sky look more blue and will provide more details in trees and buildings. It is also great to use if the sun is right behind your subject.

Avoid HDR mode for action shots, as the image will come out blurry. Also avoid its use in portraits. It is great to enhance details on buildings and landscapes but you don’t really need to enhance wrinkles on a loved one’s face!

Have fun experimenting with your smartphone and tablet cameras. The more you practice, the better you will get.

Chantal is located in Ottawa, Ontario. She is passionate about everything related to the World of Work: Leadership, HR, Social Media and Technology. You can read more from Chantal at her TakeItPersonelly blog or follow her on Twitter @CBechervaise.

Game Review – Star Stable

To suggest that the world of MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role playing games) is dominated by armed conflict and superheroes is perhaps one of the biggest understatements of the digital age, so it’s refreshing to come across a MMORPG that focuses on a more down to earth topic but still leaves plenty of room for fantasy and imagination.

Welcome to Star Stable and the magical world of horses.

Before you can start playing Star Stable, you will need to register and download the Star Stable software. This turned out to be a bit of an ordeal, as Microsoft’s DirectX software is also a requirement. All in all, registration and installation on a Windows 7 PC took around 5 minutes – quite a bit longer than most MMORPGs.

Once you hit play, you start your Star Stable adventure by creating your own character and your first horse. (Take note – boys need not apply; the main character can only be female.) When you have finished picking your eye color, hairstyle and makeup (for your character, not your horse), you are transported to Moorland Stables on the mysterious island of Jorvik, where all the Star Stable quests and adventures will take place.

Although you can play Star Stable for free, the real fun is only available to paying players or Star Riders as they are called. You can become a Star Rider for $7.49 a month. There are discounted options for 3 months and 6 months or you can become lifetime member for $69.95. Star Rider membership gets you an initial allocation of Star Coins, which can be used to buy clothes and equipment and even another horse. You also get an additional allocation of 100 Star Coins a week, or you can choose to buy more at any time.

As well as Star Coins, riders can also earn Jorvik Shillings by playing daily quests, and entering races and championships. There are also weekly events, including fashion shows, treasure hunts, and even a Friday night discos!

Despite the sometimes limited controls and simplistic graphics, Star Stable clearly provides entertaining and ever-changing gameplay for any girl who is even mildly interested in horses. It is also an immersive experience; It can take around 150 hours to work through all 17 levels and new content is added every week. Regular players tend to visit Jorvik every day to groom their horses and take part in the daily races.

The Star Stable developers claim that the game enhances problem-solving skills and allows players to develop a sense of responsibility in both caring for their horses and managing their virtual currencies. It also encourages reading and engagement with fiction. The Star Stable story is now 248,000 words long and growing.

Like most MMORPGs, Star Stable also contains a strong social element. Players are encouraged to join riding clubs, where they can plan trail rides, picnics and special parades. There are also a variety of chat options: players can chat privately with friends or they can go public and chat with all the players that are currently active. Although the chat sessions are moderated and bad words are filtered out, it’s clear from a brief review of the global chat stream that Star Stable has its inevitable share of “mean girls.” Younger players would be advised to restrict their chat sessions to friends only, although it appears there is no way for players or their parents to opt out of the global options.

Star Stable can be played on a Mac or PC (Windows XP or later) and is available at www.starstable.com.

Road Trip Apps for Younger Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

My friend Theresa’s son was home for a full 30 minutes after school let out for the summer before announcing he was bored. That has to be a record.

Finding ways to keep your kids entertained during the long summer months becomes even more of a challenge if you’re headed out on a road trip. Whether your trip takes you through charming small towns along the New England coastline or across the plains with beautiful skies and wide open spaces, your kids will get a better understanding of the world outside their window.

Using screens to keep your kids entertained should never take away from the opportunity to have a conversation, sing along to the radio or play classic road trip games like 20 Questions and the license plate game, but we all know at a certain point kids are “done” and a little quiet time with a movie or a game can go a long way toward making the trip more enjoyable for everyone. These apps can help.

First Focus: Ladybird Baby Touch

Experts debate how much – if any – screen time is appropriate for babies; though speaking from personal experience, if those experts had to drive overnight through northern Maine with a screaming baby in the backseat, I’m confident their opinions would change! First Focus: Ladybird Baby Touch is based on the Baby Touch First Focus book and offers the same bold yellow, black and white illustrations of patterns and shapes, animals, sea and vehicles with a musical score and sound effects activated by tapping the screen. It’s simple and engaging, and designed to entertain and soothe your baby.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $2.99

Sago Mini Road Trip

“Sago Sago is a team of designers and developers who create apps that children love and parents trust” and the reasons why are clear with their Mini Road Trip app. Jinga the cat prepares for a road trip and kids get to choose who goes with her and what to do along the way to their destination, like stop and wash the car or get gas. Mile markers count down from 10 until they reach their destination, meet their friends, and take a vacation picture together. There’s lots of silliness built in as kids can choose what kind of vehicle to drive, whether it’s an actual car or a bathtub, pickle or shoe.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Price: $2.99

Yo Gabba Gabba! Music is Awesome!

You may want to plug in your kids headphones for this one, but what kid doesn’t love Yo Gabba Gabba? Kids can choose from 5 musical activities to sing along, paint, dress up the characters, play with the band or create their own music.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $1.99

Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars

With Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars, kids can choose from fifteen different vehicles to drive through three cities and explore. Users can honk their horn, use a siren, let down the barriers at a railroad crossing, and discover hidden surprises along the way.  Play is limited only by your child’s imagination and adventures are open ended so kids can play as long as they like.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $2.99

Toca Mini

Toca Mini lets kids create their own silly monsters, funny animals or other imaginary friends using colors, stamps and touchscreen controls. Kids can let their creativity run wild as they choose from a multitude of colors, stamps, backgrounds, and even animated eyes, mouths, noses and eyebrows. There are no rules, no levels to complete and best of all for parents, no in-app purchases and no third party ads.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $2.99

Wherever your summer road trip leads, have fun. Enjoy one another, enjoy the road, and make some memories.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Friday, June 19: Planning Your Vacation RECAP

Making plans for that much-needed vacation? Your smartphone or tablet can help! Join Monica Vila and guests as they look the best apps for planning and organizing your travel, as well all the other mobile tools that will make sure you have the best vacation ever!
Interested in a Mobile Makeover? Fill out the #VZWBuzz Makeover Application and you could win a brand new smartphone or tablet and be invited to appear on a VZWBuzz Video RECAP!

How To Get the Most Out of Instagram

By Tracey Dowdy

Instagram is an essential marketing tool whether you’re looking to create your own personal brand or connect with potential and current clients. But not all photos and hashtags are created equal. If you don’t take the time to curate your Instagram posts, you’ll end up lost in the crowd. If you really want to stand out, take the time to implement these ten Instagram optimization strategies.

1. Complete your profile. This may seem obvious but in order for followers to fully engage with you they need to know who you are. You don’t need to tell your life story; in fact it’s best to keep it short and sweet. Your profile includes a clickable link, so if you have a website, make sure to include a link.

2. Post Original Content. Again, this may seem obvious but the same social media etiquette applies here. If the content isn’t yours, be sure to cite your source or give credit to the owner.

3. “More Signal/Less Noise.” The motivation behind photographer David Hobby’s last writing and teaching project was “more signal and less noise.” Instead of being more of the same old, same old, stand out from the crowd. Posting a steady stream of photos that are re-grams from others or tired quotes and clichés isn’t going to generate followers; in fact, it will drive them away.

4. Edit Your Photos. Instagram lets you add filters and offers basic editing tools but don’t limit yourself to what’s in the app. Use Photoshop Express, VSCOcam,  Instasize, Over, Diptic and Pic Stitch to edit and add captions, contrast, crop, or keep the original size of the photo.

5. Use Hashtags. The easiest way to turn other users into followers is to use hashtags. It’s how users with common interests find each other. Unlike Facebook, the more hashtags the better; in fact, posts with eleven hashtags or more do best. Just make sure the tags are related to the photo – no one likes a bait and switch.

6. Engage with Followers. Make sure you connect with your followers. Even if you don’t follow all of them back, at least stop by their page and comment or like their photos. By engaging with them you demonstrate that you value them and they in turn are more likely to return the favor.

7. Be Genuine. Whether it’s your own personal account or one you’ve created for your business, curate your brand. Don’t try to imitate a celebrity or other top account – be unique. Stand out from the rest by being yourself, being real, and being genuine.

8. Be Nice. We all know someone on social media who is the online equivalent of a cloudy day or a clammy handshake. Everything they post is negative or makes you uncomfortable, because every post is designed to make you feel sorry for them. Don’t be that guy.

9. Cross Post. Instagram allows you to link your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr accounts and post directly from the app. There’s no need to post to each platform separately, though you’ll definitely want to edit the number of hashtags depending on which site you’re posting to.

10. Be Consistent. A big part of cultivating social media followers is by posting consistently. No one likes their feed to get blown up with twenty photos but then not see another post from you for a week. The key is consistency both in quality and in content. It’s better to post one or two great photos a day with relevant hashtags than ten mediocre photos with weak hashtags.

If you want to see how well you’re doing, use an app like Iconosquare to track statistics like your total and average number of likes and comments per photo, where your followers are from, and share photos or accounts you like with your community.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 24: Let’s Play Games!

Let’s Play Games!


When: TODAY, Wednesday, June 24, 2015
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Some people think online games are for teens but there is a world of fabulous and fun games for people OF ALL AGES! And the benefits of games are well documented. When chosen correctly, games are beneficial for critical thinking skills and they also offer a great opportunity to bond with family and friends.
Join the #LifeOnFiOS team TODAY at 8 pm ET for a conversation about this great form of home entertainment. You will learn about the different types of games you can play, from super fun puzzle games to cooking games to role playing games, and you may just find that some of these great games are a perfect fit for you!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win a portable Motorola battery charger or a Kindle Fire HD tablet!

  (Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: LifeOnFiOS) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/OvpyW
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#LifeOnFiOS) today between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon.)

Summer Job Tips and Resources for Students

By Chantal Bechervaise

School’s out for summer! If you have teens in your household looking to make some extra cash (to pay for school or to upgrade their smartphones) and they have not found a summer job yet, don’t fret. A lot of businesses are still looking to hire students in June, as a lot of earlier hires change jobs or make other plans.

What are the benefits of having a summer job?

Summer jobs teach new skills, which can be added to a resume, and look good when applying to a college or university. By having a summer job, you can show to the admission officers that you are committed and have initiative and leadership skills. Even low-skilled, entry level positions help with this. You can demonstrate the initiative that you took in finding the job, you can demonstrate commitment by sticking with the job, and you can demonstrate leadership by showing up early, staying late and by going above and beyond what is required of you.

If you pick up your job fast and are good at it, you can also demonstrate leadership skills by helping to train other new employees that start throughout the summer Having a summer job provides an edge later on in life too, when you start looking for that ‘real’ job.

Having previous experience shows that you are able to get along with others and have a good work ethic. A summer job can help develop the soft skills that are not always taught in schools, such as communication, problem solving, and good interpersonal skills. Plus having a good reference from a summer job is always a bonus.

Student Job Search Tips:

Take your time filling out the application forms

Most summer jobs will require a student to fill out an application form. Treat the application form like a resume. Print clearly and legibly. Take the time to make sure all the information is accurate. Have someone proof read it before handing it in. (Picking up an extra application or two is a good idea in case you make a mistake.)

Drop off the application in person rather than have mom or dad drop it off. (It shows more initiative and that the applicant is serious about finding work.) Make sure to dress appropriately too. You never know if the hiring manager is going to be on site. (I have seen some managers hold impromptu interviews.) In fact, when you drop off the application form, ask if the hiring manager is available. That way you know they got your application and you can ask about other available positions.

Clean up your online image

A lot of potential employers will ‘Google’ someone before hiring them. Take a look at your Facebook profile, Twitter profile, and any other social media profiles that you may have. Untag yourself from unflattering photos or ask friends to remove them. And before you post or tweet, think how a potential employer might view that comment.

Student Job Resources:

Offline Resources

  • Family. If a member of the family has a business or parents of friends have family businesses, ask if they know of anyone looking to hire a student for the summer.
  • Friends. if any of your friends already have a summer job, ask if their employers are looking to hire more students. A recommendation from a friend to a boss can go a long way in landing a summer job.
  • Around town. Look at windows of store fronts and restaurants for help wanted signs.
  • Local employment centers or student centers.
  • Local papers.

Online Resources

  • Online job boards / classifieds (i.e. Monster, Workopolis, Craigslist, Eluta, etc.).
  • Google “Summer Jobs” in your city or town.
  • Twitter accounts and hashtags (i.e. @CampLeaders @getsumcampjobs, #YoungWorkers #SummerJobs).
  • Facebook groups and pages.

Industries / Businesses that hire summer students

  • Farms
  • Summer Camps
  • Community Pools and Beaches
  • Pharmacies
  • Restaurants and Cafes
  • Amusement and Theme Parks
  • National Parks
  • Campgrounds
  • Retail Stores
  • Museums
  • Babysitting
  • Pet Sitting
  • Hotels and Motels
  • Housesitting

Do you have additional tips for securing summer jobs for students? Please share them with us below.

CBechervaise67Chantal is located in Ottawa, Ontario. She is passionate about everything related to the World of Work: Leadership, HR, Social Media and Technology. You can read more from Chantal at her TakeItPersonelly blog or follow her on Twitter @CBechervaise.

Thursday, June 11: Coming Home



When: TODAY, Thursday, June 11, 2015
8:00-10:00 pm ET
5:00-7:00 pm PT

Join @EnzasBargains and friends at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) TODAY, Thursday, June 11 as we celebrate Coming Home to Verizon!
As LeBron James tries to lead his home town Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA Championship, we celebrate the joys of coming home – like coming home to a wireless carrier you know you can trust!
RSVP and attend the Twitter party for a chance to win a brand new Droid Turbo smartphone!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: ComingHome) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/ObxAm     
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#ComingHome) TODAY, Thursday, June 11 between 8– 10 pm ET
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)

What to Expect from iOS 9

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference kicked off earlier this week but, in typical Apple fashion, they had our attention long before the first speaker hit the stage.

Among the biggest announcements at WWDC is this Fall’s release of iOS 9, which Apple is promoting as being “full of enhancements.” On a personal level, I was very interested to see what these “enhancements” were as I hated iOS 8 for no other reason than it ate up so much space. So, without further ado, here are some of the best and most important features of iOS 9:

Storage – As I mentioned, iOS 8 took up a significant hunk of storage – 4.6GB no less. This time around, iOS 9 takes a mere 1.8 GB, less than half its predecessor.

Battery Life – iOS 9 promises a full hour of additional battery life for your iPhone. Just as significant is “Low Power mode,” which will disable background features not needed for basic functionality and, in turn, give you 3 more hours of battery life once your phone reaches 20-10% of the full charge.

Passbook becomes Apple Wallet – Last October Apple introduced Apple Pay, giving users the ability to store credit cards, debit cards, and other payment data in the Passbook app, turning your iPhone 6 or Apple Watch into a virtual wallet at store checkouts. With iOS 9, Apple has added Discover to the list of cards that Apple Pay works with, as well as the ability to store specific rewards cards like Dunkin Donuts, Wegmans or Walgreens. In addition, users will be able to double tap the Home button when the iPhone is locked to use Apple Pay.

Proactive Assistant – Siri gets a major upgrade in iOS 9. Swipe left and Siri will bring up a list of frequently accessed contacts, apps, nearby places, news, and more. Search results will be contextual based on location, search history, and time of the day, enabling you to set location-based reminders like “Remind me to call the office when I get home.” Users will also be able search media based on dates, location or album titles, so you can ask Siri to “find videos I took in August 2014.”

As an added bonus, Siri will be able to identify incoming calls even if that contact detail is not already present in your contact book.

Maps – Instead of having to choose between driving, walking, or public transportation, Maps users will be able to combine modes. For example, if you’re taking the train into the city then hopping on the streetcar to reach your final destination, Maps will determine the most efficient route for both and provide those step by step directions we love. Some cities will have Transit detailing lines and stations and Nearby provides options for dining, sightseeing, shopping and entertainment.

Passcode – Lock screens will require a six-digit passcode to unlock your device, adding a million more possibilities to foil hackers. Users can divert back to the four digit code but why would you want to?

Search for options in Settings – If you’ve ever tried to remember where “Invert Colors” or some other useful but not necessarily frequently used feature can be accessed, you understand my excitement at the option to type a search term into Settings and be taken straight to the result.

iPad – With iOS 9, Apple finally allows iPad users Slide Over, Split View and Picture in Picture, features Android tablet users have loved for ages. Slide Over is self-explanatory, allowing users to slide over and open a second app without leaving the one currently being used. Split View, available for iPad Air 2, allows users to view apps side by side, and Picture in Picture allows users to watch a video, music clip or FaceTime and work on a secondary app at the same time.

Move to iOS – Finally, if you’re ready to take the plunge and switch from an Android or Windows phone to Apple, it’s never been easier. With iOS 9 you can download the Move to iOS app and wirelessly switch from another operating system. Within minutes you’ll securely download your contacts, messages, photos, videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts and other important data. Any free apps you had on your previous device that are available on iTunes are listed as suggested downloads and any paid apps are added to your App Store Wish List.

There are a host of other features in iOS 9: enhanced Car Play integrates third party apps from your car’s developer, Notes has been overhauled and now features a Sketch menu, and Newsstand has been replaced with an intuitive News App that learns your preferences and interests and gets better every time you use it. Apple is notorious for hype, but from my perspective this is one time they live up to it.

Apple will launch a public beta version of iOS 9 in July. You can sign up at beta.apple.com for a chance to test-drive this pre-release version. The full iOS 9 update will be available to all users in the Fall.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.