Debbie Cooper is an amateur photographer and iPhone photography enthusiast from San Mateo, California. Her work has a moody and atmospheric style to it. This style has seen her work displayed in several coffee shops in and around San Francisco as part of an exhibit of the photos taken by @415photowalk photographers. Her photo, “Day at the Beach”, also received an honorable mention in this years Mobile Photography Awards in the ‘Landscape’ category.

I managed to catch up with Debbie to find out more about her photography and the approach she takes to her moody and atmospheric landscape images.

Tell us a bit about your photographic journey and how you discovered smartphone photography?

In my early 20’s I was very interested in photography and took classes to learn how to use an SLR camera and develop black and white film. The beautiful landscapes in California inspired me – Yosemite, Death Valley, the coast and local parks. Being drawn to Ansel Adam’s black and white landscape photography I attended his lecture and treasure my autographed copy of “Camera and Lens”.

Career, marriage and children dimmed my interest in photography and it didn’t resurface until recently in 2015 when a friend introduced me to Instagram and JJCommunity, an Instagram hub featuring daily challenges. I started participating in the challenges and posting daily with photos from my iPhone 5. Today, I primarily use my iPhone 8 Plus to take pictures and edit my photos.
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What inspires you to take photos with your smartphone and how would you describe your style and approach to the photos you take?

I love the convenience of being able to take pictures with my phone. I always have it with me and have grown comfortable using it. It feels like an extension of my eye, capturing and recording the things that catch my eye.

Because I usually snap spontaneously rather than setting up a shot I spend time post-processing as I try to recreate what inspired me to take the picture.

Sometimes a scene will stir my imagination – for example a spooky looking house – and I will edit it to add more moodiness or let my imagination go by adding additional content to the scene. Currently I am focusing on black and white photography – both landscape and animal portraits.
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What is it that draws you towards black and white photography and landscape photography?

My interest in creating images in black and white goes back to my original training in photography when I studied black and white film development. I am constantly awed by the beautiful landscapes in the area where I live – the coast and the surrounding hills. I love being in nature and translating what I see to black and white art. I also have a love for animals and consider my two dogs my muses. I feel black and white photography best portrays their soulful expressions.
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What is your approach to the composition of your photographs?

I like to shoot from different angles when I see an interesting landscape or subject. My eye is drawn to animals and people as visual anchors. I usually have Apple’s “live” mode enabled which captures a series of stills in 1.5 seconds. This allows you to position a moving subject for an ideal composition. You can also create a long exposure effect when editing with the iPhone editor. Leading lines (fences, roads, footprints) and interesting, contrasting foregrounds add depth to my photos. For black and white photography I prefer a minimal approach to my compositions which can create a more dramatic effect.
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How important is light to you and what do you think people should look for to capture good light?

Natural light can be like pixie dust resulting in magical captures or conversely be too bright or dim to work effectively with. I scan a landscape for the way the lighting affects it – sun rays, shadows, back-lighting and dramatic or soft contrasts. I also look for ways to frame my subject using the shadows or light streams.

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Do you have a favourite time of day/year/season that you like to shoot your landscape photography?

Dramatic cloud cover and fog inspire me and these conditions usually occur in winter and early spring here in California. I think morning sun is the most magical.

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What apps do you use to shoot and edit your photos? Is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?

I generally shoot with the iPhone camera app but am currently challenging myself to explore other manual camera apps like Camera+, VSCO and Hipstamatic. I do minor post editing with the iPhone camera app – straightening and cropping. For black and white editing I take the image into Snapseed and tune the white balance, tonal contrast and general contrast, structure and vignette. Finally, I may apply a Black and White filter with Mextures, Blackie or Carbon.

I also use Enlight if I want to mask part of the image to apply an edit like HDR to part of the photo. For heavily edited images where I want to achieve the look of a painting I use Mextures, Distressed FX, Stackables, Lens Distortions and Formulas app.

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Pet photography forms another common theme in your work. Tell us more about this, your approach to it and what the secret is to capturing a good portrait of an animal?

I started taking more portraits of my pets when “portrait mode” came out on the iPhone (iPhone 8 Plus). I love capturing the different expressions – sleeping and awake – of my fur babies. I’m getting pretty courageous about asking strangers if I can take pictures of their dogs when I’m out and about. My success is attributed to having my phone pretty much with me at all times so I can spontaneously capture an endearing expression. The lighting needed with portrait mode is a little tricky but with the latest iPhone, Apple has improved their portrait mode functionality and added the ability to adjust depth of field. Patience and lighting (treats can help too) help to get just the right capture.

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You are a member of the 52Frames photography community. Tell us about 52Frames and how it is challenging you and your photography.

I was introduced to 52Frames by a friend in late December. It is a large worldwide community of photographers – all types of cameras and styles welcome. The goal is to keep a 52 streak going of submitting an entry to the weekly challenge.

The entry must be taken the week of the challenge – no old photos allowed. Every week there is an extra credit component of the challenge. For example this week the challenge was Macro and the extra credit was “Focus Stacking”. Because you have to submit a new photo I am forced to go out and take new shots with a focus on the challenge, which makes my shooting more purposeful and planned.

I’m learning new techniques with the extra credit. Tutorials are provided and we have the opportunity to join a small group to critique each other’s photos before submitting. I recently joined a sub-group for just phone photographers.

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Are there any photographers that have been a big influence or inspiration to you?

Favorite photographers are Ansel Adams, David Yarrow (@davidyarrow), Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) Erik Johansson (@erik.joh).

Could you choose a three of your favourite photos and tell us the story behind them?

Hello From

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Seagull side-eye

This photo was taken at our favorite off-leash dog beach on my Iphone 8 Plus with an Xenvo wide angle lens attachment. I was drawn to the line up of the posts and waited for a dog with owner to walk by.

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My husband and I took the coastal route home from San Francisco on a stormy Sunday morning in December so I could hopefully get some shots of the biggest waves occurring this year. The waves were disappointing but this bold crow made the stop worthwhile.

Saturday morning

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This photo captures some of the most extreme weather we’ve experienced on our weekly dog walk at the beach. The stormy skies and rough surf were a photographer’s dream and it was well worth it getting soaked.

Connect with Debbie Cooper

Instagram @db.cooper_