AUSTIN (KXAN) — When severe weather hits, you may be tempted to step outside and snap a photo to submit to KXAN.
KXAN relies on Central Texas viewers to be our eyes and ears on the ground during severe weather events. Whether you’re seeing a crazy cloud formation, a beautiful sunset, giant hail, flooding or possibly a tornado — we’d like to hear about it from you.
One of the quick, easy and most effective ways to do that is through photos and videos you take with your smartphone. You’ll often see KXAN meteorologists use viewer-submitted videos and photos on air to really show and tell the full weather story. We also use them in our web stories and live blogs.
While we get thousands of awesome photos every severe weather season, not all of them are usable.
So, here are some tips on how to capture and submit the best weather photos on your smartphone — and to better your chance at getting them seen on television.
Make sure you’re safe
Before stepping outside to take any photos — make sure you’re safe from the elements first. If David Yeomans says you need to take cover, then do so. One picture or video is not worth your safety.
If you’re driving, it’s best to have your passenger take the photo or pull over if it’s safe to do so. Many areas, including the City of Austin, prohibit the use of electronic hand-held devices while driving or riding a bike. If caught, you could face fines up to $500.
If you’re taking a photo of storm damage, be aware of your surroundings and anything that could hurt you.
Horizontal is key
While your phone is vertical, television screens and many videos posted online are oriented horizontally. If you shoot your photos or videos vertically, we will need to resize them to get them on air — which creates an extra step for us and could cut out parts of your photo.
The below video shows how vertically-shot video looks when we use it horizontally on TV. While it’s really great video, a lot of the details are hard to see because it is shrunken down. Much of the screen is also blacked out to get to the right TV dimensions.
To make sure your photo looks the best on air, remember to turn your phone on its side before snapping away. Below is an example of a great horizontal shot taken during the February winter storms.
Getting the right lighting
If your image is too dark or too light, it may become unusable. To avoid this, most smartphones (if they’re on the auto settings in the camera app) allow you to tap on different areas of the screen to adjust lighting before you take a photo. Tapping on a dark area will lighten some parts of the image, and tapping on a light area will darken parts of the image. The same goes for video.
Try out a few different areas on your screen to find the right balance.
Focus on your subject
Similar to adjusting lighting, tapping on different areas of your screen in the camera app will put the areas you tap in focus. When you’re ready, tap on the subject of your photo to get your smartphone camera to hone in on it. Make sure you’re also standing as still as possible to prevent blurriness.
If your photo still looks hazy, your lens might be covered in fingerprints or debris. Use your clothing to gently wipe off the camera lens on the back of your smartphone to get the crispest photos. Think of the lens like eyeglasses — if things get too cloudy, it’s time to clean them off.
Zooming too far in on your subject in the camera app can make photos and videos look grainy and degrade their quality. Instead, if you are taking photos of something like hail, move closer or place your smartphone closer to your subject. For photos of the sky, wide shots work best.
When taking photos of hail, you can use rulers, different items like coins or baseballs or even your hand to show each stone’s size.
Use flash sparingly. Oftentimes, this can create a harsh light. If the severe weather event is happening at night, many smartphone cameras now have a built-in night mode you can switch to inside the camera app.
Some of you use DSLR cameras to capture awesome weather photos. Keep in mind your images’ file size may be too big to upload to our online form or attach to an email. Consider other options like Dropbox or WeTransfer to share your photos with us if that is the case. You can then email them to ReportIt@kxan.com.
Submitting photos to KXAN
Now that you have your photos and videos, it’s time to submit!
Email your photos and videos to email@example.com and be on the lookout as KXAN may contact you and send you a form to get your permission to use them on air and online.
Some important details to include in your submission:
- Your name and if you would like to be credited
- When and where you took the photo. This could be as simple as “Taken at about 4 p.m. on May 11, just east of the City of Burnet”
- A short description of what we’re looking at, ex. “Large storm clouds over northeast Austin” or “Hail measuring about 2 inches in diameter that fell in Llano”
As you already know, news starts with our community and our viewers. Thank you for sending us your photos and helping us to get the important stories out.