Phone it in!

The best camera you have is the one that’s with you.

Our grandchildren have been winning all kinds of awards at this year’s Alameda County Fair. Thanks to their parents’ iPhones and Facebook, we’ve been right there with them even though we’re more than 3,000 miles away. And, because it’s so easy to snap and post photos to Facebook, we’re not just seeing the awards ceremonies, we’re seeing all the effort – and exhaustion – that generated those awards.

I would love to have a single photo of a prize ceremony from one of my ancestors, let alone pictures of the farm, animals and their chores.

If you bought a smart phone in the last couple of years, you have the ability to take photographs, capture video and record audio – all in this small package that is normally close by wherever you are. So, put it to work capturing your family’s history! You don’t need the excuse of an occasion – use it to capture ordinary, everyday things that are part of your family’s world. Wouldn’t you love to know what your ancestors’ homes looked like or who their friends were. Your descendants will love to know that about you, too. The difference is you have an easy and inexpensive way to do it.

If you haven’t already, invest in a car charging kit to help insure your phone is ready when you want to use it. You might add a larger memory card or invest in an online photo-sharing/cloud storage plan that supports uploads from your phone. While Facebook is a great way to share these moments with others, it isn’t the best option for archiving photos so look for something like Flickr or SmugMug that lets you upload full-size images. Yes, I know that camera images are much lower resolution than most of today’s digital cameras, but you still want to get every pixel you can out of your shots.

Spend some time experimenting with your phone’s camera and various camera apps. Instagram [iOS & Android – free] lets you connect your Flickr account so you can archive your Insta-pics there as well as sharing them. Camera Awesome [iOS – free] is a must-have app for all iPhone users. It’s got tools that help you get the best photos possible from your iPhone’s camera plus it has plenty of editing tools to make them even better. It’s got tons of photo effects – many free, but others require in-app purchases. If you think all of this makes it truly awesome, you haven’t heard about its sharing capabilities. In addition to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SMS and email, it supports SmugMug, Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket and even YouTube. The PicsArt Photo Studio [Android – free] lets you edit your photos, add special effects – including sketches – and also offers a large number of sharing options. These are just a few of the many apps available.

Don’t stop with photos either. Put your phone’s video capabilities to work too. It doesn’t have to be a full-length movie to make an impact. A 20- or 30-second clip of a child blowing out birthday candles or seeing that diploma handed to him will combine with others to become a history of special moments. Smaller clips are much easier to incorporate into slideshows and even ebooks.

And, don’t forget to turn on your phone’s audio recorder when a relative starts telling a story. Mobile phones are always laying around and so are less intimidating than recording devices – and the results are priceless. The Evernote app [iOS & Android – free] will record up to 2-hours in an audio note for free accounts and up to 4-hours for premium accounts. Add that to your list of reasons Evernote is a necessity of genea-life.

Spend some time finding the apps that best suit your purposes and experiment to learn your limits [For example, trying to capture Uncle Joe’s stories in a busy restaurant may be a waste of time and digits.] so when the opportunity arrives you’ll be ready to capture your family history as it’s being made.

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