Improve your Phone Photography / by Michael Ryan

Professional photographers love our phones as it means we are never without a camera. And in certain circumstances the phone may be the better choice. But of course we take the same precautions as we do with our ‘real’ camera when shooting. Here are a few guides (and they are guides not rules, there are no rules) that we follow that will help improve your phone photography.


Good Lighting

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This is the number one observation of all good photography whether you are in the studio or on holidays by the beach. There is a famous photography quote from a landscape master that goes “God lights it. All I do is press the shutter.” And the same is true for snaps on holidays. The light and the way it falls on your subject (friends or family) is the most important aspect of any photo. There are many potentially good snaps out there comprised of people posing in front of stunning scenery where the people are, literally,  a shadow of their former selves. The subjects are badly lit and dark and almost unrecognisable - but the background looks great! So next time you’re in Disneyland check the position of the sun (assuming you’re not in Shanghai and there is some sun) first and then secondly find the best angle on the background. Light first, background second.


Midday is the wort time of day for portraits, Never shoot in bright sunlight. That is when all pros have a long lunch or take a nap (we’ve probably been up since 4 a.m.) and any shots taken in this lighting will result in squinty, sweaty, shiny, people. You can however take phots in the shade on a sunny day and people will look great. Your skin will never look smoother. But stay out of the sun.


Get Closer

Don’t be afraid to fill the frame with your subject. 

Don’t be afraid to fill the frame with your subject. 

Magnum founder Robert Capa said “If your photos aren’t good enough then you’re not close enough”. Unfortunately he got a bit too close and died taking photos in a battle - but his photos are still famous and his words are still true. Don’t try to fill the frame with the background no a matter how spectacular. Take a separate photo of the scene if you really want to capture its beauty. But remember the focus of a portrait (or family snap) is to focus on the person, so keep them the main subject with just enough environment to show where they are.


Get to Know Your Camera

Portrait mode on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Portrait mode on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Phone cameras can be as complicated as a full DSLR or mirrorless theses days. No, you don’t need to know or use every feature. Many of them will be of no use to you but you should learn those that are. Experiment with Portrait mode (many phones have this mode) and see if you like the look and when it works well and when it doesn’t. A bad hair day is not a good time to use Portrait mode. And if there is a manual mode then find out if it helps you in the situations you usually shoot in.


Try Different Angles

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If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Sometimes you see a great scene and you ask your family or friends to pose in front of it and it should look great but doesn’t. Try photographing them or it from a different angle. I’ve often seen a great street or lane of traditional buildings but it didn’t capture the atmosphere the way I thought it would. Often walking down to the other end of the lane and looking back may solve the problem.


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Optical Superiority


The first thing I do with any new phone camera is to turn off digital zoom. It may seem handy or useful to be able to zoom in so far but it’s a trick. It basically crops into your photo heavily to make it look like you are zooming in and the quality of the photos will suffer greatly. In fact cropping in yourself later can produce the same or better results.



Accidental Tourists


There’s nothing more annoying than setting up a great photo, your child is just right and for once paying attention and looking into the lens, the lighting is beautiful and the scenery fantastic and you press the shutter and capture the perfect moment... except later you notice the other tourist waking right behind your family and now your beautiful daughter looks like she has two heads. Or there is someone in a read jacket clowning around and everyone thinks she is funnier and more interesting than your spouse. So watch out for people or things (don’t let that badly placed tree make it look like your husband is wearing a flamboyant hat) and wait one more second to take that shot.



Edit

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Did you ever wonder why Editors win oscars? It’s probably the most important part of story telling and more important for pros than Photoshop. Editing, or what we call ‘culling’ can be as simple as choosing the right photos. Just like framing the photo right, what you don’t show is just as important as what you do. I know it maybe hard to select which photo of your beautiful little darling getting their head stuck in the part of the playground you told them not to put their head into. But don’t post all 9 almost identical photos on social media. Choose the best one and just post that. And if you really can’t choose then close your eyes and tap your finger on the screen and which ever one it lands on is the one you post.

And if you really want to improve the look and feel of your photos then I can recommend a great and simple app called Snapseed for IOS and Android. It’s very powerful and free.

But don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t try to remember all of these guides or try to master Snapseed in one go. Just start by implementing one new idea at a time and when you master that then come back to the article and try another one. Over time if you can master them all then you will be producing some great photos on your mobile device.