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Tips for Smartphone Photography

A Happy Medium with Emma West

Who says you need fancy photography equipment to capture a great shot? It’s not the equipment that makes a good picture, but the photographer. Here are some basic tips to improve your Smartphone-quality photos. (Unless otherwise mentioned, all photos were taken by me.)

1. Minimalism in photography

There is often a misconception in photography that “more is better.” New photographers often over-complicate their photos by having too much going on in the frame. This can distract the viewer from the key point of interest. Keeping it simple does not have to mean “boring.” There’s something satisfying and soothing about seeing a lot of negative space in a photo. Contrary to what you may think, a minimalist approach to photography requires a lot of creativity and a keen eye, so keep playing around with simple frames. Also, remember that photos sent to other phones will have low resolution. Simple and clean images won’t be as compromised in the exchange as a complicated photo with lots of details would.

Minimalism in photography

2. Rule of thirds

This compositional technique is perhaps the simplest way to make photos more interesting and dynamic. It may be tempting to place your subject right in the center of the frame. However, this results in static, and frankly, boring pictures. The rule of thirds suggests that an image is more interesting if it is split into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Then place your subject along one of those imaginary lines or intersections like I did in the following photo of the man in the forest. It is a simple photo, but by following the rule of thirds, the forest photo is just a bit more interesting. (Notice that the previous sunrise photo also follows the rule of thirds.) Most smartphones allow you to enable your phone’s “grid feature” to help follow the rule of thirds.

Rule of thirds

3. Don’t zoom

Please don’t use the zoom feature on your Smartphone! The greater the zoom, the more likely that the camera shake will compromise your photos’ sharpness, resulting in lower resolution. Besides, by being limited to the widest angle, you are forced to be more cognizant about composition. If you must zoom in order to capture far away images, be sure to place the phone on a flat stable surface to minimize shaking. However, the image resolution will still be low when using the zoom feature.

4. Try different perspectives

Don’t limit yourself to photographing at eye level. Some of the most interesting photos are of ordinary objects captured in unordinary ways. Photographing from below: This alley way had nothing particularly special going for it, but by photographing it from a different perspective, the photo is just a bit more interesting than if it was taken from eye level.

Different perspectives

Photographing from above: The following photo was taken in Istanbul. Photographing from above affords me the opportunity to capture a story without the subject being aware, which allows for a more authentic reaction.

Istanbul point of view

If done subtly, photographing from below can also make subjects appear taller than they are. The boy in the following picture is no more than 5’5” tall, but by photographing below eye-level, he appears taller.

Boy appearing taller

5. Reframe - Don’t limit yourself to how the image was originally photographed.

Take a look at this quirky photo I took in the fog. Something looks a bit strange. Why is the model’s jacket like that?

It may take you a few moments to realize that the original photo looked like this and that the model was, in fact, sideways.

6. Lines and angles add points of interest

One of my good photographer friends has always had a natural eye for street photography. He went through a phase where he was obsessed with photographing construction, especially construction cranes, but he didn’t know why.

My theory is, the cranes created natural lines and unique angles to photograph – a photographer’s compositional playground.

The following three crane photographs were taken by my friend, Christian Quintana. The first two crane photos were some of his earlier attempts. They lacked points of interest that would keep a viewer engaged because these haphazardly composed photographs leave viewers unsure about where to direct their attention.

Lines and angles add points of interest

This last crane photo, however, has lines that converge to a single focal point. Even though some lines continue out of the frame, they all redirect you back to the photo. All three photos captured the same subject. However, the last photo consciously used the cranes’ lines to its compositional advantage to create a much more interesting photo.

Lines converging to single focal point

7. Play with shadows

This following photo was taken in a basic white room, and yet there’s something unsettling about the shadows that keeps you engaged.

8. Avoid harsh light

When photographing people with your Smartphone, the quality of light can make or break the photo. Avoid sunny and direct light on faces because they can create unflattering and harsh shadows on your subjects’ faces.

9. Editing Apps

Half the fun of photography is the post-processing! While you can do a lot of tweaks in camera, there are also lots of apps that can subtly enhance your photos. Currently, my favorite app is the “VSCO - Visual Supply Company” app, available free on iTunes and Google PlayStore! But remember, no amount of editing can compensate for a bad photo!

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