Smartphone photography Part 1

Smartphone photography, iPhoneography, mobile photography or whatever you want to call it, it’s clear that taking great pictures with a phone has become a thing now.

What does that mean, exactly? It means that folks are creating works of art from the smartphones, and those pieces also go up in galleries or are made into prints. That’s the extreme end, of course, but on the other we have Instagram photos that look totally killer.

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If you own a smartphone made in the last year, chances are it has a pretty damn good camera on it, too. And if you’re reading this article, perhaps you’re curious about taking better pictures with that smartphone.

Before we dive into it, just know this: learning and knowing how to do it is the easy part. The hard part is creating something magical with that knowledge, but by knowing how to get there, your chances of making pretty pictures improve.

Smartphone photography apps

You might be thinking that any old photo can be made to look nice with all the photography apps out there. It’s sort of true, but at best they can make bland photos look somewhat interesting. But that’s not what you want – you want control over how your images look, and that’s what apps should help you do.

The first thing you’ll need is an app that helps you control focus and exposure of your camera. Some smartphones will allow you to do this by default, like the Nokia Lumia 1020. Other phones give you the option to set focus and exposure at the same time, but not independently, like the iPhone 5S.
However, there are plenty of apps out there that will allow you to do both, like Pro Camera 7 or Camera+ for the iPhone. That’s what you’ll need as a good starting point for taking good photos.

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After all, if you can’t control your exposure or where your camera focuses, you might as well give up and buy a proper camera.

The next set of apps you’ll want are the ones that will allow you to control basic things like contrast, white balance, color saturation and brightness. Most photos straight out of camera are flat, so you’ll want apps like Snapseed or Photoshop Touch to fine tune them.

1. Learn to use your camera software

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at just what your smartphone camera can do.

Perhaps you’re familiar with some of the basic operations, like switching between the camera and video modes, or turning your flash on and off or putting it on auto. But did you know that your camera likely has some scene modes, too? Or panorama and HDR features?

Don’t be afraid to tinker with your iPhone or Android device’s camera. It has plenty of memory for photos, so you can play with the different features, effects and settings and snap lots of photos.

Soon, you’ll know your way around the camera software like it’s second nature. And that’s exactly what it should become – you don’t want to miss any moments because you’re busy fumbling with your camera’s settings.

2. Learn compositional basics

This might sound boring, but learning the basics is tried and true. There are plenty of resources out there for this, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, we’ll start with the rule of thirds. If you’re just starting out, think of it as a hard rule before you start breaking it. With the rule of thirds, imagine a grid of lines on your smartphone’s display, dividing it into thirds both horizontally and vertically. In fact, most smartphones come with an option to display that very grid.

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With the grid up, try placing your subjects along those lines or at the points where the lines intersect. It will make the photos much more interesting than being smack dab in the middle of your frame.

You can do this with subjects like lighthouses, people, flowers and everything else. But it’s also a good idea to do this with your horizon lines, too, so that your horizon never cuts through the center of your frame.

Once you get into the habit of following the rule of thirds, you’ll start to have a better sense of a photo’s balance. When you’re at the stage where you think you’re getting the hang of it, start breaking the rule and see what works and what doesn’t.

3. Learn how to see light

If you’re going to go out and make pictures that impress your friends, you’re going to need good light. What is good light, exactly?

Good light is the kind of light that gives a scene shape, depth and makes things look interesting. Generally, shooting indoors with artificial light or outdoors midday or with overcast skies is bad, flat and boring light. You’ll know flat light when you see it – there are few shadows, if any, and everything looks evenly lit.

Look for light with some kind of direction and color. This type of light happens naturally at just before sunrise and at sunset. Alternatively, window light is great because it has direction and it’s often soft and a little diffuse, so it’s not harsh on your subjects.

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Good light is especially important in mobile photography because you can’t create much more interest with different focal lengths and varying depth of field. You’re stuck with one focal length, and one aperture setting. It’s a very good exercise in shooting light and finding good composition.


Hungry for more?

Of course we’ve got more tips and tricks coming soon, so watch this space for part deux

And in the meantime what are you waiting for – get snapping!