I know you just started reading, but I’m going to ask that you close your eyes. Shut them tight and imagine a professional photographer for me. Try to picture the scene
they’re in, the clothes they’re wearing, every detail you can muster about them.
I’ll give you a minute.
Were they shooting landscapes? Perhaps portraits, or an event? Maybe they wore dress clothes or sat in a wooded blind with camouflage.
Now, let me ask what sort of equipment they had, in your mind’s eye. I’m willing to bet they had a fancy DSLR and an expensive lens.
Am I right?
“What camera is that? I bet it takes great photos!”
Just about every photographer, at one point or another, hears something along those lines. It seems that it’s all too easy to attribute beautiful pictures to the equipment, as if the camera, not the person behind it, composed the picture. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A chisel doesn’t make a statue anymore than a camera makes an image. You see, the camera is just an inert tool without its photographer.
Ansel Adams famously mused that “the single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
You could place a tactless photographer behind a top-of-the-line camera and still get uninspiring photos. On the other hand, you could put a disposable camera in front of a skilled photographer and get photos that sing.
With this in mind, and with a little consideration, you too can take great photos with “non-professional” cameras. And that little camera in your purse or pocket, the one attached to your phone, is actually pretty sophisticated.
So, without further ado, here are our tips for how to take exquisite photos, right from your phone:
1. Download a new Camera application.
The stock camera app on your camera probably doesn’t give you a ton of control over settings like ISO, white balance, f-stop, and shutter speed. You don’t necessarily need to know what each of these does right away, but having the option to learn about and experiment with these options will teach you a lot.
2. Shoot with lots of light
Whether indoors or outdoors, try to find scenes with a lot of available light. One of the key weaknesses of a phone camera is it’s small sensor, which can still take beautiful, print-worthy photographs but don’t work especially well in low-light situation. If your photos are consistently coming out grainy, it can be signal that the sensor is trying too hard to pick up more light.
3. Identify your subject
It seems obvious that each photo has a subject – the focus of the picture. However, it’s important to identify the person or object that you want to feature in the your image. It’s not enough to just take a photo because you think the whole scene is pretty. By defining your main subject, you’ll be able to better plan the composition and focus the image with
Bonus: A lot of cameras and phones have face recognition, so if you’re photographing a person you should see little boxes appear around their face. This means the camera is trying to autofocus and read the light for you.
4. Scan the scene
It’s super easy for something undesirable to sneak into the picture without you noticing until you’re showing off your shots later on. To avoid this, look around the image from corner to corner and edge to edge before taking the shot. If you see something distracting, ugly, or unwanted in the frame, try to remove it or reposition your subject to avoid it.
5. Use the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a composition technique that can help you visualize and create more interesting photos. Divide the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, and try to place your subject on a line or, better yet, in the crosshairs where thirds intersect.
Bonus: a lot of cameras and advanced phone apps will have an option to apply rule of thirds lines to the screen as guidelines.
Move around your subject and try to show a new or complementary perspective. If it’s an object, try shooting from down low, up high, or at an angle. No matter how ordinary your subject is, you can always make it more interesting by showing a new perspective of it. If you’re photographing a person, try to always shoot from above them, even if it’s just a bit. Shooting from above, with the camera facing down at the person, is generally the most flattering. Your subject will love you!
7. Leading Lines
Whether you’re taking pictures of people, places, or things, try to find the strongest lines in your photo. These lines could come from any number of things, like a railroad line, river bank, or even a row of parking meters. The eye likes to follow strong lines, so make sure the lines in your photo lead the viewer into the photo and not away from the subject.
Contrast is determined by the difference between the brightest and darkest part of your image. If there isn’t any clear, well-defined contrast, photos can tend to come out looking busy or muddled. Having clear contrast, especially between the subject and the background, not only help make the image easier to look at, it also help make the subject pop. A good rule of thumb is to create the background darker and make sure that your subject is well lit and bright.
9. Move Beyond Instagram Filters
If you want your photos to stand out, try not to use the same filters that everyone else is using. There are some great apps with more custom filters, like VSCOcam and SnapSeed, that give you more control over things like contrast and saturation (how bright colors are).
10. Take Control
As we suggested before, downloading a more advanced camera app on your phone will allow you take control of your phone camera’s full capability. Take the time to learn about exposure (how light or dark the image is), ISO (how sensitive the sensor is), shutter speed (how long the sensor collects light for), f-stop (how wide the lens opens up), and more.
Approaching photography with these fundamentals in mind with enable you to hone your eye and, ultimately, take better pictures–even with a smartphone. As implied by the great Ansel Adams, a great camera doesn’t necessarily make a great photographer, but a great photographer can always capture breathtaking moments.