8 Tips for Improving Smartphone Photography

In recent years, mobile photography has come a long way and is now, for most of us, a day-to-day activity.

Take Close-Up Shots

A close-up shot is a type of camera shot in film and television that adds emotion to a scene. A close-up is an emotional moment that draws in the audience and portrays a character’s innermost feelings. This makes the viewer feel like they’re part of the action. Some of the most interesting photographs can be taken in the great outdoors at close range – flowers, leaves, or insects are great subjects.

There are four main close-up shot types to know:

  1. Medium close-up shot: halfway between a medium shot and a close-up shot, capturing the subject from the waist up.
  2. Close-up shot: frames the head, neck, and sometimes the shoulders of the subject.
  3. Extreme close-up shot: a more intense version of the close-up, usually showing only the subject’s eyes or another part of their face.
  4. Insert shot: a close-up that focuses on a specific object prop, or detail, signaling to the audience that it’s important.

Crop Don’t Zoom

Even though your smartphone camera is equipped with a digital zoom, it is best to ignore it. For better zoomed-in shots, take the picture without zooming in and crop it later with your digital editing software. Most smartphones have a high resolution to allow you to crop and enlarge portions of your smartphone pictures, especially if you are only posting things on the web. Always ensure you keep the original, as once you crop the image, you can’t get the full photo back again.

Edit Don’t Filter

Although setting a filter for your photo seems a quick and easy way to make your photo more interesting, it does not make it unique. Millions of other people are using the same pre-set filters on their photos, so to make yours stand apart from the crowd, consider editing your pictures with an editing app such as Photoshop. Using these, you can change the contrast, sharpness, and color temperature and choose your own style.

Also, filters are often quite harsh and extreme in their saturation and contrast settings, making the photo look quite artificial. By choosing the settings yourself, you can adjust the photo while keeping to the original image and using similar colors, unless you opt for a quirky black and white or sepia style.

Forget the Flash

The majority of smartphone flashes are no more than a glorified LED light. They may be bright, but the color temperature can be completely off, and the actual flash duration is far too long, leaving you with a blurry and badly lit image. The light’s proximity to the flash will also leave you with the red-eye effect. When it is dark and you want to take a photo, your best bet is to find an alternative light source – it probably won’t be perfect or maybe even flattering, but it can add interest to your picture. This is also where editing your photo can help, as you can adjust the saturation and contrast, which will often affect the photo’s lighting.

Use the Rule of Thirds

Without a good composition, your photo is not going to be particularly eye-catching, however hard you’ve worked on getting the focus and exposure right. The rule of thirds is one of the most effective composition techniques out there, and it is important to learn if you want to take more engaging and well-balanced photos. All you need to do is divide up your image using two horizontal and two vertical lines, and then position the important elements of your scene along those lines or at the point where they meet.

Wait for an Interesting Moment

The best and most interesting photos have something happening in them or a story playing out.

  1. Suspended movement: Perhaps the most obvious type of movement in photography, suspended movement illustrates one of the camera’s most remarkable attributes: the ability to freeze a literal split second to capture details imperceptible to the human eye. It’s the mid-action pause: hair flying, arms flailing, dust kicking, waves crashing.
  2. Motion blur: Often associated with poor technique or inadequate lighting conditions, motion blur can be a striking representation of dynamic energy when incorporated deliberately. Remember that motion blur, usually produced at prolonged shutter speeds, can come from either side of the camera: when, between the time the shutter opens and the time the shutter closes, either a) you move or b) an element within your frame moves. 
  3. Visual flow: Lines, especially curved or undulating lines, are of particular value in creating visual flow as they draw the eye across or throughout the frame.

Find something to compliment the backdrop, be that a person was walking by, people peacefully relaxing in the park, or a flock of birds disturbed by a passer-by. It is these photos that really are interesting and worth sharing. There’s also an app called Boomerang. You take a few photos of people moving, making it into a concise, repeated video, which can be an alternative way of capturing movement.

Light Your Subject Well

The great photographer Alfred Stieglitz famously said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” Natural light photography offers the following benefits to professional and amateur photographers alike:

  • It’s affordable. There’s no need to purchase expensive artificial light sources.
  • Always look at your background – it shouldn’t have bright or vibrant spots. Take a moment to review the image through the viewfinder before shooting. I’m not keen on shooting on overcast days because everything looks dull, even after color-correcting the images. It’s a lot more challenging to shoot in sunlight, but the results are totally worth it.

Keep Your Phone Still

There would be nothing worse than a blurry photo unless you intended it to be that way. Shaky hands are just as bad for cell phone images (especially in low light) as they are for larger cameras. 

The steadier you hold your phone when you take the shot, the clearer your image will be. This is particularly important in low light situations when the camera will select a long shutter speed to make up for the lack of light. When in doubt, take multiple photos or even a burst. You can use the physical shutter button.

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