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How to Take Amazing Photos on your Phone

By lunamik / May 31, 2016
General

There are a number of must-have mobile photography apps out there, but if you think you could do with one less app competing for the crowded real-estate on your home screen, then you’ll find that there are a number of ways you can use the default camera on your phone to take some great images.

Light

The first rule of photography is to make sure that the lighting works for your shot. The second rule of photography is to make sure that the lighting works for your shot. Light is the single most important thing in photography, and learning what it can do for your image is essential for taking quality photos. Firstly, get to know exposure. Exposure relates to how much light reaches your camera sensor. Understanding exposure in photography is something we’ve covered in-depth, but for mobile users, all you need to know is that when a photo is far too bright to the point where you’re having trouble seeing certain objects, that means the image is overexposed. And when it’s so dark that most of the important elements are just plain dull, then the image is underexposed. Luckily most smartphones will automatically adjust to the correct exposure so your image appears balanced in both shadows and highlights. But this mechanism isn’t perfect. While mobile phone cameras are very compact and convenient, they aren’t of the highest image quality, and when in low light situations, mobile photos can suffer from very grainy, dark and blurry artefacts. To counteract this, make sure you’re taking photos where there is a sufficient light source, and if it’s at night, find a shop window, a street lamp, anything that can help illuminate your subject. With camera phones, you’ll be better off in an environment that’s a little bright opposed to a little too dark. Another tip is to find ‘soft light’. If you’re photographing faces or instagraming food, it’s good practice to sit near a window. Windows, thin curtains and a range of other surfaces well help diffuse the harsh sunlight and create a nice soft glow on your subject.

Placement

Where you place your subject within your frame makes a big difference on how people will view your images. Over the years, where selfies and portraits have dominated the online sphere, viewers have become naturally desensitised to certain kinds of photos. If you’re taking a photo where your subject is sitting or standing right in the middle of the frame, you’re most likely taking a shot that your viewers will feel they’ve seen before. That’s not to say that a cracking center-portrait can’t blow the socks off an audience of millions…. Because it can. But to draw attention to your image, you should try to create a point of difference, and in most cases, placement is a great place to start.

An easy set of guidelines is the rule of thirds. You’ve probably heard or seen this talked about before, as it’s one of the simplest and most effective means of composing your photo. The rule of thirds guidelines looks like this:

Bottle on Line of Thirds Grid

For iPhone users, you can enable the rule of thirds grid to appear on your camera screen by going into Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid and switching it on. Like so:

The aim is to move your subject or your camera until your subject is aligned with one or more of the intersecting points. On any given frame, these points are natively intriguing to the human eye and are great for sparking curiosity within your viewers. Aside from this, placing your subject on one of the thirds allows you to have a far larger background space, making for a much more dynamic and revealing shot.

Focus

Sometimes the auto-focus feature on your smartphone is not so smart. It may unconsciously blur out your subject and keep the background in sharp focus. This may occur if you’ve put your subject to the side of the frame or somewhere other than the centre. But don’t let that discourage you because that’s great practice. On most touch screen phones, all you’ll need to do is tap on the subject you wish to be in focus and the camera should recalibrate itself. Auto-focus troubles may also occur when the setting is overly dark, as the camera may have difficulty finding a solid focus point. In this case, it may need to a few taps to get it the focus right, or you can alternatively move to a better light source.

Angle

Every type of camera angle creates a certain tone within your image. Let’s run through a few different scenarios and see how the contents of the image should dictate the angle you choose. Even though these photos, weren’t taken on cameras, it’s still important to think about your angle no matter the camera you use.

When photographing people, there’s a range of things you consider. Do you want to convey power and assertiveness? Then try shooting from a lower angle – facing upward. This will place your subject in a more dominant role. If you wish to do the opposite, shoot on a higher angle – facing downward. In most cases, this creates an underlying sense of vulnerability as in this angle, the camera assumes the role of dominance. For a more balanced tone, shoot sight on, horizontally aligning yourself for the subjects eyes. But if you want a more naturalistic look, try taking a few steps left or right and photograph your subject with more of their side showing. Seeing other humans from the side or from an angular perspective is how we see most people, so this appears naturalistic to our eyes. Lastly, if you want to create a more dynamic and engaging looking image, try photographing your subject from closer in — framing your image so that their shoulders are at the bottom and their heads touch or surpass the top. People engage more with the human face than anything else. So when we’re scrolling down our cluttered feeds, a nice, crisp close-up will never go unnoticed.

Woman Standing Left of Frame

When photographing food – whether it’s destined for Instagram or your own collection – birdseye photos create a pleasing sense of symmetry and balance. Other than highlighting the food’s presentation, they also give the viewer a sense of the surrounding environment by shedding light on things like the table top surface, kitchenware, cutlery etc.

Croissant, Coffee and Chocolate Display

When we think about photographing animals, it’s a helpful tip to remember that humans are used to looking down on animals due to our height, whether it’s our cats, dogs, or animals from the zoo, we rarely get the chance to look at them face to face. With this in mind, when taking photos, try subverting our normal expectations, and position yourself so that you’re aligned with their eyes, or further below. Taking pictures from this angle will give your viewers a new kind of perspective. Plus, this angle gives you the opportunity to capture even more unique details and characteristics of the animal itself. It’s a win – win.

Dog Laying Down

If you’re shooting architecture or buildings, experiment with aligning your camera angle to fit the unique angles of the structure.

MOMA Art Gallery Steps

With these images, it’s clear that photographer had previously scoped out what angle would best compliment the unique details of the architecture. This rule goes for any object that you’ll photograph. Ask yourself: what are the objects main features? What makes it special? Once you’ve reached an answer, you’ll be able to position yourself and the camera to best suit your subject. The more you practice this, the quicker you’ll get at spotting the best angle.

Subject of Interest

When taking photos, it’s important to think of why you find it interesting, because the more you think about it, the more you’ll be compelled to capture it in different ways until the right one works. Then take it a step further, and ask yourself why your audience will find it interesting, is it beautiful, comical, meaningful, insightful, disorientating or arousing? Or is it just nice to look at? Whatever it may be, thinking about what will grab your audience and why will help shape the way you take your photograph.

Perspective

Create perspective within your shot by experimenting with depth, contrast and lines of sight. Let’s start with depth. Despite images being 2D, there’s a lot that the photographer can do to create a greater sense of 3D space. An easy way to do this is to have your subject in the foreground with a long, extensive background that falls behind. Long walkways, beaches, parks, anything you can use to generate a sense of continuing depth will vastly improve the way your image is viewed. Secondly, contrast. You can create interesting forms of perspective by matching small and large objects together. Whether you put your subject next to an enormously tall tree or you capture the sight of a ladybug sitting on the tip of your finger, cross matching differently sized objects is a fantastic way of sparking intrigue amongst your viewer base. Lastly, lines of sight. This is probably the easiest thing to use, especially when photographing people. When setting up your photo, have your subject direct their eye lines off frame — across the photograph. For example, if your subject was positioned on the right side of the frame, direct her/him look above the camera or to the left corner of the frame. This gives the image a much broader context as it forces the viewers’ imagination to create a visual idea of what the outside world would look like. While the majority of these photos originate from DSLR’s they still provide a sound example how these techniques boost them to that next level.

The ‘Ah-ha’ Moment

Since mobile photos are designed to be shared, it’s more than likely that yours will too. And on just about every social platform that exists, wherever there’s photos, there’s also social media captions. While they aren’t strictly speaking, ‘a part of your image’, captions play an important role in giving your content a title or a name. This title can be whatever you want to make it, and sometimes the best titles have nothing to do with the image at all. But if you want to give your photo a new layer of meaning, then making your caption about something that’s within your photo can enhance the overall viewing experience. This especially comes into effect when the title points out something that the viewer wouldn’t have seen if they skimmed over it. Viewers love surprises and they love being caught off guard. Aside from creating a surprise, captions can also be used to highlight contrasting elements within your image, or to make them more apparent: Perhaps you’ve taken a photo of a small green patch of garden admits the hustle and bustle of crowded city CBD. Creating a caption that emphasises the distinction between these two elements (the small garden and the large city) is a great way of directing your viewers toward a greater contextual meaning. Call it cheating, but captions are a neat way of explaining the intent behind the image, or what you were trying to do. Whether it’s surprising you viewers, emphasising parts of your image, injecting humour, or merely stating where you were when you took the shot, you need to give the viewer an Ah-ha moment, where they are rewarded for taking the time to view and interpret your photo.

Now that you know how to take amazing images on your iPhone, learn how to get the best out of your iPhone photos with Lunamik‘s comprehensive guide to editing images on your smartphone.