The Camera You Have


Quick Tips to Improve the Pictures Taken with your Phone

Most of us carry around a camera almost everywhere we go. It’s small, functional, and also does the work of a phone and portable computer. Just like most people have learned buying an entry-level DSLR, simply picking up a “nice” camera and shooting on Auto won’t always land you the pictures you want. To make the most of the camera you have, here are a couple quick tips (you can also click the image above for a more interactive experience).

Step 1: Get a better camera app

I love ProShot! It allows me to choose between two aperture options, a range of shutter speeds up to 1/8000 of a second, and I can even change my ISO (light sensitivity). If you’re looking to learn how to get yourself off Auto Mode, this app (or others like it) is a great way to learn what setting you want to use and when.

Step 2: Clean up your backgrounds

Nothing ruins a good picture more than distracting background elements. Here is a list of common mistakes people make:

  1. Horizon lines, light poles, tree branches and other lines intersecting or coming out from your subject’s head.
  2. The light in the background is brighter than the light on your subject (and you’re not trying to make a silhouette).
  3. Your subject is wearing the same color or something similar as the background causing him or her to merge with it.

To fix these mistakes, you have to catch the issues before snapping the picture. That often means you’re paying as much attention to what’s around your subject as you are to the subject itself. Shoot from a higher or lower angle to remove the distractions from the frame or to avoid intersecting lines with the subject. If your subject is blending into the background or it is too bright behind them, move them to a better spot or turn them another direction so that the light makes them the focus and they stand out from what is behind them.

Step 3: Know when to use what flash

A phone’s flash is not the best, and I have yet to find an app that let’s you manually control how much light it pushes out. So, my first tip in regards to flash is to not use it unless absolutely necessary. This means you are using available light. Slow your shutter speed down to where you can get a nice image of your subject without motion blur. Most people can hold a phone steady at 1/160 of a second and can catch a still subject without blur. If that slower speed still isn’t enough, you will need to turn on the flash.

If your subject is within arm’s length, the flash in selfie mode will be softer than the one on the back of the camera. Flip your phone around, put it in selfie mode, and compose your shot standing beside your subject (but out of frame). If they are further away, shoot how you normally would with the flash on. If you want to try to get the background in the shot and not have black all around your subject, you can slow your shutter down further and trust that the flash will keep your subjects from appearing blurry. (I’ve gone down to 1/10 of a second pretty successfully).

Step 4: Don’t NOT shoot because of hard light

Hard light happens in the middle of a sunny day. The sun is far up in the sky and almost directly overhead (causing raccoon eyes on your subject). The shadows are deep and the highlights are bright. It is not the best time of day for a portrait, but it is a great time to capture how a moment feels. If you do want to try to do a portrait, look for open shade (for flat light), put your subject beside a reflective wall or surface (a white wall) letting the light bounce and fill the shadows on their face, or have them tilt their head up a bit to bring more light into the eyes.

Step 5: Use Portrait Mode only when it’s appropriate

If you’re using the app I mentioned in Step 1, then this isn’t really an issue; however, some people automatically start in Portrait Mode thinking it will get them the best shot. The success of this mode has a lot to do with how the light separates your subject from the background, the complexity of the background, and your distance to the subject. I recommend using the Pro app first and then trying out Portrait Mode, if you think the conditions are right to grab a nice looking shot. If it works, it works, but if it doesn’t you still have the nice, clean shot you got making your own adjustments.

(BONUS): Look for other ways to make your composition stronger

You have probably heard some of these before, but there are “rules” you can follow to help a viewer’s eye move through the photo. Here are some of the big ones:

  1. The Rule of Thirds – when you open up a more advanced phone app, there is a grid option that divides your frame with four lines into nine segments. The idea is that placing your subject where the lines intersect will make for a more interesting picture.
  2. Leading Lines – have you ever seen a picture of a road taking your eye deeper into the frame or leading it out on one side? That’s an example of leading lines. Sometimes the natural horizon can be used at an angle to draw our eyes right to our subject.
  3. Triangles – objects in your frame or even your subjects themselves can cause small triangles that will catch the attention of the viewers eye and make the image more interesting.
  4. Frame within a Frame – the best example of this is a subject standing in a doorway. There may be elements all around them, but the frame that forms around your subject draws your eyes right to them.
  5. Layers – using foreground and background elements to create depth invites the viewer into the picture
  6. Symmetry – this one is pretty obvious, but having symmetry makes for a balanced, pleasing image
  7. Patterns and Texture –  having elements in the frame that have a repeating pattern or clear texture will add interest to the overall composition
  8. Spacing – choosing to either fill the frame will important details or to leave a lot of negative space around a subject will add impact to your image
  9. In and Out – if a subject is moving in the frame, you want to make sure you compose for the story you want to tell. If you want to say “this is where they are going,” frame the picture so they are entering the frame with more of the scene “in front” of them. If you want to say, “this is where they have been,” then frame the picture so that they are about to exit the frame with most of the scene “behind” them.

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