When the cellphone camera was first introduced, the controls and quality were basic. As our phones evolved into something smarter, snapshots became photographs. Add social media to the mix and you have a platform for exhibition. The handheld device we’re all familiar with has come a long way from having no camera at all to being used in the professional industry for marketing campaigns. However, smartphone photography is no different from it’s parent artform. Technology cannot magically transform you into a photographer, and post-production filters will not cover up a lack of knowledge and effort. If you want your photos to improve, you have to become a student eager to learn.
• Your smartphone is just as valuable as a DSLR so treat it with the same amount of care. Keep the lens clean, protect it with a sturdy case, and store it in a secure place when not in use.
• Carry a portable source of power at all times. You don’t want to miss a single moment because of a low battery.
• Artificial light is difficult to manage, even for DSLRs; this includes flash which rarely works the way you want it to. Avoid the risk as much as you can and stick with natural lighting. If you’re not shooting outdoors, use a room with windows.
• Sunrise and sunset lighting is even and soft so try to schedule your pictures early in the morning or evening. If you end up in an area that is cloudy or shaded, those conditions can also work in your favor, producing light that is just as beautiful as the golden hour. Harsh afternoon sunlight should be avoided.
• If you find yourself in a situation where the lighting is less than satisfactory, there is a safety net option. Most smartphones have an HDR setting a.k.a. High Dynamic Range; the camera takes multiple photos, each with a different exposure, and layers them one on top of the other to achieve as much detail as possible. You should never rely on this feature because it won’t work with a moving subject nor is it a guaranteed fix to the problem. However, it is a handy tool to be aware of.
• Decide what your artistic vision is and stick to it. If you want your composition to be symmetrical, use precision. If you want it to be askew, don’t be tentative. If your execution lacks purpose, you run the risk of producing something that looks like a snapshot versus a photograph with thought behind it.
• The rule of thirds is a mental division of your image into nine congruent squares with four intersection points. I know that math can be scary, but in this case a grid is your best friend. It will guide you in arranging the lines of the composition and choosing the focal point that they lead to.
• Select one subject to focus on (person, place, or thing), and let everything else fade into the background. This will not only create depth but also remove busyness. Going back to the rule of thirds, all supporting elements should lead to the sole focal point.
• Once you’ve taken straight-on photos and loosened up, step outside the box and let your creativity take over. Climb up high or get down low to look at your subject with fresh eyes. If there’s a reflective surface nearby such as a mirror or body of water, experiment with the perspective of the reflection.
• Even if you can’t see it, your hands are shaking. For optimal stability, find something stationary to set your phone on. If there’s nothing available, use both hands to hold your phone and anchor them with your elbows hugging the sides of your body or planted on a firm surface.
• Zooming in from your phone screen may seem convenient, but it actually lowers quality. Don’t devalue your photos by taking the lazy way out. Move your feet to go where you want to go.
• Anything can be removed from a raw image, but you can’t bring back what was never there. Keeping that in mind, leave some wiggle room around the composition. A drastic crop will affect quality so you have to find the middle ground between extra space and the desired crop. The more you shoot, the more you have to choose from and work with.
• Smartphones have photoshop capabilities on a small scale, a useful tool for adding some extra pizzazz in post-production. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of this feature as long as you work with a deft hand. Don’t hide behind effects and filters. Keep it simple and make the necessary technical adjustments to enhance your hard work.
• Find people who inspire you within the niche of smartphone photography, and study their work. If the opportunity presents itself, reach out and ask questions. Networking will work in your favor if you plan to go further with your photographs.
Don’t let this new information overwhelm you but rather embrace it with the open mind of a student eager to learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a phone instead of a DSLR because the camera does not define the photographer. As long as you fuel your attitude and approach with passion, the photo albums will hold no evidence of an amateur photographer using a smartphone. Now that you’ve got a foundation to build upon, have confidence that you’ll be just fine behind the camera.