Who remembers those disposable cameras? You know the ones I’m talking about — if you ever used one, you can probably still hear the click-click-clicking of the thumbwheel as you hastily advanced the film for your next capture.
I remember bringing those cameras to church camp every summer, rushing to the closest Eckerds once I got home, and then painstakingly waiting the advertised one-hour to have my photos developed and printed.
It’s crazy to think that you had no idea what your pictures would look like until the film was developed. If the photos were bad, or you didn’t expose properly, or the film was fogged, that moment was gone.
Fast forward to present day and film is reserved for hobbyists and auteurs, and the majority of us are carrying remarkably powerful digital cameras in our pockets. Smartphones have become intrinsically linked with modern life. So much so that, when new smartphone models are released, oftentimes the most significant enhancements are to the camera — not the phone.
But are smartphone photos real photos?
Of course! The equipment used to take the photo is only one aspect of what makes a quality photograph. Lighting and exposure, composition and vision, creativity and attention to detail are all key elements that comprise great photographs.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but smartphone photography does take some experimentation and practice. Keep these things in mind the next time you use your phone to snap some photos — you’ll be shooting like a pro in no time.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Too many details can overwhelm and distract the viewer. You only really need one compelling subject to take a remarkable photo. Negative space — the area around the main subject within the frame of an image — is a simple and way to make a subject stand out.
Even if your photo has more than one subject, you always need to pay attention to what’s around your subject (background, midground and foreground) to ensure it’s free from distracting elements. Take a moment to clear the area of anything that doesn’t add to your photo.
Remember, in our mobile-first lives, the chances your photo will be viewed on a smartphone is extremely high — think Instagram. Keeping it simple is the easiest way to ensure your photo stands out on a small screen.
FIND A NEW ANGLE
Most people take photos at chest-height. That’s fine and will work for most people — think grandma or a helicopter parent. But by playing with angles — take a step to the left or right, squat, hunch, change your perspective relative to your subject matter — it’s like learning a new language, you’ll learn to see things through a new lens (pun intended).
Different angles also allow you to remove unwanted distractions from your photo that you couldn’t otherwise physically remove from the frame. For example, by shooting from a lower angle, you could have a beautiful blue sky as your background — not the overflowing trash can.
Low angle photography can also capture vivid details from the objects in your foreground. Don’t be afraid to get low, really low, like lay on the ground low — you’ll be amazed at the different perspectives you can capture of the same subject matter.
PAY ATTENTION TO COMPOSITION
One of the first lessons all photographers learn (and middle schoolers in art class) is the Rule of Thirds. This standard creates nine equal parts in a frame by dissecting the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically — imagine an enclosed tic-tac-toe grid.
By placing your subject matter along one of the lines or intersections (the thirds of the frame), the asymmetrical balance will help to better engage the viewer by guiding their eye to the intended points of interest — your subject. An easy way to demonstrate this is to place the horizon along one of the two horizontal lines when capturing landscape photography.
When you’re composing your shot, ask yourself what are the points of interest in the photo and are you deliberating placing those points along your lines and intersections? A quick tip is to make sure you capture enough negative space in your photo. You can always edit and reframe your photograph using any number of apps, like Lightroom, that provide a rule of thirds cropping guide.
The rule of thirds isn’t really a rule, more of a suggestion actually. We, humans, are naturally drawn to symmetry — there’s comfort in this form of visual perfection. Finding and capturing symmetry is another great way to create photos that will stand out.
Once you find those symmetrical subjects, photograph them so that each half of your frame is identical. Reflections are an easy way to capture symmetry in a photo.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT
The word photography actually stems from Greek roots and means “writing with light.” Knowing your sources of light and manipulating those sources or orienting your object to those sources is arguably one of the most important aspects of understanding photography.
Bad light can ruin an image. Light can be too harsh — think high noon on a cloudless day. Light can obviously be too low — there’s a reason most photos of fireworks look nothing like what your eye sees.
A little nerd-speak for context…
Like your eyes, cameras have what’s called dynamic range. In the simplest terms, it’s the number of stops between the absolute darkest luminance and the absolute brightest luminance. The sensitivity of the human eye is about 20 stops of dynamic range — your smartphone camera is about half that, around 9 stops. That means that about half of the detail your eye can detect doesn’t exist in the same scene your smartphone camera captures.
Now factor in using your smartphone’s camera flash. If you feel compelled (though you arguably should never feel compelled to do so), using the on-camera flash will further reduce the dynamic range of your image — not to mention leaving your subject with those creepy red eyes.
EDIT THOSE PHOTOS
Let’s say it together, “I will not zoom in before taking my photo.” If you want to zoom in, take a step forward. The further you pinch and zoom, the poorer your image quality becomes — no one wants to see hyper-grainy and out-of-focus images on your timeline.
“Less is more” is the mantra you should always keep in mind when you’re composing, capturing, and especially editing photos. A well-edited photo can turn an average image extraordinary.
Most editing apps have dials where you can make your edits and see a real-time preview of what the end result will look like. Whether you use the native apps on your smartphone or other third-party apps like Lightroom or VSCO, there are tons of options to help you define your photographic vision.
Feeling like a smartphone photography pro yet? Don’t worry, like most things, it takes dedication, persistence and practice, so get out there and start taking better photos. Find different perspectives, learn to manipulate light and find an editing app that fits your style.
The beauty of smartphone photography is you can take lots of pictures with little commitment except the storage space on your phone, but with cloud storage ranging from free to a few dollars a month, you have no excuses to take all the photos.
**This post originally appeared on the BODDHI Blog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Skaggs is the co-founder of BODDHI Branding, a creative agency with a vision to authentically and creatively construct stories to help your brand grow. Digital and social media, branding, recruitment and content strategy are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Dedicated to giving back Chris also co-founded Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, Thrive Global, CBS Radio, Recruiter.com and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.