Instantly improve your smartphone photography with these simple tips
NAIT staff photographer Leigh Kovesy (Photographic Technology ’01) remembers when pictures at the polytechnic went digital. Like almost all early iterations of revolutionary technology – in this case a cumbersome black box – it looks quaint in retrospect.
“The first digital cameras we used on campus were 2 megapixels,” she says.
The latest iPhone, in contrast, is 12 MP (even the “selfie” camera – that nearly invisible lens on the front face of the phone – takes 7-MP photos).
“The technology has evolved so much,” adds Blaise van Malsen, also a staff photographer for the polytechnic.
But ways to make the most of that technology aren’t always clear. We asked these veteran photographers for tips on how to maximize those iPhone megapixels when, as Kovesy put is, we’re “capturing everyday moments.”
Use the grid
Dig into your settings to activate the grid – a tic-tac-toe board that overlays the viewfinder, dividing it into 9 sections. Use it to follow the rule of thirds, says van Malsen.
This central tenet of photography places objects of interest on or near the 4 intersections, rather than at the centre of your shot, where studies have shown the eye to be disinclined to look first.
This simple, often-overlooked tool is also a means of ensuring your camera is level and your shots straight, says Kovesy. “We recommend you always use the grid.”
Bursts of creativity
To get that perfect shot, hedge your bets with “burst” mode. Just hold down the shutter button to fire off a series of shots. The hardest part might be picking the best of the bunch.
“If there’s one app you should have, it’s Snapseed,” says van Malsen. “It’s like Photoshop on your phone.”
This free app (for iPhone and Android) includes 29 tools and filters, and receives consistently high ratings from users looking to spruce up shots on the fly.
“The camera does its best but it can get fooled by tricky lighting situations,” says van Malsen.
On a day with scattered cloud, for example, or in dappled shade, High Dynamic Range (find and tap this at the top of your screen) can turn exposure challenges into stunning shots.
This feature takes 3 quick pictures of differing exposure and brightness (normal, under and over exposed) then blends them into a single image of high detail. Don’t overuse HDR – it can appear unrealistic.
You can also set exposure manually, van Malsen adds. A slider appears when you tap the screen to focus. Adjust it up or down.
Lock it up
If you’re waiting for something to happen in a particular place, prepare for the moment by setting focus and exposure in advance. Tap and hold the screen where you want to focus and the AE/AF (auto exposure/auto focus) lock will appear. Change the exposure manually with the slider. The lock fixes your selection, freeing you up to wait for the action and press the shutter button.
As advanced as smartphone cameras are, it’s the user’s eye that ultimately makes a great photograph. Experiment relentlessly with simple tricks, say Kovesy and van Malsen. For example
- approach buildings from unusual angles, whether from a corner or using a “worm’s-eye” view
- shoot portraits close up and from far away (move nearer rather than use zoom, suggests van Malsen, so as not to lose resolution)
- use a piece of white paper or other pale surface to reflect light onto a face
- point your camera north for a bluer sky or south for a lighter one
- position lines in the immediate surroundings in a way that they point to or frame your subject
“Always think about taking a photo in a way that no one would expect,” says van Malsen. “Your photos should provoke a response – preferably not a yawn."