If you want to up your photography game, but all you have or can use at the time is a cell phone, there are still some basic tips and details to pay attention to that will take your photos from looking like your grandma took them to seeming like you actually know what you are doing! Since we are in the middle of Christmas season, there are TONS of photo opportunities, family events, and fun things to document. Unfortunately most of those things involve darkness, decorative lights, and otherwise less than ideal photo taking scenarios.
On a recent trip to Overly’s Country Christmas in Greensburg with my family, I used my smashed iPhone 6plus covered in packing tape (playing to the lowest common denominator here) to show you some common mistakes that people make when using their phone cameras at night, and the difference just a small adjustment can make to your photos! If you liked this post, please be sure to comment below - I may just do a harsh sunlight version if you think that would be helpful!
This is the easiest one to fix, and also the easiest one to miss in the moment! To take better photos, you simply have to pay attention. That’s the biggest trick from cell phone photographers to those of us toting around 5 pound DSLR rigs! In the snowman photo below, notice the symmetry. It’s important to not only pay attention to the things you are photographing, but the spaces between them as well. By moving myself directly in front of the center snowman, rather than standing off to the side like the first shot, I was able to get a much more symmetrical and better looking image. Also, just because what I’m photographing is tall, doesn’t mean it always has to be a vertical image! Look at your subject as a whole and determine if it is wider, or taller, and shoot accordingly.
COMPOSITION AGAIN… (it’s that important!)
In the photo below, a nice lady offered to take our photo and was kind enough to get us both a landscape photo and a vertical photo (probably because I just did it for her family). Just like in the paragraph above, it’s important to pay attention to EVERYTHING you are capturing in your photo. If you want to get a wide shot, make sure that everyone keeps their hands and feet inside the vehicle (that is, don’t cut limbs off - see the bonus tip below!) Notice the nice PVC pole that’s in the wide photo that’s mysteriously not in the vertical one. If she were to move directly in front of us or have US move (don’t be afraid to make people move!), it would have been a cleaner image.
“Angles we have heard on high…..” (because, Christmas.) There’s a reason that teenage girls hold their phones way up by their foreheads when they take selfies (remember MySpace?) - its because flattering angles matter!! Never, ever, ever, everrrrrrrr take selfies with the camera down by your chin. Always make sure your lens (NOT the screen where you can see yourself, the LENS) is eye level or a bit higher!
Please please don’t ever ever use your phone’s flash. Ever. It’s terrifying, horrible, and will make your photos look like junk. You can learn composition and angles until they become second nature, but something even the best photographer in the world even has to think about, chase after, and outsmart is light. Don’t. Use. The. Flash. Find some great light and stand IN or BEHIND it!
This goes for selfies too. Grab whoever you are taking a selfie with and twirl them around to face the light! (If it’s sunny, find shade, stand IN it, and face the sun!)
It took me way too long to realize you could adjust exposure on your phone. When you have the camera open, hold your finger down and slide up and down to adjust the brightness (exposure). Now granted, neither of these photos below are ideal, but sometimes you have to pick and choose what’s most important in the photo and make sure it’s not blown out (aka way too bright).
Digital zoom is not your friend. The only thing you should be pinching at Christmas is pennies or the cheeks of your adorable kids, cousins, husband, whoever! Don’t pinch to zoom!! Why? Remember Silly Putty? Remember pressing it onto newspaper to get an imprint of the ink, and then you would stretch it out? That’s how digital zoom works. It’s not getting any new information to your camera (just like you aren’t putting any more ink on the putty) to keep it looking clear and sharp. You are literally stretching out what’s already captured until it looks blurry and terrible. So how do you zoom? USE YOUR LEGS! Literally get closer to ensure the best quality photo. In the photo below, I only walked about 15 feet closer. It’s worth it!
BONUS TIP! CROPPING
Anytime you are taking photos of people, never ever ever do the following thing. I need you to find the nearest bible and place your hand on it. Ready? Read this aloud: “I promise to never cut off body parts near the joints.” Now that the nearest person thinks your Hannibal Lector, let me explain: if you are unable to get a person’s whole body in your photo, if you are way taller or shorter than the person, or if you want to get a close up, you will need to crop, of selectively cut off, your image. Make sure that you are cutting people off in the middle of their joints, meaning halfway between the shoulder and elbow, or halfway between the elbow and wrist, or halfway between the hips and the knee, or halfway between the knee and ankle. If you cut people off any closer to these joints, they look deformed and you look like a rookie!