Take Better Pictures with Your Phone

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Take Better Pictures with Your Phone

A Plea and How-to Guide from a Photographer

Technology is great, right? Without opening a philosophical and moral debate, let’s assume the answer to that is a ubiquitous “yes.” Right now, you have an amazing piece of tech at your fingertips, whether it be a PC, tablet, or smartphone. (Is that still how we classify touchscreen phones with excessive capabilities, or are we just calling them phones now?)

 

Regardless, in this blog post we’re focusing on your (smart)phone…more specifically, the camera function and how to use it to take better pictures. We’ll cover why you should care, tips on how to operate your phone’s camera, and a few tips on how to make the photos you take look prettier. If you have a flip phone, stop reading.

 

I’m kidding. This still applies to you because, as Chase Jarvis said, the best camera is the one that’s with you. Even if it’s only two megapixels.

 

Why You Should Care…

 

…aside from upping your social media content game—extremely fast communication and preservation of memories.

 

Humans are visual beings. Look to our ancient (and even recent) history. Cave paintings are visual. Billboards are visual. Emojis are visual. Until we all get plugged into the Matrix—or unplugged (spooky)—or develop telepathy, visual communication (e.g., photos, videos, graphics, etc.) is among the fastest, if not the fastest, means to communicate an idea.

 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. (According to our resident word nerd, Lathan, it’s actually closer to 250. You should check out his take on Whiskey and Storytelling, by the way.) Would you rather write a blog post about your business trip or take a few photos with your phone? The correct answer is both, because they support each other. Besides, don’t you want your selfies to look better?

 

Now you may be thinking, “Devin, if visual communication is so fast, why didn’t you just make a video instead of wasting my time with this blog post?” Well, the method of communication you choose to use says something about the message. Reading requires more cognitive processing to decipher the symbols that form words and then to make sense of the meanings attached to them. So, maybe it was so you would take the time to think through all of this information and (hopefully) retain it better. Or, maybe I chose to write a blog post because it’s my turn to write a blog post. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

 

Tips on How to Operate Your Phone’s Camera

 

Photography is a visual language that is easy to understand but more difficult to speak.

 

  1. Zoom with your feet!

 

Well, what on earth does that mean? It means if you’re at a conference and want to take a picture of Ron Burgundy while he’s laughing and having a very animated conversation with an attendee, don’t pinch your screen to zoom. Walk over to him to get a better shot. Pinching your screen to make Ron appear closer will make your image fuzzy. It’s like downscaling your 4K television to the old standard definition tube TVs. Why would you want to do that?

  1. Let there be light! Have you ever had photos from a cocktail party, wedding reception, or other dimly lit event that turned out looking like the Blair Witch Project or like you just got struck by lightning and whatever’s closest to you is super bright? If not, then those analogies probably didn’t land. The point is, lighting can make or break a photo. For most of you reading this, the best way to make your photos look right is to use natural light.
  2. The sun is a great source of natural light.

 

Use it. Embrace it. Be one with it. Just don’t have it directly in front of or behind the person you’re photographing. Keep the sun off your shoulder so it’s not directly on your subject’s face causing them to squint. Having it directly behind them turns them into a silhouette, which is fine if you’re going for something abstract and artsy. It’s not so great if you want people to know who is in the picture. Shade can also help. The trick is to tap the face of the person you’re photographing (on your phone screen—not literally) to make the light setting (or exposure setting) look right.

  1. Use grid lines! Grid lines are an excellent guide for framing your photos. Here’s how you turn them on:

iOS: Settings > Camera > Grid (switch on)

Android: Camera > Settings > Grid Lines (tap to switch on)

 

 

 

The Rule of Thirds

 

The rule of thirds helps you organize what you decide to include in your photo. It divides the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, creating a grid. Aligning objects or people with these lines and with the intersections of these lines tends to be pleasing to the eye. For instance, lining up eyes with the upper line is common.

 

We’re not saying photos that don’t follow this rule aren’t pleasing. There are plenty of examples of photographers breaking this rule with breathtaking images. The difference is that they typically have a lot of experience with the rule of thirds, understand it, and, therefore, know when it makes sense to break it. Always learn the rules and understand them before you decide to break them.

 

Tips on Form

 

What should you include (or not include) in your photo? Well, that depends on what you’re trying to communicate.

  • Are you trying to showcase a large space with lots of people, such as at a tradeshow? Try standing back from it, holding your camera level, and taking a picture from an entryway. Or, stand at the end of one of the aisles looking toward the other end. Or, try a higher vantage point. Being farther away allows you to include more in the photo.
  • Is there a great conversation happening between two people? Cool! Document it! If you’re far away, you’ll get the carpet, the ceiling, and a lot of unnecessary details. You don’t care what color the carpet is or what kind of shoes someone is wearing. So, get in close to crop those things out of your shot. Get close…like over your coworker’s shoulder, and snap some photos of the member listening and laughing. Getting part of your coworker in the shot is fine as long as the member is in focus. It can add depth to the image. If you shoot while they’re talking, there’s a good chance you may catch them mid-sentence or mid-word, and that tends to look weird.

Smiles always play well, and people always smile when they laugh. Follow the laughter!

  • Do you just want to showcase a product you saw at a tradeshow or a drink you enjoyed on vacation in the Bahamas? Get in very close. Make that product or drink the star of your photo. If you only want your audience to focus on the product, try to position yourself so that the background behind the object is plain and unobtrusive. If you want your audience to know where you are, position yourself so that something recognizable is in the background like a sign for the tradeshow or the ocean and the beach.
  • Have you seen the photos where a person or thing is in focus but the background is blurred out?

 

Most new phones have the ability to do that. In most cases, all you have to do is tap the person or thing you want to be in focus (again, tap the screen on your phone), and the camera will adjust to make that happen. Selective focus like that will draw attention to the person or thing that is in focus. This is easier to do on your phone when the thing you want to be in focus is a different distance from you than the things you want to be out of focus.

 

Get Your Feet (with which you zoom) Wet

 

Like anything else, if you’re curious and want to learn more, Google and YouTube are excellent resources. But, they’ll never compare to real-world experience. Just get out there and start taking photos. If they aren’t turning out the way you want, try something different. The important thing is just take the picture. As you begin your journey, here are some key takeaways to improve your mobile photography skills:

  • Photography is a visual language that is easy to understand but more difficult to speak.
  • Turn on grid lines to use the rule of thirds.
  • Use natural light whenever possible.
  • Follow the laughter.

 

We recently hosted a BrandLab covering these exact points. Is there a recording, you ask? Of course there is! Reach out to Laura Hand, VP of VGM Marketing, for the full presentation.

 

Good luck, and have fun!