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While some people might look down their nose at smartphones as legitimate cameras, they have real value when it comes to the convenience they offer for photographers of all ability levels. It’s something that’s always in your pocket, and is relatively easy to learn how to use, and with that kind of convenience, that means that when a situation presents itself, you’ve got a camera right there with you to document the scene.
Granted, your iPhone or Galaxy S7 doesn’t have the technical capabilities a Hasselblad or Leica, but, that doesn't mean that you can’t use your phone to practice essential skills that will carry over to a “real” camera when the time comes.
Let’s take a look at a few ways in which your smartphone can help you take better photos.
While smartphones don’t have the same level of controls as more traditional cameras, one thing is for certain: you can still practice framing and composition. It is often the composition of the shot that will make it or break it, so using your phone to practice makes a lot of sense. There’s not a lot of settings to distract you from your framing, and it’s easy to take a lot of photos.
When using your phone to practice composition, work on things like watching the sides of the frame to ensure there aren’t any tree branches or other oddities penetrating the image. Likewise, take the time to investigate the background, ensuring that it isn’t competing with your primary subject and adds something, rather than takes away from the image.
There’s also the more well-known compositional techniques that you can practice. If shooting a landscape, work on getting your horizon lines straight. If shooting a portrait, strive to get a good depth of field such that the background is blurry and your subject is in sharp focus. Practice using the rule of thirds to get a well-balanced shot as well.
By practicing these essential compositional techniques with your phone, you’ll be better prepared to do so when you graduate to a full-blown camera. And even if you stick with your phone, a little practice will make your mobile shots that much better too!
Learn to Work With Light
Working with light is just as important with your smartphone as it is with a large camera. The skills you gain in terms of how to use lighting to your advantage while using your smartphone will translate easily to working with light using a more traditional camera.
When using your phone, learn how to read how the light interacts with your subject. Is the light causing your subject to be washed out? Is there too much or too little contrast? If there are interesting textures, see how sidelighting helps accentuate them, adding interest to your shot. Explore Golden Hour and see how you can use the soft, warm light of sunrise and sunset to create a more impactful image.
The point is that how your smartphone camera captures light is the same as a large camera. Becoming familiar with different types of lighting and developing an understanding of how they add to or detract from different kinds of compositions is a critical step in becoming able to take better photos.
Learn How to Post-Process
Post-processing is perhaps one of the most anxiety-inducing tasks for beginner photographers. Programs like Lightroom and Photoshop certainly offer many ways to enhance a photo, but with all those options, it can be a bit daunting for beginner photographers.
Smartphones offer a great way to develop a basic understanding of how to post-process images. There are dozens of high-quality apps you can use to work with your images, some of the most popular being Lightroom for Mobile, VSCOCam, Snapseed, and Mextures, to name a few. What each of these apps has in common is that you can manipulate the basics of an image, from saturation and contrast to highlights and shadows to sharpness and white balance.
By getting some practice manipulating these and other settings in the relatively simple environment of an app on your phone, you can more quickly and easily learn how each change impacts your image, for the positive or the negative. Again, although the process is a little different than if you use full-blown editing software on your computer, the principles are the same - adjusting saturation on an iPhone app will have the same impact as it would as if you were doing it in Lightroom on your laptop. So, having a basic understanding of these controls will make you a better photographer, even if all you’re using is your phone.
Learn to Be Creative
Taking photos with your phone is naturally conducive to creativity. Maybe it’s the ease of use. Perhaps it’s the quantity of apps available that help you edit your images, add creative filters, play with textures, and the like. But perhaps more so than with traditional cameras, photography for some people is a more creative process when using a phone. Use that to your advantage to become a better photographer. Take risks. Try crazy vantage points. Use apps to create images with a vintage look. Create something with a graphic design vibe.
The point is that your phone gives you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to photography. There’s no pressure. No limits. Harnessing that power and making the most of the tips we’ve discussed here will help you develop your style and your photographer’s eye, and you will be better equipped to tackle framing, composition, post-processing, and the technical aspects of photography when the time comes to use a “real” camera.