Today’s mobile phones are incredibly powerful photography tools. As a result, better and better photos are being taken by everyday Joe’s with a camera phone. Yet, just because our phones are better cameras than ever before doesn’t mean that simply pointing and shooting will get you the type of photo you want.
In this step-by-step guide, we explore six tips that will help you improve the results you get with your mobile phone.
Step 1: Always Be at the Ready
Given that mobile phones are virtually always within reach, this might seem like a silly first step to improved mobile photos. Yet, how many times have you or someone you know asked, “Where’s my phone?” or discovered that you’re very nearly out of battery power?
Shooting with a phone is not unlike shooting with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera in that you can’t take a photo if your camera isn’t at the ready and with you. Keeping your phone charged, having lens cloths to keep your phone’s lens clean, and ensuring that you have your add-on lenses, tripods, and the like, will ensure that you’re as prepared as possible to take better photos. Be like the Boy Scouts...be prepared!
Step 2: Use Physical Buttons as the Shutter Release
When you take photos with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, having a good, solid grip on the camera will get you sharper images. The same holds true for your phone, yet many people hold their phones with one hand, extend their arm, and press the on-screen shutter button.
The problem with this setup is that there is nothing stable about it. Using one hand to hold the phone while you press on the on-screen shutter button is a recipe for camera shake, which is never a good thing. Instead, hold the phone with both hands, tuck your elbows in, resting them on your chest, and use the volume buttons as the shutter release. Using the actual, physical buttons in lieu of the on-screen button will instantly get you images that are sharper.
Better still, if you have a tripod for your phone, try using the headphones that came with your phone as a remote shutter release. That way you don’t have to even touch the phone at all!
Step 3: Think Less
All too often we see something and think, “that would make a good photo” then think of all the reasons why it wouldn’t turn out: the lighting is bad, the background is ugly, the subject is too far away, and so on.
But thinking of all the reasons why not to photograph something doesn’t help you become a better photographer. Taking more photos more often is what will help you develop the skills that result in improved photos. So stop thinking so much, stop coming up with reasons why this photo or that photo won’t work, and just snap away. Even if your photos are terrible, there are still learning opportunities.
For example, if you’ve taken a photo you don’t like, what about it doesn’t please you? Examine the composition, the lighting, the framing, and so on, and pinpoint what failed in the photo. Then, the next time you shoot, make it a point to practice the skill that was lacking in the previous image.
Step 4: Expand Your Horizons
Many people end up pigeonholing themselves into one type of mobile photography. While concentrating your efforts on one genre or style is certain to help you hone your skills as it pertains to that particular style, expanding your horizons and challenging yourself to photograph new and different things will help you acquire an expanded set of skills that is more widely applicable to all types of photo-taking.
If you’ve got an affinity for landscapes, try taking a few portraits and seeing how your skills match up with the skills needed to take those kinds of photos. Likewise, if your camera roll is full of pictures of your garden, challenge yourself to try your hand at architectural photography. The point is that versatility in what you shoot and how you shoot it will help you develop more creative and technical skills that result in better photos, no matter the subject.
Step 5: Be Mobile
The beauty of using your phone as a camera is the mobility of doing so. You aren’t bogged down by heavy gear and a camera bag. Just your phone in your pocket and perhaps a small tripod and set of lenses is all you need.
With that kind of mobility, there is no excuse for not exploring various vantage points and perspectives from which to shoot. Get down on the ground and take photos from a worm’s eye view. Kneel down, squat, or even lay down on the ground and see how doing so changes the look and feel of the shot. Get up high too: climb a hill, head out to the fire escape, climb a tree - whatever you can do to get a high perspective, and again, see how framing a shot from up high impacts your images.
Step 6: Tell Stories
Mastering the previous five steps in this tutorial will help you master the final one - storytelling.
Photography is all about telling stories, whether it’s of a person, a city, a landscape, or something in between. Your ability to create a story is magnified when armed with a camera phone because of all the reasons outlined above. Your increased mobility gives you greater opportunities to take more shots from interesting perspectives, filling holes in the story you might not be able to fill if you had more traditional gear. Likewise, that mobility helps you expand your horizons to capture more photos and different photos, which leads to better storytelling as well.
Naturally, thinking less and taking action more often helps build the stories you tell as well. Being at the ready, prepared to take the shot gives you the ability to capture the moments that are most important to the story you wish to create. And taking photos of those events is made easier by giving yourself a stable foundation and using the physical buttons on the phone to get the clearest images.
All of this together gives you an increased ability to tell your story. By focusing on developing a story, you’ll become a better photographer as well, whether you shoot with your phone, an entry-level DSLR, or a Hasselblad that’s as expensive as your car!