Tips for Great Smartphone Photography

Great-iPhone-Photography-WerewolfWe all know the benefits of great photography. According to a recent HubSpot study, tweets with images get 18% more click-though, and blog posts are shared twice as often. I know that I won’t add ugly content to Facebook, no matter how on-brand it is for that client or employer. However, it’s not easy to get great photos for every post. Until now…

Smartphone photography is still an underutilized resource for blogs and social media. But one we should all use. It’s cheaper and more personal than stock photography, and with a little know-how, at least equal quality.

A couple of weeks ago the Seattle WordPress Beginners group asked me to speak on smartphone photography at their monthly meeting. Because it’s in writing it’ll probably be more eloquent than what I said, but if anything else differs, I apologize. Going straight from finishing grad school, to speaking at this event, to a work convention and a Vancouver early Christmas means I ad-libbed the presentation and my memory may be a tad out.

Tips for Smartphone Photography

It doesn’t really matter which smartphone you have. These photos have been mainly taken with iPhones 5s and 6, but that’s just because it’s what I have. The last couple of generations of the main phones have great cameras, so the phone itself isn’t as much of an issue.

Wand-iphone-photographyLighting

This is the most important part, but one that you can easily DIY. I have a cheap light box with lamps but prefer to use natural light where possible. It’s softer and nicer, but not always practical in Seattle. A trick to maximize natural light is to reflect it back on your subject. You don’t need expensive professional reflectors for this. A sheet of white craft board or a foil car windscreen sun reflector will work. Even a light-colored wall works.

But if you do need to use lamps, I pull out all the lamps with a white color spectrum. So the tiny lamps from my light box, my desk lamps, whatever I can find. Lamps that give a more yellow glow can be used for creative effect, but if you’re wanting a bright white, avoid these. For this photo, I even added the light from my phone to eliminate the shadows.

Yes, shadows. It’s recommended to have even lighting of each side of the subject to cancel out shadows, but I prefer playing around and seeing what looks good. Shadows can be very flattering with portraits and can add a strong story to anything else. Think how spooky shadows can be.

Focal Point / Depth of Field

Thor-iphone-Photography
Photo Credit: Matt Koski

I’m not sure all phones can do this. I’ve seen a couple of Android devices bragging about this feature and iPhones have nearly always had it. When taking the photo, press the screen on your subject – it’s magic.

In this photo, Thor is in focus and the Storm Troopers are creatively blurred in the background. It’s also the effect I love getting with my 50mm lens on my DSLR. I’m glad I can get it without lugging my camera around.

Another little benefit of this trick is that it adjusts the lighting to emphasize your subject. It creates gorgeous silhouettes, or can darken the background.

Framing

Kathleen-FireworksFraming is something you can do after – while editing – but quicker and easier if you do it when you take the shot. There is an exception to this that we’ll discuss later.

So for now, use the screen to see how your photo will look. Move closer or further away to make an interesting story. Remember you needn’t have the entire subject framed. It can be more interesting if you don’t. I love this photo from Independence Day 2015. The trees frame the fireworks as the subject, but we also have the people watching the fireworks on the foreground, making a second story.

Backgrounds

We’ve all seen the BuzzFeed listicles of people with things coming out of their heads. Poles, beams, unfortunately, placed posters. Looking back at the Halloween werewolf photo, we had trouble with backgrounds. I love my friend’s house, but art and cabinets make it hard to find a clear background. We had two choices, a door and hopefully miss the doorframe or the curtain. We chose the curtain.

This is also where the light box is useful. It comes with different colored backdrops to give a consistent background. It’s probably the main thing I use it for.

Bad-iPhone-PhotographyPinch Zoom

OK, I know when I said to frame the shot you were thinking you could just zoom in on your phone. NO! Never do it. Zooming on your phone uses digital zoom. Many point and shoot cameras have it too, to make them appear more powerful. However, it pixelates the photo and Photoshop can’t fix it. Instead use your feet and move closer. If you can’t do that, take the shot and edit it later to frame the subject. Sometimes it still can’t work, but this is hitting one of the few limitations with smartphone photography.

Tools for Smartphone Photography

These are the tools I use, but anything in the house gets pulled in. I’m also a bit cheap, so will hack a solution before spending money.

Tripod

A tripod is essential for holding your phone still, especially in low light.

My tripod is a heavy DSLR one with a cute little smartphone adaptor. The adaptor only cost about $7 on Amazon and can be put on any tripod.

Next on my shopping list is a JOBY Gorillapod. It’s a tabletop tripod, that can also twist onto nearly everything. It’s small enough that it can live in my backpack, unlike the large tripod. A make-do is also a beanbag or cushion.

Lights

As mentioned, I tend to use whatever I can find. I have a few lights on my Amazon wishlist but haven’t bought any specifically for any of my photography. That said, there are days where I miss the studio at University Bookstore.

Photography-Light-BoxLight Box

The light box kind of contradicts my previous comment. I’m sure other light boxes have better lamps than mine does. Mine is really best as a set for the backdrops. It doesn’t soften the lamps very much so it still creates a spotlight effect. Thus adding more desk lamps.

Remote Shutter

This toy was a freebie with my Selfie Stick, and very useful. Not only for selfies, a remote gives you a little more flexibility on shots where you need absolute stability. Yes, you can use the timer, but a remote shutter lets you control the timing. By the way, the remote on iPhone headphones does the same thing.

Selfie Stick

I’m not ashamed on my Selfie Stick. They’re useful when used in a non-self-centered way. A selfie-stick and a remote helps you get those photos that you’d usually need a friend for. And I love mine during events so I can get good group photos.

Formatting Photos for WordPress and Social Media

Canon-EventWe did cover this during the presentation, but I’m dropping it because others have done it better. I love Kristie at Blog Ambitions’ post about resizing your images for your blog. She’s actually written a whole section on images, that I would just end up repeating here.

Resources

This is more a collection of extra sites and resources that I couldn’t fit in the presentation. The formatting links were originally here, but work better above.

Pinterest – search blog or smartphone photography for a plethora of ideas.
Canva / PicMonkey – both great photo editing options.

One comment

Share Your Thoughts