Mobile Photography 101 {Part 4}: Tips & Tricks

Ready for some more tips for upping your Mobile Photography game?  Today is the last of the series and I'm sharing all kinds of good tips and tricks to help you improve your photos and set yourself apart.Regardless of whether you're taking photos with your phone, a point & shoot camera, or an expensive dSLR camera, there are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind to get the best shots!  

First, lighting.  Photography is all about lighting.  Without it, you don't have a photo.  Once you nail your lighting, composing your shot so that it's pleasing to the eye and conveys your message is the next challenge.  

I'm going to share tips on both of these topics as well as provide some general tips and tricks to help you get the best photos (and you can use most of these tips for non-mobile photography too!)!

Lighting

Like I mentioned above, photography is all about light.  If you study photography at all, you will learn not only how to use light to your advantage, but how to read light as well as manipulating light to suit your needs.  While I'm not going to go into all of those details today, I will point out a few tips that you can implement to start using light better in your images.

Using the flash

When it comes to using the flash on your mobile phone, just say NO!  Honestly, unless you are using a dSLR with an off camera flash, never use the flash that's on your phone or camera if you can help it.  Typically, the flash on your phone (and point & shoot) is too harsh and the coloring is off.  If you are taking photos of people, they will NEVER look good with the flash!

Always use natural light

Instead of the flash, use natural light if possible.  The best times to photograph outside is earlier in the day and later in the day.  Mid-day can be challenging.  

If you are wanting to get good light and it's the middle of a sunny day, try to take the photo inside next to a large window, or if you are outside, find shade.  This can be under a tree, beside a building, in an alley, under an overhang or awning (just be careful if the awning is a bright color, since it might transfer onto your subject).  

Your goal is to get just inside the shadow so your subject isn't getting direct rays, but they’re close enough to the non-shade to get some reflection of the light.  This is a much softer light and will be more flattering to your subjects.  Taking images in direct, mid-day sunlight will product very harsh shadows.  If your subject is a person, this tends to be very unflattering.

Reflectors

When taking photos in the shade, sometimes it helps to use a reflector to bounce some light back onto your subject.  Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest that you carry a reflector around with you!  But you can make use of things around you!  

The ground will reflect back light, especially a light sidewalk or sandy beach (so you'd place your subject just in the shade, out of the direct sun, but facing the sunny area so it bounces off the grass or sidewalk and onto your subject).  A light colored wall may also provide reflection if the light is hitting it.  And finally, you could throw on a white shirt and if you're close enough to your subject, guess what...you're the reflector!

Get your exposure right

Exposure refers to how much light is in the image.  Ideally, you want to expose the image properly for the subject.

That means, you might have a really bright background if your subject is in the shade or if they're in bright light, the background may be very dark.  

With a dSLR, you have options for what to change to get proper exposure, but with mobile phones, it's not necessarily as straight forward.  Fortunately, there are a few useful options!  

In the newer iOS for iPhones, by tapping the screen, you not only set your focus, but you can raise or lower the overall exposure by dragging the sun icon up or down (so, focus on your subject, then adjust accordingly).  

You can also use an app like Camera+ which will allow you to set the focus and exposure separately (so, focus on your subject and if they're too dark or too bright, pick other spots in the frame until your subject is properly exposed).

The iPhone Camera app: Use the square to set your focus and the sunshine to modify your exposure.

The iPhone Camera app: Use the square to set your focus and the sunshine to modify your exposure.

Use the Camera+ app to set focus and exposure separately.

Use the Camera+ app to set focus and exposure separately.

Composition

Good composition can take an okay picture and make it an amazing picture! Composition 'rules' are good guidelines and if you're a novice, they're good to learn to help you get a bit of an edge in your photos.  You don’t have to do all of these, just keep these in mind next time you’re getting ready to snap a picture!

Rule of thirds

Hopefully everyone is aware of this one!  It's the main compositional tool that is shared everywhere!  

The premise behind it is that when people look at an image, their eye naturally goes to the intersection of the thirds. Placing your subject along these lines gives balance to your image and feels more natural to the viewer.

Most mobile cameras allow you to turn on the Rule of Thirds grid.  I always keep this one and just naturally line things up on one of the lines and/or intersections.

Fill the frame

Sometimes, filling the frame with your subject is a great way to get an interesting shot.  It can block out a distracting background and really bring focus to your subject.  The goal in filling the frame is to have your subject touch 3 sides of the frame (and again, these are guidelines, so don’t feel like you have to follow this to a ’T’!).

Leading lines

Leading lines is another classic photography composition tool.  Leading lines are basically lines within the image that lead the eye to your subject.  They can be man made, like the lines in a side walk or in nature, like branches on a tree.  They can be straight or curved. The beauty of leading lines, besides leading your eye right to the subject is that it adds a sense of movement which brings a bit more interest to the image.

Framing

Framing really helps to showcase your subject.  Basically, it’s finding a frame within your environment where the subject is placed within the frame.  Examples of this are doorways, windows, a canopy of trees, columns on a building, etc.  Framing your subject helps to give it structure and a sense of balance.

Negative space

On the opposite end of the spectrum from ‘filling the frame’ is making use of negative space.  Negative space is any area around the subject that is empty. When done correctly, there is a sense of peacefulness and it really helps to isolate the subject.

Change your perspective

Don’t be afraid to change your angle!  Climb up on a bench or table, squat down or lie down on the ground.

Instead of standing where everyone else is standing and getting the same boring photo, move around and look for a place or an angle that is a little bit different.

This is really affective with pets and children…get down on their level to convey a sense of unity and to show what they see.  Shoot them from above to emphasize their smallness, or shoot them from below to make them appear bigger in their environment.

The same logic applies to structures too!  So, when you’re on vacation, get creative with where you snap your pic!

Other Tips

In addition to lighting and composition, there are several other things to keep in mind if you want to get the best shots.

Pay attention to the background

BEFORE you click the shutter button, take a second to look through the entire frame (beyond your subject)...are their distracting elements in the shot?  Move them, or move around to get them out of your picture.

Is there a pole or a branch coming out of your subjects head? If so, you either need to move you or your subject.  Be mindful of everything in your photo...even if you don't see it when you take the shot, your viewer will when looking at the image later!

Be intentional

Think through your shot before you take it...what's your subject?  Is that clear?  If not, move around or modify the composition to make it more apparent.

Take lots of shots

It’s okay to take a lot of shots of one thing.  Sometimes it really does take 20 shots to get the 1 perfect image! (and sometimes even more!!)

Clean your lens

Think about it…our phones put up with a lot of abuse.  Our hands, pockets, tables, purses, bags, etc. are dirty.  The lens on your phone doesn’t exactly have a lens cap to protect it, so try to remember to clean it off before you start shooting away! Otherwise, you might just end up with spots on your photos!

Don't overprocess your image

Brighten it up, fix your exposure, straighten it, but don’t add tons of filters and frames.  Let your image shine through!

Go black and white: If the image has a lot of distracting elements or competing colors go for black and white. It evens everything out and it will make everything feel more balanced and timeless.

Let's Look at Some Examples

Now that I've overwhelmed you with tips, let's look at a few examples to see some of these in action! For the record, all of these are using natural light.

Example #1

In this example, I used two of the compositional elements...the rule of thirds and leading lines.  

First, the muffin is placed {roughly} along the left vertical third and the bottom horizontal third.

Notice I said 'roughly'...it doesn't to be precise in order to work!

As for the leading lines, notice the vertical lines of the table top...they lead you right to the muffin.  Also, the natural stripes in the wood cutting board...also leading the eye right to the muffin.

Example #2

For this example, I'm again, using two compositional elements...framing and leading lines.

Hopefully, you're spotting those leading lines after our first example.  The lines in the table top that are running horizontally across the frame, point you right to the eggs in the center.

The second rule I'm using is framing. The container that the eggs are in provide a strong frame.  Imagine this without the container...it'd be pretty boring.  The frame pulls it together and grounds the image.

This image is also good example of breaking the Rule of Thirds rule successfully.  It works here because of the strong balance in the image and the framing provided by the container.

Example #3

This image is also using two compositional elements...filling the frame and the Rule of Thirds.  My eyes are along the bottom third line, which satisfies that rule.

For filling the frame, my face is touching three out of the four edges.  This is an example of just a fun photo that is perfect for mobile photography!  It's a bit of a whimsical selfie instead of the typical photo. 

Check out the Rest of the Series

I hope you have enjoyed this four part series!! If you have missed the previous posts, be sure to click through those and check them out:

Part 1:  Mobile Lenses
Part 2:  Accessories
Part 3: Mobile Apps
Part 4: You're looking at it right now!

Your turn!  What are your favorite tips & tricks for getting those oh-so-special shots?  I'd love to hear, so leave me a comment and let me know!