My favorite camera is the one I have with me. And these days, like most of you, it’s my smartphone. After lugging around heavy equipment for three decades as a professional photographer, it’s the only camera I carry. It’s the ultimate point and shoot, and while it can’t do everything, it does most things well with remarkable image quality.
Making better photographs with your mobile device means following the same advice regardless of the camera used. Remember, the camera is just a tool — it’s how you use the tool that is important.
Most great photographs have at least two of three key elements: great light, solid composition, and what in photojournalism we call “capturing the moment.” Whether it’s a portrait, landscape or still life, keep these in mind when making photos, at home or on the road.
Beautiful light often means shooting very early or late in the day. Get up before dawn and shoot during the first two hours of the day, then head back to your hotel or Airbnb and have breakfast with your partner, who might like to sleep in. It’s not just the sunrise you’re after, but the warm, soft morning light. The same holds true of the evening, when the last hour or two of daylight offers the opportunity to find warm, inviting light.
Good composition is critical to taking compelling photos. On your iPhone, go to “Settings” and under “Camera” make sure “Grid” is turned on so that your screen is divided into many small squares. This will help you compose your photograph and perhaps follow the “rule of thirds,” which briefly states that placing the subject of your photo in the left or right side of the frame may result in a more engaging image.
Using the grid will also help you keep the horizons straight and buildings and other vertical and horizontal lines in proper perspective, if that’s your thing. (Remember: Rules are made to be broken.)
A great moment might be a welcoming smile from a local, a friend’s reaction to a hug or rays of light shining from the heavens. To capture that special moment, take lots and lots of photos. Later, mark the ones you like as a favorite and delete the rest. If you regularly delete those extra throwaway photos you will save a lot of storage space on your phone.
I’m often asked what iPhone I have when people see a photo they like. I rarely have the latest and greatest version and generally purchase a new phone every three years. Now that I shoot exclusively with my iPhone perhaps I’ll trade up every other year, but let’s be clear — the tool you use to take pictures does not determine the quality of your images. Your eye is what makes great photos and you can become a better photographer with practice, through studying photos you like, and by following simple guidelines, like the ones mentioned above.
But the most simple of all suggestions? Regularly clean the lens on your phone. When I notice my photos aren’t crisp, it’s usually because the lenses on my iPhone (I have three with the 11 Pro) are dirty or smeared. Using a cotton T-shirt, napkin or other soft cloth will quickly get rid of the film and result in sharper photos.
One final item. All photographs can be improved by a little postproduction. Use any editing tool to make your photos look better. I use Snapseed, which is available free in the App store for both iPhone and Android. In most cases I spend less than 30 seconds on my favorite photos to do things like lighten or darken the image, increase contrast and saturation, crop and sharpen. With Snapseed, changes are made by choosing an action then swiping to get the effect you desire. For those who enjoy filters, there are a variety to choose from, although I rarely use them. There are many online tutorials that will teach you to use the program, but it’s very intuitive and you may be surprised by how easy it is to figure out on your own.
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