Camera Phone Photography Tips (Part 1)

There’s a saying that the best camera is the one that’s always with you. I used to always take my DSLR with me everywhere I went. I figured it made taking pics a lot easier.
Fast forward to today, it’s no surprise that most of us capture the (overwhelming) majority of our pics with, yep, our iPhones (or whatever phone you’re using). While I’d never want to give up my fancy camera, I’m no different. I use my iPhone more than my $5,000 camera.
Crazy, considering how much better my fancy camera performs.  But the reason why is simple. The iPhone is always with me. It’s quick. It’s easy. And of course, it completely revolutionized how we share photos.
With so many pics being created from our iPhones, some simple tips on how to maximize the quality of the end result is in order. And with that said, we turn our attention to some simple tips for getting the most out of our phone pics.

The time tested methods win again.

When you’re left with a camera in its most basic form (first point, then shoot, and that’s it), it’s funny how the timeless ‘best-practices’ of photography become even more important in the creation of compelling images.
In other words, the things I teach in Shultz Photo School re: getting the most out of your fancy camera are the same things I’d need to teach you for getting the most out of your iPhone camera.  It’s just that all the stuff about camera operations (understanding exposure, shooting in manual or aperture priority, etc) don’t come into play.  But in the areas of composition, lighting, and post production (to a certain degree), the advice is just as important, and perhaps even more so as you don’t have the tools (awesome cameras and lenses) to overcome the limitations of “point and shoot.”
It just goes to show that learning ‘which button does what’ on your fancy camera is only half the battle.  Which is why I spend an entire module on composition, another on lighting, and another on post production in SPS.
Compelling photography is about vision and emotion.  And thankfully, you don’t have to be a creative genius, or even gifted at all, in order to create images that communicate “creative vision” and capture emotion.  You just need to go back to the time tested basics.

Start with composition.

Your iPhone pics will improve right off the bat if you just employ a few basic composition principals.  Let’s just talk about 3.  These 3 tips aim squarely at SPS readers: moms and dads (and the like) who mostly take pics of their kids and family life.  That said, here we go:

Fill the frame

I marched upstairs, iPhone in hand, determined to take a few pics of whatever kid of mine I encountered first.  The winner, Mr. Payson.  He was eating lunch.  Apparently a big bucket of peanuts.  Whatever.
Note: I intentionally chose to take some everyday, not-ideal-conditions, images to illustrate this post.  It makes no sense for me to set up the perfect picture environment and then offer these tips.  We need real-life, hard-working, tips and advice.
And so the first pic I snapped is what I see 4 out of 5 parents do.  They stand about 3 ft away from their kid, point down at him, and shoot.  We’re left with an image like this, full of what’s called ‘negative space’ all around the subject of interest.  Negative space can sometimes be effective, but in this case, it’s all just noise competing for attention.
So the first tip is so so so simple.  Fill the frame with your subject.  To do this, I highly recommend you use your feet to zoom, and not “pinch in” to zoom.  I “pinch in” every so often, but I make sure there’s plenty of light before doing so.  Otherwise you might get camera shake or grainy images.
Here we go.  Just a couple steps closer:
photo copy

Choose a better perspective

The message here is simple: quit standing up all the time to take your pics.  Try a perspective from the floor, or kneeling, or perhaps from way up high.  And know this: when taking pics of your kids, you can’t go wrong by choosing an eye level perspective.  In other words, bring the camera down to their eye level.  You’ll have a much more intimate (and therefore emotional) image.  Backgrounds will also change (often becoming much deeper, which is a huge benefit).
I knelt down, clicked.  Eye level.  There’s that Mr. Payson….
photo copy 2

Use the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is most often employed in landscape and still life imagery, but it applies to portraits just as well.  Essentially draw a tic-tac-toe board in your field of view (frame), and position your point of interest along a line or at an intersection.  Here’s an example from a whole lesson about it.
Kerbi Rule of 3rds
Seems counter intuitive, but plenty of research shows that placing your main point of interest in the center of the frame ends up being unbalanced.  Follow the rule of thirds for balance, and to start seeing creatively.  I’ll mention 2 things.

  1. In close-up pictures of your kids, position the point of interest in an intersection.  The point of interest is almost always your kid’s eyes.  To get an eye in an intersection, simply tilt your camera.  Here’s the example, admittedly a bit exaggerated, but it gives the idea:
    photo copy 3
  2. There are plenty of times we use our iPhones to snap a pic of the sunset, a travel scene, a ball game, etc.  One really easy application: place horizon lines along the top or bottom rule of thirds line.  Don’t put horizons in the middle.  Otherwise they just fight each other for attention.  Let either the foreground or the background win.  There are a couple exceptions.  No time here.  Just a quick example:  The following pic was snapped with my iPhone while biking in eastern TN (on vacation, sadly I don’t live there :).  It very simply illustrates the rule of thirds.  Sky line horizon up along the top “1/3rd line”.  The barn (main point of interest) is located in the bottom right intersection.  Simple simple stuff, but it has often tricked others into thinking I’m creative.  Fooled them!  You can too!
    Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 12.48.18 PM

Normal people can learn to see creatively.

This all might sound terribly familiar to you if you’ve been around SPS at all, because it’s essentially the very first lesson of the SPS course.  I actually have that lesson “unlocked” so folks can get an idea of how the class is taught.  Just click here to view it (and see a 3 minute video that shows all these tips in action).
While the SPS course dives a bit deeper into composition tips in order to help normal people see creatively, I promise ya this: even these 3 completely simple tips will improve your day to day pics, perhaps even a good bit.
For a final image illustration, here’s one that I edited, in under 30 seconds, on my phone.  And yes, we’ll talk about how to do this (editing that is), soon!  Simple stuff like filling the frame, choosing a different perspective (in this case even lower than Payson), and using the rule of thirds makes this image one worthy of keeping…
photo copy 5

**NOTE: Today is the last day to save big on SPS, only 99! Tomorrow, back up to 299. Click here to get started.**

Next up: a couple lighting tips.  I’m a firm believer that lighting is what separates the good from the great.  See you then…
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    1. Most lens add-ons convert your angle of view to superwide or fisheye…some are a macro adapter (close up photography), and a slim fiew are tele converters. Personally, I never find much use for the super wide angle stuff as 28mm is pretty wide to begin with. I can always use Pano mode in a pinch. But beyond that, you might like the additional options. This is more of a personal preference thing!