Step by Step Guide to Taking Stunning Photos With Just Your Phone

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Step by Step Guide to Taking Stunning Photos With Just Your Phone

BJOEL KOH

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As someone who is in love with photography (shameless plug), I find that this statement holds a lot of truth. Although I have a mirrorless camera, the technical superiority it has over my phone’s camera is irrelevant as the camera is usually too big and heavy for me to carry around.

This made me miss a lot of great photo opportunities as in the past as I stubbornly refused to take photos with my smartphone as I thought that it just won’t be as good. A video featuring Chase Jarvis changed my mind completely. The video was a photography challenge where these pro photographers will only be given the worse cameras. Chase was given this 3-megapixel lego camera and somehow still managed to take a great series of photographs with it.

Image Credit: Pocket Lint

Chase taught me that you do not need a DSLR to make a great image. You only need the camera you have with you.

This led me on to the path of taking more photos with my phone and making the best out of my phone. Here are 7 of the most important lessons I learned which I compiled into a step-by-step guide to help you take better photos with just your phone.

*This guide will work for most smartphones regardless of whether it is an Android or Apple, so long as it can take pictures.

Step 1: Clean Your Smartphone Lens

This seemingly obvious piece of advice is not a joke. Our phones find their way into our hands, pockets or bags. As a result, the camera lens will get dirty and greasy without us even noticing it. I cannot tell you the number of times I have taken photos after eating something oily, only to find out that some of the greases got onto my phone’s lens so every shot looked like there was a heavy filter slapped upon it. Nowadays, I frantically wipe down my phone’s camera lens before I take any shot.

Step 2: Timing is Everything

Azure
Image Credit: Joel Koh

Primarily, cameras capture light, but all not light is created equal. The quality of light matters. If you are shooting outdoors, the best time to take photos is during golden hour. Golden hour occurs one hour after sunrise and just before sunset. This magical time is when lighting is softer, not as harsh and has that warm golden glow. This photo that you see above was just taken at about 6.30pm, half an hour before sunset.

Step 3: Avoid Direct Sunlight

Leaf
Image Credit: Joel Koh

However, if you can’t take photos during the golden hour, you can still make the most out of the rest of the day. When you are shooting avoid shooting your subjects in direct sunlight. Instead, move your subject into a shaded area where the lighting will be gentler and more consistent. Gloomy overcast days are also great times to shoot outside as the clouds will diffuse the light to make it more gentle and pleasing to the eye.

Step 4: Hold it Still

To take pleasing photos that are tack sharp, you will need to hold your phone as still as possible to avoid camera shake. In general, phones need to use slower shutter speeds because of the small size of the camera sensor. A little bit of handshake can cause your photo to become a blurry mess.

For a more stable grip, you will need to grip your phone like this.

Keep your pinky finger along the bottom for support and place .your index finger rests on top while the other two fingers rest on the back of your Phone. This will free your thumb to click the shutter button and adjust the exposure and focus.

Do note that this will take some getting used. As most phones are now mostly made of glass, they are rather slippery to hold in the hand.

There are several benefits to holding your iPhone like this. Firstly, this grip is a lot more stable which will prevent blurry photos. Secondly, it is a lot more convenient to can just hold your phone in one hand instead of two. Last but not least, you can easily switch the phone from portrait to landscape mode in this position.

Step 5: Focus And Don’t Overexpose

Now that you have a firm grip on things, it’s time to start with the photo taking. When I just started taking photos, most of my shots were overexposed. As phones tend to have limited dynamic range, you will not be able to all the details in the shot if one area is too bright and one area is too dark. Often phones will auto-compensate and try to get the subject as well exposed as possible. This will result in an overexposed photo like this.

Although you can see the building, you cannot see the clouds in the sky as the photo is overexposed.

To prevent this, you will need to tap on the darker areas to adjust the exposure to let the camera capture more detail. In this photo which was taken around the same time, you can actually see the detail of the clouds. Although the photo is a bit dark, you can always adjust the brightness using photo editing apps.

In addition to adjusting the brightness, tapping an area on most phones will allow you to control the focus to something you want to focus on. If you are taking a portrait, you might want to tap onto the person’s face so you can get a

Step 6: Composition Techniques

Now that you are focused on the subject, here are some composition tips so you can frame better photos.

Frame Within a Frame

As a photography technique, this is rather underrated as it is a great way to draw your eye’s attention to a particular point in the image. The idea behind this is to choose a part of the photo to be the subject, then find a shape in the foreground to frame it up like a photo frame.

Here is an example of this.

I took this photo on a LRT train using the window of the LRT train to frame up the view of the mall. This technique can add a level of depth and context to the photo as well as drawing a viewer’s attention to a defined point in the photo.

Although you can see the building, you cannot see the clouds in the sky as the photo is overexposed.

To prevent this, you will need to tap on the darker areas to adjust the exposure to let the camera capture more detail. In this photo which was taken around the same time, you can actually see the detail of the clouds. Although the photo is a bit dark, you can always adjust the brightness using photo editing apps.

In addition to adjusting the brightness, tapping an area on most phones will allow you to control the focus to something you want to focus on. If you are taking a portrait, you might want to tap onto the person’s face so you can get a

Step 6: Composition Techniques

Now that you are focused on the subject, here are some composition tips so you can frame better photos.

Frame Within a Frame

As a photography technique, this is rather underrated as it is a great way to draw your eye’s attention to a particular point in the image. The idea behind this is to choose a part of the photo to be the subject, then find a shape in the foreground to frame it up like a photo frame.

Here is an example of this.

Pathways
Image Credit: Joel Koh

Leading Lines

Speaking of drawing a viewer’s attention to a defined point in the photo, the next technique is called Leading Lines. The aim of this technique is to draw the viewer’s attention to lines that lead to the main subject of the image.

An example of this can be seen below.

The arrows that I drew are to indicate the leading lines that provide the eye a pleasing way to look follow through and look past other elements to focus on the subject of the photo.

Rule of Thirds

To apply the rule of thirds, you will need to divide up the image in your mind using 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines in a grid. This gird can be turned on in your phone as well. Place the subject or important elements along these lines or at the intersection of these points.

A good thing to remember is that although these techniques might make you photo more pleasing, they should not be applied blindly. Rather, treat this as more of a guideline instead of something you must implement for every photo. Nonetheless, it will produce a pleasing photo most of the time and is a superb starting point when you compose the photo.

Bonus: How to Take a Better Selfie

Unfortunately, most front cameras are not very flattering as the wide angle of the front camera will tend to distort your face. This distortion is also caused by the camera is to close to your face making it look a lot wider than it is in reality.

Image Credit: Keila Rivera On Flickr

The best way to fix this is to get a selfie stick like the iTech Wireless Selfie Stick so you can increase the distance of the camera to your face to overcome the distortion.

This full-featured selfie stick also doubles up as a wireless tripod as you can extend the legs of the tripod and detach the Bluetooth remote to take more advanced selfies. This is also great for your travels as you no longer have to awkwardly ask strangers to take a photo for you.


Ultimately, even though a great camera makes it easier for you to take photos, it won’t be useful if the camera is not around you most of the time. I hope that you would be able to remember these tips and go forth to take better photos with your phone!

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