I’m about to share five super quick, but essential, tips for people who like to take photos of anything, ever, for any reason. Four of these can be applied to shooting with a camera, but the last nugget is for iPhone (and probably any smartphone) users.
Maybe you already know all five of these tips. Maybe you already know everything. Maybe you have a friend who is always yelling at you for trying to take a group pic with your phone in a vertical orientation. Maybe you are that friend ( 🙋). Some of us don’t have that friend, or haven’t spent years in photography classes where this knowledge is necessary to survive. This is for all you babes. Whether you know all of the things or none of the things, stay for pictures of my dog and for me standing next to a sconce after two strong cocktails. If you have any other basic tips you personally favor, hang out and share them below. We <3 learning.
1. NO, TURN IT THE OTHER WAY.
If you read nothing else in this post, this will at least help you take better photos when your friends are all out and they go “OMG CAN YOU TAKE OUR PICTURE?” The goal here is to fill the frame up in the most efficient way. You want to show as much of your subject as possible without wasting a bunch of space around them. Giving some breathing room around them is fine. Having a photo of your mom smack dab in the middle of the shot with four feet of space on either side of her probably isn’t the best use of that frame. This is an easy peasy way to immediately make photos look less...noobie.
One to two (sometimes three) people tend to use mostly vertical space, but not much horizontal (unless they’re actually horizontal). In this case, your camera/phone should be in the vertical or “portrait” orientation. That way your person or pair can fill up the frame without getting lost in space.
Once you start adding more people in the mix, depending on how much space they’re taking up it may make more sense to turn your camera to the horizontal orientation. This can also be called “landscape” orientation. Just like you’re not going to want to shoot a mountain range with your camera turned vertically, you’re not going to want to take a group shot of six friends from ten feet away with way too much floor/ceiling going on. Turn that phone so that it’s horizontal and get a little closer to these folks. But don’t cut off their feet unless you’re just getting torsos. More on that in the next tip.
Mostly, just think to yourself, “could I fill this extra space with people,” and if the answer is yes, rotate your phone screen.
2. WHERE ARE MY FEET?
This starts to naturally solve itself once you start turning the frame to fit your subject. However, this is something that I even see amateur photographers do when they’re not using phone cameras (and it drives me crazy). It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and just wildly snap because you think speed is the game. It is not the game. Take a breath, look at your frame, and make sure you aren’t cutting off the top of anyone’s head, hat, or really any body part. If it was on their body to begin with, chances are they would like you not to lop it off violently in a photograph. Obviously, you don’t need to shoot full-length photographs of every person ever, but my general rule of thumb is once you get to the knees, you include all of it. Obviously, rules are meant to be broken and you may have exceptions. But most likely, if you’re just taking some pics of your bestie for her feed, you’re going to want to get just her torso or the whole thing. You can’t half-shin anything. It looks very awkward to have someone cut off at the ankles. You were so close. Now no one will know if they were wearing funny shoes, or if they have flippers for feet. Don’t do that to the people. Give them the whole picture.
3. IT’S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY (THANK GOD).
For some reason, I have gotten the feeling that many people assume sunny conditions are fantastic for photos. I am sorry for anyone who believes this, but it is not fantastic for photos. In fact, bright sun is often the bane of many photographers’ existence because it is the least flattering light on pretty much any human. This is especially the case with mid-day light, when the sun is directly above us in the sky. Have you ever turned on the overhead lights in your living room, and everyone has dramatic bags under their eyes and weird nose shadows? Mid-day sun is the earth’s unattractive ceiling fan light fixture. If you have professional equipment or reflectors, then you can make it work, but if you have any alternative to full sun, it’s always better to try and gravitate there. If there’s a tree that can provide some nicer dappled lighting, or a building that has open shade, that will be your best bet. Shade or the diffused light from a cloudy day are going to provide a much softer, and more flattering, light to shoot in.
4. BACKLIGHT IS (PRETTY MUCH) ONLY GOOD FOR SILHOUETTES.
This is kind of related to number three, but it’s important to note what direction your light is coming from and how it’s hitting your subject. Just like direct overhead light is not very appealing, full-on backlight doesn’t do many favors for your subject. If you’ve ever tried to take a selfie in front of something bright, like a window, the sky, or your ex’s car on fire, you’ve probably noticed that either you look normal-ish and the cool thing looks way too bright, or the cool thing looks cool and you look like a sad and creepy shadow person. Unless you’re trying to make your subject a silhouette (which can be lovely, but not always what you want), you’ll want to adjust the placement of the subject in regard to the light source. If you rotate so that the light is behind the camera instead of the subject, your subjects will be bathed in this light (just make sure your own shadow isn’t looming over them). If you rotate so that the light source is to the side, there will be a nice gradient of light that falls across your subject. It’s easy to play around with the lighting once you know what doesn’t work.
Here are some incredibly attractive examples that I shot for you while wearing sweatpants.
Now here are two pictures of Lou next to fire.
5. THE ULTIMATE EASIEST PRO MOVE EVER.
This is my favorite tip and one that I use 👏all 👏the👏time. All the time. I used it this past weekend when I was tipsy and waiting for a guy to get out of the bathroom:
It’s my favorite iPhone thing, and I’m surprised at the amount of people who don’t know about it.
As one of my college professors so eloquently put it, “Cameras are stupid.” Cell phone cameras, and really any cameras in “auto” mode, are super smart but can only do so much. They read the whole frame and take an average of all the light to guess what your exposure should be. So when you have something in your frame that is overwhelmingly dark or bright, the camera is going to throw off your average and make the scene a little darker or lighter than you’re seeing it with your super awesome human eyes. I’m sorry to have brought math into this.
Whenever you’re taking a photo that has a particularly bright or “hot” spot, that area is considered to be “blown out;” it has no information there. It works similarly with a crushed shadow. The goal with exposure is to have as much information, or detail, as you can. This means you don’t have full on white or black blobs where your highlights or shadows are.
The great thing about this little iPhone camera feature is that you can override your camera’s auto-exposure. Just tap on the area that is blown out (or a really dark shadow area) - a little yellow square should pop up with a tiny sun symbol. Click on that sun symbol and drag it up and down to adjust the exposure. The goal is to bring the brightness or shadow in that area up or down until you can actually see details. This will usually make the image look a little more how you see it with your eyes.
Have an example from my own phone screen:
This takes actually 2 Mississippis and can make normal photos look super dramatic, it can get rid of glowing spots, it can take bomb a** concert photos.
It doesn’t really ever hurt to try to use this feature, either. It can take your photos to a more professional level instantly, because you have now taken the exposure into your own hands (lol) and not let the phone computer guess what the brightness should look like for you. This is your chance to show the robot who’s boss.
*side note, touching the screen is also the autofocus. So if you’ve got a subject that isn’t smack in the middle of the frame, by clicking on the subject, your camera will automatically ensure it’s focused properly. You can hold it down to “lock” it, if you’re worried about it snapping back to its auto position.
Okay, those are all five of my super quick and easy tips to immediately upgrade your cell phone photo game. Did you have a favorite tip? Do you have other quick tips that you think would be helpful? Share them below!
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