Tips For The Smartphone Photographer

It's amazing how far smartphone photography has come. Your cell phone now gives you more ability than ever before to capture that great shot. However, not all cell phone photos are created equal. Here are a few ways to make your cell phone photos to stand out from the crowd.

#1) Get The Exposure Right

Imagine you're taking a black and white photo. When you set the focus for that black and white photo, your phone is also using the area you tap on to set the exposure. It takes all the pixels in the area you tap and averages all the values of the pixels together. Then it adjusts the exposure of all those pixels so that they'll appear medium gray (on average) in the final photo. What does this mean in the real world? It means that if you tap your screen to focus on snow, your snow will not look bright white. The exposure will be adjusted until the snow looks medium gray. In fact, everything in your shot will be underexposed.

Exposure Example

You've probably experienced this if you have ever tried to focus on something in a bright sky. Suddenly your picture appears very dark. If you focus on something very dark, your camera adjusts the exposure and the whole photo appears very light, or overexposed. The best thing to do is to find something in your photo that is not too dark or not too light (think "baby bear's porridge") and expose your photo from that object. In the example above, the grey mountains in the background (indicated by the orange box) would be a good place to set the exposure from. The area in the orange box is in that middle-grey zone.

In the photo above, you can see what it would look like if you tapped the sky and then took the picture. As you can see, it's far too dark. Some phones will let you focus on an object and then manually adjust the exposure. If your phone has that as an option and you focus on a bright object, you'll want to be sure to increase the exposure quite a bit before snapping your picture. Conversely, if you focus on a dark object, you'll want to decrease the exposure before taking the picture. At the end of the day, you typically want white objects to be white, black object to be black, and have a good range of tones in between.

#2) Create Depth For More Visual Interest

Depth makes your photos much more engaging and interesting. Telephoto lenses compress distance and wide angle lenses allow you to capture a greater sense of depth. That's great news for cell phone photographers because the cell phone camera has a very wide lens. Pair your wide angle lens with these other tips to achieve maximum depth in your pictures.

  1. Leading Lines - Lines converging in the distance have a great way of drawing the viewer's eye through the photograph to a single point and creating a sense of depth.
  2. Point of View - Shooting a photo in portrait will typically give a greater sense of depth. Try getting lower to the ground to capture more of the foreground in your shot. A lot of depth can be created by ensuring that you have an object in the foreground and in the background. Try to use foreground and background objects that are complementary and objects that don't compete for attention.
  3. Lighting/Shadow - Typically, subjects that are brighter and more vibrant tend to pop out. Darker, less vibrant colors seem to recede. Use light and shadow to manage the depth in your photo.
  4. Overlapping - If there are two objects in a line, then the object in front will obscure the image behind it. When we notice objects overlapping we recreate the space between the two objects in our mind. This creates depth.
  5. Depth of field - Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear to be in focus. If a close object is in sharp focus and everything behind is out of focus, we assume the objects must be far apart. To achieve shallow depth of field with your cell phone, you'll need to come in really close to your subject. Typically, if everything is more than 4.5 feet away from your smartphone, then everything will be in sharp focus. To achieve shallow depth of field you'll need something less than 4.5 ft away and something further away than 4.5 ft.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Blackburn-Wilson Photo Courtesy of Marc Blackburn-Wilson


#3)  Break Photos Down Into Artistic Elements

It can be helpful to think of your photo in terms of the elements that make it up, specifically the elements of art. The elements of art consist of lines, shapes, forms, space, color and texture. Think of how you can use the elements to draw attention to the subject of your photo. For example, let's say you're standing in a forest and you see a trail winding through the trees. The trail serves as a line that you could use to point attention to something in your photo. How can you frame your photo in a way so that the trail leads attention to the subject? In some cases you may want the focus to be on what's missing from the photo, like in the photo of the sky below. If you look at it for a while, you start to see a heart shape. Would you see the heart shape as easily if the sky wasn't red? Red is the color most people expect a heart to be, so the color and the shape support each other.

Outdoor Photography Blog Photo 1

#4) Look Behind You

In photography it's so easy to get wrapped up in everything that's in front of you. The funny part is, the best shot might be 180 degrees away. Always remember to look over your shoulder to see what you might be missing.

#5) The Key To Taking Better Photos...

...is to take pictures of more beautiful subjects. Don't be afraid to get out there and explore. Find that big majestic mountain peak. Show us that awe-inspiring view. If you are in a beautiful setting, then your photos will naturally turn out better.

#7) Stabilize Your Phone

Nothing feels worse than getting home only to discover that the beautiful photo you snapped on the trail is blurry. Stabilization will help you capture the scene with crisp detail. There are several ways you can stabilize your phone. By using a trekking pole and a rubber band you can easily create a DIY tripod. If DIY projects aren't your style, there are plenty of tripods designed to be used with mobile devices. However, there are some situations where you might not want to carry a tripod. In those situations try resting your elbows on your body and lean against an object to " align="alignnone" width="660"]Photo Courtesy of Clement Belleudy Photo Courtesy of Clement Belleudy

I'm not just talking about the contrast slider in your favorite photo app. There is contrast in color, contrast in size and shape, and contrast in texture. The eye is really good at picking out things that drastically different from their surroundings. If
Chris Martin
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Chris Martin
Chris shares his passion for cycling, hiking, skiing, and climbing from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the videographer for Sierra Trading Post, Chris shares outdoor tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your time spent outside. When he's not out adventuring he's making videos or trying to keep up with his 4-year-old son.
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