This is part two of my blog series Blog Photography 101. If you missed the first post, you can read it here.
Hi everyone! One of the very first things that I hear when someone talks about taking photos for their blog is how they wish they could afford or learn how to use those big fancy cameras so that their photos could look as polished and amazing as so-and-so (insert famous blogger here). While there is no denying that better equipment has an impact on the quality of the image, I am here to tell you that you can take powerful and compelling images from the camera you have in your hand every single day; your smartphone. Every image that is in this post was taken and edited directly within my iPhone 5 or my husband’s iPhone 4s, including the title image. Today I am going to tackle the tips and tricks I use to shoot with my smartphone, and next week I will show you some of my favorite apps for editing photos to really make them stand out.
First off, there are a couple of settings that make taking pictures with your smartphone much easier. If you go into the settings for your camera (my iPhone’s camera setting screen is shown below), there is a toggle for turning on the grid (I believe they are called guidelines on an Android-powered phone). I use the grid all the time to make sure my lines are straight as I am taking a picture. No more crooked horizon lines for you!
In addition to making sure your horizon is straight, the grid is also a powerful composition tool. The places that the grid lines intersect are considered the best places to have your subject in an image, not the center like you would think. This is called the rule of thirds and it is one of the primary rules of great composition. If you would like some links to the other rules, hit me up in the comments section 🙂
The second setting I use a lot is the HDR setting. This one is found directly on the camera itself so you can turn it on and off with ease. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. The process is actually an old one that was used with film cameras and it has recently made a comeback within our smartphones. What the HDR setting does for you is take two or three different exposures and combine them into a single image. What that means for you is that it brings out details (both dark and light) that a single shot might lack.
The middle picture in this composite above is a combination of the darker image at the top and the brighter image at the bottom. In the middle image, you can see the brighter light on the rosemary I was chopping like in the bottom image, but you can also still see the logo engraved on my knife like in the top image. HDR doesn’t work for every situation, (moving subjects are a challenge because it is actually taking three images and combining them into a single image so if there is much movement while the picture is being taken, it will show in the final image) but for most situations, HDR is a great way to get more out of your smartphone’s camera.
Taking The Shot
Now that you have the grid set up and HDR on (for this experiment at least), it is time to take the shot. Just get into your camera, hold it up and tap the shutter button on the screen, right? Nope, not if you want the best possible result from your image. First, open your camera and get the subject lined up (preferably on one of those grid line intersections we were talking about). Now, tap the subject on the screen. If you are using an iPhone, there should be a yellow square surrounding the subject and the screen may lighten or darken depending on the subject. What you have just done is told the camera that this is where you want your focus to be (I do not know if this is the same on the native Android camera app, but there is a free app called Open Camera that allows you to do this). If you are taking a series of pictures and you want that focus point to remain the same, tap and hold that point on the screen and you will see a message that says AE/AF lock. That means that the camera will continue to focus on and expose for that point. (Side note, it is really hard to take a screenshot of the camera while trying to focus it! So pay no attention to the fact that my son isn’t lined up on the grid lines like I told you to do 😉 )
Finally, it is time to take the shot. There are a couple of different ways to actually take a picture on a smartphone. The first of course, is to tap the shutter button on the screen. Another lesser known way is to use the volume up button on the side of your phone. I prefer this way because it feels more like using a regular camera and it gives me a bit more control. For selfies and other times that you need to be a bit further away from your phone to take the picture, you can also use the headphones that came with your smartphone. Pressing the button on the microphone that answers a call also presses the shutter down to take the picture.
All of this may seem slightly overwhelming to remember at first, but it will make a world of difference in the photos you take. Taking a second or two to prepare and set up the shot the way you really want it will yield better results than you could have ever thought of from your smartphone.
Don’t miss next week’s installment where I go over my favorite tips, tricks, and apps for editing your new awesome photos directly from your phone! Now I want to hear from you. How much do you shoot with your phone for your website? What kinds of photos do you shoot with it? If you have any questions, shoot me a line and I will try to cover it in a future post. Can’t wait to hear from you!