How to take a good picture: 5 tips for smartphone photography

We have a better camera in our pocket now than the best camera in the world 40 years ago, so it should be easier than ever to get a photo you love. I am of the belief that as an iPhone owner I have a responsibility to know how to take a decent photo (which is not a responsibility I take lightly people)!

It’s that time of year where everyone is looking for the perfect family picture for their Christmas card or Facebook cover photo. Long gone are the days of waiting for film to develop or needing the world’s most expensive camera to get a great looking family portrait.

But we are in the days of smart phones. And the smart phone days provide a new challenge all of their own.

We have a better camera in our pocket now than the best camera in the world 40 years ago, so it should be easier than ever to get a photo you love. I am of the belief that as an iPhone owner I have a responsibility to know how to take a decent photo (which is not a responsibility I take lightly people)!

I’ve written a lot about my faith lately, so today I wanted to tackle a different topic that will hopefully come in handy the next time you’re asked to take a photo for someone. You never know, you just might hear, “wow that’s a great photo, you should be a photographer.” And you can say, “why thank you, I am.”

As someone in marketing, I do own a nice DSLR camera, but sometimes using a smart phone is just plain easier. And I’ve learned a lot of tricks to make this powerful rectangle take even better pictures. Most poor photos taken from a smart phone are operator error, and this week I’m on a mission to reduce those errors. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll be well on your way to taking great pictures with your phone.

Rule #1 Clean your lens!

Have you ever snapped a photo and noticed the picture turned out kind of hazy or foggy looking? Most people think it’s just bad lighting (which it could be), but probably 80% of the time you can fix this issue by simply cleaning your lens.

Think about the front of your phone and how finger prints, dirt, and grease end up clouding the screen. How often do you find yourself wiping it down to make it look clean again? Well if that stuff ended up on the front of your phone, it’s certainly ended up on the lens of your camera. Give it a quick wipe down with something soft like your shirt or scarf and you’ll notice an instant improvement in the qualify of your photo.

This is one of the simplest tricks, and it can have the most impact, so keep this one in mind and make it a habit to do it every time before you take a picture. Every. Time.

Rule #2 Grids on Grids on Grids

iPhone users, go to your settings and select ‘camera’ and turn on the ‘grid’ toggle. This will add a grid when you open your camera which will help you keep your photos level.

It might be a little weird the first time you use it, but keep the grid on and soon you won’t even notice it’s there. Too many photos have been ruined by someone unknowingly tilting the camera one way or the other. The grid lines help keep everything straight.

Let’s say for example you’re taking a picture of someone in front of the fire place when they’re home for the holidays. Use that grid line to make sure the mantle is level. Easy. (If you want to get more advanced with your picture taking skills using the grid system, talk to me sometime about the “rule of thirds” which is using the grid lines to put the most important pieces of the photo on the intersection of the lines instead of directly in the center of the picture).

Rule #3 Hold the phone higher

Especially you shorties out there! As a relatively tall person I have an advantage on this one, but nothing drives me crazier than asking someone to snap a photo of my husband and I and then watching them hold the phone down by their belly button trying to snap a photo like an elderly man trying to read a label without his glasses.

Hold that phone higher than you think you should, and then go just a bit higher for good measure. For one it captures more of the background and gives the camera a better idea of the light in the room, and two it provides a much more flattering angle for the subjects. No one likes a double chin, so hold that phone up higher.

Rule #4 Use natural light

If you’re taking a photo inside never point the camera toward a window. Tell the subjects to trade you places so their faces are filled with that beautiful natural light pouring through the window. When someone stands with their back to the window their face inevitably turns to shadows and the light around them blasts them out. Natural light is the most flattering for people, so use it to your advantage and always encourage people to stand facing a window.

If you’re outside, natural light isn’t an issue, but you definitely need to pay attention to shadows. If it’s sunny don’t stand in the sun. Instead find some shade and make sure everyone is fully in the shade.  You’ll notice later if one person’s face is being hit by the sun through some leaves and everyone else is in the shadow. Shade is the best way to use natural light without the harsh shadows that come from standing directly in sunlight.

Rule #5 Lose the zoom.

Never, let me repeat, never use the manual zoom. Unless you want a fuzzy picture designed to be abstract art, do me a favor and pretend your zoom button does not exist. If you want to zoom in…wait for it… walk closer!

And Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal, because more often than not, the closer you are to your subject the better the picture.

Trust me, there have been times I feel that I’m invading a stranger’s personal space as I tell them “one more” and creep so close to them they start getting nervous. But almost without exception they see that up-close picture and say “wow that’s an awesome picture.” So suck it up, and get close.

Now it’s your turn

Smartphone owners it’s time to start taking your camera responsibility seriously. These five simple rules will improve your photos one hundred fold and increase the likelihood of capturing that perfect photo for yourself or someone else.

In Him,

Kirsten Elsa

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