Recently, I was asked if I’d be willing to speak to a group of Pensacola moms about how to take better pictures of their kids using their smartphones. After having a slight panic attack about public speaking, I accepted. Since I’m sure there are others out there with the same questions, I thought I’d share my presentation.
Besides having experience photographing client’s children, I have 3 of my own – 2 step daughters ages 9 and (almost) 11 as well as an (almost) 2 year old son. So, I totally understand the struggle of trying to take pictures of kids – ESPECIALLY our own kids!
I was asked specifically to talk about cell phone photography, and that’s the plan. But a lot of what I’m going to cover also pertains to getting wall quality photographs with any equipment.
But, let’s start with more cell phone specific advice.
One of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your cell phone pictures is to NOT use the zoom on your phone. Many of us have or had digital point and shoot style cameras and using the zoom on them is fine. But there’s a difference in the zoom on a camera and the zoom on a phone. A camera offers optical and digital zooms, but your cell phone ONLY gives you a digital zoom. A digital zoom works by effectively cropping the photo BEFORE the picture is taken. This causes you to lose a lot of detail. If possible, move closer to your subject, if not possible, take the shot and then crop the actual photo if needed. This way you still maintain the quality of your image.
You should also try to avoid using your flash. Again, there’s a difference in camera flash and phone flash. In fact, the flash on your phone isn’t a “true flash.” It’s actually an LED light. The color temperature is wrong and the “flash” lasts too long, often times leaving you with a washed out subject and a super dark background. Try to use available light when possible – window, lamp, partial shade. If you must use flash, take a few steps back. Doing this will help limit how washed out your subject appears by giving the flash more area to disperse.
This next one may be obvious, but always know where your focus point is. I know on my phone I can tap on the screen where I want the camera to focus. This also sets the exposure (amount of light the lens will let in) as well which can be problematic, but I’ve learned to work with it.
This last point is simple – keep your lens cleaned. Example: Your kids are looking stylish in their Easter best so you whip your cell out of your pocket/ purse/ bra (I can’t be the only one) to take a picture. Yikes, that lens is most likely to have some combination of lint, sweat, lipstick, or a finger print on it. Take two seconds and wipe your lens with a lens cloth or even on your cotton shirt. As a photographer, part of my prep for each session is simply wiping down my lenses with a lint free cloth.
Now that we’ve talked about how to take good pictures with your smartphone, I’ll show you a few that were taken with mine.
This last picture – you may even be wondering why I’m showing you. But, I promise, everything about this shot was done intentionally. I had the late afternoon sun directly to my right and my son and husband walking up at about a 30 degree angle. I knew if i set my focus (exposure) on the bright sky, I’d catch the subtle rays of sun while keeping my fella’s in shadow.
Now I’ll go over some basic photography principles.
And here's the final image.
Now, on to light. Try to avoid direct sunlight. Overcast days and full shade are your friends! But if you do have your subjects in the shade, make sure you’re paying attention to any shadows. You don’t want leafy shadows on your children’s faces. Golden hour is every photographer’s preferred time of day to shoot. It’s the ~40 minutes after sunrise and ~40 minutes before sunset. Golden hour light is just that – golden.
The photo on the left was taken in full shade about 2.5 hours before sunset. And the picture on the right was taken on an overcast day during golden hour. But see how evenly lit everyone is in both photos?
Composition and Posing – Photographers talk about the rule of thirds. It’s pretty simple, if you split a picture into equal thirds horizontally and vertically, you’re left with four points. Those are where you want the interest in your photo to be.
When you want posed subjects instead of candid moments, think about making triangles. You want to “stack” your subjects into a picture. Avoid just putting everyone in a line. In the pictures with just my kids, you can easily see the triangle. In the picture with all four kids, there are actually several triangles.
Also, if there’s an obvious horizon in your photo, try to keep it straight. Many of us tend to place more weight on one foot over the other which automatically causes us to tilt without being aware. This will create tilted horizon lines.
And last but not least, get down on the same level as your subjects. If they’re on the ground, you should be too!
I’ll wrap up by talking a little more about smartphones. When editing your photos, try to avoid filters and instead get a good photo editing app. A good editing app will let you fix crazy horizon lines, adjust exposure and the temperature (color cast) of your picture, as well as many other cool things like playing with highlights and shadows.
The best reviewed app I could find that will work on iPhones, androids, and window phones is PicsArt Photo Studio. It’s free and has plugins you can purchase inexpensively. It also seems to be pretty user friendly. I personally use Snapseed, Adobe Photoshop Express, and Adobe Lightroom Express. The 2 Adobe apps are available in the apple store and from google play. I have a monthly subscription to the full Adobe suite which includes the phone apps so I’m not sure if Photoshop is free but I know Lightroom is. Snapseed is a great, FREE photo editing app.
There’s a saying among professional photographers –
“Your first 10,000 photos are crap.”
That can be a sobering thought, but I think what it’s really telling you is to get out there and get shooting! The more pictures you take, the better your work will be.
Amanda is the prop buying, location scouting, ponytail sporting, flip flop wearing, owner/ operator/ and woman behind the camera for Finding Beauty in the Ordinary Photography.