With the advent of smartphones and social media, it has never been easier to take pictures and share them instantly with the world. It’s crazy to think that just ten years, most of us were walking around with flip-phones in our pockets; and don’t even get me started on the cameras those phones had…
I can’t help but think of the pics I could’ve posted had Instagram existed when I did my study abroad in Italy back in 2008. Needless to say, I have to go back!
Anyways, fast forward to the present, and everyone has a smartphone, and almost everyone has some form of social media, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These platforms have given everyone the ability to share their photography around the world, however, that also means that social media can get cluttered with a lot of subpar pics as well.
In this blog, I’m going to discuss some simple handy tips that will hopefully help everyone step up their photography skills.
One of the most important aspects of photography, which also happens to be the one that gets routinely overlooked, is lighting.
Lighting is so vital for capturing images, yet most people don’t even think about it.
One of the biggest examples of this is using flash. Most people have automatic flash turned on in their camera settings, and it’s the one thing you should just turn off when using the camera, especially if you’re at any sort of live performance, like a concert.
First of all, it’s just kind of rude to have the flash on when you’re taking a pic of a performing artist, and second of all, the final product just looks terrible.
Now that you’ve all turned the flash off, you can focus on other ways you can improve the lighting. Nothing affects the mood of your photo more than that.
It took me years to realize that I could easily adjust the lighting settings on the camera. Now, I’m constantly tinkering with it, making sure it looks just right. You never want to be too over or under-exposed.
Everyone is probably aware of the “Golden Hour”, that magical time just after sunrise and just before sunset. During this period, the light has a soft wondrous glow that heightens the environment, thus making it an ideal time to take pictures.
For a perfect example of a film using the golden hour, watch The Revenant. Almost the entirety of the film was shot during this period, earning now legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki his third Oscar in a row.
Obviously, these periods of the day are ideal for taking pictures. But you also don’t have to limit yourself to just these times. In general, it’s always good to consider what part of the day you’re snapping pics.
Of course, if you’re taking pictures at noon, pay attention to how bright your environment is, and if that’s better or worse for what you’re trying to get.
Take advantage of shadows and your surroundings to create mood and atmosphere in your pictures. Think of films like The Godfather or The Third Man for good examples.
This picture was taken around 7 am. Notice the soft warm lighting, and how the sunshine reflects off the buildings.
This is from the same location, but taken right at Noon, when everything is at its brightest. Notice the differences between this picture and the one taken in the morning.
Instead of always have your subject facing the sun, place them in between you and your light source to get some cool silhouette effects.
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to shake up your photography skills is simply your camera placement.
So often, people just take pictures from chest level without giving much thought to how else they could have taken them.
Whenever I’m taking pics, I always like to try mixing things up and playing with different heights, angles, etc. It can be as simple as taking a picture from close to the ground to distinguish yourself from everyone else. This really comes in handy when you’re traveling, and probably posting pics of famous buildings, monuments, and whatever other kinds of things or places that are pure Instagram bait. Conversely, I frequently try to line up my subjects so they’re perfectly centered in the frame.
It’s well known that I’m a film nerd, and so whenever I’m taking pics, I try to think about films and filmmakers I love and draw inspiration from their visual style. So, when I talk about centering, I’m thinking about filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Wes Anderson.
In addition to where you put the camera, also consider where and how everything in the frame is in relation to each other. Do your photos have depth, are they dynamic, do they have energy?
How you place things within your frame can tell a powerful story. Think about the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Are your pictures worth a thousand words? When I’m out taking pics, I’m constantly playing around with how I frame things, giving certain objects or individuals perhaps more attention than others.
These little adjustments can drastically change the focus of your photos. For some more cinematic examples, think of filmmakers who gained prominence in the ’70s, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma with films such as Jaws, Taxi Driver, and Carrie.
The final element I want to talk about is the use of filters. I love using filters. They’re a great tool for emphasizing certain elements of your pictures.
Just like lighting, they can help accentuate whatever type of mood or emotion you’re hoping to express. When I’m getting ready to post something on Instagram, I easily devote more time to getting the right filter than anything else. I tend to drive myself crazy trying to find the perfect filter for whatever picture I’m getting ready to post. It’s actually pretty ridiculous. I think too hard about it and stress myself out!
While on vacation in New Zealand last fall, my friends and I visited Hobbiton, where The Lord of the Rings was filmed.
The image on the left is the original image I took on my iPhone, while the one on the right has a filter added. I wanted to highlight the lush, vivid environment of Hobbiton, so I chose a filter that really made the colors pop!
Speaking of filters, I feel like people don’t take enough advantage of the black and white filters. Black and white photography has a certain beauty to it that doesn’t get enough attention. It takes perfect advantage of shadows and mood like I was talking about earlier.
Arguably the two most beautiful films I saw last year were in black and white: Roma and Cold War. Unsurprisingly, both were nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars, with Roma ultimately winning the prize.
You probably don’t have to get as intense as me when picking your filters, but definitely give it some thought the next time your posting something.
Also, don’t forget about the different places you can get filters. As well as the ones on Instagram, I also regularly make use of the filters on the iPhone itself. There are also several apps made especially for using filters.
So, this blog was supposed to be my break from talking about films, and just focus on some handy picture taking tips, yet I still somehow found a way to ramble on about movies as well!
I hope I didn’t bore you, and even more importantly, I hope I conveyed some useful knowledge about smartphone photography.
If that’s not the case, and I ended up just completely wasting your time, with no useful information whatsoever; I guess leave me a comment below so I can get better? Maybe.