I grew up in a time when any photos taken were on film and sent off to be developed. Going to the photo counter to pick them up a week later was an event filled with anticipation. They handed you your prints, and you quickly thumbed through them like a mafia member counting cash. The envelope would include a collection of blurry shots mixed with an occasional completely black print with hopefully one or two great photos. Times have changed obviously as digital technology has revolutionized photography. The most profound part of this evolution is the advancement of cameras on cell phones.
In many cases, these cameras are far superior to even high-end film cameras of the past. Great resolution and ease of use are just two points. Even with the advancement and simplicity of these handy cameras, many people still have trouble “getting the shot.” Fear not; I am here to offer you a brief guide on how to take a good photo.
Before you take that next selfie, let’s look at some basics to help you nail it. First off is cleanliness. It is essential to make sure your camera lens is clean before you start snapping shots. Take heed, my fellow shutterbugs. Be careful what you clean the lens with. While your shirt may seem an easy solution, you can end up scratching the lens if the material is rough. At a restaurant and just grabbing a paper napkin to clean it? Just go ahead and throw your phone in the trash because you are destroying the lens. Ok, that’s a bit over the top, but you get my point. The lens is the most critical camera part if you are looking for good photos. Always use a softer material like a microfiber cloth to clean any smudges off your camera lens.
Now we need to think about our shot. This is where we compose the photo. There is a principle called the rule of thirds. This composition guideline places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two-thirds more open. Most cameras have a grid option which can be helpful when you are just learning to use this new rule. When you are composing the shot, avoid having the subject directly in the middle. Using the rule of thirds makes for some professional-looking images. While framing the image, be conscious of what else is in the shot. Do your best to avoid busy backgrounds. We want the focus to be on our subject, not the drunk hobo in the background.
Remember when your high school geometry teacher said you would use these skills after you graduate? They were right. Getting a good shot is all about angles. Shooting an image at an off angle gives it depth and character, while shooting things straight on often resembles a mug shot. I was schooled on this concept by a friend. She would ask me to grab a shot of her at events. I snapped the pic and handed her the phone only to hear, “yeah… let’s try that again”. She then directed me to shoot the picture slightly downward at an off angle from a slightly elevated position. The result was not just better, it was dramatically better. Tip of my hat to my friends and all the ladies that have mastered this composition gold.
The next thing we need to look at is light. This is the weakness of most cell phone cameras; they simply do not do well in low-light environments. A quick scan of Amazon will show us about a thousand different lights designed for cell phone photography and videography. While many of these work well, I believe that nothing beats natural light. Diffused natural light gives us a warm deep image. Look for a window to act as a light source. This is especially effective in the early morning and late afternoon. If you do need to use an external light, place it at an angle to the subject to avoid washing them out. Move it around to find the most dramatic shadows you can get.
Now it’s time to press the shutter button. While this may seem the least complicated of what we are looking at, it is a big problem for many people. A shaky hand hitting the button too hard will cause the camera to move and blur the image. I am a big fan of tripods because they not only allow you a steady shot but also give you angle options that shooting by hand doesn’t allow. We also have options for activating the shutter. Some phones, like Samsung’s Galaxy Note series, include a stylus that doubles as an inconspicuous remote shutter button and can be concealed in your hand or pocket when you’re ready to take the shot. Some android phones can even be set up to take the photo by voice command as well. Another visit to Amazon will show you a variety of remote camera systems for all phones.
Lastly, it is important to experiment. Go into your phone’s camera settings and start playing with it. Most cameras have a manual mode that allows you to control everything from shutter speed to f-stop. Give it a try and see what you can do. I encourage you to shoot your images at the highest resolution possible. This will give you the highest quality photo. A quick note here on cloud storage. If you are a fan of ditching your pics to the cloud, make sure you know what that will do to the resolution. Most cloud storage solutions will compress the photos and reduce the resolution simply to save space. If you have a really good pic, save it to a hard drive. Taking good photographs is not hard. It just takes a moment to line up all the important parts to get the best shot.