How to take better photos with your phone - Part 1

March 15, 2018

 

A lot of people think you need a fancy expensive camera to take really good photos but these days camera phones are so advanced, you can take fab photos without spending the extra cash.

 

- Some photos I've taken on my phone - 

 

When you see your child doing something really cute, its typical to quickly  pick up your phone and take a few quick snaps from where you're sitting, without thinking about angles, and then add a filter with Instagram to make it pop. 

 

 

     Quick Snap of Michael - Some Insta filter - Took a second to re-position him 

 

This might sometimes produce a fab photo if the light happens to be right but if you take a few seconds to think about the set up, you can take a fab photo every time!

 

 

The first thing and most important thing you need to think about when taking a photo is :  LIGHT

 

It seems pretty straight forward to know that good light = a good photo, but with phones being able to take photos in lower and lower light, we tend to overlook this and get lazy.

 

However, the less light the camera has to work with, the more effort it has to put into making the photo look nice, and the lower quality it will be. The photo will be noisy (the speckly grain you see on dark photos) but the camera software will then smooth the grain out so you can't see it but this means that the photo will become a bit blurry. This might be fine if you're keeping your photos on your phone, but if you ever plan to print them, this will become very noticeable. 

 

 

See what I mean?

 

FUN FACT - Our eyes actually see these speckles in real life but our brain filters them out. Look at a dark shadow for a bit and you'll notice them. Weird!

 

So even though we can take indoor photos in a dark room, it's much better to find a good source of light. 

 

Lets look at the options.

 

Phone Flash

I NEVER use the flash on my phone, it isn't flattering, ever! The light just bounces off faces, making them look shiny and squinty, bringing out any tiny skin imperfections or redness. There is never a good time to use a phone flash, unless you're in a cave and need a torch.

Switch it off now! 

 

A Window

This really is your friend, (up until night time that is). The window gives much softer and a more even light and being at head level, doesn't leave the bad shadows that being lit directly from above does. 

 

It's important to have the window behind you (but not so your shadow gets in the way) when taking photos. I'll explain why later, but this is the difference it makes!

 

But there'es only an hour between school and it going dark at the moment right? We tend to take more photos of our kids in the evening, they're cuter at bath and bed time but that doesn't mean we can't take photos at those times.

 

Ceiling Light 

This may fill the room with light, but it tends to make photos look very orange and creates unflattering shadows so it's not ideal. If it's dark outside and it's your only option, take the photo with your subject facing the light with their chin up, and turn the 'White Balance' down in the manual camera settings or by using Instagram.

 

The what? White Balance is basically how orange or blue a photo looks. Lights at home and street lights create an orange tinge, whereas a cloudy day will make your photos a bit blue.

 

Too blue (cold) - Normal - Too Orange (warm)

 

Quick tip: On Instagram: select your picture > click next > click 'Edit' instead of 'Filters' > scroll right to find 'Warmth' > swipe the slider to the left to turn it slightly bluer to get rid of the nasty orange tinge. (I'll write more about simple phone photo editing in a later post)

 

The TV

Hey, it's light isn't it? If your child is watching  Paw Patrol really up close like mine do, before you tell them to move away or they'll damage their eyes (any proof for this yet?)  sit next to the TV and take a photo of their nicely lit up face. Their face may look pink or green depending on what they're watching, but if you turn the photo black & white, people will never know! This is mini Michael a few years ago captivated by Peter Pan.

 

 

 

Whichever light source you choose, make sure it is behind you when taking your photo.

(It doesn't have to be DIRECTLY behind you, it can be next to you, just so long as it's not facing towards you)

 

Why?

Cameras, even the most expensive ones aren't as good as our eyes at picking out detail in light and shadows at the same time. That is why its very difficult to get the sky and the land to look good at the same time. So you have to choose to shoot towards light OR dark and let your camera adjust, not both. If you point your camera out the window, it will adjust for outside and look fine, but if you have the window behind your child, it will either adjust for your child and be hazy or adjust for the window and your child will be too dark.

 

 In the first picture, the camera has adjusted for the window, so we can see outside but can't see Woody at all. (Michael gave up on me). In the second picture the camera has adjusted for the shadows, so the window is so light we can't see out, but at least we can see Woody now, although he is hazy. In the third photo, I've turned round and put him in a chair facing the window, he's so lit up and clear now! 

 

 

So now you know which way to face when taking photos, let's look at how at other things you can do to get the best light on your phone camera pictures.

 

 

1. Get the most out of your phone's settings

Have you ever been through all your cameras settings? There's so many! Profile, Night, Food, Pet, Sports, Landscape, even Fireworks! These are all settings that will flatter you subject the most depending on what it is, so take some time to try them all out and use them! If you don't choose one, your phone chooses automatically but phones aren't psychic (yet).

You may have to switch your camera from automatic to manual to change these, but don't be afraid to play around!

 

2. HDR

Another useful setting on your phone. Do you ever get annoyed that your skies are turning out bright white when they are blue in real life? Turn on HDR, and hold still for a second longer as it takes a little white to configure. This will bring out the detail in the lighter and darker parts of the photo.

 

3. Time of day

Just after lunch time on a nice sunny day seems like the best time to take photos right? Nope! The sun is right above you and very bright. If you're facing it, you'll be squinting, if you turn away from it, your face will be too dark. It's actually better to find shade for people photos at this hour. 

The best times are actually the hour after sun-rise and the hour before sunset. This is when you'll find lovely soft light and lovely colours. Also, known as 'The Golden Hour', this is when Photographers come out to play. 

 

4. Hold still

You can now take a photo by pressing your finger to the screen, but that doesn't mean you should. That's a very wobbly way of doing it, instead use the side button, especially if you're holding the phone on it's side. Hold still for 2 seconds after pressing it, this allows the phone to let in a bit more light and reduces blur. Hold your elbows in for extra stability, (especially if you've had a glass of wine).

 

 

All this alone will help you take much better photos, but I haven't finished yet! My next post will be about the very important rules of composition.

 

 

Now go take a photo using everything you've just learned and post it along with your 'before' photo to the Snap Happy Facebook Group.

 

 

Comment or message me with any questions :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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