5 tips to improve your mobile photography skills

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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
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Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

It’s no secret that the digital age has transformed all of us into shutterbugs, which has created an explosion of amateur photojournalists and news anchors across social media. This is a wonderful, beautiful thing, no matter how the naysayers may grumble about the finer points of the subject. The world and all its happenings has opened up before our eyes, and it’s been brought closer to us in ways we could not have predicted a generation ago. Higher levels of tech and an increased accessibility have also made it possible for us to monetize an activity that would otherwise have remained little more than a fun pastime for the majority of us. However, on the flipside, increased accessibility has also created higher levels of competition when attempting to earn extra cash from your photography efforts. If you want to make some money by uploading your photos to stock image sites, or by selling them in print format, your photos will need to be 10 times better than your competition’s. That's why I'm focusing on five entry-level tips that will help you upgrade your mobile photography chops, so that you can gain the most benefit from your mobile photography efforts. But please keep in mind – these tips are not rules. Even if I do sound a little over-enthusiastic (I just really love photography), you can always experiment with your own flair. 

1) When focusing on landscape or scenic photos (gorgeous cathedrals with soaring spires, ancient ruins in faraway lands, or the crowded Long Library inside of Trinity College in Dublin), opt for long exposure photos to blur away crowds and bring focus to the scene itself. Done properly, this effect grants an artistic twist to your photo and sharpens the focus on what was important about the shot in the first place.

2) Do not use zoom! I sound mean when saying this, especially since this is reflexive for all of us (goodness knows I’m still inclined to do it), but please fight the urge! It just makes everything look grainy, pixelated, blurred – three words you never want attributed to your photography. You may want nothing more than to dabble in photography so you can post your photos to social media and flaunt your latest adventures, but you should always want clear, sharp pictures; better pictures get more likes. The more you apply that digital pinch-to-zoom feature, the more sensitive your mobile camera becomes to hand-shake, and what you end up with is blurry, pixelated photos. You have two options at this point: a) move in closer to your subject; or b) invest in a clip-on lens accessories. (Moment makes a good mobile telephoto lens for about $100, and I’ve personally had good luck with that one.)

3) Don’t use flash. It’s another reflexive action when trapped in dark locales, but what usually happens is that the light from your mobile phone’s flash bounces off of what you’re trying to highlight, and all you end up with is pictures filled with unattractive glare. It’s better to learn how to best utilize natural light or, if using an additional external light source is an option, use it. A great feature on mobile phones is that you can tap different points on your screen while attempting to take a photo to bring focus to something. Want to take a photo of someone, especially their facial features, while sitting inside a darkened theater? Tap the person’s face and you’ll notice a little box appears on your screen – with iOS the box is yellow with a small sun in the corner – and the subject becomes clearer, while the extraneous elements surrounding that focus box dim slightly. The other end of this lighting spectrum occurs when you’re shooting outside at a super sunny location, and the glare of the sun happens to be behind your subject. If it's blacking out all of the other features of your frame, tap somewhere on your screen away from the sun and you’ll see the people or features you’re hoping to capture come into better focus.

4) Take lots of photos, and I mean, roughly, a dozen or more. This is different from using burst mode to capture the best possible action shot. You need to move, adjust your focus, angle, distance, and height off the ground. Out of 15 to 20 photos of a single subject, you might end up with one very good shot that’s worthy of going to post-production editing. Don’t be ashamed of that. It’s better to have 19 pictures that wind up in the digital trash bin, so long as you get that one frame-worthy photo you were aiming for. (Psst! If you’re searching for a place you can print large-scale photos without breaking the bank, we can do that in The Studio! We have an HP DesignJet Z5600 PostScript inkjet printer, capable of printing on a variety of materials and up to 44-inches wide, at your disposal. Drop in during Studio open hours or call to inquire about pricing options.)

5) Instagram filters do not equal editing. I’m sorry. I know they’re fun, but it’s better to be brave and visit The Studio to get your hands on our Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom software, or to learn some hacks for playing around with Google’s free Snapseed editing app for iOS and Android. You’ll get to learn about things like contrast, saturation, and brightness so you can stylize your pics. The editing apps for your phone are accessible anywhere – when you visit us in The Studio, you’ll always find the smiling face of one of our staff members who can help you take your mobile photography to the next level.

I hope these tips have sparked your interest, and don’t forget to add any of your own ideas for improving your mobile photography in the comments section down below. 

*As a side note about choosing your mobile phone: If you love mobile photography, don’t be ashamed of keeping your eye on the photography specs when buying your phone. Our mobile devices are basically a permanent accessory these days, so why not get a phone whose specifications reflect your interests, uses and lifestyle? Don’t be afraid to break out of your iOS or Android comfort zone if it means getting a phone that’s more useful to you. I know how counterintuitive it sounds when someone says move outside the electronic ecosystem you may have established over several years, but with most storage and streaming services moving to the Cloud, and with most phones being relatively equal in most respects, people don’t need to worry as much about moving back and forth between Android and iOS. With mobile phone companies locked in a deadly battle to garner your business, their biggest selling points are the improvements they make to their cameras with each successive generation of phones. Honestly, though, everyone knows we’re all just waiting for 5G speeds, or until they release an update that allows us to integrate our phone’s software directly into our brains and interact with it hologram-style like Tony Stark.