“The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You” – Chase Jarvis, professional photographer
4 Skills That Separate Great Smartphone Photographers from Amateurs
Smartphone cameras are quickly coming to rival the quality of professional cameras. For instance, when professional photographer Lee Morris decided to test claims that the iPhone 7 Plus produced DSLR-quality photos, he was surprised to find that Apple’s smartphone not only held its own, but even surpassed DSLRs in certain respects. With features like dual-lens cameras, 4K capability and Quad-LED flash, today’s smartphones are giving the average phone owner equipment capable of taking professional pictures. But no matter how sophisticated smartphone camera technology gets, you still need certain skills to get professional-quality pictures from your iPhone or Android device. Here are four skills that separate great smartphone photographers from amateurs.
Capturing a Moment
A good photograph captures a moment in time that tells a story, says freelance photographer Jacob Maentz. You can tell a story by selecting a shot where the arrangement of the elements in the frame suggests a sequence. For instance, a picture of a dog looking at the camera with a messy room in the background might suggest a story about how the dog messed up the room.
You can also tell a story by capturing a moving subject at a dramatic moment. The famous Ice Bowl photograph of Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr sneaking through the Cowboys’ defensive line into the end zone captures a deciding moment in a classic football game. With sports shots and other moving shots, you may need to anticipate the action in order to time your shot for the best picture.
To capture a moment effectively, you need good composition. Professional photographers optimize their composition by following a guideline called the rule of thirds.
To apply the rule of thirds, you imagine a grid formed by lines dividing your shot into three horizontal rows and three vertical columns, forming nine squares. Place the subject of your shot at one of the nodes formed by the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line. This will keep your subject off-center, thereby shifting your viewer’s visual focus toward your subject. A common amateur mistake is placing your subject in the dead center of your shot, which runs contrary to how the human eye focuses when viewing a picture.
Most leading smartphones now include a digital grid feature to assist with composition. For instance, on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, you can turn on gridlines by using the Grid feature under your Settings for Photos & Camera.
To adjust your composition for the best shot, you need to consider your shooting distance and camera angle. Hollywood directors have established standard shot lengths for framing shots, such as the extreme long shot, the long shot, the medium shot, the close up and the extreme close up. There are also standard shot angles, including bird’s-eye view, high angle, eye level, low angle and oblique shots.
Adjusting your distance and angle can change the look and feel of your shot. For example, an extreme close-up view of a tiger’s eye would create a very different effect from a medium shot that showed the animal’s whole head and paws.
You can adjust your distance and angle by physically moving or by adjusting your camera settings. For instance, the iPhone 7 Plus features a Portrait mode, which uses the phone’s dual-camera feature to take a sharper image of foreground elements with a blurrier view of the background, creating effects similar to a DSLR camera.
Once you’ve selected your distance, today’s leading smartphones have an autofocus feature that will instantly adjust your focus. Tap your screen to manually select a focal point.
The lighting you select can have a tremendous effect on the look and mood of your shot. Normally, especially when you’re traveling and you can’t lug around lighting equipment, the best practice is to use natural light and bring your subject into your shot. For the best-quality pictures, shoot at dusk or dawn, when there are fewer harsh shadows than when the sun is high. If you need to shoot in low-light conditions, today’s leading smartphone cameras come with high dynamic range (HDR) imaging capability, which compensates for low light by taking pictures at several different exposures and then creating a composite which brings out the best lighting from each shot.
Depending on what you plan to shoot, using some chosen tools can make a big difference in smartphone photography, to prevent shaking, do time-lapse, slow motion, or even include yourself in the photo once in a while.
Try out, experiment, and have fun.