Good quality photography is essential in promoting your business. In the most basic way, it shows off your products, people and processes but it does so much more than that. It speaks to the stature and quality of your brand, it helps tell your story – a thousand words at a time, and it helps you create a much more personal interaction with your audience.
The problem with great photos is that they come at a price. Even for a business with a decent turnover, having a professional photographer on tap for week-on-week content creation is an expensive proposition. Even if you work your way up to DSLRs and a collection of pro-quality lenses, there may still be situations when a professional photographer is the best option: head-shots, product shots and event photography to name a few.
We’re not talking about that today. We’re talking high volume, consistent output. Quality and quantity. The stuff you want to put on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc. At the entry level, the solution is to use the camera that’s already in your pocket. The one you take pretty much everywhere you go. Your smartphone camera.
With every generation, these little cameras get better and better and having a current, high-end phone allows you to take pretty eye-popping photos but having a few nifty techniques up your sleeve will allow you to squeeze even more out of your phone. If you have a midrange smartphone, or if your phone is a couple of years old, don’t worry, I’m writing this blog with mid-range smartphones in mind so you too can practice snapping away with these principles and techniques in mind and get great, professional quality results.
Mid-range is enough °¬)
All the photos in the blog post have been taken with my Moto G MK-II. At £140 (USD$180) it’s very much an affordable, mid-range phone. Mine’s a18 months old and although the lens has been around the block a few times, you can see, it’s still capable of taking great shots.
The photos in this post were taken with two clients in mind. The first is a fictitious adventure company who do adventure tours up here in the highlands of Snowdonia and the second is my wife who has a food blog at plantified.com
Download my FREE Smartphone Photography Cheat-Sheet and keep it on your phone and start practicing today!
Dos and Don’ts!
Before we get into composition, I want to address a few basic dos and don’ts with smartphone photography.
- Don’t shoot in low light. You’ll get low colour saturation and a lot of noise.
- Don’t shoot high-speed action. You’’re likely to end up with motion blur and most of your shots will be unusable.
- Don’t shoot in harsh lighting environments. You’ll get blown-out highlights and loss of detail in your shadow areas
- Don’t use the digital zoom. It just uses a portion of the sensor and then blows it up. This just reduces the, sharpness and overall quality of the photos.
- Do take loads of photos. You can always delete the bad ones but repetition is the mother of skill so the more you take, the more you’ll improve.
- Do hold the phone still. Gently squeeze the volume button or touch the screen lightly. You want to take each shot without the body of the phone moving. Generally, due to the sensor and lens sizes of smartphone cameras, they’re prone to motion blur. By being mindful of this, you’ll see a huge improvement in your photos immediately.
- Do turn the flash off. Use as much available light as you can and avoid using the flash unless you’re after snap-shot, higher contrast shots.
- Clean the lens. Yes! A clean lens is massively important. It’ll increase your contrast and avoid that nasty, greasy soft focus look you see so often on Facebook!
This is where the fun really starts. With improved composition, you’ll wring more out of very scene and really take your pics to the next level. Firstly I’ll look at some foundational principles of photographic composition that will help your improve your photography with any camera you have. Then I’ll look at specific smartphone-friendly tricks that play into the strengths of smartphone cameras.
1. Rule of thirds
This is definitely photography 101 but has stood the test of time ‘cos it works. Imagine that your screen is cut into thirds. Both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject matter on these lines – or at the intersection of these lines. Avoid sticking a horizon line dead centre. Shift it up or down depending on what makes a more interesting photo. Put that tree or skyscraper on one of the vertical thirds instead of right down the middle.
2. Symmetrical Composition
You can break the first rule if you are photographing a symmetrical scene. This can be a really great way to get an engaging and interesting photo. The non-symmetrical elements in the photo can still benefit from being on one of the thirds lines. Say for instance, if you’re photographing a train track going off into the distance. Keep the horizon line (or bridge or tunnel etc) on one of the horizontal thirds lines.
3. Look for Layers
Give the viewer context and take them on a journey. Look for at least three layers in photos. You won’t always find them – and you won’t always need them! But if you look for them you’ll find them when it’s right for the photo you’re taking. Instead of a photo of a mountain range, find a rocky outcropping in the foreground and a cottage or a river in the mid-ground and suddenly your photo will become so much more dramatic.
Smartphone Specific Composition Rules
Shoot at 90 degrees to your subject matter. Either straight down or profile or square to your subject. This plays to the strengths of smartphones which typically have wide angle lenses with small apertures. Everything-in-focus shots work really well and you’ll notice that using this technique mens that your smartphone photos lose that snap-shot feel.
Forced Short Depth of Field (DOF)
We all love those photos with sharp subject matter and that lovely blurred, defocussed area behind and in front of the subject. This is known as short depth of field. Again, due to the small sensor and lens size in smartphone cameras it’s hard to get this effect. There’s also a limit to how much manual control you have over the camera settings which doesn’t help.
However, you can force short depth of field in your photos. It won’t be suitable for every type of photo but where appropriate, it can be very effective. Firstly, get close to your subject matter (small subjects work better than large). Secondly, make sure there’s a good gap between your subject and it’s background. Thirdly, still make sure that your composition is interesting (ie. don’t sacrifice an otherwise great photo to try to get some background blur!)
This will nicely isolate your subject from the background.
Experiment with angles
As well as your staples of landscape and portrait orientation, try mixing it up. Trying shooting at 30° or 45°. Get down low or shoot from different angles that you’re used to. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and see what you learn!
Have fun with it and share!
Join our new Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/Rocketland and share the photos you’ve taken. We’d love to see how you’re experimenting and finding new ways of telling your brand’s story in pictures.
In my next post we’re going to turn your fab new photos into some polished assets for social media using some great free online resources. Before you know it, you’ll be creating your own Instagram quote-cards and memes, Facebook photo-montages and other great photo-based items.
If you have any thoughts or questions on this or any other area of visual communications and content marketing, please comment below.
Take a load of great photos and I’ll catch you next time!