Beyond the selfie

November 20, 2015

IMAGE_M_smartphone_photos_1How to make your smart phone photos stellar

By Brock Kryton, faculty member, Photography, in the School of Continuing Education (Originally appeared in M Alumni News—Winter 2015/16)

Smartphone photography has really taken off, and the technology in those built-in cameras is improving all the time. Here are five quick and easy tips that will significantly improve your smartphone pics.

Go into the light

A few years ago, I read The Digital Photography Book three-part series by Scott Kelby. I was struck by how Kelby encouraged his readers to think about light the way his friend and landscape photographer Bill Fortney does. Fortney says the single most important thing in a photo isn’t the subject, but the quality of light. Always find great light first—sunrises, sunsets, overcast days or through windows—and then start looking for your subject.

IMAGE_M_smartphone_photos_2Get Close

Combat photographer and photojournalist Robert Capa once said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” He died stepping on a landmine while documenting the Vietnam War, making the statement painfully ironic, but not untrue. Get closer. Don’t be shy. Follow your instincts. 

I did. This photo might look like a shot from an old western movie, but it’s actually two men in deep conversation at a McDonald’s restaurant. I wanted the image and I knew it would be perfect, but I couldn’t get the shot from where I was sitting—even using my zoom. So I got out of my chair and approached the table. They didn’t even notice until I approached them afterwards, and I was glad I made the extra effort.

IMAGE_M_smartphone_photos_3Carpe diem

Don’t tell yourself you’ll get the shot later. You won’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve regretted not taking a shot in the moment. Spectacular or not, large or miniscule—if it sparks something in you, take the photo now. Remember that capturing a great photo sometimes involves sacrifice. Don’t let anything stop you. 

I was travelling down the highway late one autumn evening as the sun was setting, and a fog was rising in the field I drove by. I saw a lone, naked tree in the middle of the field being consumed by the looming darkness. I quickly pulled over and took the shot. I’m thankful I did.

IMAGE_M_smartphone_photos_4Don’t settle. Edit.

There are so many ways to enhance your photos to give them more character, emphasize details and evoke emotion. There are countless third-party apps you can use to bring out more detail in the shadows, add contrast and clarity, or play with filters. Two of my favourites are Snapseed and Phoster.

I was teaching a class one day and one of my students was wearing rubber boots. They had an innate hipster-ish appeal and I knew that with a little tweaking—increasing the brightness, adding a grunge
filter and lens blur—it would be a photo worth sharing.

Get prints

Never print your pics? Bad idea. Make a book and share your work. Most smartphones have eight-megapixel cameras, high enough resolution to print your photos as big as 20 by 30 inches. Instagram
fan? Try using the Chatbooks app that automatically compiles and sends you a book in the mail for every 60 images you post.

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