1. Find great lighting
PHOTOGRAPHY is all about capturing light in a specific moment in time. It does not matter what camera or lens you have, bad light equals bad photos. If you’re shooting close-ups, look for diffused and even lighting. Always be mindful about where your light source is coming from. Bump your ISO levels if you have to but don’t use your camera’s flash. It’s almost always underpowered and can introduce harsh shadows around your subject. Garbage in, garbage out – garbage light, garbage photos. Simple as that.
2. Learn to compose
Photography is artistry. You’re composing an image not taking a picture. Learn the basics such as the Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is a simplified version of the Golden Mean. The ancient Greeks used it for designing architecture. It’s also a mathematical rule that proposes the most aesthetically pleasing ratio to the human eye.
There’s a lot of modern painters that use this rule. Another one is the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Spiral; you see this pattern a lot in nature. Compose outside these ratios and you’re introducing dissonance and chaos to your image. The viewer will have nothing to focus on.
The composition can make or break an image. I use the Golden Mean for my compositions and then break them. But there are no hard fast rules to the composition. Yet, if you derive from the basic rules to form your own compositions, you can find your own style. Once you’re aware of the rules, you can break these rules.
Experiment. Try to crop your image tight and drop white spaces. Too much white spaces will distract from the subject and introduce flatness. Don’t just focus on your subject, pay attention to the background. Know how much of the background complement or distract from your subject. Know when it’s too much or too little in the frame. If you’re trying to portray scale, you will have more of it.
Don’t ever use the zoom function of your camera to crop! Use your feet to zoom in. Your smartphone is not equipped with a zoom lens and will always use digital cropping, which is a useless function – take the frame and then crop later if you have to.
Use leading lines to lead the viewer to something interesting in the frame, like your subject.You’re telling a story with your pictures and you want your viewer to be a part of the image. Experiment with different angles and challenge yourself to shoot from a different perspective. It might just give you the extra edge to take the image to the next level.
Camera blur, when not intentional, is the number one killer of images. That’s why most if not all professional photographers always use a tripod when appropriate.
Some smartphone cameras have Image Stabilisation. If yours don’t, find a way to steady your hands or your smartphone. I sometimes place my smartphone low so I can sandwich it between the ground and my hands.
Use a Gorrilapod if you have it. Plant the camera somewhere solid where you can decrease camera shake. This is especially more important during low light scenes.
If there’s a wall, I brace either the smartphone or my body to decrease camera shake. I also use the self-timer on the camera to avoid the first movement, caused by pressing the shutter.
4. Set your shooting resolution to max
There’s almost no reason to set this low. The argument against it is that you might need more storage or run out of storage space. In this day and age to have a problem with storage is just crazy. You can use Google photos, Flickr, or any other cloud storage to back up your images and free up more storage on your camera.
Storage should not be an issue. Free up storage on your phone by storing it on the cloud. Go to your smartphone camera’s settings and set that resolution to its highest. If your smartphone can shoot raw images, use that and don’t look back.
5. Focus on the brightest spot on the frame and lock it to avoid blowing out highlights
Sunset/sunrise scenes are the toughest scenes to shoot with a smartphone. Such high contrast scenes high dynamic range that your smartphone could never capture. The human eye (with the brain) can resolve almost 24 stops of dynamic range.
Here’s some technical jargon over matter that I’m not going to discuss here. Since the phone can probably only resolve seven stops of dynamic range. Pick the lesser of two evils, dark shadows or blown highlights. Blown highlights just look bad. It looks unnatural and once it’s blown out, it’s gone. The information can’t be recovered. It will look like pure white in your image.
When you point your phone at the image you will capture, it will focus on the centre of the frame. If you refocused it to a subject under shadows or is dark, it will try to metre that subject. Check your screen and refocus it to the brightest spot. If it can’t focus there, point it to the brightest spot and move it back to your composed frame and take the picture. You can see all this happening on your LCD screen. If it’s equipped with a histogram you can see the details start clipping to the right. So make sure you’re not clipping out your highlights. A little bit is acceptable but too much is unnatural.