It was Chase Jarvis that stated, “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. I don’t know about the rest of you but I surely don’t lug my giant DSLR or my clunky film camera around 24/7. My phone…now that’s another story. That thing is like an appendage to me. An extension of my right arm and I’m surprised I put it down long enough to shower. Ok, I may be exaggerating a tad but it truly is the one thing besides my kids that is always by my side. The best part? It has a camera in it and a pretty good one too! I use an iPhone 4 to capture family memories on the go and love every minute of it. Of course I take a gazillion “mommy snaps” with it but I also like to challenge myself to create images I am proud of having taken with just a phone camera. I’m often asked what my secrets are for creating images with my phone so I’ll share some of that with you today. I’ll be speaking specifically with regards to using an iPhone but I’m sure other smartphone brands have essentially the same capabilities. Remember when viewing this post that these images aren’t going to have the focus and clarity of a big camera as they were all taken on a phone. However, a slightly blurry or grainy memory is better than no memory at all and that’s part of our discussion here today.
Many people don’t know that you can set and lock your exposure by tapping on the area you want exposed. For instance, if I want to blow out the window behind my subject, I just tap on the area I want to receive correct or close to correct exposure. When using a phone camera, obviously you don’t have the control you do manually choosing all your settings on a DSLR or film camera so you will still have some underexposure on your subject if they are in heavily backlit situations. Just the opposite is true when tapping and locking exposure on the background. This will expose for the background and give your subject an underexposed, silhouette type look. Just experiment with choosing your exposure and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the control you have over your images.
Me? I live life in the fast lane. To me that means clumsily chasing around a 2 year old and a 3 year old. They are never still, so most of my iPhone images are of them in motion. A little trick to help capture crisp movement is to press and hold the shutter button down and track your subject. When the moment strikes, quickly release your finger from the shutter which will trigger your iPhone to take the shot. The better the light is while trying to capture movement, the faster your shutter speed will be to freeze the moment.
Let’s talk about light for a moment. Light is probably the most important factor in capturing good phone images. Look for ways light is falling on your subject whether it’s window light, a flashlight, a street lamp, light from a computer, TV, or ipad, etc. Strong light can also cast shadows, silhouettes, or reflections so be on the lookout for interesting light patterns. Remember though, single light sources in low light areas will force your phone camera to respond with a slower shutter speed and will introduce a lot more grain and motion blur into your images (which personally I covet).
Another important aspect of capturing striking phone camera images is to utilize negative space. Negative space assists in telling a story and adds a sense of vastness to your images. By simply placing your subject in the middle or corner of the frame, either utilizing the rule of thirds or creating your own rule for subject placement, you can take your images from blah to bam!
Varying your perspective always helps to create more interesting images as well. Hold your phone down low or get on your belly to lower your line of vision into what is happening with your subject. Shoot from below or above your subject to mix it up a bit.
Look for items to frame your subject. Just like you would with your DSLR or film camera, be aware of lines of symmetry or interesting shapes that draw attention to your subject matter.
Get an Olloclip! This little attachment is such a blast for breaking out of a rut and having fun on the go. It comes with a wide angle option, a fisheye, and a macro for unlimited creative possibilities! Best part? Yes, you have to take off your camera case in order to use it but it is soooo worth it.
Finally, my favorite part of making an impact with iPhone images is the ability to use editing apps. My phone tends to have terrible white balance so that is always something I want to focus on fixing as well as adding some subtle filters to slightly change the tone and feeling of the image. As much as I love Instagram, I feel their filters are way too strong for my taste. I use VSCO and Afterglow editing apps for general light editing and Snapseed if I want to add something a little more extreme like depth of field blur. I tend to gravitate towards shooting with a black and white edit in mind and fiddling with the options in these apps helps me achieve my monochromatic vision. None of the images seen here or on my Instagram feed have been brought into an editing program on a computer. That’s part of the joy of this process for me. I can shoot, edit, and post an image from my phone in seconds all while sitting in the car or laying on the couch. Talk about fun stuff! Below are a few examples of before and afters using the aforementioned apps. Look how blue the white balance was in the original image of the first set!
When it comes down to creating memories, sometimes less “gear” is liberating and allows you to participate in the experience more easily. Of course we all love to have professional looking images of our families or pets but don’t let the fact that you left the camera at home stifle your creativity. To top it off, if you have a smartphone, you can participate in Instagram and connect with other CM friends as well by participating in the CMglimpse project by following the prompts and hash tagging your images with #cmglimpse. So, challenge yourself to leave your big camera at home for a few days and go out and shoot your life with just your phone. You will feel the freedom of being able to live in the moment with your family and capture killer shots along the way!