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Articles

TAKE BETTER PHOTOS WITH YOUR PHONE

By Mark Eveleigh (@Mark_Eveleigh)     8 Jul 2016

Gone are the days when we had to pack big SLR cameras and multiple lenses to get the perfect photograph. Globe-trotting photojournalist Mark Eveleigh shares the secrets to taking professional-quality shots with your smartphone

The latest high-resolution smartphones have ushered in a new era. Even professional photographers on assignment for leading magazines are starting to realize that there are moments when a handy, inconspicuous palm-sized phone will capture a shot that could be beyond even the most advanced pro camera.

But this needn’t mean we’re regressing into an era where mindless repetitive point-and-shoot selfies are going to be the new Pulitzer winners. To shoot pro-quality holiday shots with your phone you’re going to have to start thinking like a pro. Here’s how:

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Stone jumper in Nias, Indonesia
Stone jumper in Nias, Indonesia

You’ve shelled out for a phone with a good camera so choose the highest image-quality setting available—and remember to clean the lens when you take the phone out of your pocket. Professional photographers familiarize themselves with their equipment until they’re able to change settings without even looking at the dials. Do the same and practice enough to anticipate the inevitable shutter-lag on your phone and you’ll never miss that perfect moment again.

This site offers a great introduction to smartphone photography.

F/8 AND BE THERE

Becak rider in Sumatra, Indonesia
Becak rider in Sumatra, Indonesia

Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig, the respected New York photojournalist, said that the secret to great photography was simply ‘F/8 and be there’—meaning just set your camera to midrange depth of field and speed, and make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. With today’s small, lightweight smartphones you’re ready to react faster than ever. Know how to find the burst mode (like a motor-drive) and shoot continuously while the action is happening. Then select the best shot.

COMPOSE YOURSELF

Reflection of a minaret in a rain-washed patio in Kendari, Indonesia
Reflection of a minaret in a rain-washed patio in Kendari, Indonesia

Study the view for unexpected angles before you shoot. Keep the hallowed ‘rule of thirds’ in mind at all times and frame your subjects so that they are not boringly placed in the center of the shot. Most phone cameras allow you to set a grid on the screen as a permanent reminder. The real golden rule, however, is that rules are made to be broken; the finest photographers are those who instinctively know how to capture that truly unique and eye-catching shot.

For more landscape tips on how not to look like an amateur check this post.

DON’T BE FLASHY

Sunrise in Borobudur, Indonesia
Sunrise in Borobudur, Indonesia

Phone-camera flashes (being little more than amped-up LEDs) rarely work effectively and in most cases are best avoided. Instead, experiment with maximizing the best effect of ambient light and shoot to capture mood rather than subject details. Allow the shadows to play a part in the image, and don’t be afraid to play with silhouettes and motion blur. The effect will almost always be more interesting than a flashed photo.

SLOW IT DOWN

Motion blur used to capture the swirling, glutinous—and surprisingly delicious—texture of sago paste in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Motion blur used to capture the swirling, glutinous—and surprisingly delicious—texture of sago paste in Sulawesi, Indonesia

In dim light your camera will need a slow shutter speed. While the effect is usually far from helpful, there are ways to turn this to your advantage. Practice so you’re aware when speeds slow down then bring life to your photos with panning (following a moving object) and motion blur (staying still and allowing movement to pass through your frame). Don’t be afraid to experiment but resist the temptation to declare shots ‘arty’ as an alternative to hitting the delete button. A tripod (or simply bracing yourself against a support) will combat camera shake.

Want to get more tech-y about shooting in low light? Check this great piece—and just ignore the film jargon.

USE A DECOY

Kids in Nias, Indonesia—notice how ignoring the rule of thirds has isolated the kids in the middle of their environment, making them look smaller, and how close focusing has helped to blur the complicated background
Kids in Nias, Indonesia—notice how ignoring the rule of thirds has isolated the kids in the middle of their environment, making them look smaller, and how close focusing has helped to blur the complicated background

In remote communities a polite request for a photo will often be met with a general smartening up and an ultra-formal passport-photo pose. Far from the Nat Geo cover you’d envisaged! Interaction is the way to get natural shots and a decoy is usually the best bet. Either shoot a friend or snap a couple of silly selfies to get a laugh from the kids. Once you’re shooting fun, natural shots with the children you’ll often find that the adults are secretly hoping for a snap or two themselves.

Having trouble getting natural poses from your models/victims? This could help.

GET CLOSE

Sometimes the toughest thing is remembering to shoot before you eat
Sometimes the toughest thing is remembering to shoot before you eat

Ace war correspondent Robert Capa once said, ‘If your photos aren’t good enough you’re not close enough.’ Because of their small sensors, phone cameras offer a wide depth of field so you can get a relatively large subject entirely in focus (often impossible with a big camera and big lens). If the background is cluttered or light is harsh, your phone camera will often respond best if you move in closer.

Want to shoot pro-level food photography? Here’s how.

SHOOT FROM THE HIP

Fish market in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Fish market in Sulawesi, Indonesia

People will frequently overlook a phone camera when a large SLR would seem intrusive. Shooting with a phone makes you maneuverable enough to capture unexpected points of view and you can take candid wide-angle shots (ie not pointing directly at the subject) while holding the phone at hip height. Experiment with shooting tilted up from ground level, for example (impossible with a big SLR), and frame your subject against the sky or hold the camera high for great shots of kids smiling up.

MAKE NO ROOM FOR ZOOM

Monsoon rolling over Nambo Beach, Indonesia
Monsoon rolling over Nambo Beach, Indonesia

Many smartphone manufacturers boast about the powerful zoom functions on their cameras but the key to successful shooting from a distance lies more in resolution than in zooming. A smartphone is never going to be the best piece of equipment for capturing award-winning wildlife shots but the image quality will always be better if you simply shoot without zoom and then crop at the editing stage. (The shot above has been cropped to a quarter of the original frame but—even in gloomy light—the result would be a vast improvement over zooming).

Want to be a pro bird photographer? This might make you think again.

DON’T PHOTOGRAPH THINGS, PHOTOGRAPH LIGHT

The last wave at Nias, Indonesia
The last wave at Nias, Indonesia

Experienced assignment photographers know that you must adapt your shooting to light conditions. While the ‘golden hours’ around sunrise and sunset are best for shooting scenic landscapes, those flat hours at midday (or even rainy days) are opportunities for portraits and details. On a sun-baked white-sand beach (as in snow) the camera will turn the sand gray so set to over-expose. Small phone lenses are more prone to crazy lighting effects so if the sun is flaring in your lens you could cup a hand around it (making the world’s cheapest and most flexible DIY lens hood) or, better still, you could work with the conditions to get really creative.

TO APP OR NOT TO APP

Indonesian mosque
Indonesian mosque

The results you can achieve with editing apps are endless but the effect should be tempered with caution. Overdoing the editing is a massive temptation (which I succumbed to, to create the unnatural-looking effect in the image above). Snapseed (click here for Android) is great for one-touch filtering but Photoshop Express remains one of the best for fine-tuning your images to a professional level. Open Camera is an excellent app that can offer you a lot more control over your camera at the shooting stage.

KILL YOUR BABIES

Shoot a lot … then delete 90 percent. Even the greatest photographers shoot their share of duds but they are too savvy to hit the instant-upload icon and share them with the world on Facebook. The beauty of digital photography is that you can shoot endlessly. But if you’re harsh enough to trim down to just your finest images, the world is likely to believe you always shoot like a pro.

Share your photos with us on social media and tag #momentumtravel @momentumtravels so we can see how you’re doing.

Photos: Mark Eveleigh

Mark Eveleigh
Mark Eveleigh

Mark is a freelance travel journalist with almost 20 years experience working on more than 600 magazine features. Home is West Bali, but he can usually be found living out of a kitbag, chasing stories all over Southeast Asia. He is also the founder of The WideAngle photographers’ network.

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked it. Terima kasih!

  2. Good im from indonesia

  3. Nice Article!!!!!

With thousands of breathtaking options on offer, deciding where to holiday in Indonesia can be hard work. That’s why we’ve come up with 10 simple questions to steer you towards your perfect island partner.

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