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CAN I TAKE CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHS WITHOUT A CAMERA? A GUIDE!

Modern cameras can be expensive. Ok I understand that expense is relative but with even the entry level "prosumer" cameras costing around £500+ its not a buying decision many will take lightly. If you want to project yourself into a full professional photographic career you could easily spend in excess of £30,000 and still not have every piece of kit for every eventuality.


The good news though, is that you don't really need to spend anything! With the advent of social media, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr ... the opportunity to establish a reputation for amazing creative imaging is right in the palm of your hands. Your phone!


The demand for photographic imagery is changing and whilst its true an image for a billboard would necessitate a good camera with a high resolution, the world of online advertising has exploded in the last 5-10 years and as long as you have an eye for a good shot and a few useful tools, you could well build a career literally from the "ole dog and bone" (thats a phone for anyone not familiar with cockney rhyming slang).


Assuming you have a smart phone with a camera then carry on reading and I'll run through some of the basics to help you improve your photography.


COMPOSITION


Ever heard of the rule of thirds? Its a very simple guide to picture composition and, with a little practice, can vastly improve your images. There is a very good outline of the rule here which can give you the basics. Both iOS and Android phones have a "Grid" function which can give you an outline for alignment so you don't even need to gauge the "thirds".



You can apply this rule however you like but, to create a reasonable image you should aim for a feature on at least two of the lines or intersections. A good example is the screenshot on the left (or above if you are reading this on a phone) from a short video we recently made. We have opted to place the beach in the lower third, sea in the middle third and the sky in the upper third. The dog is coincidental but makes for a good foreground despite not actually being planned! It wasn't a dog that was with us!


On a recent trip to the beach my wife was taking pictures, with her phone, of some small stacked pebbles. Something we had done on a holiday a few years previous - maybe it should be our thing? She looked at her pictures and asked me "How can I take a better picture of this?" and showed me the picture. It was taken from the perspective of where she was sat, looking straight down, sand in the background.




If you have had a quick look at the rule of thirds link above you can see it follows none of the rules and is a straightforward picture of the pebbles. I had a quick scan of the beach to see how I could improve the picture, threw myself on the sand face down, angled the phone upwards and captured some background, subconciously placing the sky in the upper third of the picture.


Hopefully, at this point you can see the immediate improvement in the picture simply by moving to find the best possible composition. Had I been applying the rule hard I would have moved the pile of pebbles to the left or right a little and positioned them on the intersection of the horizontal and lower vertical grid lines. Both pictures were taken with the same phone, same settings.

Simply thinking about the composition and moving to grab the best composition with the rule of thirds in mind makes a big difference. Sure its a little extra effort but its well worth the time and thought. Eventually, you wont think about the rule it will just happen!


EXPOSURE

Light and how much of it do you want! I tested the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 7 and both have the ability to allow you to control the amount of light you take in. As a rule, in contrasting light conditions I tend to underexpose my pictures. For example, on a sunny day taking a picture of someone in dark clothing against a bright sky line is very challenging. In that situation I would lower the exposure value as much as I can until I can see as much detail of the sky as possible like cloud details or lots of blue. At the same time I would try to make sure I don't lose any of the darker areas to pure black. Its a balancing act. Its also one of the reasons I admire the tricky challenge of wedding photographers on a sunny day where the groom may be wearing a darker suit and the bride possibly in a bright white dress!


Any camera can lose detail of the lighter areas if too much light is grabbed or the darker areas if not enough. Thankfully modern smart phones allow you to control the explosure value (ev). The iPhone will present this to you when you tap to focus and you can then simply slide your finger up or down to control the exposure. The Samsung I also use has a "Pro" setting that lets you do the same. When you have framed your picture and chosen where you want your focus to be keep this in mind and set your lighting just right. There are a few steps we will look at to edit pictures on your phone but this is the most important first step.


FOCUS

This might seem obvious but I'll mention it anyway. When selecting the area you want to be in focus most phones simply require you to tap the screen where you want the focus to be and it will do the rest for you. Whilst this doesnt permit you the flexibility of a professional camera in selecting how much background you wanted blurred (bokeh) it will at least make sure what you want in focus will be. Leaving aside more recent developments with phone cameras like post photograph depth of field adjustments this is all you will need to do.


Bear in mind though if you do want the background blurred the closer you are to the object and the greater the distance between the object and the background the more blurry it will be. There are some technical details based on the phones aperture setting (which is usually fixed) but, keep this simple rule in mind and you can get those creative blurred background shots.


If you have an option to use manual focus its even better in most situations!


POST PRODUCTION

I'm going to refer to the iPhone 7 software for this section as, sadly, the Android phone I have doesn't have the adjustments we need to make a great edit! There are two basic adjustments you may need to make to improve your image - light and colour. I say "may" need to as you could hit upon the perfect lighting first time.


However, a few adjustments may be worthwhile. Namely three - Exposure, Highlights and Shadows. I always start with exposure and try to get the light and dark areas well balanced with good detail in both. After that it doesn't matter your highlights enable you to darken or lighten the lighter areas and the shadows do the same for the darker areas. Getting that light balance right depends on the exposure you set at the point of taking the picture. After that the edit should be a cinch!


Next up you need to make a small tweak to your colour depending upon your taste. The iPhone offers two settings of note. Saturation (how much of the colour there is) and Cast (what hue the picture has). I usually start with the Cast - more Cast will make for a more orange image which can make the picture feel warmer as if taken on a warm day or by a warm fire! Less cast makes the image more blue which can create a colder feel to a picture. These tweaks may only seem small and often should only be slight but they will make a big difference.


That's it. This process can take less than a minute from start to finish and with time that can become much quicker. It's a simple process to make a big difference:

  • Composition

  • Exposure

  • Focus

  • Edit

  • Smile!

CEFES!?

Once you get the hang of this process and are churning out improved images there are apps available that can further increase your images. My personal favourites are Snapseed, which greatly improves your light and colour editing options to near professional levels and Lens Distortion which, does what it says on the tin. Handy, if you want to fake some lens flare or many other distorting effects.


I highly recommend both!


So, next time you want to make a post on social media to show your friends what you had for dinner - get creative and remember - CEFES! :) It can make the mundane, less mundane!

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