By far, the most requested photography topic revolved around your smartphones – how to use them, how to edit, and are there any shortcuts I should know about? This makes sense; many of us are toting around a high quality camera in the palm of our hands at all times! So today, I’m going to jump right in to my simple tips and tricks for taking awesome photos with that powerful tool, whether you’re looking to brush up on your skills to capture The Perfect Shot of your child, cat or self(ie).
Tip 1| Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens!
Imagine me saying (shouting?) the above in the same manner that Phoebe asks Judy to pick up the sock. Guys, I mean it! It’s a seemingly insignificant task that will elevate any photo you take to the next level. I use nothing more than the underside of my t-shirt; all it takes is a 3 second wipe, and you’ll be light years ahead of most. Note: Don’t neglect the front lens if you’re going for a selfie!
Tip 2| Get down to their level
Second only to wiping the lens is getting down to the same level as your subject. Remember how I suggested that you shoot just above hip-height when shooting interiors? Just as shooting ‘down’ on your sofa will dwarf the scale, you should expect those same less-than-stellar results with tiny humans and pets! By getting down to their level – taking a knee or sitting on the ground – you’re able to better capture their larger-than-life personality. Unless you’re looking to creatively push the boundaries of scale (which is totally valid!), you’ll notice how this small step will drastically change the look and feel of your final photo. Here are two very different examples:
Tip 3| Try shooting a short video for the perfect ‘still’
Do you have a wiggly subject (aka: a toddler on the run or an excitable pup)? Try shooting a short video! While the video is paused, use your finger to slowly track the perfect single moment you were hoping for. Once you have it, tap your screen lightly, and the ‘play’ symbol will disappear. Take a screenshot of your winning image! Note: The file size of your screenshot won’t be up to snuff for prints, but it’ll do the trick for sharing through texts with grandparents, social media and your phone wallpaper!
Tip 4| Take advantage of the features available to you
Smartphones are seriously, well, smart! So take advantage of the features available to you to frame up the best photo through the lens of your phone. Here are some of my favorite shortcuts to achieving share-worthy images with an iPhone:
- Focus and exposure control: Tap on the part of the image that you’d like in focus, and you may notice a small box with a sunshine symbol appear. With your finger still pressed to the screen, scroll up to increase the image brightness or down to decrease it.
- Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds is a fancy way of saying that the subject of your photo is off to the side of a photo (i.e., not centered). It’s a pleasing and more interesting way to compose a photo, and the camera app can easily guide you through this! Go to Settings > Camera > Grid, and turn on the Grid function. Now when you take a photo, you’ll notice a grid on the screen. Center the subject of your photo beneath the line on the left or right.
- Portrait mode: iPhone’s portrait mode creates a soft bokeh effect behind the subject by opening up the f-stop automatically. (More about f-stop and bokeh in this post.) But did you know that you can adjust the depth of field even after the photo has been taken? Try tapping the Edit button on the next portrait you take, and play around with the depth of field by opening and closing the f-stop. You’ll notice that the smaller the f-stop number, the softer (or more shallow) the depth of field is. The larger the f-stop number, the more in focus (or larger) the depth of field is. Give it a go!
Tip 5| Save to favorites and delete the rest
Yes, really. Surely you’ve taken 10 photos to get the 1 photo you really want, so save that 1 photo to your favorites and delete the rest. I talked about why I do this here, but get into the habit of doing this for your sanity. A reader suggested using the Flic app to make this process painless, and I am a fan! I loved it enough to upgrade to the pro version, which allows me to save photos from my camera roll into my favorites directly through the app:
While this app/tip doesn’t directly enhance the photos you take, it does make cultivating a beautiful camera roll a painless process. Because who likes to spend 15 minutes scrolling through their roll to find that 1 good photo you took that one time? (No one. Seriously, no one.)
My favorite smartphone apps for editing
I consider editing to be the final step for an awesome photo – so much so, that I don’t think I’ve even texted a Lucy photo to one of the grandmas without running it through an app first! That said, there are a lot of photo editing apps for your phone, and I have tried at least half of them. However, there’s a small handful that I return to over and over again, and they are:
A Color Story
I use A Color Story on my phone for almost every photo you see in our Stories and Instagram feed. There’s also a desktop version, although I’ve never used it, so I can’t speak directly to that. After pulling a photo into the app, the first thing I do is go to Tools and adjust my curves, temperature and tint. From there, I run through a handful of my favorite filters, and I adjust the strength of each filter to my liking. I almost never, ever run a filter at full strength! Here’s a quick screen recording I put together of a photo of Lucy in the park:
Most of my favorite filters are from the Essentials pack, which is a freebie that comes with the app, but I also enjoy the Organic and Fawn packs, too. My go-to filters within those packs are Lite Bright, Ice Ice, Hot Toddy (all from the Essentials pack), Comfort and Hazy (from the Organic pack), and Cashmere, Tweed, Silk (from the Fawn pack).
When I’m happy with my final color edits and corrections, sometimes I’ll follow up with the TouchRetouch app. I use this mainly to remove dirt or unsightly objects from the background (such as a fire hydrant or rogue piece of litter), and then I save the original with the retouched version. In the photo below, I touched out specks of black gum on the concrete (blech!).
If you’re familiar with Photoshop, this app will come naturally to you. If you’re not, there may be a slight learning curve, but the app does a great job of making it fairly intuitive.
I only recently started using InShot to create mini videos for our Instagram Stories! It’s the app that I used to document our Minneapolis trip, and I received so. many. questions. It was recommended to me by my girl Ashley at The Gold Hive (who is a video wizard, seriously), so I knew it’d be good – and it didn’t disappoint.
Here’s how I used it, in a nutshell: I took little 10-15 second videos throughout the course of our day. At the end of the day, I pulled those snippets into a new video draft and trimmed them down within the app. InShot also has some really great filters built right in, and you can apply them to each individual clip or to the entire length of the video, which I really liked! My favorite filter was ‘Story,’ although I adjusted the strength to about 50%. After exporting the video, I uploaded it to my Instagram Stories and added music from within Instagram. I did this to avoid copyright issues, but if you’re using InShot to create your own personal family videos, you can add music from within InShot before exporting!
So, In Conclusion…
… Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens! Only then should you get to your subject’s level, snap away, delete the junk and filter your favorite snap through a photo editing app on your smartphone. When it really comes down to it, we’re whipping out our phones to create a memory, a tangible moment that we can look back on.
I hope this was helpful, and I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments! Which editing apps are your favorite? What other tips would you add? And lastly…
What remaining questions do you have for the Reader Q + A?
I’ve already received so many wonderful questions that will allow me to dig into the details a bit deeper, and I’m hoping to share the Q + A next week. Happy phone shooting!