*Photographs captured using a smartphone
The best camera is the one you have with you
Unless you’re a professional photographer on assignment, best bet is all of your holiday or travel photos are shot using a smartphone, and that’s not a bad thing.
Phone companies have been pouring in millions, if not billions, into developing the best camera features on their devices. Versatile operating systems such as Android or third-party camera apps for Apple even allow users to use manual settings on the camera, just like the pros.
But the whole idea about taking photos using a phone is because it’s easy to carry around and simple to use that a two-year-old can snap an entire family holiday pix.
Now, how about we level up your smartphone photography skills so your images look like they belong on magazines and newspapers.
1. Learn About Camera Features on Your Phone
All cameras including phones have a ‘brain’ called image processors. Bigger processors can take bigger images so you can crop photos and maintain sharpness (photos won’t look pixelated, or as the pros call it – noise). Although phones carry a smaller processor, they can still perform a decent job especially because you’re not printing a billboard out of your phone camera.
There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that highlight features specific to your phones. Third-party apps like Camera FV-5 Lite for Android or Halide Camera for iPhone allow you to have full manual control including ISO, shutter speed and aperture.
Here’s a simple breakdown as to how a camera’s manual controls work:
- Shutter speed – Controlling this will get you sharp action photos, but the higher the shutter, the darker the image.
- Aperture – You can counter dark photos when using high shutter speed or dark surroundings by using either higher ISO and/or large aperture (the lower the number, the larger the aperture). Large aperture like f1.8 allows more light in and creates background blur for portrait shots. If you still want to see a bit of background, you can adjust your aperture between f4 and f6, and if you want to see the whole subject and background, just go over f7.
But if going technical takes too much time, stick to auto mode.
When it comes to playing with lights, people say you should just stick to the golden hours – sunrise and sunset – and avoid midday harsh lights. Scrap that! You can take photos any time of day and in any condition. Storm chasers in the US hardly have any great lighting to work with, yet they still deliver great stories. An example closer to home, imagine taking a photo of a farmer working under the hot sun at midday, the ‘harsh lights’ shows the reality of the scene.
2. Tap to Focus
Focus can enhance a subject by making it stand out from its surroundings. All phones are equipped with auto-focus, and you can tap anywhere on the screen to choose the subject you want to focus on. Ever wonder how people create that background blur when they hold a street food amid a colourful and buzzing market? Simply tap to focus on the ice cream!
3. Tell a Story
Once you’ve covered the selfies and wefies, keep an eye out on your surroundings. There are plenty of amazing moments waiting to be captured: A Penang street food vendor tossing koay teow in the air with a blaze from under the wok, neighbourhood kids jumping into the water from a dock of a floating market, anything!
Since zooming in from your phones can cause the photos to be blurry, get closer to your subject. Even paparazzi with fancy camera gear still get up close to a celebrity for a shot.
Usually, people wouldn’t even realise you’re taking their photos in the first three seconds so you can capture their real feelings or actions. Keep smiling if the subject makes eye contact with you, and if you’re scared, just pretend like you’re taking a video. However, if the subject approaches you, saying he doesn’t want his photo taken, respect his privacy and just delete the photo.
While exploring, you are bound to come across cool moments or people. It’s up to you to capture them in a frame.
4. Editing Still King
It’s nonsense to take pride in posting #nofilter photos and shaming others who use presets. Even professionals edit their photos.
Award-winning photographers, Hollywood films, nature documentaries and even iconic car shows like Top Gear and The Grand Tour utilise filters on their content.
Editing simply helps to add more drama or enhance the shot. However, resist the urge to tweak too much when editing your photos. A couple of apps to consider, available on Google Play and App Store, are Adobe Lightroom and VSCO.
5. Find Photo Reference in Advance
You can get an idea of how you can capture a photo about the destination you’re visiting. Simply search the name of the place on Google or Instagram to learn about interesting landmarks, culture or even hidden gems that could become great subjects for your album.
Always straighten the horizon by using the grid function. Instead of shooting everything from eye level, try shooting with the camera pointing up or down. Crouch below the subject, hold the camera above your head, climb stairs or use a tall tripod or ladder. Different positions can help boost your story. Passers-by can say what they like but it’s your photo!
There’s No Right or Wrong in Photography
All you have to do is keep practising. Have your camera ready at all times, capturing images beyond selfies. Just take as many photos of a single scene as you like and simply pick the one that stands out and delete the rest. Why? Because you simply can’t turn back time once that perfect moment’s gone.