Mobile phones versus DSLRs
The competition between the phone and other electronic devices has grown more and more dramatic and everyone's racing to deliver the extra something. Today's extremely popular smartphones are capable to deliver decent image quality, in spite of their tiny image sensors. Although a mobile phone camera represents the bottom link in today's image making foodchain, it specs an arsenal of its own, and a lot of charm. It's true cellphone cameras are unlikely to match DSLR's image quality anytime soon. Point is they're not to be compared, since the bulky pro camera, PRO as it may be, won't match the versatility, the connectivity, the agility and the "pocket-size", "always-ready" features of a smartphone. On top of that, lots of today's smarts pack some interesting, if not plain good photo setups, not to mention the almighty APP. A good photographer will use anything to get the shot, whether it's a phone or a 5 pound DSLR, and since it's becoming more and more technically viable, why not move the next level and get serious about it?
We came up with a brief set of “need-to-know” that may come in handy in helping you get some really cool stuff out of your phone.
First, our most frequent subjects are people and objects and since the former is more complicated, we'll elaborate on that. It's easy enough to take pictures of friends and family, so let's focus on strangers. Many people tend to have weary grimaces when they are aware of the fact that somebody is taking their picture so we suggest you be discreet when clicking your phone. Discreet, not invisible.
If you want the person you're phonegraphing to smile, just ask politely or make a joke, don't make a big fuss about it. "You have a beautiful smile!" "Can you give me a big smile please!" will usually do the trick. In other words, don't force the scene or the models otherwise they will look forced. Same goes for groups. The bad thing that can happen when photographing groups of people is one person having their eyes closed or turning the head at the exact time of the click. Be aware of every face and every expression in your image. You can also take several shots and gesture "ready, steady, here it is" "three, two, one..." etc.
In addition to the subjects and expressions that make the difference between a bad photo to a great one, composition is essential. Everybody who's into photography should know the rule of thirds by now. We'll just point out some basic facts that can influence the overall composition of an image:
1. The commonest mistake and the worse thing that can make your image look bad is the background. People just seem to go blind about it, even when shooting still life. Make sure you have a look at it before actually shooting. It's a wise exercise that pays off. Make sure your subjects are clearly visible and separated, in shape and volume, keep the image graphical, “readable”. Less elements have a greater visual impact, if neatly organized, while a multitude of lines and shapes can distract from the subject. Horizontal and vertical lines are related to more rigid, geometric subjects. Diagonal (broken) lines are usually dynamic, energetic, while round lines are more fluid and add a rather feminine feel to the shot.
2. The eye direction is a very important compositional element, as so many times the eyes are the subject within the subject. Along with the body language and even more so, they create or enhance the psychological message of the image. The model looking up transmits hopefulness and positivity, while looking down gives a more melancholic or sad feel. Looking straight, parallel to the horizon, will translate as equilibrium or attentiveness.
3. Phone-o-graphy's particular hype charm comes in many colors, and by that we mean apps and filters. Once you clicked, here comes the real fun, so it's wise to decide what filters you use prior to taking the shot. Some apps will take wide format images while others will take square photos, so, if you plan to post process a rectangle image with Instagram for example, it will look better cropped as a square.
Therefore you should be aware of the final format your image will have, in order to compose the image accordingly. If you're planning to add frames, leave some space for the subject, don't fit it tight into the composition. Night shots are prone to noise and granulation, so adding extra filters will increase that even more.
therefore in many situations you'll probably have burned (overexposed) areas and dark ones. Turn this in your favor and you'll add more graphic impact to your image. However, there are HDR (high dynamic range) apps available, that will pretty much compensate this small dynamic range. HDR images usually need to be composed from two or three different exposures of the same frame/scene – the app will do this for you, but you need to hold still while taking the shot, otherwise it will look shaken (a longer time is needed to shoot the multiple exposures).
5. Some processing software will apply a split-toning filter that will cast cold tones to dark areas and warm tints to highlights, which is a plus for color contrast that will separate the subject better. Split toning however is not limited to this, there are many color variations that can be applied on dark/highlight areas.
After composition, the image dimension might vary from an application to another. It's best to set the image capture in high quality, otherwise you may lose some cool images saved in low quality.
Last but not least, we'll point out the smartphone's strongest feature: it goes everywhere you go, always ready to snap. No need to carry heavy gear just in case something extraordinary could happen before your eyes. You can get that perfect shot in an instant, not to mention easy access to areas where “official” cameras are off-limits or draw too much attention. Events could be phone-o-graphy's favourite treat, and its huge Editorial potential is obvious.
Don't panic about losing the scene, keep calm. It's better to take a quick snapshot first so that you're sure you didn't lose the opportunity. After that, you can focus on taking a good, elaborate photo of that subject. Think about the scene and take the time to compose and make a good exposure. A good photo is better than a bad photo, it's true, but a bad photo is still better than no photo. So don't lose the moment because you're not perfectly prepared. If the result isn't what you hoped for, it still serves one purpose of photography, that is documenting an event.
A final word of advice: be aware of everything that's present in your frame. A great image is a place where subject, background, composition, light, mood and time itself melt into one coherent bi-dimensional piece. As for fears about the technical limitations of phone-o-graphy, a quote of Edward Steichen pretty much says it all: “no photographer is as good as the simplest camera”.