Tips to consider prior to tapping your smartphone screen
Taking a moment to run through a series of questions before tapping the screen will save you a lot of time in the editing stage of creating your image.
In summary, my 20-question pre-shoot photography mental checklist involves:
- Clean the lens!
- What is my subject or photo intention?
- Am I close enough to emphasise the subject and still capture the context?
- Should I hold the phone vertical or horizontal?
- Is the background clutter-free and distant enough to provide depth?
- What is the light quality, direction and intensity?
- Does an alternative height or angle create a more interest perspective?
- How does this scene make me feel? Create mood through light, colour and composition?
- Where is the subject positioned and how do they interact with other elements in the frame?
- Should I use the rule of thirds or alternative compositional technique?
- Are there available leading lines existing in the photo opportunity?
- How does my eye flow through the scene? Is there distractions pulling my attention the wrong way?
- Do I need to override the auto mode and use a camera replacement app to access manual control?
- Would this be a great opportunity to use the portrait, live focus or another mode available on my smartphone?
- Is tack sharp focus critical in the photo?
- Do I need to shoot in RAW for extensive editing or printing or is JPEG file format sufficient (95% of the time)
- Is this intended to be a black and white image?
- Do I need to use a tripod or a lens attachment?
- Do I need this photo?
- You check the photo and are not initially satisfied. Do you need to check the list of questions again?
1. Clean the lens
The first thing you check when your images are starting to become blurry!
2. What is my subject or photo intention?
Taking the time to stop and think about your motivation for taking the photo will help you to make it clearer in the image. It will also encourage you to think about how to best make it clear to the viewer.
3. Am I close enough to emphasise the subject and still capture the context?
Keeping the surrounding area in the image contributes to the story being told in the scene. If you are cropped closer, it becomes all about the finer details.
4. Should I hold the phone vertical or horizontal?
If like me, you view your photos on a TV screen then vertical images are going to have extra blank sections on the side. Some images definitely should be vertical.
5. Is the background clutter-free and distant enough to provide depth?
Isolating the subject against a busy background will minimise the chance of the viewers' attention wandering, looking at everything else in the image. If you are using the portrait mode or another app to artificially blur the background, they are much more effective when there is a distance between the subject and the background.
Related article: Isolate the subject to add impact to your smartphone photos
6. What is the light quality, direction and intensity?
You may not notice images that have beautiful lighting. You sure notice the bad lighting images. This could be strong overhead light that casts a shadow over a face.
Related article: These lighting tips will help you master smartphone photography
7. Does an alternative height or angle create a more interest perspective?
We all experience life at eye level! Sometimes, even the most common scene can become instantly more interesting and intriguing by simply capturing it an alternative angle. Low angles of children and pets become much more intimate. It is also fun getting down to their level and looking at the world from their perspective.
8. How does this scene make me feel? Create mood through light, colour and composition?
Bright sunshine can contradict a scene that has a more dramatic and gloomy subject matter. Conversely, an overcast day can make it more difficult to evoke a fun, energetic sun loving activity.
9. Where is the subject positioned and how do they interact with other elements in the frame?
If there is movement in the image, do I have enough active space? This is space ahead of the subject.
10. Should I use rule of thirds or alternative compositional technique?
Rule of thirds is a basic compositional technique to place the main subject off-centre vertically, horizontally or both.
11 Are there available leading lines existing in the photo opportunity?
Scenes can have natural occurring or introduced lines to attract and direct the attention of the viewer.
12. How does my eye flow through the scene? Is there distractions pulling my attention the wrong way?
Controlling their attention is a great way of directing them through the scene to help communicate the story. Any leading lines that are not recognised in the scene could potentially lead the viewer straight out of the photo on onto the next, more interesting image!
13. Do I need to override the auto mode and use a camera replacement app to access manual control?
Low light, long exposure or macro photography can all benefit from using a camera replacement app to override the standard camera on your phone. These apps use the existing hardware and use different software to provide manual control or automatically blend multiple images. These can produce stunning computational photography results.
14. Would this be a great opportunity to use the portrait, live focus or other mode available on my smartphone?
These modes create an artificial blurred background and in some cases a bokeh effect that is typically found in the 'big' cameras.
15. Is tack sharp focus critical in the photo?
One of the most common issues smartphone photo enthusiasts face is having blurry images. This could be the frist step, cleaning the lens or taking the step of tapping the screen to ficus. Some smartphones will allow you to digitally zoom in, long press the screen to lock the focus and zoom out again.
16. Do I need to shoot in RAW for extensive editing or printing or is JPEG file format sufficient (95% of the time)
If you want to capture images in RAW dng file format, my recommendation is using Adobe Lightroom CC app. It is available for free on the Google Play and App store.
17. Is this intended to be a black and white image?
If so, set the phone to display black and white as you capture the image. This will help you tremendously to identifying which scenes have the lines, texture and dynamic range to look stunning as a black and white image before you take the photo.
18. Do I need to use a tripod or a lens attachment?
A tripod offers stability to avoid camera movement and image blur. Some can be quite small, compact and perfect for travel. Lens attachments can extend the capability, versatility and creativity to your images. These include macro, wide, fisheye and fixed zoom lenses.
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19. Do I need this photo?
Are you like me and have a massive, growing library of images that I am never going to look at again? As part of the pre-shoot checklist, we have already identified photographic intention. That is great, do you need the photo though? Sometimes, it is better to just put your phone away and enjoy the moment.
20. You check the photo and are not initially satisfied. Do you need to check the list of questions again?
As you become more experienced and shooting regularly, you start to implement many of these tips instinctively. When the photo does not look as great as you imagined, it may then be time to take a moment and think through the steps again.
The above list does look extensive. You most likely have already noticed a couple of points that you already instinctively consider. I know there are so many more for specific genres.
These articles are a great resource to learn a mobile photography specific technique or tip. Your fastest transition to becoming the confident and creative smartphone photographer you want and deserve to be is a strategically designed course.
An impactful and engaging WOW image consists of a strong subject, composition and lighting. The real power and fun transforming the image is then photo editing. Recreate that story, feeling and intention lost in the photo capture by strategically applying visual literacy and mobile apps to enhance your results and passion for photography.