Street art photography tips for your iPhone and Android smartphone

Street art hotspots have become a tourism drawcard for many cities around the world. This further supports graffiti as a popular, legitimate expression of creativity in a visual form.
 
Graffiti is transient in nature and photography allows us to document and immortalise these wonderful pieces. Our smartphone allows to effortlessly capture and share these pieces instantly.
 
Street art lends itself beautifully to photography. It has content, context, vibrant colours, tones, lines, surface texture and meticulous detail, that all adds to the story and intention of the piece.
 
Learning and practicing the art of capturing and editing a piece of street art can really elevate the aesthetic value to produce a more sophisticated visual piece.

 

Skip straight ahead to sections:

Why capture street art on your smartphone?

Planning a street art photography shoot

Street art photo capturing techniques

Story telling

Smartphone accessories

Graffiti photo editing tips to make the art pop

Street art and graffiti photography tips for your iPhone and android smartphone

Why capture street art on your smartphone?

The Samsung mobile camera is my personal choice for street art photography. I love the rich and vibrant colours, sharpness and range of light captured. This combination helps the image to jump off the screen. However, great images are achieved through preparation, understanding how to best set up the image and the final, creative step - photo editing.

 

Street photographers quit often have some of their camera settings in auto, to allow for those opportunistic photos. A person walking past the graffiti wearing complimentary colours will not wait for you to set up your perfect shot! The smartphone is discreet, unobtrusive and simple to use – making it perfect for capturing street art.

Mike James from Smartphone Photography Training capturing street art and graffiti on the ipad camera

Planning a street art photography shoot

 

Personal Safety

Capturing graffiti, like street photography as a genre – requires attention to personal safety. Situational and special awareness will help you identify any perceived or real risks.

 

Plan a route

Online searches, forums and social media accounts will help you to identify hot spots or street art hubs for a particular suburb or city. You may even find a self guided street art walking tour of the city.

 

Research

Once you find a location, check out photos shared by other photographers. Pay particular attention to the quality of the work and practicality of the location. When you arrive, there may be a surprisingly different piece. My favourite location Hosier Lane in Melbourne, Australia, is totally different each time I return.

 

Time of day

Lighting conditions and how it reflects off the surface of the artwork – can really make or break an image. Dusk and dawn are referred to, as the golden hours because of the warm orange colour cast. This is aesthetically pleasing for landscapes – however, can affect the colours in the graffiti. In most circumstances, my preference is to shoot on a cloudy day, when the lighting is softly diffused by the clouds.

Some locations may have an awning or some other object casting a shadow over the piece. A great way to remotely determine the direction of sun (or moon) at any given location is to use an app called Photo Pills.

 

Weather

The weather can affect not only your comfort out there in the elements – it can also affect your image. A sunny day can produce harsh shadows on the wall and wash out the colours, having less impact.

The lighting in any image helps to convey a mood. Matching the lighting to the mood of the artwork can really help emphasise the feeling in the original artist’s intention. A dark, overcast day can add to a dramatic, grungy look. Conversely, a bright, sunny day evokes a happy, more uplifting emotional response.

After rain, the walls can look very different. You will have noticed that everything looks better after rain – it looks more fresh. The wet look can darken the colours and make them look more vibrant and saturated and smoother.

Street art photo capturing techniques

 

Let’s get started with some basic tips to get the most out of your smartphone:

1.  Stabilise the iPhone on a tripod or resting against a steady object

2.  Avoid digital zoom

3.  Avoid using your flash

4.  Tap the screen to focus – smartphones guess where to focus

5.  Swipe up/down or left/right on the latest Samsung smartphone to increase/decrease the brightness. At times increasing the brightness can introduce more noise and can make bright spots irrecoverable in editing

Street art and graffiti photography tips for your iPhone and android smartphone

6. Compositional techniques, such as leading lines and rule of thirds still apply to street art photography

7.  Trial with HDR on and off. No it does not stand for High Definition Resolution. It is High Dynamic Range! This feature captures the details in bright and dark areas of a scene, over several image captures and automatically blends them into one image. The resulting image can reveal textures and details, otherwise missed in auto mode

8.  If shooting RAW in Pro mode on the Samsung – or Adobe Lightroom CC camera replacement iOS and Android app, capture the image with the lowest ISO as possible. This reduces the amount of introduced noise and grain

9.  Capture a close up image to highlight one section of the artwork

10. Introducing a prop (person, bicycle) can add scale to the scene

Story telling in your graffiti photos caprtured on your iphone

11. If you do not have a wide angle lens attachment - the other option is the panoramic capture mode.

Use panoramic mode to capture street art - graffiti photography

Note: Perspective distortion in panoramic mode is caused by objects further away from the lens appearing smaller. Walk along the front of the art to keep the lens at the same distance as you record.

 

12. Shoot the street art from directly in front. Capturing from an angle will again distort the image. Objects closer to the smartphone lens look larger. Check out those arms!

objects closer to the smartphone lens look larger - street art from an angle

13. Take a step back and change the angle to capture surrounding context in the image. You want to remember the location and context in years to come when looking back at your images. Including a street sign or restaurant entry can evoke those memories.

Add context to your street art and graffiti photos by including contextual surroundings

14.  Check the background and look for any distracting elements that can easily be removed or reposition yourself

15. Take notice of dominant colours in the street art or surrounding area. Position yourself to capture anyone walking past that is wearing matching or complimentary colours

16. Look for the smaller details or opportunities that everyone over looks or misses. An example could be a bin full of discarded spray cans or a something attached to a wall.

match colours of street art to clothes of person walking past - on smartphone camera
Story telling in street art photos captured on iphone and andsroid smartphone

Story Telling

 

When I arrive on location at Hosier Lane or AC DC lane in Melbourne CBD, I actually put my phone camera away and just watch. These locations are always full of people taking photos of the ever-changing street art, themselves and each other.

Walking up and down the lanes without your camera allows you the opportunity to step back and look at what other people are finding fascinating enough to capture. Look at how they are capturing it and experience with different perspectives.

 

Quite often the best shots are the people. Some locations, you may actually be fortunate enough to capture an obliging artist compiling their master piece.

capture the story and context of people around street art photography

Smartphone accessories

 

Planning and being prepared also requires having the right gear. You already own the smartphone – the most important and expensive component required. There are a couple of extra accessories that will expand your capability and options.

Lens Attachment

Struman Optics offer a full range of universal lens attachments that can fit most smartphones and tablet. Selected models also have a backing plate option to easily screw the lens into the precise location. The dedicated wide angle lens lives on my smartphone. The best value for money travel kit, also includes a wide angle lens.

Tripod

Normally, the go-to tripod that I recommend is the Sirui 3T-35K tripod with ball head. It can be used as a table top tripod and selfie stick.

However, similar to architecture photography, photos captured from a low angle will result in vertical convergence. This is improved by shooting at the middle point of the street art. The Slik Pro 700DX tripod has an impressive maximum height of 1.9m.

Smartphone Holder

To connect your smartphone to a tripod, you need an attachment. There are so many options available. My preference is the Sunwayfoto tripod attachment. It can extend to accommodate the plus sized devices, essentially making it future proof for your next phone.

Portable Battery

If you are participating in a walking tour – you may need some extra battery juice. There are so many options available and most are very good. My preference is the Flux charger – purely because it has cables built into it. One less thing to leave behind!

External Light

A portable hardware light cast along the wall can produce some lovely textures. You can also isolate the artwork within the illuminated area of the wall.

If you want a smaller, more convenient option – you cannot go past the Lume Cube. These small bright LED lights are durable, dimmable, waterproof and can be controlled manually or via Bluetooth.

Graffiti photo editing tips to make the art pop

 

This is the exciting part of photography for me. It is where you can really start to manipulate the viewer’s attention and focus. Deliberate and intention editing can pull the viewer into one section of the image. You then guide them to other sections, encouraging them to interpret and read the image.
 
The built-in photo editor on your smartphone can be more than capable of producing a great image. Some devices have filters to apply live and post capture to enhance colours or tones to the whole image.

My go-to app to enhance any image - available on any smartphone or tablet, is Snapseed by Google. Below, is my standard six-step process to start editing and enhancing any image:

Perspective

Straighten the photo and change the perspective. I avoid using either Rotate or the rotate option within Crop.

Crop

Crop the photo considering composition – selecting from an aspect ratio preset. This can change the whole story and feel of your image. Where will you be sharing the image. This may affect the crop aspect.

Tune Image

Identify issues that need to be addressed to the whole photo (global adjustments). Start with Ambience, then go from the top at brightness and work your way down. I quite often need to go back and add a little more contrast.

TIP: Hold the before and after icon in the top right corner to see your progress.

Details

Tap on details to find two options: structure and sharpening. I rarely go beyond 15 in structure, because it becomes a little grungy; then increase sharpening to what I like.

TIP: Remember to pinch and zoom to have a closer look at exactly what sharpening is occurring.

TIP: Another option to sharpen the image is the Tonal Contrast filter.

Healing

Pinch and zoom into areas that need replacing. Swipe over an object and it will replace with similar content (pixels) on either side. If it doesn’t work very well, zoom in further or try swiping from another direction.

TIP: I use an iOS and Android app named Retouch by AdvaSoft for removing objects.

Lens Blur

Lens blur filter is great for blurring a distracting background.

TIP: I use an iOS and Android app named After Focus by Motion One for creating the blurred background.

ac dc lane street art behind cafe captured on iphone camera

The next step to really transform a smartphone happy snap to a WOW photo is to apply deliberate edits to specific parts of the image. Our eye is attracted and directed to bright, vibrant elements in a photo – then by context and lines within the image.

 

Snapseed has several features to sharpen, brighten/darken, saturate/de-saturate colours precisely where you want in the image. This includes the Selective tool, Brush and a hidden feature named Stacks. You can go back into any of your edits and select exactly where you want it to be applied. Once you start playing with these features – your smartphone photography will never be the same.

 

Love taking photos on your smartphone and want to create images you thought only possible on an SLR? The Get Started page will help you navigate to the:

Mike James hosts regular upcoming workshops, workplace training and is a sought after speaker and photography clubs and social media events. Get in touch with Mike here.

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