Smartphonography: 5 Tips for Getting the Best Photos and Videos on Your Phone

I am, by no means, an expert on shooting video or capturing photos on my smartphone. But while spending nearly three years as a reporter who frequently had to capture breaking news, I picked up a few tips and tricks.

I used these tips for a recent client event and share the photos below, so you can see them in action.

1 Play with angles.

We have a tendency to always point the camera directly at our subject, making sure they look straight in the photo. Throw that idea out the window. Some of the best photos and videos I’ve taken on a smartphone put the subject at an angle. This adds depth to the photo, generating visual interest that you may lack otherwise.

You can see how the lines of the grill are at an angle compared to the edge of the photo, and the subjects are slightly tilted. This fills the frame and adds a little more visual appeal than if all the lines were aligned vertically.

2 Get on their level.

We’re not always the same height as our subject. Rather than kneeling to get a low angle or standing on a chair to get a high angle, we tend to stay comfortable with our feet planted on the ground. This can lead to all your shots looking like they’re at the same height. Don’t be afraid to crouch down low or stand up tall to get the shot you want.

I knew I wanted viewers to feel as though they were just inches from the cleaver, so I knelt down and placed my iPhone right at the end of the chopping board.

3 Get personal.

We’re generally taught to respect people’s personal space and not get too close, but the exact opposite is true when you want a good photo. Be willing to get a bit intimate to get the shot you want. As I learned in the news business: “zoom with your feet, not your lens.” It almost always looks better.

If my iPhone looks like it’s sitting on top of the grill, that’s because it basically is. I wanted to see the whole pile of barbecue (doesn’t it look scrumptious?) in the foreground and get the shot of the judge tasting in the background. I definitely had to get up close and personal with that barbecue to get the shot I wanted.

4 Pay attention to lighting.

When you’re going for a quick video or photo that you can share on social media, it’s easy to find your subject, point the camera right at them, and then discover later that you can’t see anything because of a lens flare or a backlit subject (when the light is behind them). As a general, easy rule to remember, make sure your subject is facing the light and that the light is behind your back.

You can see in the above photo that all the light is behind my subject because we were under a tent. You can hardly make out the grill or the operator. But watch what happens when we switch sides.

Not only can you now see the subject and the grill much better, but you can make out details like the sign on the bottom of the grill that I would have otherwise missed.

5 Don’t forget to edit!

For the purposes of this tutorial, none of the photos or videos above have been edited. However, if you have the time, take a minute to crop the photo, add a filter, or whiten teeth if you can. It’s not always possible when you’re trying to quickly post photos and videos to social media, but it certainly makes a world of difference.

Here’s an example of a photo before and after it’s been lightly edited with a filter and some increased contrast:

It polishes up the photo just enough to make it feel like more than a quick snapshot on my iPhone.

There are, of course, so many more things you can do to spruce up your photos and videos on a smartphone, but these are a few of my tried-and-true practices.

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