Photos for real!

Shooting better portrait photography with your smartphone

icon17.02.17
iconDurban
icon5 min read

Millions of photos are uploaded to social media daily, making photography one of the easiest and most popular ways in which people choose to express themselves online. From getting that perfect selfie to quick foodie snaps at your favourite restaurant, we've grown to love sharing and showing off.

I love taking photos with my phone. While a smartphone camera can't compare to a DSLR, it's good enough for me - an enthusiast or non-professional. Besides, I don't see myself carrying a DSLR around on a day to day basis so smartphone it is!

I recently shot my friend, Rowanna, using nothing but my phone. No special lenses or lighting set ups, although I did use an app that shoots in RAW. It wasn't necessary but I was experimenting. More on that later. For now, some tips and tricks for better portraits!

Backgrounds

Shoot against plain backgrounds to mimic a studio look.

Due to their small sensors and fixed lenses, smartphones lack the kind of adjustable depth of field found on a DSLR. Without the ability of having a sexy blurred out background - cluttered, busy or unattractive ones can often detract from your subject. One way I combat this is by shooting against plain walls. No backgrounds? No problem. This makes the model the focal point and allows the use of a simple vignette to create somewhat of a studio lighting effect.. While I do my editing in Photoshop, I occasionally use Enlight when editing on my phone. Alternatives such as Snapseed and even Instagram have all the necessary editing features as well.

Angles

Shoot from low angles to create more dramatic scenes.

Experimenting with different and seemingly odd angles is a very simple yet effective way of creating unique and interesting shots. Personally I love shooting from low angles. It's often more visually engaging than a straight on shot and also helps convey an essence of power and dominance in your subjects. Whether it's architecture or models, low is the way to go!

Moods

Captivating looks can sometimes be more engaging than a meer pose.

Laughing, being silly or even being all pouty - moods can help poses feel more natural. To a large extent I direct my models' poses to get the look I want, but allowing them to inject their own finesse into the mix usually yields even greater results. I usually shoot with a rather sultry mood in mind. I prefer less fake smiles and more thought provoking and emotive gazes.

Shooting in RAW

Unless you're a professional photographer, nobody really cares about shooting in RAW. But wait, what is RAW anyway? RAW images are saved directly from the camera's sensor and don't go through the numerous 'enhancements' that your phone's default camera will run when saving a photo. These enhancements include white balance, contrast and noise reduction to name a few.

Differences in shooting RAW

In the pic above, the left half is saved from the RAW file while the right is the default image saved by the phone. You'll immediately notice how much detail is retained in the RAW version, especially in the clouds. This is because phones tend to meter for, and brighten shadowed areas (Rowanna in this instance) but inadvertently overexpose already bright areas like the sky and clouds.

While about 1% of people would even consider shooting RAW on a phone, the fact that you can is great. It's definitely a feature geared towards people who prefer the mobility and effortlessness of a smartphone yet still want the advantages of professional cameras.

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