Do you want to take smartphone photos that constantly amaze people?
You can. Because it turns out that capturing beautiful smartphone photos is pretty easy–once you know what to do.
And one of the fastest ways to take stunning smartphone images…
…is to master the art of composition.
Which is exactly what I’m going to teach you in this article.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be a smartphone photography composition master–with the tools to create amazing compositions, no matter the situation.
Let’s dive right in.
What is Composition in Smartphone Photography?
Composition is an essential ingredient in all photography.
It doesn’t matter if you use a smartphone camera, a DSLR, or a medium-format film camera. If you can’t create beautiful compositions, then you’re not going to create beautiful photos.
Now, composition refers to the arrangement of elements in a photo.
If you take a picture of a flower, how do you incorporate different elements into the frame? You can put the petals toward the top of the photo and the stem in the middle and bottom. Or you can place the flower so it moves diagonally across the image. Or you could get in close, and take a photo of just the flower petals.
There are an infinite number of compositions for every subject. But only a small number of those compositions actually look good.
It’s the goal of every photographer to find these good compositions.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take random shots until you hit upon something great. There are basic composition rules that you can repeatedly use to capture great photos.
1. Include a Clear Subject for a Powerful Smartphone Photography Composition
A subject is the focal point of your photo. The thing that stands out in the frame.
And pretty much every great smartphone photo has a clear subject.
A subject anchors your photos. It keeps your viewer engaged. And so it makes your photos powerful.
But it’s important that you have a clear subject–one that’s immediately identifiable. Otherwise, your viewer will become lost and confused. They won’t know where to look!
Here’s how you include a clear subject:
Start by finding a subject that stands out from the rest of the scene. This can be anything: a person, a tree, a flower, etc. The important thing is that it appears separate. It doesn’t blend into its surroundings.
Next, change your composition until the surroundings contain no distractions. You don’t want a telephone poll behind your portrait subject. And you don’t want some annoying branches behind your subject.
Finally, try to ensure a fair distance between your subject and your background. A large subject-background distance will make your background blur. And this will ensure that the main subject stands out.
Which brings me to my next tip for beautiful smartphone photography compositions:
2. Find the Perfect Background to Enhance Your Subject
Smartphone photography composition isn’t just about finding and positioning your subject.
It’s also about choosing the perfect background. One that helps your subject stand out. And, ideally, enhances the subject.
So how do you find a great background for your smartphone photography?
The best backgrounds have a few characteristics:
- They’re simple
- They’re mostly uniform
- They add a splash of color
First, you want to find a background that’s simple. It shouldn’t include many distractions. For instance, a great flower photography background is a group of trees. They don’t distract–instead, they sit unobtrusively behind the subject.
In fact, my favorite backgrounds are uniform. They only have a single color. Maybe a nice green wash, or some golden bokeh, or even a pure-white backdrop. These backgrounds emphasize the subject.
And the most colorful backgrounds are my favorite, because they add something extra to the photo. Whenever I can, I like to include some distant flowers in the photo. This makes the background more pleasing, without taking away from the overall look.
One more tip:
Many smartphones have a portrait mode of some sort–which allows you to blur the background.
If you have this option, you should definitely play around with it. Because the blurrier the background, the more it makes the subject stand out.
And the better your smartphone photos will look!
Related Article: Best Smartphone Cameras 2018
3. Use the Rule of Thirds Gridlines to Perfectly Position Your Subject
I’ve already talked about choosing a subject and a background.
But what about positioning your subject? Where should you put it in the frame?
Should it go smack-dab in the center? Should it go off to the side?
There’s a basic rule in art, going back hundreds of years, called the rule of thirds.
It states that the best photos have their main elements positioned a third of the way into the frame.
In other words, you should position your main elements along these gridlines (which are a third of the way into the frame on every side):
So if you have a flower in your frame, you can position it along the vertical gridlines.
In fact, for even more powerful photos, you can position the focal point of your photo at an intersection point between two gridlines, also known as power points. In the photo below, I placed the flower at a rule of thirds power point:
Now, the rule of thirds is great for any type of photography. You don’t need a smartphone to appreciate it.
However, smartphone photographers do have a feature that makes the rule of thirds easy to follow:
You can make your camera app overlay gridlines on the screen. That way, you can always see the rule of thirds grid–and you can use it all the time, even when you’re out in the field!
If you have a Google Pixel, open the camera app, then scroll over to More. Tap Settings, then Grid Type. You’ll be able to choose from several different grid settings, including the 3×3 grid. Tap this to activate the rule of thirds grid.
If you have an iPhone, tap Settings, then select Camera. Finally, toggle the Grid option.
On Samsung smartphones, you can activate the gridlines by opening the camera app, then tap the settings icon (which looks like a gear). Then toggle on the Grid Lines option.
The gridlines are a smartphone compositional aid.
And to improve your compositions, use them whenever you can!
Related Article: How a Smartphone Can Help You Become a Better Photographer
4. Find Leading Lines to Draw the Viewer In
First things first:
What are leading lines?
Leading lines are lines in a scene–which draw the viewer in.
Leading lines tend to come from the edges of the frame. For instance, a river is a great way to lead your viewers into a landscape photo. You could position the river at the bottom of the frame, and let it draw the viewer up, up, and up–until they were lost in the entire image.
Rivers are a common example of leading lines, but they’re far from the only one. Landscape photographers use branches, narrow rocks, or formations in the ice. Portrait photographers use handrails or the corners of buildings. And macro photographers use leading lines, too: the stems of flowers or the curve of petals.
These are all leading lines. And all of them direct the viewer into the frame.
But the best leading lines don’t just suck in the viewer. Instead, they suck in the viewer–and then point them toward the main subject.
This amplifies the strength of the main subject. And makes the main subject stand out even more.
(If my focus on making the subject stand out is starting to sound familiar, then you’re really starting to understand: oftentimes, composition is just about getting the main subject to pop!)
5. Use a Post-Processing App to Bring Out the Main Subject
Here’s one final smartphone photography composition tip for you:
Use a post-processing app to bring out the main subject.
There are a lot of good apps out there, but my favorite is Snapseed–which is available for free on both Android and Apple smartphones.
Snapseed is full of powerful options for enhancing your main subject.
For instance, you can crop to make your main subject stand out more in the frame.
You can add a vignette (that is, a dark circle around the corners of the frame) to pull viewers in toward the center.
You can add contrast to make the main subject pop a bit more.
You can even do selective edits to parts of your photo: You can make your main subject sharper, warmer, and brighter.
All of these edits will help your main subject to stand out–and therefore improve the overall composition.
Smartphone Photography Composition: Conclusion
If you’ve been struggling to capture amazing photos using your smartphone…
…you won’t struggle, now.
Because you have all the tools you need to create some amazing compositions. And your photos will be truly stunning.
So get out and start shooting!
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.