Tips for better smartphone portrait photography
Whether you agree or not the most you will ever use your camera is to make snapshots of either yourself, your significant other, immediate family or close friends.
Today, smartphones have assumed a role that is unparalleled in human history. It is a personal device for recording and sharing memories on the streets, at a coffee table, at the corner bench of your favorite park or a desolate beach somewhere in French Polynesia.
No matter where you are, all you have to do is flick out your smartphone and make a snap to record that moment for posterity. Thus, it is no wonder that wannabe photographers and new smartphone users demand better phone cameras so that they can make better smartphone portrait photography.
This article is dedicated to all those amateur users (Apple, Android and whatever other platform they might be on) who love smartphone portrait photography. This is an attempt at demystifying some of the most essential portrait photography tips.
Tip # 1 – Focus on the eye closest to you
The eyes are the focus of attention in any portrait photo and not just smartphone portrait photography. If they are anything other than tack sharp, your portrait photos will look dull and lifeless. It is the first and the most important tip for any portrait photographer – focus on the eyes!
But you can’t focus on both eyes at the same time, unless of course they are on the same plane and in that case everything else on that plane will also appear sharp. But what you can do is focus on any one of the eyes – preferably the one that is closest to you. The mechanism for accurate focusing is explained in tip # 3.
Tip # 2 – Create off-center compositions
Off-center compositions are more visually appealing than compared to compositions where the main subject is right in the middle of the frame. This comes directly from the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is not only the most talked about rule in photography but is easily also the most used. It is a simple rule to employ. Imagine that the frame is divided into 9 equal sized square boxes. Once you have divided the frame like this everything is easy from thereon. Place your subject on one of the four intersecting points (two on either side of the frame) where corners of the boxes meet. These are referred to as the sweet spots on a frame. Placing anything on one of these four points automatically emphasizes the subject and brings it into prominence.
If for some reason you find it difficult to compose by coinciding your subject with one of the four points, try a general off-center composition approach.
By doing so you achieve something else in your photos and that is leave some room around your subject. This space is known as negative space in photography. Negative space is that space in a photo which is not occupied by the main or secondary subjects. Negative space gives room to the viewer to wander around and explore in a photo. Once the eyes of the viewer don’t find anything relevant it comes back and gets fixed on the main subject.
Tip # 3 – Use the Touch to focus feature on your smartphone
The latest iPhone 6 has it and it is a feature that should make life a lot easier for wannabe smartphone portrait photography enthusiasts. What is this feature really? It is like bringing your subject to focus but instead of using a manual focusing ring on DSLR lenses, you tap on the screen where your subject appears.
The phone immediately focuses on that point. This feature is available on some prosumer DSLR cameras. This is a fast and reliable method for greater focusing accuracy. Unfortunately, however, this technology is not available with all smartphone brands.
Recommended Online Photography Course: iPhone and iPad Photography with iOS 9
Tip # 4 – Expose for the face
Here is a tip you will love to use if you are a serious smartphone portrait photography enthusiast. Every camera and that includes even the smallest smartphone camera has a metering mechanism inside it.
Metering denotes evaluating the average luminosity of a scene, assessing what aperture value and shutter speed to use in order to make a proper exposure. While the statement ‘there is no such thing as a proper exposure’ is true, you still need to meter to be able to make a reasonable exposure.
With most older smartphones there was no manual override to what the camera thinks is the right exposure value. On the latest smartphones, however, you could override what the camera thinks is the right exposure and have some semblance of manual exposure control for the true blue photographer in you (for the iPhone users: move your finger up or down to increase or decrease the exposure).
If your smartphone comes with this option (allow you to set the exposure values manually) use it by all means. If it does not and you are limited only to selecting the priority area which should be metered for, use face detection mode or the partial metering mode to emphasize the face in the scene and not the entire scene as such.
Tip # 5 – Shoot with abundant natural light
It is hard to ignore the limitations of your phone once you get hooked on to it. You are likely to flip it out of your pocket at the drop of a hat, regardless of the ambient lighting condition.
By that time, however, it would be too late to realize that the conditions are likely to push your smartphone way out of its comfort zone. These are the type of decisions that end up resulting in botched up photos.
First step is in knowing the limitations of one's equipment, which in this case, is your camera.
It is essentially a fixed focal length camera wrapped around a tiny sensor with pixel sizes no more than 1.5 µm. As a matter of fact, low light performance is always going to be a little dubious with such small sensors. Even with back illuminated sensor technology coming into smartphones promising significant improvement in low light performance, these are essentially tiny sensor units and are susceptible to noise.
Low light tends to make matters worse for these little things. Thus, you are better off shooting in bright, especially, daylight conditions.
Watch this video for some more general portrait photography tips:
Have you so far had any experience with smartphone portrait photography? We would love to hear from you! Just leave a comment in the below comment section.
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.
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