The Huawei P10 has a dual-lens Leica camera on the back, just like the P9 and the Mate 9, but it also has several cool new software features — including a Portrait photo mode — and it has already impressed us with its ability. What’s more, the front camera has been given the Leica treatment, with a bokeh mode for some amazing selfies. However, a good camera is only part of the equation when it comes to taking great pictures. Your own ability, and a basic knowledge of how the camera app itself works, is just as important.
To prove it, and to show just what the P10 can do in the hands of a professional photographer, Huawei ran a “Photo Masterclass” at Mobile World Congress. Hosted by Manfred Baumann, known for his striking celebrity portrait photos and use of monochrome, he helped us put the P10 through its paces, while sharing some valuable tips on composition and editing. We concentrated on taking pictures of people, using the new Portrait mode on the P10.
While we used Huawei’s new phone, the tips we’re going to share with you equally apply to the P9 and the Mate 9, along with most other dual-lens cameras with a manual mode. Don’t worry if manual mode seems complicated, we actually used auto for all the images shared here, and some post-production editing.
Don’t be afraid of putting your camera in the subject’s face. Baumann would get in really close, almost filled the frame on several occasions, which worked very well shooting monochrome against a stark, featureless background. To take one particular portrait, he stood on a chair, about two feet in front of the subject. He experimented with different angles and stances, too.
If your camera has a bokeh mode, like the P10, it will blur out background detail. We took some spectacular photos in front of a window overlooking Barcelona, but it doesn’t over-power or detract from the person’s face in the picture. However, also try framing your subject against a featureless background — an alternative way of making them the focal point of the picture.
Ignore the camera
Yes it sounds like a cliché, but it really works. Baumann explained he shot a lot of celebrity pictures, but many are not models and wouldn’t automatically start posing for the camera. He’d have to choose his moments carefully, after getting the person to relax and act naturally. We were taking pictures of each other in a fun environment, and laughing about it produced fun, lively, and happy pictures. Standing back and just observing what’s going on around you, especially if people aren’t that comfortable around the camera, may end up giving the best results.
This is best experienced with the Huawei P10, the Mate 9, or the P9, due to its dedicated monochrome Leica camera lens. It produces amazingly detailed black and white pictures. However, pictures taken with other cameras will have filters that provide a similar effect. We were in a bright, airy room with a high ceiling, large windows, and neutral coloured walls. The afternoon light created shadows which could be used creatively when shooting with it behind the subject. We tried leaving parts of the face covered in shadow, for example.
With the light in front of the subject, another option for classy pictures is to choose a dark or shaded background. The light ensures this comes out almost black, but the subject remains lit. The bokeh mode obscures any detail, pushing the subject to the forefront of the picture. We had particular success using this method, and took pictures in settings we’d never have considered before.
Highlights and shadows
Don’t get fixated on taking the best photo possible the first time. Take several, and then edit them. Most camera apps have extensive editing features that can change the end result after the picture has been taken. If you’ve been taking portrait or bokeh pictures on the P10, even the focal point can be altered. We came away with a really excellent tip, which transformed the way our monochrome images looked. Instead of changing the brightness and contrast settings, plays around with the highlights and the shadows. These settings exposed more detail, or made already moody shots even more effective.
Crop the picture in creative ways
It turned out we’ve been cropping our selfies and pictures of other people all wrong. Rather than centralising our subject, try cropping faces right down, and setting them at the side of a photo. Don’t always stick to a basic aspect ratio either, play around with the sizes. Baumann sliced the very top of our heads off, which surprisingly ended up looking superb. He’d also cut off backs of heads, shoulders, and minimize background detail. Yet all the time, he was bringing the subject of the photo into better view. It’s a simple, yet incredibly effective trick to learn, which can transform a mundane selfie into one worthy of a professional.
Don’t be shy
Perhaps the biggest tip we can share comes from our own experiences taking photos. Many of us (me included) probably don’t consider ourselves photogenic. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be photographed well. Through our experience with Baumann, we saw it’s not always about the subject; it’s about taking the right picture in the right way, in the right environment, then using the tools available to creatively compose an attractive final image. Like us, you may end up being genuinely surprised and very pleased with the final result.
We had a great afternoon learning about getting the most from the P10’s Leica camera, and hope these suggestions will help you get the most from it too. The great thing is, because dual-lens camera phones made for producing bokeh-effect pictures are plentiful today — from the iPhone 7 Plus and the Honor 6X, to the ZTE Blade V8 Pro and Xiaomi Redmi Pro — so you can apply them to taking portrait photos with many phones.