Social media mavens have noticed a trend over the last few years: Images have begun to displace words as the dominant cultural currency. While services like Twitter – once the third most trafficked social network – have stagnated, apps such as Instagram and Snapchat have exploded. Experts estimate that we upload nearly 2 billion images to the Internet every day, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Instagram alone now touts more than 400 million users. Photography, it seems, is the language of social media, and everybody is speaking it.
However, it’s no coincidence that the spread of social media photography happened alongside the rise of the smartphone. With each new generation of hardware, smartphone cameras get more advanced, and the apps used to edit and share photos become more intuitive. People are using their phones to document their lives, and it’s almost as if smartphones are cameras first, and phones second. That does not mean everyone’s photos are good, though. Facebook feeds are routinely clogged with poorly-lit and ill-framed photos of cats and breakfast plates. Some might attribute these bad photos to the camera phones themselves; “Naturally, an Android phone cannot compete with a Canon,” they might say.
They might have a point – after all, high-end cameras offer lenses and sensors that could never fit on or in a smartphone – but that doesn’t mean phones can’t take great photos. In the right hands, with the right technique, an Android phone can be a wonderful tool for the budding photographer. Here are some easy tips for Android users to improve their photographs (but could be applied to all smartphone users).
Keep the lens clean
This is a simple thing, but an important one. Phones tend to spend a lot of time in pockets and hands, gathering dust and fingerprints that can cover the lens. A dirty lens will often result in pictures that seem cloudy, as the grime can block light from entering the lens. Try using a microfiber cloth or even some cleaning fluid to keep your phone’s lens clean and your pictures clear.
Try using the rule of thirds
The “rule of thirds” is a well-known compositional guideline in painting and photography, and remains a helpful blueprint for inexperienced photographers trying to take better photos. The theory behind the rule is that photos are more interesting when their subjects straddle imaginary lines that divide the photograph in thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Photographing subjects slightly off center often creates a more “balanced” image, and gives a greater sense of motion. This is in contrast to photos which place the subject dead center, which tends to result in photos that look more artificial.
To start, imagine a grid that divides your photo into nine parts.
In the photo above, for example, the trunk of the elephant statue is aligned along one of the vertical axis, while the street is aligned along a horizontal axis. In addition to the grid lines, the intersection points along the lines are also useful. The viewer’s eye is drawn to these points; placing an important feature near one of these intersection points – a person’s eyes, for example – will focus the viewer’s attention on that specific feature.
Despite the rigid name, the rule of thirds is really more of a guideline. Depending on what the photographer is trying to convey, a different composition may be more useful. If one wants to capture the symmetry of a building, for example, putting the subject in the center makes sense. The rule of thirds does provide an easy template to create interesting, balanced photos, and rookie photographers should take care to master the rules before they try and break them.
Pay attention to lighting
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography. The direction, color, and harshness of a light source can have dramatic effects on a photograph. This is why professional photographers will often have lamps and other devices to manipulate lighting. Chances are that if you’re using your phone to take photos, you’re probably in a situation where light sources are more or less out of their control. As such, it’s important to take advantage of the light one has, as best as one can.
A general rule to follow is to make sure that the primary source of light, be it the sun or a lightbulb, is behind you, shining on the subject of the photo. Try viewing the subject from different angles as well; the light hitting the side of a person’s face can result in a very different portrait than if the lighting is hitting the front of their face.
Of course, as with all artistic rules, experimentation can be much better than rigid adherence. Try taking advantage of strange lighting situations like sunsets for more unique photos.
Avoid using flash
Related to lighting is the issue of the flash function on camera phones. While flash is ostensibly good for taking photos in low-light environments, in general, it tends to make smartphone photos worse. Typically, the bulb sits close to the camera’s lens, which can cause overwhelming glare. Furthermore, when taking pictures of people, the flash can produce unwanted effects, such as glowing eyes or overly-lit skin. Of course, there are situations where flash is necessary, but for the most part, Android photographers ought to utilize natural lighting if they can. If you require an artificial light source, consider an LED lamp accessory that lets you adjust the temperature.