Think back to the scariest time of the 21st century, the dark ages for millennials like you and me – a time when cell phones were missing a feature that now seems indispensable.
I’m talking about 2001, when people went to Creed or ‘NSync concerts and stood in the crowds with an empty feeling in their stomachs. “This concert is great, but how can I record this for posterity’s sake? How can I share this with my friends?”
Fortunately for those early 2Kers, camera phones were right around the corner. Now, no matter where you go, you have a camera – and a pretty powerful one at that – right in your pocket. Never again will you forget the time that the sunset looked perfect over Gelman Library or that one time you had a really, really good crepe.
But let’s be frank. We all share a lot of photos, and too many of them suck. But as a person who likes to pretend he knows something about photography, let me share a few tips on how to best use your phone’s camera.
Tip 1: Know your phone’s limitations, but don’t be limited by them.
Camera phones have come a long, long way since the very first model, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect by any means. If you’re rocking an iPhone in your pocket like I am, there are several things that still hold it back compared to your run-of-the-mill DSLR.
iPhones have a fixed aperture, which means you can’t adjust the depth of field in which you’re shooting. The phone’s default camera app also limits your ability to adjust exposure or shutter speed.
We can’t forget how awful the iPhone digital zoom can be, but that doesn’t mean phenomenal photos can’t be taken with mobile phones. There are even contests now for best mobile phone photos. Stick to shots that the phone is equipped to take, like wide shots of a landscape or close-ups. Avoid relying on the iPhone’s so-so digital zoom, and you’ll produce photos worth sharing.
You can also download apps, like the popular VSCO Cam (free) or ProShot ($3) to give yourself more control over your camera. Both apps let users adjust ISO – how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light – and shutter speed.
Tip 2: There’s more to life than Instagram filters.
Look, I get it. You just took a great shot that you want to share with all of your friends on Instagram, but it just isn’t quite there yet. Wouldn’t it just be so much more #artsy if you put the Inkwell or Nashville filter over the top and called it a day?
You could do that, but you’re really limiting yourself. Instagram filters get the job done, but on a feed filled with them, they quickly start to look cheesy.
If you’re set on filters, the aforementioned VSCO Cam offers a much wider range of filters that have a subtler effect on your photos (you can buy more filter packages starting at $0.99). If you’re already shelling out money for an Adobe photography package, you can get Lightroom on your phone as well – but I wouldn’t suggest spending the extra money every month just to have it on your phone.
And don’t be a stickler for the square: If you think your shot looks better in a different shape, use an app like InstaSize (free) to preserve those aspect ratios before posting.
Tip 3: Shoot a lot, post a little.
A big part about getting the best photo is putting yourself in the right place at the right time and having a lot of luck.
Sometimes, you’ll try to shoot a sunrise just a minute too late or miss the panda at the National Zoo looking at your camera. It’s OK. When this happens (and it will), you shouldn’t be discouraged. Just keep shooting.
If you don’t like the way a photo looks, don’t stop. Go back and retake the photo – and just be ready to accept that you won’t always get the shot you want.
Photography is all about getting a bad picture, and then keeping at it until you finally get one you’re happy with. With a camera and editing deck in everyone’s pocket, the opportunity to take some impressive photos is easier than ever as long as you’re willing to keep at it.
I hope one of these tips is at least slightly helpful. With practice and some extra thought going into each of your new masterpieces, I’m sure you’ll be #InstaFamous in no time.