If you’re like me, you see tons of beautiful pictures on social media and think, “how the heck do they take such great pictures!?” While many people DO invest in an actual DSLR camera for high quality, high resolution beautiful shots, I found this just wasn’t always practical. Real life means your fancy camera isn’t always going to be ready, and that leaves you with a mobile photography as the means of capturing your favorite moments.
So I’ve spent a lot of time researching how people achieve that DSLR look with their phone camera. I’m definitely not an expert, and I still have a lot to learn too – but here’s what’s been working for me.
Photography is 90% capturing and 10% editing
If you start with a really great raw (unedited) picture, you shouldn’t need to over-edit, filter, etc. The more you edit a picture, the more artificial it’s going to appear, so really put the bulk of your effort into capturing a great raw shot. This means it meets the following:
- Great lighting – phones automatically calculate your exposure, shutter speed, and ISO based on the light in your image. For a crisp, clean image, you need light and LOTS of it (this reduces the ISO and increases shutter speed). If you’re trying to photograph in low-light, there are some editing options that can assist – but for the BEST quality, make sure you have light! And no – that doesn’t mean flash. Flashes on cell phone cameras are often way too harsh and create bad glare and uneven lighting. Try to avoid flash at all costs!
- Rule of thirds – think of a picture as a grid divided into 9 equal parts:
You want your pictures to have focal points along the intersections of this grid. Until you’re good at eyeballing – you can add gridlines to your camera preview in your phone settings. (Read more on rule of thirds here)
- Go candid – make your pictures interesting and candid. Everyone loves a cute posed picture, but some of the best pictures I have are completely candid. People enjoy seeing real-life.
Know your post-processing tools
So you captured a great shot, and you’re ready to post it on Instagram. Post-processing can help you edit a picture to take it to that next level. I’m not just talking instagram filters here – you need to get in there and really adjust the picture. The good news is there’s plenty of great tools available for phones.
For editing on my phone, I use a combo of the following apps:
- Facetune ($3.99) – Facetune is great for patching, smoothing skin, detailing the iris, and adding focal blur. Be careful not to overdo it though – a lot of their settings are unable to adjust the intensity (so especially when detailing eyes/smoothing skin, don’t overdo it or your subject might look like a cyborg)
- VSCO (free, unless you want additional filters) – VSCO has great filters that can give you that dreamy, jewel-toned muted look you see all over instagram. They also have way better b+w filters than the standard instagram filters. You can adjust the intensity of the filter, too.
- Instagram (free) – I prefer adjusting exposure, contrast, sharpness, and warmth in Instagram directly right before I post the picture. So once I’ve cleaned it up in Facetune, and added a filter in VSCO, I use Instagram to put on the final touches
Edit, edit, edit
Take your time using these tools to really pull out the best in your raw image. My editing process (generally) is:
- Remove blemishes/smooth skin (facetune) – Don’t overdo it.
- Defocus/Blur background (facetune) – when appropriate. Sometimes doing this compromises the integrity of the picture, so not always necessary, but great for a busy background.
- Add a filter (VSCO) – my favorite VSCO filters are the B, C, F, and S series (I paid for some of these but I’m not totally sure which ones). In general, I like crisp filters with cool colors. Some pictures, especially those taken in low light or where the clarity might be compromised, look great in black and white.
- Straighten (Instagram) – Take a look at the background, make sure it’s STRAIGHT! If you have a crooked horizon, the whole picture looks off. There are of course exceptions to this but for the most part, your subject should be straight.
- Crop (Instagram) – if your subject doesn’t meet the rule of thirds in the raw image, crop within Instagram to make sure your focal point hits close to a gridline intersection
- Adjust exposure (Instagram) – bump up your overall exposure a hair if your subject is too dark. If you’re trying to remove shadows from a face, try tweaking using the shadows tool in Instagram instead of only bumping up the overall exposure.
- Adjust warmth (Instagram) – Over-warm pictures are just not as pretty as correctly color adjusted ones. Make sure your whites look WHITE. Temperature adjustment can really make/break and image
- Adjust clarity (Instagram) – A little sharpness to the picture can really go a long way
- Adjust contrast (Instagram) – Darkens your darks and lightens your lights. Too much will look overdone, so just adjust enough to make the image pop.
- Step away. Save the picture and come back to it in five minutes before posting. This pause gives you a fresh eye and you can make sure you really love everything about your picture before actually posting.
Follow the looks you love
Finally, the best way to keep motivated and inspired is to follow great photography spotlight accounts (like Candid Childhood, Pixel Kids, JJ Community, etc.). These highlight particular pictures throughout the day from accounts all over the world. Camera Mama is another excellent account to follow because they often ask the photographer to describe exactly how they got the shot they’re featuring.
So there you have it. I still have a ways to go in perfecting my technique, so I’m always open to learning new tricks. You can check out my instagram here, and feel free to share any of your tips and tricks below!
For great tips on how to GAIN followers – check out this post on Living For Naptime!