I started taking photos consistently about seven years ago. On an iPhone. I dabbled in photography prior to that, but digital camera technology was still pretty new, WIFI wasn’t as accessible and having the right software and wires made the process clunky and, frankly, a bit of a hassle. Everything changed for me, however, when I started using an iPhone and when wireless data transfer became the norm.
I don’t even remember which model of iPhone I was using at the time, but there was something satisfying being able to snap and share pictures like a pro. Eventually, I took a couple pics that were stock worthy and…boom. I was hooked. Now I have roughly 1200 photos on my stock photo site and recently passed 2 million downloads. Sadly, most of those were free, so I am not yet rolling in the bucks.
The more photos I take, the more amazed I am about the people who used to actually use film. I, like the rest of you, have the luxury of deleting the vast majority of shots that just didn’t turn out as expected. To imagine making a living, or even preserving memories, using the technology that didn’t allow a preview and film that had to be sent away to be developed makes me respect the photographers that came before us all the more.
But this isn’t about the history of photography. And I am certainly not an expert. However, I have learned a few things over the last few years from others or through good old trial and error that I want to share. Hopefully it will help someone reading this post save time or produce better photos.
Let’s start with the “do’s.”
#1 – Start with a cellular phone. It’s the easiest way to learn about photography. Not only are cellular phone cameras among the best digital cameras available, they are always close by. 90% of my best shots were captured incidentally while on a run, standing on a paddleboard, out and about or sightseeing.
#2 – Use the built-in features. Every cellular camera I’ve seen has settings that allow the user to choose the file size (an important consideration explained later), gridlines to align the shot and other features such as panoramic or portrait mode (which blurs everything in the background). There are tons of YouTube videos out there explaining these features that I recommend checking out.
#3 – Learn about the “Rule of Thirds.” The Rule of Thirds applies to where the subject of any shot appears in the frame. Basically, visualize the frame broken into nine equal quadrants–with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines (like in tic tac toe). To follow the Rule of Thirds, the subject should be either squarely in the center (top to bottom and right to left), or centered on one of the through lines. Even a photo with a bunch of technical flaws can still be useful or emotive if it is balanced and has good rhythm.
#4 – Pay attention to alignment when taking a photo. The camera itself, as well as nearly all third party editing apps have functions that allow you to align or correct a skewed photo. However, while it is not always super noticeable, any rotation (other than 90 or 180 degrees) will affect the sharpness and clarity of the shot. So get it right at the beginning.
#5 – Use third party editing tools. Aside from cropping, I don’t advise using the filters or other editing features built-into the phone itself. There are numerous free or inexpensive editing apps that can do amazing things. Adobe Photoshop Express, VSCO and Pixlr are my favorites. But there are many more, each with functionalities that may suit your needs. Also, depending on the purpose of your photo, be aware of whether the app downsizes your image.
#6 -Take your time. Most cellular cameras have an auto focus feature and you need to give it time to do it’s thing. For reasons explained above and below, taking care to make sure your hands are steady and the subject properly placed will save a lot of time and improve the overall quality of the shot.
#7 – Have a back-up system. The one downside of digital photography is that most of us have a bunch of memories stored in the air rather than in an album in the closet. A couple years ago, our pup ate my wife’s phone. Not really, but it was so mangled that we couldn’t even get it to turn on and there was no way to retrieve precious photos she had taken of her parents before they passed. I’ll talk about this more at the end, but wanted to emphasize that it’s important to make sure you have copies stored somewhere other than your phone.
Now, here are the “don’ts.”
#1 – Never use the two finger zoom method. We’ve all seen people getting ready to capture a shot use their thumb and index finger to zoom in on the subject. It might look ok on the tiny screen, but when viewed on any other device will look pixelated and gross. Some of the newer phones have multiple cameras that are designed for .5, 1x or 2x so that the photo doesn’t have to be distorted in order to capture the entire desired subject.
#2 – Manually transfer images to your other devices. If your phone camera syncs with other devices on your network (such as the IOS PhotoStream), the image is probably being downsized, meaning when you print it or view it on a larger screen, it will likely appear more pixelated. Even if it isn’t discernable, you’ll have to use a third party app to resize it larger in order for it to be useful in print or on a big screen. That, too ruins the quality. However, if you manually transfer images from the phone, the original file size remains intact.
#3 -Never delete the original image. New and improved editing apps are always being developed, and you’ll lose the opportunity to re-edit if you dump the original. Sadly, I didn’t think about this until a couple years into it. Oh well.
Now, if you’re really serious…
If you’re planning to take a lot of photos, or maybe even try to make a business out of it, you need to be organized. Your system needs to work with whatever device or platform you use and are comfortable with.
Here’s my system –
First, I only keep images on my phone until I have transferred them to my iPad. For the photos I want to keep or edit (usually 1 of every 50-100 I take), I store them in folders on my iPad. In the “shared albums” feature in my PhotoStream, I maintain a duplicate set of the folders that are on my iPad. I have yet another set of the same folders in Dropbox. And of course, edited images are also uploaded to my social media and photo sharing sites. I recognize that my system may be a bit over the top, however I don’t want to risk losing what I’ve spent so much time working on.
As I said earlier, I’ve learned a lot from trial and error. I also have hundreds–maybe thousands–of images taken and edited before I learned some of these things. I am sure I’ll continue to learn more. If you have any helpful tricks, please let me know.