the everyday lens--5 tips for the simple joy-seeker

I shared in my last post about why personal documentation matters. Today, I want to give you some practical application for that. Namely, the art of phone photography. Confession: This is not an iPhone-only photography tutorial because I don't shoot with iPhone (gasp!). I've always owned Samsung phones and been more than happy with them. All of the shots in this post were taken with my Galaxy S6.

My hope is to unpack some of the mysterious aspects of that surround photography in this post. Please know that getting those killer shots is totally achievable for anyone. This avenue of photography isn't only for some elite club of globe-trotting millennials with the year's latest model of iPhone. No hate intended. I like iPhones (and the traveling humans who own them ;) ) In fact, my husband happens to have the latest model, ha! I just didn't want you to think that you have to have a fancy phone and magnificent traveling plans to get phone shots that bring you personal joy. No, you can do this right from home. Let me show you. 

Here are my 5 tips for any aspiring phone photographers.

1. Keep your equipment clean. That tiny lens on the back of your phone get's surprisingly grimy. To help you get those crisp shots, make a habit of checking your phone lens for smudges and wiping it off before snapping a photo. We love to keep alcohol-based screen wipes on hand for our phones. Seriously, they're stashed in our kitchen cupboard, the diaper bag and the car. We hate to be without them! You can find them at Walmart or anywhere that sells electronics devices.

2. Draw the eyes to your main subject. Whether you're trying to capture a shot of that delectable latte or a quick portrait of your child, frame up the shot. Notice in these first four pictures how your eyes go exactly where I want them to because I used the surroundings to frame my subject. This is mainly achieved using the 'rule of thirds'. If you're not familiar with that term go HERE to read an article that explains is better than I can. I don't use the rule of thirds religiously but, it's invaluable to have this information in the back of your mind when you're taking pictures. 

3. Experiment with exposure (brightness). Our phones usually automatically overexpose the shot. I am constantly bringing my exposure down before taking the picture. In my experience, it's easier to edit a slightly underexposed shot than an overexposed one. To adjust exposure, first open your camera app, tap on the screen where you want your focus point to be, and the exposure slider should appear (usually represented by a sun or lightbulb symbol). Then, simply adjust as needed for your shot. 

4. Lighting, lighting, lighting. At the risk of sounding flighty and weird, become a lover of natural light. Study it. Know it's in and outs. Learn how it behaves indoors and outdoors. Watch how it plays with your child's hair and leaks through window panes. Without light, there is no such thing as photography. If you get lighting wrong, no amount of editing will fix your picture. I can't emphasis enough how important it is to be aware of the light in your shot. As a general rule, the first and last hours of the day are the best for shooting. But overcast days or near windows inside will also give you delightful results. 

4. Change your mindset. Once again, comparison can be a killer when it comes to seeking out joy or learning an art. Refuse to believe the self-propelled lie that you have to go on some epic road trip to get those drool-worthy shots. Once again, no hate here. Road trips are good. I love road trips. I get excited about taking phone shots in fresh, exciting scenes. But if we live in that mindset, we're cultivating discontentment. There is beauty in your ordinary. All of following shots we're taken at our--old, oddly lit, crooked--home. 

5. The 'Everyday Lens' Philosophy. I can't remember how I came upon this concept but, one day I decided to stop underestimating my phone. As a photographer who shoots with the powerful capability of the Canon 5D mark iii, it's easy to think that my phone is a sub-par instrument when it comes to documenting life. And while it's true that the overall quality is better when shooting with 'big cameras', it doesn't mean that your phone shouldn't be considered as a valuable tool. You can get lovely-print-worthy pictures with the same phone you're most likely reading this blog post with right now. Once I stopped disregarding my phone and treating it like another lens in my photographer tool kit, it opened me up to a whole new artistic mindset. 

Some last words on editing.

>> What to use: Like most, I use the (free!) VSCO app. There's a reason practically everyone use it. Their editing tools and filters are honestly unsurpassed. I did have to pay for the filters I use but they're certainly worth the few dollars spent.

>>My process: I won't go into great detail about editing today because that would be a post in itself. If that's something you'd like to know more about you'll have to let me know!  That being said, I'll share my phone editing process to maybe help you figure yours out: First, I import the photo to VSCO, straighten it (good lines make or break a picture). Then, apply a filter (usual on a lower setting). Finally I play around with contrast, exposure, temperature and sharpness until I get what I'm looking for. My end goal whenever editing any photo is to make it look like it wasn't edited. Does that make sense? I want to highlight the beauty that was there to begin with, not force it with layer after layer of overdone editing.

>>The overall editing tip: make sure your whites are white. As in, take note of any white in the picture and make sure you keep it as close to pure white as possible. Too much yellow, blue, green or red tones usually don't give the best results in my humble photographer's opinion. As stated earlier, I'm a die hard VSCO fan, but the A Color Story app has a free 'curves' tool that I've really been loving lately to brighten up my photos and bring out color. You may want to give it a try as well. 

I know this isn't the only (or even the best) phone photography tutorial out there. But I wanted to share my methods in hopes of leveling the photography playing field a little. Like I stated in the beginning, anyone can be a phone photographer. It just takes practice and the right perspective. If you have any questions, shoot me an email! 

ps. I CAN'T WAIT to share my next blog post. It's all about what to do with those crazy beautiful phone pictures once you take them. Because the last thing they need to do is be gathering dust inside your phone. I'm sharing my beloved resources for creating tangible stories. Here's a sneak peak: