Updated: Jan 17
The beauty of mobile photography is that it puts everyone on the same starting line. In our phones, we all have cameras of incredible quality and possibility. Photography is no longer about having the right gear, but rather being able to use whatever camera you have at the moment to create the imagery you envision. Each photographer is going to have their preferred tools and personally, I love the immediacy and accessability of iPhone images. The iPhone is my favorite camera for all of my self portrait sessions, for members of the Self Portrait Studio and for client photoshoots, as it allows me to switch seamlessly between photo and video. No need to pull out the big camera to document a moment, mobile photography is wonderful option and so easy to use.
So how do you create better photos when you’re working with your phone? Here are
four of our best tips to get you started:
Before you pick up the camera
Always be looking for images that inspire you. An iPhone camera is a tool, just like any other camera, and no matter how advanced the technology is, the quality of any photo will depend entirely on the photographer’s creative vision. You'll need to set an intention for each shot before you pick up the camera.
You have to look at images to see what you find attractive about image making, and then you can figure out how to implement that in your own way. Moodboards are the best way to ensure you are making the most of your shots. Think of them as a dry run to work out the kinks prior to stepping in front of the camera — a way to see the final creative vision all in one place. Self Portrait Studio members recently used this process for each of their 8-week photo challenge prompts. They started strong, carefully setting intentions and putting time into preparation for the first half of the challenge, however by week five they were feeling less satisfied with their final images. When we met for our weekly call, they all admitted to doing less prep that week. They went into their shoots without clear creative visions and were less happy with their final images as a result.
You have to look at images to see what you find attractive about image making, then you can figure out how to implement that in your own way.
Like the idea of having all of your mood board inspiration ideas in one easy to access place? You'll love our free moodboard template!
Your light and angles
Lighting can make or break your picture, but that doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of money on professional lighting gear. No matter how advanced or new you are to photography, access to good light makes all the difference, especially when it comes to mobile photography.
For most of my photos, I use just one light source. Sometimes with a white reflector. A common mistake beginners make is to get bogged down in trying to create complicated lighting schemes with ring lights and flashes. This leads to more stress and often disappointing results in the final images. Unless you are going for an over-exposed Disco Bestie aesthetic, think simple: choose your location, see what you have to work with, then think about how to light it.
A common mistake beginners make is to get bogged down in trying to create complicated lighting schemes, with ring lights and flashes. This leads to more stress and often disappointing results in the final images
Learn to work with natural daylight from a window or glass door. If you are setting the scene for a self portrait, stand or sit about 5 feet from the window. Shoot from all angles and sides to understand how the light falls on you and how that affects the overall image. For example, if you want even light without shadows, face the window and stand with your back to it. You find that this light is good, but feels flat, so you turn about 30 degrees from the window. Now you should get interesting shadows to emphasize the angles of your face.
Practice on your own
Start with casual shoots, using yourself as the subject. Always start with a storyline in mind. Ask yourself, what emotion am I trying to elicit with these images? What do I want the viewer to feel when they look at them? From there, keep everything simple. The lighting, the styling, and the poses you’ll improve with practice. Remember, if you can make something from very little, you’re golden. Keep experimenting to find your style. For members of the Self Portrait Studio, this usually happens around week three of our eight week challenge. I have three rules when it comes to practicing with your mobile camera.
If you can make an engaging image from very little, you’re golden.
The three rules
Unique narratives always outweigh a perfect image.
More important than making things look perfect is presenting a story that’s special and piques people’s interest. It's worth practicing creating a vibe with your images focusing on aspects that will elicit the emotion you are going for.
Your photos will improve if you are comfortable.
Invest in a tripod already. This gooseneck version is under $40 and even comes with a bluetooth remote, eliminating the need to get up and check your phone after every shot. Also choose a location where you feel comfortable. You don’t have to have a light, bright white wall space to take great photos — the most important thing is to shoot where you’ll make your best work.
Unique narratives always outweigh a perfect image. More important than making things look perfect is presenting a story that’s special and piques people’s interest.
Styling is important.
Clothing, props, and color (or the absence of color) inform the way the image looks and feels. What colors dominate the image? Bright pastels or cool, dark blues? How do they work with the background and setting? The setting is almost always the second subject of a photo. The right location will transport viewers into your story and narrative. We find that props and color tell their own stories — the key is picking the ones that fit into your own.
Edit with mobile presets
Not all photo presets are created by professional photographers. If you've ever purchased an inexpensive set and were perplexed by the results, you know what I'm talking about. Most are too bright with glaring highlights and artificial, overly saturated colors. You were probably left feeling like the quality of your original photos was to blame.
You aren't at fault here, I can almost guarantee it. Photo presets are often marketed as a an easy, one-click solution allowing you to quickly edit your photos within seconds, on the go, using only your phone! This however is not always the case. No preset can save a mediocre image if you've neglected the above tips.
In the Self Portrait Studio, we focus on editing as icing on an already delicious cake. Our goal is to enhance what is already present in your image. Think of it as the final swipe of lipstick before you head out the door. We aim for enhanced, not artificial.
Focus on editing as icing on an already delicious cake. Our goal is to enhance what is already present in your image. Think of it as the final swipe of lipstick before you head out the door. We aim for enhanced not artificial.
Try our Golden Preset Collection.
I've created the Golden Preset Collection to do just this — to take your day to day photos to a more professional quality. These presets were created for those who love to capture portraits, food, travel, and interiors. This preset collection includes 12 color presets for different lighting situations and 2 in black and white. Shop Our Collection.