The principles of good photography apply to any smartphone
There’s no right or wrong way to take a photo. Only you know what you want to capture, and only you know how you want it to look. You’re free to ignore every convention – and indeed we’d urge you to do just that if you find they’re quashing your creativity – but do at least bear in mind these tried and tested rules that have served countless generations of visual artists. They don’t apply only to photography; you can see them in use in fine art, painting and sculpture – they’ve proved their worth!
The rule of thirds
It’s a widely acknowledged fact, first espoused in 1797 by painter John Thomas Smith, that offsetting the point of focus in your image can actually make it far stronger. He theorised, correctly, that if you put them one third in from the left or right of the frame, the resulting composition will be stronger and far more satisfying. He named the theory the ‘Rule of Thirds’, and it’s still the most important rule of visual composition over two centuries later.
You can see it in action on television, where newsreaders are usually positioned a third of the way in from the left of the right of the screen. Their eyes are frequently a third of the way down from the top of the screen, and on a wide shot – often one where the anchor talks to a remote reporter on a large screen – the desk occupies the bottom third of the frame.
Composing your iPhone shots in the same way will result in far more striking results. It can take a little practice to start with, but the iPhone helps by overlaying the display with a three-by-three grid. Open the Settings app > Photos & Camera, and turn on the switch beside Grid. The native Camera app will then display a grid on the screen against which you can line up your subjects. (Don’t worry, it won’t appear on the photos themselves.)
Site solo portrait subjects on the one-third vertical lines, and when capturing a landscape, align the horizon with one of the horizontal guides, either a third of the way up or down the frame. When shooting the coast, you may be able to get the horizon one third of the way down from the top, and the point where the sea and the sand meet on the beach one third of the way up from the bottom. Perfection!
Focus on the eyes
The first thing we’re all drawn to when we look at a portrait is the subject’s eyes. If they’re out of focus the whole image will be spoiled.
Offsetting the point of focus in your photo using the so-called Rule of Thirds usually makes it stronger
From iOS 5 onwards, the iPhone camera has been able to detect faces within a frame and then use them as the point of focus. If, however, it’s having trouble spotting someone in your photo, tap them on the screen (or aim for the eyes if possible) to make sure that they’re used to set the focus and exposure for best results.
Force the flash
It’s generally accepted that you should avoid shooting towards the sun. If you do, the camera will ramp down the overall exposure and throw any subject between you and the sun into silhouette. Sometimes, though, you’ll have no choice but to break this rule if you want to shoot a friend in front of a landmark – particularly if the landmark happens to be south of you (in the northern hemisphere), or if it has the sun rising or setting behind it.
In these instances, you can tell the iPhone to partially disregard the brightness within the scene and fire the flash anyhow. Assuming they are close enough to the phone, this will illuminate the subject and lift it out of the shadows; it won’t work on something like the pyramids because the flash doesn’t have sufficient range, but it’s perfect for portraits.
On the native Camera app, tap the flash icon in the top-left corner of the screen and select ‘On’. Leaving it set to Auto, its default option, lets the iPhone decide for itself when to fire the flash based on the ambient illumination.
Lead the eye
It’s your picture, so you can tell the viewer where to look. Make use of strong receding and converging lines to draw them into the scene and the eye will automatically follow them through the frame. Keep in mind that not all converging lines are straight; as a winding road or path snakes away from the lens its borders will also converge, and you may choose to crop out the point at which they meet by recomposing the frame so that they disappear beyond the border. This adds a level of interest to the image that might not be present if you allowed the viewer to see what happens at the furthest end of path.
If you’re shooting straight lines that move directly away from your position, consider breaking the first of our rules and positioning them in the very centre of the frame where they’ll be at their most dynamic.
Positioning the subject of your photo where the grid lines intersect usually makes for a stronger and more dynamic photograph.