Photography is a form of art. Today, everyone is a photographer as far as access but not everyone can take a good photo. First of all, smartphone photography isn’t like DSLR photography. The current phones do have some capability for controlling lighting, depth of field, wide angle and telephoto shots. Even so, it’s a poor substitute for the interchangeable lens and manual settings available on a DSLR camera. With smartphone photography it’s less about the technical quality of the shot and more about using photographic elements that create a good photo.

Most people use their smartphone camera to point and shoot, recording something directly in front of them. To move past this and begin creating photos that can be called “art” you need to be aware of elements that make for a good photo.

Below I have listed five elements that create a good smartphone photo: mood, composition, lighting, texture and color.

To illustrate each of these five elements,  I am using photos submitted to my Facebook group “Isolating at home cellphone challenge”.  Since I have highlighted the winning photos in previous blog posts, today I want to showcase some of the photos that didn’t win. Many were just as strong as the winning images but with so many entries they weren’t chosen.

1. Mood

Think of all the many moods to draw on in order to create a strong photo. In the photo below, look at the pure JOY expressed on the face of Nina Jacob’s dog.

Happy dog playing in water

Nina Jacobs

Robin Sears used humor to express a mood in her photo. This image of the pigs hoarding toilet paper (at the beginning of the pandemic) and a sad little bunny, who only had one roll, was a winner in my eyes.

humor in photography

Robin Dodge Sears

In her self portrait  Cindy Butler expressed her mood of apprehension about heading back out after once lock down was lifted.

self portrait expressing fear

Cindy Butler

2. Composition

Composition is how you frame your photo. Before you rush to shoot, ask yourself a few questions. Will this make a pleasing photo as it is?  Does the photo look balanced and is there a clear focal point? Is there something in the background that shouldn’t be there? It only takes a second or two to give some thought before you take the photo.

Barbara Hirsh, used the “rule of thirds” to compose her photo. Her use of color, line and texture resulted in a very nice image.

well balanced composition

Barbara Hirsch

Annie Damphousse also used the rule of thirds in her photo of a boy fishing. Using the trees to “frame” the boy, gives the boy scale in the environment. It would not have been nearly as interesting a shot had it just been the boy and the pond.

composition with the smartphone

Annie Damphousse

Will downs created a very interesting composition when he entered the “shoot up” challenge. There is visual interest in the upper half and lower half of the photo.  Even so, the image does not appear too busy. Shooting from a different perspective can create a very interesting composition.

low perspective in photography

Will Downs

3. Lighting

Good lighting is one of the most important elements of a good photo. Without good lighting, no matter how thoughtful your composition is, the photo will fall flat. It goes without saying that your photo should be properly exposed but the three images below used light as the subject matter of their photos.

Saz Lennon caught a sunrise over a pond. This beautiful early light is called the “golden hour” and is many photographers favorite time of the day to shoot.

sunrise over a marsh

Saz Lennon

Debra Top-Newell did something similar and used the light being filtered through the trees as her subject.

sunlight through trees

Debra Top-Newell

In the photo below Adam Japko used a low light to create his photo. The deep shadows falling on the stark white snow with the empty lake in the background, emphasises the feeling of isolation and loneliness. It was so appropriate because Adam was isolating alone at his lake house while his physician wife worked the front lines during the pandemic.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Adam Japko

4. Texture

Tight shots is where the smartphone camera really shines. Think of all the things that have an interesting texture when you shoot in close. Michelle Krick found some wonderful texture when she looked closely at her collection of yarn. The fact that she turned it into a black and white has even more impact. The viewer is not distracted by color so the texture becomes the focus of the photo.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Michelle Krick

Andrew Joseph created a very interesting image by focusing on a small section of a lamp and the reflection it threw off against the green wall.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Andrew Joseph

Texture can turn a photo into something that looks like a painting. Michelle Cortizo created an interesting image using texture and light.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Michelle Cortizo

5. Color

With the smartphone camera it is easy to make a beautiful image by using the element of color. The smartphone cameras have mastered the technology of good color reproduction. In the photo below by Debra Black Otjen, look at the beautiful subtle color shifts in the pansies.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Debra Black Otjen

Claire Hannifin made an interesting composition using colorful  glass beads arranged in a grid pattern.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Claire Hannafin

Flowers are always an obvious subject when looking to use color. The purple lilacs below, pop against the green foliage in the image  created by Jen Sterling. The fact that she blurred the background allows the flowers to stand out even more.

five elements that create a good smartphone photo

Jen Sterling

Often times we intuitively utilize these elements without even thinking about them. If you take the time though to give these five elements that create a good smartphone photo some thought, you will see your photos improve over time. The result will be less point and shoot “recordings” and more thoughtfully “created” images.

If you are interested in improving your smartphone camera skills, I’d love to have you join my FREE Facebook group. I post a once a week cellphone challenge. It’s non competitive and lot’s of fun. The link is here in red if you want to check it out. Isolating at Home Cellphone Photo Challenge.

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Five elements that create a good smartphone image

Linda Holt | Interior Designer & iPhone Coach

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