Mobile Photography Tips — Fundamentals

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With the rise of the mobile cameras, nearly everyone today has a camera in their pocket at all times. Practicing photography is actually a phenomenal way to train yourself to be more present, observant and engaged with the world around you—rather than just passively staring at your phone screen.

This week, we will provide a two-part blog series where we’ll share four fundamentals of photography. The first two of four fundamentals focus on leveling up your photography skills, being more observant and using the craft as a way to be more aware of life around you.

Whether you’re shooting on your Palm, a classic film camera, or another smartphone, we hope these tips will help you become a more intentional and skilled photographer.

Fundamental 1 — Get clear on what you’re trying to show and convey.

The first fundamental we’ll explore is easy to gloss over, but it is arguably the most important—that is, get clear on what you’d like to show and convey in your photo. Great photos tell a story, convey a message, or evoke an emotional response from the viewer. Your job as a photographer is to frame your story or message through your lens, and bring the viewers to the “destination” you’d like them to arrive at. Not every photo’s story needs to be a novel, but it should have a clear focus and subject

How do you achieve this? Start by asking yourself what caught your eye about the scene you’re photographing and what elements you want to show up in your image. That is, what would you like someone to feel when viewing this image? Is it hope? Sadness? A sense of beauty? Or do you simply want to show that you and your friends finished the hike? Whatever it is, try to get a clear perspective on it, so you can intentionally arrange the elements within the frame. Getting in the habit of thinking through this filter when taking photos will help train your eyes to frame images in a more compelling manner. As you practice framing with clarity, it will become second nature and you’ll be seeing clear images before you even pull out your camera. 

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This image, captured on Palm, aims to draw the viewer's eye through the plants and to the light airy ceiling. Do you get a sense of lightness and airiness? 

Fundamental 2 — Composition and Framing

Once you’ve figured out what you want to show and convey in your photo, you want to think about how to achieve capturing it with the right composition and framing. This will take your photos to the next level. Thankfully, learning the basics is pretty easy, and the more you practice, the sharper your skills will get. 

What exactly is composition and framing? Essentially we’re talking here about how you arrange elements of your photograph in order to guide the viewer’s eyes, and get your message or story across. If storytelling is the “why” behind our photos, we can think of composition and framing as the “how”. By mastering this fundamental area of photography, you’ll become exceptionally better at getting your story and your message across.

So how do we organize elements of our photos well? There’s a couple tried and true techniques that will be helpful starting points.

Let’s start first with the rule of thirds—essentially this rule encourages us to line up key elements of our composition along guidelines that cut the frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (see the image below). When lining up your frame to take a photo, experiment with placing things along these lines, and at the four intersections. This often helps give your composition a more balanced feeling—your subject won’t feel too far out of the frame, but also won’t feel too heavily centered. For landscapes, experiment with placing the horizon at the bottom or top thirds of your photos. You’ll notice that lining up the horizon to the bottom third gives more attention to the sky, or to whatever is above your horizon. Placing the horizon at the top third of your frame has the opposite effect, and instead give the viewer more attention to what’s below the horizon—perhaps a city, or a valley below the mountains. In this example, the same scene will take on two different focuses and communicate different “stories” to the viewer.

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You can turn on the grid in your camera settings on Palm to get a helpful guide for composing your images. 

The rule of thirds is a great guiding principle, but is certainly not the only option when arranging your photograph. Many photos actually break the rule and instead place their subject smack in the center of the frame. This is totally acceptable, and can create a very powerful effect in your photo. To practice, try going back and forth between centering your subject and aligning it to the rule of thirds. For example, how does a portrait change when you show the face in the center of the photo compared to having it in the right third of the frame? As you practice and experiment, you’ll get a sense for how the different compositions affect the overall image. 

While experimenting with composition and learning through trial and error is critical, I also highly recommend taking some time to study composition. Look at professional photographers and notice how they frame their subjects and elements within the image. Photography books, print magazines, Instagram and Pinterest are all great starting points for finding inspiration. 

You can also look back even further into the works of master classical painters, like Vermeer or da Vinci, to see how they arranged their paintings to draw the eye along through the scene and tell a story. Additionally, pay very close attention to the way light is portrayed in these paintings. Observe how the light falls in the painting, and how it either illuminates or obstructs (through shadow) different elements within the painting. You’ll begin to notice that best painters clearly mastered the use of light and shadow to bring our eyes to gaze upon to a specific point in the scene. Studying classic painted portraits is especially helpful for getting better at framing portrait photography. Notice how the painters pose the angle of the face, the chin, the shoulders, the eyes. Then, use what you learned the next time you pull out your camera.

In our next blog will talk much more about mastering light. We hope these first two photography fundamentals get you inspired to pull out your camera and start snapping pics with more clarity, composition and framing. Don't forget to share your images you take on Palm with us— tag #PalmPics for a chance to be featured!