Improve Composition by Using a Phone

7 Building Blocks of Photography 2

Before we begin, let’s get something straight. You have to be creative will ALL aspects of photography, not just composition. Composition is a creative thing for sure, but so is how light or dark a photo is. That’s creative use of exposure for example.

How much front to back sharpness a photo has (depth of field) is also creative and could be said to be an aspect of the overall composition. That’s creative use of apertures and distance to subject. You get my meaning.

Composition is only how we arrange the subject or scene within the viewfinder, what to include or exclude - and how much of it. Just a tiny change can make the difference between an interesting composition and one that’s uninspiring.

Ever since I started training back in 2008 people ask, “Which settings did you use?” Camera settings are of course very important when used creatively as I just said, but one person’s settings won’t yield the same result for someone else unless they have the exact same composition, focal length lens, lighting etc at the same moment.

Even sensor size will make a difference because they have the effect of altering focal length and depth of field.

The only way to be creative with the settings is to first learn what each do so they can be put together correctly for what you want the photo to look like. There’s only 5 setting controls on a camera that are vital in my opinion and I’ll guide you through them and their uses in the Masterclass in Photography if you’re confused by all this.

Composition is controlled by arms, legs, hands, knees and where you stand, sit or lay down, that’s all. Like everything we want to get good at it tales a little knowledge - and a lot of practise. And what better way to practise and improve composition that with the one camera most of us have with us all the time. Our phones.

Some phones are capable of capturing very high quality images too so please don’t ignore them, or some golden opportunity just because you don’t have a ‘proper’ camera with you. Here’s a gallery of photos I took with an old iPhone.

Experiment, always. Try different angles, heights, using foreground, try shooting flat graphic compositions, leading lines for images with depth, tiny adjustments to focal length can make a world of difference.

Don’t just concentrate on the subject; look through the viewfinder at the whole photo. Ask yourself what looks better, a photo of the Northern Lights?

NL only small


Or a landscape with the Northern Lights in it?

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Should there be more of the rocks on the left - or less? More foreground? Would it be better from a higher angle? Try it and see because there's no right answer.

Phones are brilliant for improving your composition through practise because they’re almost always with us. So when you’re waiting for a train, to go into a meeting, for a friend to come round, the waitress to take your order or anything else, whip your phone out, look around and see what kind of compositions you can find.

Don’t be scared to get it “wrong”. There is no wrong; there are only these experiments with composition, which can all be deleted afterwards if you don’t like them.

By practising with a phone or any camera you're gaining experience and knowledge - and that gives you power. If you have this experience of composition and have practised you'll begin to instinctive appraise situations. So when you're hanging around hoping the Northern Lights will dance tonight, you'll be seeing composititional opportunities and be ready with ideas when they do. 

Improving composition is the first step to being able to pre-visualise. In order to find your settings, you’ve got to pre-visualise how you want an image to look then reverse engineer it back to the settings you’ll need to do that.

The full 7 step thought process I use for that is in the 2nd course of my curriculum, The 7 Building Blocks Of Photography.

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3 Landscape Tips

vietnam-txt-streamLandscape photography is one of those areas where patience, thinking it through and taking your time pays dividends.  We have all seen a scene we want to capture but sadly we’re in a hurry, so we leap out the car and just grab a shot without giving it too much thought.

This may or may not result in a great shot. But have you thought to ask yourself if there’s more to be had from a location than the obvious? You have to build upon an initial idea. Explore possibilities.

I was in Vietnam driving through the mountains when we came upon this amazing view of rice terraces. We stopped so the film crew could shoot some aerial shots with their drone so Simon and I took the opportunity to look around and shoot this video.

As we drove up the hill I’d noticed one of the little paths that wind their way through the paddies so we went for a walk to see what it would yield.

Almost straight away we came upon some greenery we could use as foreground, which can frame a scene and give it more depth. In some cases just finding a bit of foreground can make or break an image.

But don’t forget to look around you. It’s all to easy to miss a beautiful detail of the landscape that’s right next to you because you’re absorbed by what’s in front.

You have to concentrate and really look at a scene. In the first shot of the last scenario there’s a stick poking up on the left. I didn’t really notice it to begin with. It wasn’t until I checked the shot in the LCD it became apparent.

So how do we remove it? Well obviously there’s Photoshop but I’m lazy. A few steps to the side will change the geometry of the image. It makes things align differently so you can lose unwanted clutter from the composition.

So besides making sure the light is appropriate for the scene, here are 3 landscape photography tips to consider.

  1. Take time – think of other possibilities for the location
  2. Find some foreground. It could make a world of difference
  3. Look to the side as well as in front. You might have missed something

These things are not functions of your camera. They are functions of you thinking like a photographer.


3 Landscape Tips

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