How to Be a Pro (Cellphone) Photographer

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the selfie is your autobiography.

Personally, I have about the same life experience as a naked mole rat, so I’d rather not dramatize my life story just yet.  Consider this thought blurb from Paul Strand on photography:  “Did I express my personality?  I think that’s quite unimportant because it’s not people’s selves but what they have to say about life that’s important.”

Selfies are for snapchat.  If you want to take your phone photography to the next level, here are 5 steps to master the craft.

Step 1: Flip the Phone Around

Fun things photographers can say and not be offensive:

  • I shoot people.
  • Please don’t flash me–it flattens the image.
  • Sorry, I accidentally cut off your limb. (I really need to do a better job at cropping)

But, you can only use these lines if you actually take photos of other people…. like this:


Yeah.  You wanna flip the phone.  It’s the first step to capturing more fun, interesting things.

Step 2: Fill the Frame

Get up close and personal.


Y I K E S.  Okay, maybe back it up a little bit.



In painting, drawing, and sculpting, the name of the game is detail.  Adding more detail into other mediums is paramount to creating fantastic art.  In photography, the opposite is generally true.  Taking details out of an image and focusing in on the subject is key to capturing a good image.  Making sure that your subject is the prominent figure in the shot goes a long way in establishing and capturing the right amount of detail.  Often times, too much detail separates the good shots from the great ones.

Step 3: Going for the Gold(en Hour)

Golden Hour is the peak time to take photographs.  Of course, nature never closes (and sometimes even calls), so you can take shots at noon or midnight.  However, the opportune time to whip out your phone is an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset.  The sun appears softer and redder than it does at midday, and the skies fill with color.  Since the sun appears less harsh, the Golden Hour cuts down the strong shadows and highlights and allows more color to come naturally into an image.


Moving on to step 4—anotha one.

Step 4: Leading Lines and Rule of Thirds

The term “rules” is really a misnomer when it comes to photography—they ought to be broken occasionally.  However, there are helpful compositional guidelines to help create an interesting shot.

The first image demonstrates how you can use line-like elements to draw your viewer’s attention to the subject matter.  In this case, the barbed wire acts as a map, guiding the eyes to the buildings on the bottom of the frame.  Helpful hint: be intentional when crafting a photograph.  Determine the path that you want your viewer to take when looking at the image.


A viewer’s eyes are generally drawn to an intersecting third of the image rather than the middle.  This means that key elements ought to be placed on these “thirds” to draw interest.


In the picture below, the horizon line lies directly on the top third of the image, while the rain is positioned on the left third.  The photo, in theory, becomes more balanced and more natural.  Helpful hint #2: Be aware of the “thirds” in the photograph when you take a shot. You can always adjustment the image later in editing to make sure the elements of the photo lie on the thirds.


Step 5: Don’t Stop Shooting

Don’t stop shooting.  Take as many pictures as possible.  Take shots of streetlights, people etc…just don’t stop shooting.  Even if you have to take those selfies from time to time.


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