One of the most challenging questions I have received from a newbie of an Instagram group that I ran was “I want to take good pictures. Can you show me what to do?” Now I am an iPhone only happy-snapper so I was quite flattered that this person even asked.
I answered her question by rabbiting on about focusing and to keep things simple, being conscious about light, the rule of thirds, contrast, blah blah blah. I lost her after a minute, so I had to take a step back and say “what about I write a post about it and share it with you.”
This is not a technical article on photography. As I said I am an iPhone guy.
I can best describe myself as someone who likes taking moments because frankly, that’s what you do with your phone. I generally focus on capturing culture — walls, beaches, people etc. The best photos I take are usually random and as such, I like storing that moment as it is with very little post-processing.
What I’m not at ‘the moment’ (pardon the pun) is a heavy camera with equipment guy that goes to a location and waits for a specific moment to come to him. I run into moments, I don’t set-up shop and wait around for them.
And it goes without saying that I don’t do client work and I also don’t take photos with intent of having them framed in the back of my mind (but I’d be more than happy to frame shots if the photo ends up that way).
So let me start with what catches me as a photographer.
Things that catch my eye
Studying my photos, I have 5 broad categories that catch my eye.
I love colour and a big portion of my collection is dedicated to all the wondrous colour we have all around.
The bolder the colour combo, the more likely I’ll be tempted to grab my phone and take the shot.
Just like art preserves culture, I like to think that my pictures represent the ‘sign of the times’ i.e. the current and changing times.
I don’t consciously go out and think “what part of the times should I capture today?”. This is more an unconscious choice, so there must be something in my subliminal that attracts me to this area of the world.
Things that are different
This is often the hardest thing to find as most everything has already been done to death. But I guess I like focussing on things that are not so run-in-the-mill.
Now that I look back on the pics that I have, I can see that all of them are a combination of man-made structures framed against nature.
There are so many aesthetically pleasing, well-designed spaces and objects out there.
These things continually inspire me to write, design, and build things — even if they are completely unrelated to what I do. I draw inspiration from these things to get me in the mood to create.
Note: to be fair, I draw inspiration from most everything I share.
The beautiful world
I quite enjoy taking pictures of nature and it’s beautiful surroundings.
Like most of my shots, I don’t overthink the moment. I simply see it, whip out the phone, take the shot, then swiftly put the phone away as I really need to savour each moment as much as I can.
Taking the money shot
When I see something of interest, I do a few things to make sure I capture what I see on the frame while minimising the distracting elements around it.
Circling the subject
Stop if you’ve heard this before: You see something interesting, you take a shot, review the snap, then come to the conclusion that you’re unhappy with the result (too much noise in the background, lighting is all wrong, the main features don’t stand out etc.).
These days I walk around the subject in order to find the best angle for the shot. The lighting, for example, could be better a few paces to the right, or it could be that the defining features of the subject are best presented when you’re a few steps to the left. It’s really hard to say sometimes but taking a few pics while circling will at least provide choices.
Zooming in (or out)
Some snaps look better with just a little bit of natural background in the frame. Others look better with a lot.
Pinching to zoom in and out enables me to focus on the main subject, ensuring that I capture just enough of the limelight as it warrants.
Walking backwards and forward
Similar to pinching the screen, the focus here is keeping the main object as clean as can be without noise.
I usually keep my hand positioned so that the camera is pointing to the object and walk backwards and forwards until I am happy.
Portrait and Landscape
Some images look naturally better in portrait mode. Others look better when you flip the phone sideways and take landscape shots.
This trick really depends on the subject and it’s surrounding.
Taking lots of shots
It’s a little bit arrogant to think that I can land the money shot with a single shot (and it gets even trickier when the subject is in motion). That’s when I start to use burst mode or I simply keep snapping as I move.
I found it easier to find ‘the money shot’ when there are a few photos to select from.
I take a few shots while circling, changing angles, pinching, walking backwards and forwards and flipping the phone. Then it’s really a matter of looking at all the pics you have taken and selecting the best one.
Of course, there’s a bit of work to do in selecting the right photo after you’ve taken a few shots. Then it’s a matter of doing some final edits before sharing the pics to the world.
I do very little post processing compared to others that I know who spend hours on end. More often than not, I am a filter away from publishing a shot — as I prefer to keep the picture as natural as when I saw it.
Here are my quick essentials which rely on the built-in editing capability on the iPhone and the filters on Instagram.
I tend to leave most of my pics with their natural background in place.
There are times however when I might have overshot the picture and have left too much of the background than the image warrants. This is when I tend to crop things out to remove the noise.
I reserve changing the brightness setting for night photography or when the shots turn out too dark.
I’ve never really had to do the reverse and darken a photo, which is always an option, but it’s just not my style.
The main point here is to keep it clean and to keep it bright (which is more a style-thing than anything else).
I usually stick to 1 or 2 filters depending on the shot. For the outdoors, I usually go with Gingham to accentuate the light.
And I usually go Juno when I want to emphasize colours.
I use these filters on Instagram with the prior pictures that I’ve taken in mind. When I look back to my body of work, I want to make sure that there’s a consistent theme and mood that a group of photo sets.
Black and White
I don’t generally do Black & White shots at the moment (it might change in the future, but natural colour is my thing).
I only really reserve Black & White filters for (a) when I really do like the main subject in the picture but there are too many distracting elements that surround it and (b) occasionally there are some pics that really tend to look better in B&W to capture the mood.
B&W pics are few and between (but who knows what the future holds).
And I don’t use Photoshop
I’m just not a big post processing guy that’s all and I like my snaps to say it like it is.
The less polish, the more realness.
Another thing that works against potential photoshop use is time. I just don’t have time to fiddle around in other applications before I publish. I have a lot of moments and I like sharing them the way it is.
I’ll leave the heavy post-processing and photoshop work to the people who do client work or are into the heavy polish.
Why iPhone only
I’ve heard what photographers have to say about iPhone-only guys. But to be honest, everyone is different and it’s as simple as that. My objective and use could very well be different to the next guy. I’m an in-the-moment guy, not a set-the-scene man. I, for the most part, will happily stop and pop out a shot every so often and I’m quite happy doing just that.
I also like repeating the ol ‘The best camera is the one you have with you’ spiel. And I’ll try to explain that by going over what I mentioned in the opening:
Moments equal my iphone, it’s always with me and it’s easier to capture the random nature of moments with something that’s always with you.
The moment might come around walking on the same street every single day. The light could be shining a little bit differently at an object, or I could be passing through at a slightly different angle. When the beauty of the object reveals itself, that’s when the phone comes out.
The stars might only align every so often, but I’m sure glad that I have my phone with me to capture that moment.
The flexibility of Instagram
Instagram is anything you want it to be. It is so flexible that it allows you to capture moments and publish at the same time, or you can capture moments and do a #lategram (unlike Snapchat ‘snaps’ that disappear).
You can immaculately manicure and add a lot of polish to your shots or you can do very little.
You can add videos, stories, quotes, sillies, share photos of your artwork / doodles or anything else you might want to brand.
Or you can do a combination of all of the above.
The many different types of users and uses should really be celebrated. There’s no right / wrong way to use it. Let’s celebrate the platform and it’s diversity for what it is.
People I admire
There are so many ridiculously great people out there that I admire who either take photos for a living or are just sharing moments (and others that take photos for a living but just share moments on Instagram — there’s a big difference as I’ve pointed out).
Here, in no particular order, are a few guys I enjoy following:
- Gabriela Herman for her bright colours and subjects
- Bjorn Validimarsson for his wonderful landscapes
- Stacie Hess for being a wonderful creative
- Guada Molina for her ‘out there’ imagination
- Sophia Tran-Thomson for being somewhere interesting.
These guys and a slew of others on Instagram are a great source of inspiration.
Sharing moments sometimes help inspire others to create, or it can simply make others feel good about the world. And that’s worth sharing.
About this post
I also felt compelled to write this post because of my dear friends: the Canon / Nikon / pro crew. They have been grilling me from time to time about buying real equipment. Guys, I’ll get to it one day.
..but hang on, the iPhone 7 is coming out!