snap me happy

Embrace the grid

Snap Me Happy is a series featuring tips on how to take great photographs with an iPhone.

So tell me – did anybody do their Snap Me Happy homework from my last post? (Grace, I’m looking at you!)

In this second part of my Snap Me Happy series, I want to talk about – The Grid. (Sounds a bit like a Hollywood action movie.)

If the grid on your iPhone is turned off, turn it back on now. Seriously, the grid can revolutionise your photos. Don’t just use it – embrace it! That’s right, give your phone a mini hug right now. Now try doing that and taking a photo of yourself at the same time. Just kidding.

If you surveyed a small group of people, chances are they all use the grid in different ways and for different purposes.

Here is my number one reason for embracing the grid: to create lines in my photographs that are either parallel to the bottom of the photo or the side of the photo (or both).

What on earth are you going on about Ronnie?

Hear me out.

Take a look inside a home interiors magazine. Have you ever noticed that the ceiling or the floor usually runs horizontally across the page (rather than being sloped)? Or that vertical floor lamps and pillars usually stand up straight (rather than at an angle)?

There’s a reason for this: It looks good.

There’s another reason for this: It looks GOOD.

So good in fact that I suspect our brain takes those horizontal and vertical lines for granted when we look at professional photos like the ones in magazines, but strangely enough, I don’t think it’s how we instinctively take photographs ourselves.

This is where the grid helps. When taking photos…

Try to align the things that should be vertical in your photo to the vertical lines of the grid (e.g. the side of a door frame, the legs of a table, the side of the couch, the candleholders on the table). In the photo below, the sides of the chalkboard decal are vertical, ie. they are parallel to the sides of the photo.

Similarly, try to align the things that should be horizontal in your photo to the horizontal lines of the grid (e.g. the horizon, the edge of the table, the skirting board). In the photo below, the line where the splash back meets the bench top is horizontal, ie. it is parallel to the top and bottom of the photo.

An even trickier thing to do is to try and get perpendicular lines in your photo that are in turn parallel to the side and bottom of the photo respectively. In the photo below, the sides of the frame are (more or less) parallel to the sides of the photo and perpendicular to each other.

The key to all this is to hold your camera/phone straight – on both planes. By that I mean: it shouldn’t be rotated to the left or to the right, and it shouldn’t be pointing slightly up or slightly down.

[click to continue…]

Exposure is king

Thanks for all your sweet comments about Pete’s 2nd year scrapbook. I’m planning to write a whole lot more about memory keeping, as I’m slowing realising that it’s something I’m truly passionate about.

Today I’m very excited (and nervous) to bring you my first Snap Me Happy post! I actually wrote this during my bloggy break last week but I couldn’t quite muster enough courage earlier on to post this. Maybe it’s because I have this unrealistic expectation of how great this series should be. Or maybe it’s because I feel a bit like a fraud, writing a series on photography? So I guess I should preface all this by saying that everything I say here is solely my own opinion, and I’m sure that there are many (ie. the professionals) who approach their photos and their technique differently.

I wanted to kick off by talking about focus, exposure and light:

On a SLR/DSLR camera, the point of focus can make a huge difference to the resulting image, especially when your aperture is wide open, allowing for a shallow depth of field. Or in plain language – when your aperture is set somewhere between 1.4 or 3.5, you get lots of arty blur, hence your focal point can mean the difference between seeing your child’s face (good) or the crack in the back wall (bad).

On the iPhone, however, I don’t really think that the point of focus is too crucial to the overall picture. (The exception to this would be when you’re trying to take an up close photo of something.)

So, Ronnie, does that mean I can ignore that focus square thingy on the iPhone screen?

Well, no, not exactly.

Actually, no, not at all.

Firstly, you need to make sure it actually locks its focus on something, otherwise your entire photo will be blurry. Sometimes this can take a few seconds so be patient!

You also need to use it to control the exposure of your image. Or in other words – how much light you capture in your photo.

Put simply, here’s the deal:

  • If you move the square to a bright point on your screen, your image will appear darker.
  • If you move the square to a dark point on your screen, your image will appear brighter.

Try it out now! Hold your iPhone up and move the square around to different points on the screen. Can you see the brightness of the image changing as you do? This is the inbuilt iPhone camera app doing its ‘thing’ – it’s automatically controlling the exposure of the shot for you based on your point of focus.

If you can get the hang of this, this alone will significantly affect the ‘quality’ of your images.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

The maximum amount of light you can capture in a photo depends on how much natural or artificial light there is around. In other words, in low light conditions, even when you move the square to the darkest spot on you iPhone screen, the photo will still be very dark.

A handy thing to do before taking a photo is to move the square to the brightest spot and then the darkest spot on screen to help you gauge the range of light that’s available for you to work with. Often, you’ll find the spot you want to leave the square on is somewhere that’s midrange.

If there’s a lot of light around and you choose to take your photo with the spot on the darkest point, chances are you’ll overexpose some parts of the photo. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re attempting to take a group photo at a family event, then overexposing people’s faces probably doesn’t work in your favour. However, if you’re taking a still shot of something in a room and you’re after an artistic effect, then this could be exactly what you should do. Remember that apps on your phone can turn harsh sunlight into a softer halo effect. I’ll cover this in a future post.

I used to think that a good photo was a bright photo. Funny, right? It wasn’t all that long ago either. Now, mostly through admiring photography blogs, I’ve come to appreciate that shadow is as much part of a photo as the light is. I’ll talk more about light versus shadow down the track, but for now, I just want to encourage you to embrace the dark side.

And lastly, there are apps which allow you to have a separate focal point to the point of exposure. The Camera Awesome app is one such example. I must confess that even though I have this app on my phone, I don’t actually use it much. The reason for this is twofold: a) I like the simple and clean interface of the inbuilt camera app, and, b) like I said above, I feel that controlling the amount of light is more important than choosing a particular focal point. But if you feel differently, then this would be a fantastic app for you.

* * *

If you’re up to some Snap Me Happy ‘homework’ this week, try photographing the same subject matter with your iPhone, using:

1) an abundance of light in your image
2) a mid level of light in your image
3) an abundance of shadow in your image.

I would love to see the different effects you achieve, so if you happen to post the images on your blog, please leave a link below!

Till next time, fellow happy snappers.