Smartphone photography tips

By Frances Mocnik 26 February 2016
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Make the most of the camera in your pocket with these tips from veteran AG photographer Frances Mocnik.

SMARTPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY HAS sparked an image-making revolution. Evolving from a handy way to snap a few pics into a recognised creative genre, it’s the medium of choice for many photographers and universities are even offering dedicated courses.

Here are few technical and creative tips to help you get the best from your smartphone photography.

Technical tips

1. Know your phone. Camera quality varies dramatically between different makes and models and you might find that some of the problems you’re struggling with aren’t the result of user error but rather an inherent limitation of your equipment. For best results choose a smartphone that has low light optimisation and includes optical image stabilisation – this will help you get better results with less light.  

2. Avoid the built-in zoom function. While these tiny lenses are great at their optimised focal length, the results generally diminish as you zoom into your subject.  Instead try adding a lens attachment – these third party click-ons come in many forms: zoom, fish-eye and macro options to name a few.

3. This tip is super simple, but important: hold the phone with two hands to keep it steady during exposure. The steadier you hold your phone, the lower the risk of camera shake and the sharper your image. When working in low light try bracing the phone against something steady, like the ground or a tree, or use a tripod.

Creative tips

1. Set a goal. Simply having a clear creative goal will improve your photography. Rather than ‘heading out to take some photos’, decide on a theme – this could be based on a genre you’re interested in such as portrait, macro, panoramic landscape or abstract, or something as simple as a theme based on colour or where your horizon line falls in the frame. The more you practice a consistent type of imagery, the better you will become.

To keep my creative eye fresh I have a number of different concepts that I’m continuously working on. They’re generally all compositional challenges and range from creating an engaging image on every flight I take (see images below), through to making a fresh photograph in a familiar environment (such as my home) each day. 

2. Most ‘tip lists’ suggest you shoot a lot of photos, I’m suggesting the opposite: shoot less, think more about the image you’re aiming to create and, importantly, assess your results. It’s through the critical assessment of your work that you’ll learn what is and isn’t working and how to improve.

3. Collate a gallery of photographs based on a chosen theme. This can be a private collection on your computer or via a social media platform such as Instagram, Facebook or Tumblr. Again, the process of editing your images into a series or collection helps refine your photographer’s eye plus it’s very rewarding to see your work come together as a collection!

Smartphone photography

Into The Interior – Australia (Image: Frances Mocnik)

Smartphone photography

City Limits – Alice Springs (Image: Frances Mocnik)

Smartphone photography

In A Dream – Looking Back At The Australian Coastline (Image: Frances Mocnik)

Smartphone photography

Paris To San Francisco With Dawn On Our Tail (Image: Frances Mocnik)

Frances Mocnik has contributed to Australian Geographic for the past 20 years and was awarded the Australian Geographic Society medal for the Pursuit of Excellence in 2006. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography and exhibits internationally.

For more of Frances’s smartphone photography, you can follow her on Instagram, @francesmocnik