I often get asked how to take photos of flowers using a SmartPhone. To answer this question I’ve gone to Sarah Stephens Photography to ask for some advice. Sarah and I met online a while ago and caught up again recently when she joined my 4-week online flower arranging class over the summer.
By way of background Sarah is a freelance commercial photographer. She is also kept busy teaching photography workshops at the Tudor House Gallery in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire – and, in conjunction with SHARE Museums East, teaches staff and volunteers in the heritage sector how to photograph their collections.
Using your smartphone
Sarah loves using her iPhone 6 for taking photos. Partly because she has it with her all the time and partly because you can be so creative with it and get great results.
Apparently, there are four secrets for taking great photos with your phone:
- Having the right apps (especially in the case of iPhones)
- Knowing how to use the various settings that enhance your images
- Understanding the limitations of your camera
- How to edit
Having the right apps
I don’t know about you, but Sarah doesn’t use the native iOS camera app as she find the controls too limited. The apps she recommends are:
- Camera+ (iOS only) and Hipstamatic (iOS only) – for shooting
- Snapseed and Lightroom Mobile – for editing
Although there are lots of others!
If you have an Android you don’t usually need an extra app for shooting as your camera has more settings to play with than an iPhone.
Snapseed is a great editing app which is free. It has lots of powerful tools to enhance your photos and allow some creativity. Lightroom is Sarah’s go to editor for all her photos and she finds it useful having access to it on her phone via Adobe’s CC package.
Know your settings
Sarah’s top tips are
1. Set your focus (and separate exposure point if using Camera+) where you want it by tapping the screen.
2. Use exposure compensation to make your image lighter or darker, as required. It’s always better to shoot slightly darker as you can brighten the images in Snapseed but if the bright areas are too bright you will lose detail.
You can also use it creatively as with this photo of a tulip.
3. Use the macro function. In Camera+ this is really good and one of the best things about the app. This allows you to focus much closer to your subject than in normal mode.
4.Turn on the composition grid to help you position your flower or arrangement in the frame. Only centre your subject if you are shooting a symmetrical image. Otherwise place your subject to either the left or right. This makes your photo more interesting and is using what is known as the Rule of Thirds.
5. Turn on stabiliser mode if its available (Camera+ has this). In this mode your camera won’t take the photo until you are stable enough – which means less blurry shots. If you don’t have this just make sure you are photographing in lots of light.
6. Try HDR mode – this will create a best exposure for highlights, midtones and shadows in your photo. It can look a bit ‘fake’ so instead you might want to use Snapseed’s HDR Scape tool instead, as you’ll have more control over the effect.
You might find that some of these settings might be advanced controls which you need to turn on in your camera app.
Understanding your camera’s limitations (and some more advice)
- You’ll get better results from your phone if you shoot in plenty of light. Smartphone cameras are notoriously fickle if there isn’t enough light. Shooting in good light also helps reduce camera shake. Or get yourself a tripod such as a Gorillapod if you find it hard.
- Use the volume buttons on your phone as an alternative way of taking your photos.
- Hold the phone in landscape orientation for a firmer grip.
- Check what’s in the background, think about the surface you are shooting on and add props to make a more interesting image.
How to edit
Sarah’s advice is that all photos can do with a little editing, but less is more. Too much editing can leave ugly or strange looking effects such as edge halos – and mimic the worst of the Instagram filter look.
If you’re using Snapseed Sarah recommends enhancing your images using tune image, crop, healing (for taking out anything unwanted), details (for a little sharpening which I think phone photos sometimes need) and vignette (to make the subject pop out more). Here’s an example of vignette in use – the before, and after.
I’d love to hear what your favourite camera apps are – leave me the details in the comments below.
If you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket and would like to take better pictures I’m sure Sarah would love to see you in class. And likewise, my next series of online flower arranging class starts in a couple of weeks. You can find out more and book your place here.
Don’t forget to stop by and say hello to Sarah on Instagram, she really does have some wonderful images on her feed.
Until next time, happy flowers! Julie
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