“What should I take a photo of?” is often the wrong question. Sometimes you get inspiration from walking around and looking at things. You can let the surroundings hand you the subjects.
But sometimes setting up a goal makes it likely that you achieve something. You can decide to look for photos of animals. Or of flowers. Or of people. Or of couples. When looking around, you no longer have to look at the scene and ask yourself questions for everything you see: A shop window – is that interesting? A chimney – is that interesting? A tree – is that interesting? A crowd of tourists – is that interesting? You can focus your mind on just a few things, and quickly decide whether there is anything worth shooting.
One can aim for a series of photos with a common theme. It can be a series of photos of flowers. Or a series of photos in a certain colour scheme. Only red objects of different kinds. Or different photos that all have been processed the same way, to become black and white or with a colour tone.
The theme can also be geometric: diagonals, circles, groups.
Here the photographer has tried different ways of looking at different bamboo plants – a subject one easily could have expanded with many more photos.
Mobile phones are not good at making headshot portraits. If you move close to a person, their face will be distorted in a way that is not flattering at all. If you move away and crop the photo, you will lose a lot of pixels, and there will be no natural bokeh.
What one can do is to take photos of the full body at a distance. This is often expressive in a different way, as the posture and clothes of people can say a lot. You will not get a lot of details of the facial expressions, but the human mind is good at extrapolating, and it is usually very easy to spot real happiness, anger, sorrow and so on. Subtler emotional expressions may be lost, unless they are underlined by the posture. But then, we are talking about a camera that fits in your pocket.
In this photo, the photographer went very close to the statue’s head to get as much details as possible. The result is a distorted head.
In this photo, the photographer stood further away from the statue, and then cropped it to the desired proportions. The result is a portrait with a natural aspect but lower resolution.
A common thing for humans is that we like things with life. A magnificent landscape or a stunning sunset can of course be more appealing than a portrait of your accountant, when he eats soup at his desk in the office, but mostly, people prefer humans, animals, cats, puppies and so on to inanimate objects.
One can often use the living to get a good emotional reaction. This includes humans of all genders and ages, and it includes most animals. Mammals are a favourite, as they are so similar to us, but facial expressions of frogs, birds and some fish can also be impressive.
Being a mammal, this cat has a face that almost looks human to many of us.
Neither the axolotl, nor the lizard is a mammal. Nevertheless, we feel some affinity with them when we see their close-up faces.
The face is usually the most important part of an animal. No matter how beautiful an animal, if it walks away from you, and you do not see its eyes, it is usually of limited interest as a photo.
Interacting animals have an interest, as we see similarities to interactions between people and our own world.
In general, a mobile phone camera is good for landscapes. The width of the photos is typically useful, and there is usually enough light to capture details.
However, a mobile phone camera poses some limits to landscape photography, compared to what a big camera can achieve. You cannot really zoom with your feet, if your subject is far away, unless you have good marching boots and plenty of time. Small details on distant mountain sides are difficult to capture, unless one has a powerful optical zoom.
For landscape photography, the phone’s most important tool is framing. The rule of thirds applies to landscape photography, so you may want to divide the frame accordingly. For example, one third beach and two thirds sea. Or one third sky and two thirds forest.
Another thing you may want to look out for are contrasting parts. Traditional Chinese painting is much about shanshui, mountain and water. The idea is to have a mountain in the background contrasted by a lake or river in the foreground. Unless you are an ancient traditional Chinese, you may look out for other contrasts you can combine in your landscape.
When you behold a beautiful landscape, it is often the colours that amaze you. Unfortunately, colours are often not as beautiful on electronic media as they are in real life. You may want to play with colour settings in post processing, increasing saturation or contrast or changing white balance. Be very careful when you do this. A lot of people will immediately see that the result looks unnatural if you go too far. Unfortunately, “too far” is subjective. What some people consider over the top, other people will admire and vice versa. Consider your audience.
In this photo, the photographer took advantage of the sunny weather, which works well with a mobile phone. He put the tree trunk at one third from the right edge and the coastline at one third from the bottom to get a certain tension. In contrast to a completely clear day, the sky is made more interesting by the clouds. The photographer followed the rules and the result is a decent but perhaps a little boring photo. There is nothing surprising or stunning with it, so most people would consider it pleasant but not exceptional.
Close ups – Macro
Close up photos of small things, like insects and flowers, is surprisingly easy with many mobile phones. A big camera with the wrong kind of lens may not get very close to a snail on a stone before it is impossible to get the picture sharp. With a mobile phone, you can often get very close.
The problem is that you do not always know how close you can get. Try it. Get closer and closer. Tap on the subject on the screen, to encourage the camera to refocus. If possible, avoid backgrounds that could mislead the camera’s focusing mechanism. A blue sky or blank white wall are good as backgrounds, as the camera will not get the idea of focusing on them. A forest or rock in the background are much more prone to trick the camera into focusing on them instead of the snail.
With a mobile phone, you can get close enough to see the pollen in the hairs of this bumblebee. You could do that with a big camera as well, but you might have to use the right kind of macro lens with a big camera.
Walk Around Photography
One kind of photography that is unlikely to make you win any huge prizes is walk around photography. This is when you just stroll around wherever you like, and you try to capture nice scenes as you happen to see them.
This kind of photography can be very nice, as you record exactly the things you experience, and you get a pleasant sample of what you consider important.
However, there is a risk that the motives turn out similar to what other people have taken photos of. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of people. Imagine that you are in Paris. And you suddenly spot the Eiffel Tower. It is highly unlikely that you will manage to take an original new kind of photo of that building. There must be several photos a second that
The opposite to Walk Around photography is staged photography. That includes elements like tripods, spotlights, light screens, models, clothes, and so on. With staged photography you are an artist, painting a scene that wasn’t there before. With walkaround photography, you record what naturally is there. Both types have their place. They achieve different goals.
A category that doesn’t always spring to mind is abstract photography. This is about photos where one cannot necessarily make out what it is, but which nevertheless create a pattern that is appealing in one way or other. To explore that, look around for angles where a viewer cannot tell what it is from the photo alone, either through extreme close ups or by using a very unusual angle. Glass and industrial environments are common examples.
At first glance, this is just two diagonal lines. Looking a little closer, one of them is a rope, and the other one is probably its shade. However, it is impossible to tell where they are taken or what the background may be. A building? A boat? A table?
The first impression of this photo may be a movement to the left, as if two small things follow a bigger one, like two ducklings and their mother. At a closer look, it is obvious that it simply is a coffee cup and two coins to pay for it lying on a table.