April 4, 2018
These days, every company needs a visual brand presence. And standard dry marketing materials will not cut it on social media platforms that require top quality, pithy content. These are spaces for companies to show their personalities and craft an interesting company story. It’s also a space to have a bit of fun. While it’s still important to employ a professional photographer and graphic designer for large-scale and print campaigns, with a few of the right tools, you can easily produce cool, creative content for social campaigns in-house. The first step is prioritizing this type of content, then all you need to do is designate some time, acquire a few key pieces of gear, and grab your smartphone.
Social is informal but the content quality expectation is very high. Luckily, most of us have a pretty powerful camera attached right to our phones. With a bit of help, no one will even know your images weren’t made with a DSLR. In mobile photography, all of the standard photography advice applies – how to capture a moment, how to frame your subject, how to lead the audience’s eye, etc. This article is not about photography tips, it’s about getting to know your smartphone well enough to make it work for you like a DSLR. The following are my top ten tips for capturing professional-grade mobile images that you can use to tell your brand story across social media.
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First and foremost, get to know your phone’s camera and its strengths and weaknesses. For one thing, stay away from the zoom button, it will degrade your image immediately and this will become even more apparent when you go to edit. If you need to get closer to a subject, move your body closer if you can. Or, take your photo without zoom and crop it in later. Unless you’re going for a specific over-exposed look, almost always avoid using flash. Rely on natural light or studio lighting instead. More on that later.
Most smartphones have an option to add a grid to your camera screen when taking pictures (enable this in your camera’s settings). This is a simple but very effective tool to help you frame your photos and control where you will draw the viewer’s eye. Of course, all rules are meant to be broken but familiarising yourself with the classic rule of thirds can help you compose beautiful images in your small frame.
Hot tip: you don’t have to accept the automatic exposure and focus suggested by your phone’s camera! I speak for iPhones specifically here but you’ll find versions of these settings on any smartphone. Tap your finger on the screen to focus on different areas in your frame. Then, while holding your finger down, move it up and down in the focus box to adjust the exposure. When you’ve found the focus and exposure you like, hold your finger for a moment to lock it into place. Et voilà!
Try to get the exposure close to how you would like it before snapping the shot to minimize editing time later. It’s usually easier to lighten shadows than to darken overexposed areas so when in doubt, I tend to lean dark. If unsure, try taking the same shot with a couple different exposures and compare when editing.
Smartphone cameras are usually not the best in low-light, so shooting in a well-lit area with natural light will always help. Standard bulbs in office or home lamps are often yellow and this will affect the colors in your photos. If your workspace does not have good consistent natural light, then it will be best to purchase some studio lights, which will create nice, even, white light.
Also, remember what I said in point #2? Rules are meant to be broken. Standard photography advice will generally advise placing your subject facing the light, but don’t let that stop you from also trying the opposite. Sometimes shooting into the light on a smartphone can cut a really interesting silhouette in a window or doorway. Experiment!
Smartphone cameras are great because they are so accessible and their technology is getting better and better, but let’s face it, they still can’t quite live up to the standards of top-notch photography kit. To get your mobile images to stand out, you need to pick up the work where your camera leaves off. Finding a unique perspective is an excellent way to do this. Get low, get high, get close – try it all. There are lots of gorgeous Instagram accounts out there where you can see the standard food, product, marketing, and landscape shots that work. These can be a great place to start and practice with, but your images will really stand out and will compare better to non-mobile shots when you break outside of the usual templates and find your unique point of view. For your social campaign try shooting a mixture of experimental and more standard images and schedule a mix of content in your editorial calendar, then you can see which styles evoke the strongest reactions from your community and adapt your strategy from there. Chances are, your followers will appreciate the riskier shots.
Another trick that will really boost the quality of your mobile images is picking up a few choice pieces of gear. If you only get one thing, get a mobile phone tripod, one with the bendy legs that you can wrap around the back of a chair for example. A tripod will help you in so many ways. You can have more fun with perspective depending on where you attach it, you can keep your camera steady (especially important if you try a long exposure shot with one of the apps mentioned below), and if you’re taking a handheld video, you can shoot with the camera clipped into the tripod to reduce wobble.
If you want to go a step further, you could also pick up a few smartphone camera lenses, like a wide angle, macro, or fisheye. These are more nice to have than necessary but they are certainly a very cool addition to your mobile photography gear kit and will help you capture some stellar shots. It goes without saying but… always make sure your lenses (detachable and built-in to the camera) are clean!
OK, a tripod will really boost your mobile photography game, but other than that, you really don’t need tons of gear to take beautiful mobile images – that’s the beauty of the medium! I find it’s best to use what you have around you when setting up a shot. For example, use a piece of paper or your body to play with the light and cast shadows. Don’t have a tripod yet? Prop your camera up using books and tape or stick it in your shoe! Pull in your coworkers to get a hand in your shot, photos tend to tell more of a story when they have some life in them. Get creative with your props, there are probably more around you than you think.
As is usually the case, sometimes an image seems incredible in the moment and it’s not until you go to edit that you notice all of its flaws. Always shoot more than you need so you have the luxury of choice. Again, this will save you editing time later. Review what you have in your album before moving on to the next shot. Any funny shadows or things in the background? Focus and framing all good? If shooting something in motion, hold that finger down and use burst mode!
There are lots of cool apps that can help recreate DSLR features and improve the native capabilities of smartphone cameras. Try Average Cam Pro to create long exposure images or Cortex Cam for capturing noise-free images without a tripod. Other fun apps to try if you want to incorporate moving image: Boomerang to repeat one quick movement, Hyperlapse for timelapse, kirakira+ for twinkles, Cinemagraph for movement highlights, and Lapse It for timelapse.
No excuses, you’ve got to edit before you post. Yes, social media tends to be informal, but people follow accounts for the visual experience. If it’s not nice to look at, why bother? There are a bunch of great editing apps you can turn to so you don’t even need to know photoshop. You can shoot, edit, and post all directly from your phone, no problem. Some of my favourites…
VSCO – If you download one app, this is the one. It offers a wide selection of sophisticated presets and you can also build your own. The free version of the app is a good place to start, but if you want to really enjoy the power of this app, splurge on the paid preset packs!
Snapseed – Another great photo editing tool from Google. The best feature of this app is its very cool selective adjust feature.
Retouch – Never be bothered by cranes on the horizon, or trash in the street again. Touch Retouch has an awesome tool for removing unwanted details from images. A clean image is much easier on the eyes!
SKWRT – Use this app to rectify distortion when adjusting image perspective. Especially if you like taking pictures of architecture, this app is for you.
Follow Emma’s mobile images @ebaumhofer.
For social media strategy consultancy and photo and video content production contact Media Frontier.