In Focus – Beginning Phone Photography

My Journey – from the Beginning

I am practicing to be a better phone photographer, so I am starting at the beginning, going back to the basics.  Like most people, I use the camera on my phone all the time, probably daily.  Unfortunately, most of my phone photos have a boring composition or are unusable because they are out of focus.

Below is a prime example of how bad my photos can be:

  • The photo is cluttered with objects that are not relevant and distracting. 
  • The lighting is harsh in places where the sun is shining through the trees onto the subject in patches. 
  • If I had just lowered the camera angle, my dog would have been a more interesting focal point.
Example of my ordinary not-so-great photos

My Background

I started art lessons when I was 12.  I painted every week and drew almost every day.  In high school I took more art classes and then received my Fine Arts degree, alongside of my Accounting degree, in college.  I have done some sort of art my whole life and even started teaching art 7 years ago.

Are You Kidding Me?

I’ll just say it, “My husband is a better photographer than me.”  

Let me put this in perspective…he has a Finance degree from college, no prior art experience, and I’m pretty sure he never even set foot in an art museum before he met me.  

His photo compositions are interesting, his pictures are almost always in focus, and he is thoughtful about his lighting.  He does have a slightly better phone camera, but I’m not going to make excuses. 

My husband’s photo with his phone

Pablo Picasso — ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’

What?  There are rules to photography?

Even with all of the art training that I have had over the years, no one explained that there were rules for composition, color, and light. I thought you were either gifted at taking great photos or you just got lucky.  I seemed to “get lucky” enough to keep up my interest in photography as an art.  

After following some great photographers on Instagram like Linda Nickell (@coznlinda), Valerie Hoffman (@valeriehoffmanphotography), Jama Pantel (@jamapantel), Jon Fischer (@jfischerphotography), Michael Rung (@michaelrungphotography) and teaching for a few years, I started to read and learn about fairly well-known composition rules like the “Rule of Thirds” and some lesser well-known rules dealing with light and color.

In an effort to teach better composition to my students, I started to share these visual skills in class and realized I should also apply them to photography.  And what do you know? My photos started to improve.

The Goal-Starting at the Beginning

So every week I am going to practice on one skill or rule that will hopefully help me become a better phone photographer.  Most of these skills can be applied to phones, point-and-shoot cameras, and even DSLR cameras (digital single-lens reflex). Composing the perfect photo and mastering basic competencies is the goal, not necessarily learning the technology to use a certain camera. I recommend visiting some of the photographers above for more technical help.  My phone is a Google Pixel, my kids use iPhones, and we own a nice DSLR, so if the lesson is specific to one of those particular cameras, I will mention it.

I’ve read through a number of books about photography and composition.  I have been watching speakers from the Happiness Hour or Youtube channel.

And I have been practicing, and practicing, and practicing.  You can check out my Instagram account @homeplate_101.

1st Challenge

This goal is to GET the PHOTO in FOCUS with the phone handheld, either inside and outside.

  • Pick the subject
  • Take a second to look at it, instead of rushing
  • Hold the phone steady
  • Take the shot multiple times at different distances from the subject
  • Check to make sure the subject is in focus
  • Pick the best one, delete the rest

Pretty simple.  The hardest part for me will be to slow down, pause, and get a good shot.  The second hardest part will be deleting the extra ones.

I will include my best 5.

Outside on a Sunny Day in the Shade

Number one is an outside picture of ornamental cabbage which was taken on a sunny day, but I cast a shadow over it for the photo because the light was so harsh (bright).

Inside with Natural Indirect Light from a Window

This one is a layered watercolor heart that was taken on a black background with natural light from a window inside.  

Outside on an Overcast Day in the Shade

Taken outside in the shade, these are miniature chrysanthemums from my garden that the dog knocked off.

Outside on an Overcast Day

Taken on an overcast day outside, here is a sunflower planted in September that is almost ready to bloom!

Outside on a Clear Day at Sunrise

This was taken outside at sunrise on a walk near our home.  I will delve into the how and why this image contains a silhouette in a later lesson.

Learn and practice with me.

Come along on the journey and practice with me when you can!  

Sign up and have each challenge delivered right to your inbox.

I’d love to see your best photo of the week on Instagram at #HomePlate101

Posted by:Karen Riley

4 replies on “Beginner Phone Photography – Lesson 1

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