Smartphone Photo Dojo

Photo Dojo
Photo of a Dojo


In my quest to take better blog pictures with my iPhone, I’m learning to be fearless about asking for assistance. Recent cries for help led to a chance conversation with a colleague, whom I’ve since signed up as my unofficial photography Sensei.

Last week I shared Sensei Paul Swanson’s basic smartphone photography tips. This week, he agreed to write a guest blog post on photographic composition.

Take it away, Paul.  (*Bows deeply and backs away…)

Sensei Swan’s Photo Composition Tips

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer, but as such I do have a regular income. (Sorry, hard-working shutterbugs; I couldn’t help myself).

These days, you are likely to capture your dearest memories with a smartphone or at best a small compact camera, not with professional gear. So this should be reason enough to learn a few simple secrets from the pros and put them into action. And, it’s actually much, much easier than you might first think…

OK, Super-Fun Photo Dojo Time!

Lighting is Everything

Stop taking photos in poor light. Too dark and it will be blurry. Too bright and it’ll look like the surface of the sun. Too much of both and you’ll only get half a photo at best.

If you’re inside, consider turning on some lights. If you’re outside, just move around. Otherwise, just don’t shoot; there’s no point.

What you want is an adequate and even light on the subject of your photo (puppy biting its tail, child covered in spaghetti, etc.). You’ll know it’s right because the first photo will look natural and won’t be blurry.

The Almighty Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds
Rule of Thirds example (with pre-blurred student)


Stop putting individuals in the middle of the frame. Yes, really, stop it. Be a pro and use the rule of thirds. It’s just as easy but looks way better.

Just put the subject off to the left or right, about one-third across. Now, check the height and put their head about one-third down from the top. Presto! You’re royalty amongst amateur photographers!

Your camera can probably even display an on-screen guide (a grid) to help you do this every time, just check the options menu.

Get Some PerspectiveIMG_20130822_092901

Stop taking photos dead on, use perspective. Shoot looking back from one side or the other. Get down low or up high to make it come alive. This means you’ll have to move…yourself. You might even feel a little silly at first, crouched in the corner looking back at the ceiling, but the memories are worth it! Have a go–it’s lots of fun.

Children Come in One Size: Short.

Stop photographing the tops of children’s skulls. Get down to their level, eye to eye. Crouching or sitting will help you achieve this in most cases.

IMG_20140629_150310~2 (1)

Only Interesting Bits

Stop taking photos of everything you can see when you’re really only interested in one thing. You could use zoom if your camera has it, but it will often result in blurry photos.

So just move closer to your subject. If your subject is just one thing (glorious latte art, a wart on your big toe, whatever), consider getting REALLY close and use some perspective for good measure.

Filters Aren’t Photography

Notice there’s been absolutely no mention of applying vintage filters or other effects… They’re primarily intended to take crumby photos and cover up all the terrible things you’ve previously been doing. But, just imagine what you could produce with them now that you have been sensei-slapped into shape!  The possibilities are endless…and horribly faded and vignetted beyond all recognition. OK, filters have their place, but in twenty year’s time, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Sensei Swan out.

Over to You!

Domo arigato gozaimasu to my sensei. Got any composition tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Image Credits: Dojo by ..::Fighter-Arts::.., Creative Commons 2.0

Rule of Thirds, Perspective, Shortie & Dad by Paul Swanson on his smartphone, used with permission

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