Gone are the days when we’d take our cameras on holiday to capture the most idyllic photos to make people jealous on Instagram frame when we get home – now we just take the phone in our pockets and snap away at ease.
But while Instagram might have helped us snazz up our photography skills to some extent, do you actually know what you’re doing when you point your phone at a cool thing and take a picture? Because I don’t, but I wanted to.
I recently went on a trip to Lapland, which I expected to be the most photo-worthy destination on my winter calendar. Seeing as it was a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, I wanted photos that weren’t blurry, out of focus or just plain shit.
Before I went I chatted to Simon Hunt, a photographer from Bristol, who has been doing the job for 30 years. Hunt gave me tips which I put into practice while I was away. For the trip, I used the Huawei Mate 20 pro which, side note, does have four cameras on the back. But the tips were just as much about angles and basic photography rules as they were about the quality of the pic.
1. Find Good Light.
“Good quality light complements your subject and will help your photos look great,” Hunt said. While outside, avoid harsh lighting such as a bright sunny day as it can create “dark unattractive shadows”. Either try to find some shade, or place the sun behind your subject and go for a backlit portrait or a silhouette.
For landscapes, Hunt said to try and avoid mid-day sun – just after sunrise, or just before sun set, when the sky is low in the horizon looks stunning, he said.
I took the photo below as the sun was setting around 1.30pm while on a winter hike.
Late morning when the sun started to rise as I walked back to hotel reception, I took this shot of the soft pink hues coming through the main window.
2. Keep It Simple.
Taking a good photo doesn’t have to mean your picture is busy, said Hunt. In fact, it’s the opposite. “Try not to overcomplicate what is going on in the scene,” he advised. “A simple shot can often be way more visually striking than a cluttered messy shot, so it’s worth keeping backgrounds free of clutter.”
3. Shoot From Low Angles.
Hunt said low angles can make a shot look great – “a technique that was really popular with some indie and rock bands for album covers and portraits”.
For this photo I was basically lying on the ground in the snow...
And after seeing my boots had made Santa-like footprints through my room, I got down on the floor to capture them.
4. Use Depth Of Field.
This is basically where the subject of the shot is in focus and the background is blurry – or the other way round. “You might have a camera with two lenses, and the iPhone uses these to create some really great depth of field,” said Hunt. The effect is known as Bokeh, he said. Some phone cameras have a ‘landscape’ mode. “Try switching to this mode and see the difference.”
I tried with my gin and tonic at first but it didn’t quite work, as the background was too plain to notice that it was blurry.
It worked better when I was took a photo of a mini Christmas tree on the ground.
This is one of my favourites, capturing the snowy, blurry mist in the background but also the snow patterns on the decoration.
5. Get Close Up.
“Most decent phone cameras support macro photography where you can get really close to the subject,” Hunt said. “This can produce really stunning images.”
The phone I was using had a super macro setting, so getting up close was easy.
6. Get To Know Some Basic Rules.
Some of these rules of composition you may already know: the rule of thirds (shooting the subject of the photo on on the left or right third of the shot, rather than directly in the middle), and leading lines (where the viewer of your photo’s attention is drawn to lines that lead to the main subject of the image), “These will help you dramatically improve your composition,” said Hunt.
This was my attempt to get the sun setting on one third of the photo, although looking back it seems a bit wonky.
7. Remember, Rules Are Made To Be Broken.
“Experimenting is often the key to learning,” Hunt said. “And it’s fun.”
This is one of my favourite photos, but I wasn’t thinking of any rules when I took it. I went outside during dinner to take a snap and pointed my phone up to the dark sky, capturing half of the massive, snowy Christmas tree.
I saw this on my way to breakfast one morning, and it was huge! I know the idea is to take photos of subject off centre, but I did the complete opposite for this.
Not bad for an amateur.
This piece was written as part of a trip to Lapland, Finland, with Huawei for its Mate 20 Pro.