7 Smartphone Photo Tips and Tricks for Journalists
By Justin Sablich
Smartphones have gotten smaller, then bigger, then smaller again, but one thing has remained the same over the last several years: they take high quality photos. High quality is one thing, but that doesn’t make every photo worthy of publication in the media world.
With smartphone photography becoming a larger part of many journalists’ day-to-day jobs, it’s important to know how to get the most out of your shots.
With media professionals in mind, here are seven tips and tricks to improve your snapping skills:
Lighting Is Everything
No filter is going to fix a poorly exposed photo. Smartphones need more natural light than professional cameras, so make sure you are keeping that in mind when you’re framing your shot.
“Find a big open window. Find a shaded area that’s getting a nice splash of light from a building beside it—something which is not too overblown, but definitely not dark,” professional photographer Dustin Downing told Contently.
Don’t Over Edit Yourself
If you’re taking photos for a story or during a breaking news situation, there’s no need to hold back. Take as many photos as you can, and don’t worry about taking the perfect shot in the moment. Most smartphones have a lot of memory these days (though it’s always a good idea to see what you have left before going on an assignment), and let your photo editor worry about sifting through your pics.
Get Close (Don’t Zoom)
An easy rule to follow and remember is to never use the zoom option when taking smartphone photos. Doing so hurts the photo’s quality. It’s also important to remember that the photo you’re looking at on your tiny phone screen is going to look a lot different on a larger computer screen and depending on where your photo is showing up as part of a story (both in print and online).
You can avoid the zoom dilemma altogether by getting closer to your subjects. The less cropping that has to be done during the editing process, the better in terms of maintaining photo quality.
Treat Instagram Like Your Portfolio
If you’re interested in using smartphone photography more in your reporting, you’ll want to be able to prove to your editors that you have the skills. One way is to use Instagram as your personal photography portfolio.
Also consider studying the types of photos that are typically used in your publication and try to mimic that style.
“How are those photos set up? Do they take wide shots? Are they tight shots? Are they focusing just on people, or are they more landscape? Really pay attention to what’s in the marketplace, in that space you want to be involved in, and then head that route,” Downing told Contently.
Don’t Overdo It With the Filters
Filters on Instagram and other apps as well as editing tools are always tempting to use because some really do make certain photos pop. Feel free to use filters on your own Instagram feed, but lean toward ones that are more understated, especially if you’re trying to build up a collection that proves you can take quality photos when on assignment.
But if you’re taking shots for a story that may be published, filters aren’t a great idea. Remember: If a photo needs to be edited for publication, you have photo editor to do that.
Shoot From the Hip, Literally
Some of the best photos are the ones where your subject is unaware you’re taking it (though etiquette is important; more on that later).
The best way to get a knack for the candid shot is to practice in non-work situations.
"Hold the phone about waist-level and tap away. Your friends and family will not know what you're doing. Be sneaky about it. The moment they know you're shooting, the images become less candid,” multimedia journalist Richard Koci Hernandez told CNN.
Journalists should also keep their phones in mind when shooting in a breaking news situation.
“The discreetness of using my phone rather than my Canon allowed me to document the moment that slipped by quickly,” reporter Geneveive Belmaker wrote in Poynter of covering a bomb attack in Jerusalem.
Whether the shots are candid or not, it’s usually a good idea to get permission ahead of time to take photos of your subject. While you are not legally required to get permission to photograph people who are in public view, you should act professionally like you would in any other reporting situation.
More Smartphone Photography Resources:
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer shares tips on snapping the perfect iPhone pic (ijnet.org)
5 ways journalists can use smartphones for reporting (poynter.org)
Guide for Citizen Journalists Taking a Photos on their Smartphone (newslinn.com)
12 tips to become a better smartphone photographer (cnn.com)
We have these and a lot more useful tips and tricks in our recourses library.
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