Instagram Powers, Activate! ON LIGHT / by Kelly Allison

With the launch of our Instagram Giveaway, we wanted to share some insights & ideas for improving your phone photography. Whether you use your phone pics for social media or as documentation of your life & times, we think there's value in making the most of what you capture. Regardless of your phone's camera model or capabilities, there are some basic actions anyone can take that will have a powerful impact on the quality of your photographs.

THE POWER OF LIGHT

The biggest enhancement you can possibly make with your photography is understanding light and how to use it. Here are my top tips for using & manipulating light to get the photos you want.

Use Natural Light

I cannot overstate the value of using natural light (and only natural light) when capturing photos with your phone. The principle here is pretty simple: all light sources give off color, and the range of color differs significantly depending on your source.

Light from a window, shaded sun, or a cloudy sky is cool. Light from an interior lamp is warm. Light from fluorescents gives off a range of flickering color. Light from the sun is warmer than shade, & yields high contrast.

The way light color affects your final image is called white balance. Your phone camera likely calibrates white balance based on an auto setting, essentially choosing an object within your image that it assumes should be white, and adjusting all other colors accordingly.

There are a couple sure fire examples to identify white balance & the way light color affects your images. If you've ever taken a photo at dusk near a window with the lights on, you've likely noticed some crazy color shifts happening.

Objects that are picking up the window light will read blue, and objects lit by your lamp will read yellow. This is called mixed white balance, because you're mixing dusk light (blue) with incandescent light (yellow). And if you've ever tried to capture the look of your gorgeous meal at a dimly lit restaurant, you'll likely have been disappointed with the yellow muddy color that was rendered.

The best way to achieve great color & accurate white balance is to photograph when you have plenty of natural light, whether window light, open shade, or cloudy skies, and that all other lights in the area are turned off.

IMG_6692

Avoid Direct Sunlight

There are some really cool effects that you can get when shooting at high noon, but as a general rule, you'll have better luck photographing in open shade, or diffused light.

Direct sunlight is harsh, typically resulting in high contrast photos, where the highlights are blown out, & all shadow detail is lost.

Ensure Adequate Light

Shooting in the dark typically yields grainy, & often blurry results. Lack of light forces the camera to use high ISO & slow shutter speeds. Whenever possible, make sure you have enough light to keep your images crisp & sharp.

IMG_6663

Break the Rules of Light

 If you do want to play with shooting in too much light, or too little light, take control of your exposure to get the look you want. Most camera phones have a built-in exposure compensation option, or exposure adjustment.

There are also plenty of camera apps that enable you to adjust exposure. To quickly adjust exposure on your iphone, tap the desired focal point of your image to reveal a sunshine icon. To increase exposure (brighten), slide the sun up. Slide down to darken.

In bright sunlight, slide the exposure down to ensure you don't blow out your highlights. In darker situations, slide the exposure up to enhance shadow detail. Be sure to hold the camera extra steady, though, as low-light images are prone to blur. Use a tabletop or tripod to stabilize your camera if needed.

The flash on a mobile camera is anything but graceful. However, you can get some fun & stylized results if you know how & when to use it. Using your flash can help you fill in shadows on a sunny day, avoid image blur in a dark room, or illuminate a single subject while the background fades to black.

One quick tip, add a bit of diffusion to your flash by covering it with a bit of wax paper. Play around, and see what happens!

Bounce Baby

When you're working with natural light, your proximity to the light source & the intensity of that light source matters. If you're shooting a donut in a darkened room & near a small window, you will get strong contrast & moody shadows.

But what if that's not the look you're after? What if you're wanting to capture a bright & light-filled scene?

You can always move away from the window (which will soften the light), but that might also make your subject too dark to shoot, or flatten the light leaving your subject feeling flat.

You have two other options here to change your look: diffuse, and bounce.

Diffuse the light by putting a white translucent fabric in front of your window. Sheer drapes work wonders to soften the light from the window and make it bigger, filling more of the room with light.

If that look softens your shadows too much, or if you're in a cafe that doesn't have sheers & you're not keen on hanging curtains, use a white card to bounce the window light back into your donut. Even a paper napkin can work in a pinch!

For a softer brighter look, dry combining diffusion with bounce. 

Image on left shows basic set up & proximity to window / Image on right shows auto exposed image, no bounce or diffusion
Image on left shows basic set up & proximity to window / Image on right shows auto exposed image, no bounce or diffusion
Image on left shows diffusion using sheer curtains / Image on right shows auto exposure with diffusion
Image on left shows diffusion using sheer curtains / Image on right shows auto exposure with diffusion
Image on left shows set up with a bounce card / Image on right shows auto exposure using bounce as fill light
Image on left shows set up with a bounce card / Image on right shows auto exposure using bounce as fill light

Well, friends, I hope this brief tutorial on light was helpful. There are a couple more phone tutorials coming your way soon, so be on the look out. And until then, get out there and shoot! And don't forget to enter our Instagram contest to show off your new skills!