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5 compositional tips for better smartphone photos

When you’re composing your image in your frame, having some guidelines for how to fill it to create a compelling image can be useful. These aren’t the only compositional ‘rules’ but they are a good place to start. They can be applied to any form of photography, not just smartphone photography.

Follow me

Get closer

Don’t leave your audience squinting at a photo, asking you quizzically ‘What am I supposed to be looking at?’ Get closer! Fill the frame! Make the subject big, and bold, and obvious!

Cider and ice
Get close. No! Closer still!

Frame orientation

Tall things need portrait orientation; wide subjects deserve landscape format. People, trees, and skyscrapers go up; landscapes and palaces go across. Use the orientation of the frame to enhance the subject.

Even headless bodies go up! ((c) Haje Jan Kamps)
Even headless bodies go up! ((c) Haje Jan Kamps)

Leading lines

You don’t want a flashing neon sign drawing the eye to the subject, but look for a line that leads the eye across the image and to the focal point. The best photographs keep the eye interested, and a line to follow always helps.

Up to my toes and back down my legs.
Up to my toes and back down my legs.

Straight horizontals and uprights

The inner ear knows that the horizon should be level, so when it sees one that is slightly out-of-kilter it automatically feels disoriented and uncomfortable. This makes for a poor viewing experience and a weak photo. Keep that horizon level! Similarly, unless you happen to be in Pisa, make sure your buildings aren’t leaning.

Keep it level.
Keep it level.

Negative space

Sometimes your subject needs room to breathe. It doesn’t need a cluttered and busy background, and it needs a bit of space. This absence of anything in the frame is called ‘negative space’ and it can do wonders for concentrating people’s attentions on the subject.

Room to breathe. ((c) Haje Jan Kamps)
Room to breathe. ((c) Haje Jan Kamps)

When you’ve mastered these rules, and the others that go with them, you can begin to push the boundaries and break the rules, too!
Social Photography is Daniela Bowker’s fresh new guide to smartphone photography. It tells you everything you need to know to get the most of your smartphone camera: all the tricks of composing a great photo – and the pitfalls to avoid. Find the best platform for sharing your photos, discover the apps that will expand your creative horizons, and be inspired by fabulous examples from masters of smartphone photography.
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