Smartphone camera technology has shown some of the most innovative developments in the imaging industry over the past few years. Huawei has been at the forefront of this innovation, with its triple-camera P20 Pro topping DxO’s sensor performance chart and earning plaudits from a wide range of professionals.
Photographer Alex Lambrechts, in particular, uses the Huawei P20 Pro for his unique brand of street fashion photography. We caught up with Lambrechts this week for a shoot in Naples, where he shared his best smartphone photography tips for capturing stronger images.
01 Mix up the perspective
Shoot from unusual angles with varied focal lengths! Too often people shoot at eye level. But because this is how we normally see the world, the result is images that look like ones we’ve seen before. The beauty of composing with a phone is that you can hold it at all sort of unusual angles you wouldn’t be able to achieve with a DSLR. These give the viewer a perspective they likely haven’t seen before.
02 Get closer to your subject
If you’re shooting street photography, in particular, using a phone like the P20 Pro means you can be more discreet and get closer to your subject for that candid shot without them seeing a massive lens and moving away.
03 Fill the frame
The goal in getting closer to your subject is so that you can fill your frame with them. Bigger is better and more eye-catching. If you can’t get physically close, trying using your smartphone’s optical zoom, if it has it.
The P20 Pro offers 3x and 5x zoom in Photo mode for getting up close to your subjects. But make sure you are aware of your background. Avoid messy and distracting backdrops behind your subject.
04 Shoot through elements in the foreground
This is a timeless technique made even easier by smartphone cameras. Including a foreground element such as vegetation or an open door creates an extra layer to your scene and helps provide context for the viewer.
05 Remember the rule of thirds, then break the rule!
The Rule of Thirds exists for a reason. It trains us to think about subject placement and composing layers of an image. But it’s also important to mix things up from time to time and break that rule and see if it creates something more dynamic and unique.
It won’t always, but it’s important to try. Try using your composition grid for playing around with subject placement.
06 Look for details
Often it’s the small details that stand out and hook us into a scene. Pay close attention to what people are holding or other people’s reactions to your subject. Think big, but don’t forget to think small as well.
07 Expose for the highlights
Setting the P20 Pro to is ‘Pro’ mode, you have total control over exposure. Other smartphone cameras will offer similar control.
08 Look up!
Again, we always see the world at eye level. So think about getting down low and pointing your smartphone upwards. But equally, from whatever vantage point you’re shooting at, look above you and your subject. Are there interesting details here you could include? Is there another light source?
09 Be aware of developing scenarios
Street scenes are fluid situations, and one of the chief benefits of user-friendly smartphone cameras is that they allow you to quickly react to developing scenes. So keep aware of all that’s going on around you as best you can. Keep an eye not only on your subject, but what is occurring several feet away. You can then adjust your focus or exposure settings accordingly should you need to.
10 Look for reflections across water or in surfaces
We talked about adding layers to your images, and reflections are one of the most dynamic ways of doing this. Keep an eye out for puddles after a rain or shop windows, even the body of a parked car. With good timing and a spot-on exposure, you can turn an average scene into something spectacular.
11 Shoot through glass
You’ve probably tried to shoot scenes through glass in the past and noticed horrible reflections from track lighting, or even your own self in your images. One of the advantages of using a smartphone camera is you can press it up directly against the glass and capture a clean image, free from unwanted reflections.
12 Look for patterns and leading lines
Leading lines will draw a viewer into your scene, and with nice, bright wideangle lenses, smartphone cameras like the P20 Pro are primed to capture them. Road markings, railings and fences are all classic leading lines, but also look for natural lines or even shadows the usher the eye through a scene.
What’s more, look for patterns. This could be cladding or brickwork or anything, really. Patterns can make for a nice backdrop when shooting portraits.
13 Excite lens flare where possible
Traditionally, lens flare is something photographers try to avoid, but sometimes it can add a nice sense of atmosphere on a bright day. If you can, position your subject in front of a strong light source such as the sun or a street light and shoot directly into that light. You might have to play around with the angle, but eventually you’ll find the perfect spot.
14 Shoot at dusk
Dusk light can produce some beautiful tones in the sky, as well as on buildings and facades. If you’re in an urban environment, dusk is also when many street and office lights switch on, creating a nice mix of colours across the urban landscape.
15 Look for an establishing shot
Most smartphone cameras like the P20 Pro offer a panorama mode, which is a great tool. Panoramas on their own create a striking, wideangle image but they also serve as a nice establishing shot of your scene. This can really help you hone down your composition.
16 Use different lighting effects
Shoot a mixture of lighting effects in the same scenario to see which you prefer or better fit your mood or direction. This also helps your memory bank. A particular lighting effect may not suit your needs this time around, but later on you might remember that effect when shooting something entirely different.
17 Look for negative space
When filling your frame with your subject, look also for negative space. This can help give balance to a composition and keep it from being too busy.
18 Use a mini tripod
Get yourself a mini tripod such as the Manfrotto PIXI Pano or 3 Legged Thing Iggy, and a phone cradle to mount on top. This will allow you to shoot subjects at longer exposures, such as traffic trails, as well as compose with more stability at lower angles.
Mini tripods are also useful as selfie sticks or even as a gimbal for filming video. They’re inexpensive as well, with most costing less than £20 / $25.
19 Create motion effects
Panning isn’t just for DSLRs. Many smartphone cameras can shoot continuously, allowing you to move the camera in time with your subject’s motion to create a real sense of movement in your images.
On the Huawei P20 Pro you can do this simply by holding the shutter button down while in Photo mode. Other smartphone cameras will differ in technique.
20 Try a Dutch tilt
Like anything, a Dutch tilt angle – composing your frame diagonally over the scene – can be tiresome when overused, but when used in moderation it can help make a scene more dynamic and emphasise the key elements.
You need to think carefully about subject and focal point placement in these types of compositions, though. Because viewers aren’t used to seeing scenes this way, you don’t want your subject to get lost and your viewer will get frustrated hunting around an image.
21 Use the aperture control
Like a traditional camera, you can use your smartphone camera’s aperture control to create shallow depth of field effects, in particular bokeh. Many smartphone cameras will offer a ‘Portrait’ mode that uses AI to create shallow depth of field effects.
Try putting the camera into its manual mode, though, and experimenting with the aperture controls in here to give your shots a more subtle touch. Typically it’s just a case of tapping and dragging a slider, and watching the effect materialise on your screen.