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Smart Phone Photography: Still Life

photography techniques

With smart phones and editing apps readily available, photographing your homemade crafts has never been easier - if you know how to use them. Whether you want to share your makes with your Insta-following or start selling on Etsy, Jo Bradford has some top tricks of the smart-photography trade to help you capture high-quality snaps without any fancy studio lighting.

 Smart Phone Smart Photography


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Lighting is a key factor in making good still-life pictures. Try to work with natural light whenever possible. If you are using window light, consider covering the window with some translucent white fabric such as muslin (cheesecloth), curtain nets, or voile to soften the light. Experiment with working at different times of day and close to windows that face different directions; north-facing will usually provide the smoothest light, but a sunny south-facing window can give you drama and high contrast.

Do not resort to using your device’s flash, because it will cause high spots—bright areas of reflected light—where the flash has bounced off any shiny and reflective surfaces. You will have trouble controlling the shadows too, and to make matters worse, it will probably bleach the subject out and make it look unappealing.

Smart Phone Smart Photography

If you are serious about still-life photography and have the space available, create a makeshift studio with a small piece of white board (cardboard, foam board, or even paper will do). This cheap and easy reflector will bounce light back at the subject and help you control the shadows.

Your fixed smartphone lens is perfect for this kind of shooting. It has a good wide aperture to allow lots of light in. Do not be tempted to zoom in—digital zoom is horrible! Move closer or farther away to alter your framing, or experiment with a telephoto lens attachment, which has the added potential for that sought-after background blur.

Try out a variety of angles from which to photograph your subject, get mobile and look from lots of different viewpoints, and take tons of photos, so that you can decide afterward in the editing stage which ones work best for you.


Flat lays and bird’s-eye views

Flat lays are a form of still-life composition, but instead of the usual front or side view, the flat lay takes a bird’s-eye view of the scene from directly overhead. Flat lays may feature food, flowers, retail products, outfits, or anything else that comes to mind.

Smart Phone Smart Photography

As these examples tend to involve tight compositions, it will enhance the scene if you make sure that the objects are relatable, so perhaps use similar colours and objects that are connected thematically. Keep the composition loose and not too tightly packed together—this sort of composition needs room to breathe. Try to keep an equal amount of space around the objects for an overall balance.

Clean and simple backgrounds for flat lays are essential—avoid busy patterns and shapes at all costs! Lay your objects on uncluttered surfaces like wooden floors, tabletops, wooden benches, marble slabs, pieces of slate, ceramic tiles, clean bed linen, towels, and tablecloths, and even rugs or mats.

Avoid distortion by ensuring that your phone camera is level on both the horizontal and vertical planes, and that the camera lens is exactly parallel to the surface you are shooting. This is best done by standing on a stool or chair to get a good distance away from the subject.

Many camera apps for smartphones come with a tilt-meter that will help you get everything lined up perfectly on both planes.


This extract is from Smart Phone Smart Photography by Jo Bradford.

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