Scott A. Woodward, one of Asia’s most prolific travel photographers,
shares with Vim & Vigour his tips for making better mobile photography.
I believe that photography is the most accessible form of artistic expression and the ubiquity of mobile phones today — all containing a camera that’s so easily accessible — means capturing our lives is easier and more convenient than ever.
As most photographers will attest, taking great pictures has little to do with owning the best, most expensive equipment. The real secret is in how you see a moment and interpret it, regardless of the camera you’re using. Can you make something ordinary appear extraordinary by showing it differently? Can you make the viewer feel an emotion when they see your photograph? Can you transport someone into the picture simply by pressing the shutter?
I often find it hard to imagine what I did before I used my iPhone as a serious photography device. Not only has shooting with it made me a better photographer, but the endless stream of imagery that floats across my screen — on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — provides constant creative inspiration.
As a professional photographer, I’m paid to document my experiences around the world. It’s an amazing job and I feel truly thankful for my career opportunities. But candidly, I feel invigorated when I visit a new place and can be present and living the adventure, observing with my own eyes rather than being concerned about capturing every moment through my lens. This is an approach I take when on holiday — which most recently was a three-week adventure through Italy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t take hundreds of images while I was in Italy. It means that rather than actively hunting for photographs like I do when I work, I allowed the photographs to find me. I have always called my style ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Photography’ after the books I read as a child. I can go in one direction and discover a remarkable visual opportunity, or I can go in another direction and find something entirely different. It’s this serendipity that’s the beauty of photography for me. And the twenty days I spent exploring Italy with only my iPhone further validated this philosophy.
Here are my tips, prepared for my dear friend Lynda Williams at Vim & Vigour PR, on how to maximise your phone and garner amazing shots:
1. Be a tourist in your own city — People don’t necessarily have to travel to take “travel photography”. There are fascinating places, colourful characters and meaningful stories everywhere. So be a tourist in your own city and explore your familiar surroundings which are filled with photographic opportunities. Remember, practice makes perfect, so the more experienced you are with your mobile device, the better your images will be when you take that dream trip.
2. Show and tell — The ability to take a photograph, and then show the subject the image as it instantly appears on your phone screen, is a fantastic experience. The looks on the faces of my subjects (particularly children and the elderly) as they react to their photos are incredible. Once they like what they see, I often find I have a subject who’ll allow me to snap away.
3. Get experimental — Being light and more compact, a mobile phone is much easier to handle than a DSLR. Use this to your advantage when looking for dynamic and creative angles. Hold it high and shoot without looking at the screen or put it on the ground and tilt it up. Be experimental and you’ll learn about what works. Or maybe you’ll just get lucky and make a beautiful accident.
4. Hit the streets — Again, because of its compact nature, a mobile phone is a fantastic tool for street photography. People are less likely to stop what they’re doing or pose for you when shooting, so use this as an advantage to make candid street photography.
5. Get close — Great portraits happen when you fill the screen with your subject’s face, but skip the zoom function. Mobile devices use digital zoom (not optical zoom, like a DSLR lens) that simply crops in on the photo, degrading the quality of your image. Use your feet to walk closer to your subject. As Hungarian photographer Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
6. Add life to landscapes — Beautiful landscape shots can be breathtaking, but try adding people to your image. Even if they occupy a little bit of space within your frame, a human touch helps make a more powerful photograph: it gives scale to an image, offers perspective and adds drama.