You've heard this a million times, but it's still true—the majority of the tools you need to make your images pop on social are already in your pocket. Smartphones have an endless number of apps and native tools to improve image quality or highlight certain colors and textures, but there's still no substitute for taking a well-composed, well-lit and well-realized photo to begin with.
Luckily, your smartphone can help with that. For communicators without the budget for professional photographers, staying hip to a few best practices for shooting on your mobile device can make the difference between whether an image is shared and engaged with, or scrolled past and forgotten.
Here are a few tips we've picked up along the way:
Lights, camera, action
While best tricks for professional photography require external flashes and light screens, the ability to control almost the important details of your shots is already native to the camera app on your smartphone. Despite this, many hurried social communicators forget to implement them nonetheless.
Photographing an event in a fluorescent or otherwise brightly lit room? On your iPhone, simply tapping your screen at the washed-out portion of the image will adjust the exposure to make sure that portion of the image is crystal clear.
When forced to choose, always shoot an image darker rather than shooting it overexposed. Darker images still have pixels of the underexposed parts buried in their data, which can be more clearly pronounced and defined later during editing. Once a portion of an image is captured blown-out or overexposed, however, there's nothing in that white space but light.
Action shots will always garner higher engagement on your photos—always. Shots of movement, of people interacting, and especially faces (ideally smiling) will infuse whatever content accompanies them with complexity and a human element that can be hard to replicate with a mere scene, object or product.
The right orientation for the right shot, and social platform
There are different schools of thought on the best way to hold your smartphone camera when taking photos. Because most people intuitively use their device vertically to communicate, they default to taking vertical photos, whatever the scene. This makes no sense at certain events like games or concerts, when the thing you're photographing—a field or a concert stage—is itself horizontal.
That said, the social platform you are posting to is another important factor to consider when deciding what orientation is right for your image. Instagram's interface is optimized for vertical photography, so you'll see more detail on the image than if you take a horizontal shot (of course you have the option of focusing on a perfect square, but that will usually be a blurry mess if pulled from a horizontal image).
On Facebook and Twitter, however, horizontal images positively shine, as both platforms have an interface that displays horizontal images in all of their wide-angled glory. For communicators and social account managers who are also shooting on behalf of their brand, this means thinking ahead as to where the message will be blasted out from, and shooting accordingly. If you're cross-posting a piece of content, there's no hassle in shooting the same thing from multiple perspectives and orientations so they look good on each platform.
Focus on the middle third
One of the most basic rules of effective image composition is The Rule of Thirds, which states that shots should be composed as if they were sliced into three equal segments both vertically and horizontally, creating a grid in the mind. With this imagined grid dividing an image into nine equal parts, photographers should set up their camera so that important focal points for the image are placed along the intersections between the horizontal and vertical line intersections. It sounds heady, but most smartphone cameras have an optional grid overlay that can be turned on for aspiring photographers to get the hang of this concept.
When it comes to social media, though, the middle section of your image is most important. The reason is simple—on mobile devices, social platforms will not always show the whole image, but a crop of the image that can be clicked on, and expanded, in order to view the full thing. This is especially the case when multiple images are part of the same post. By making sure that the image's most important information is in its middle third, communicators will get the point of a photo across, whether a given audience has engaged with it or not.
Follow Justin: @joffaloff