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Tips on Improving the Quality of your Cellphone Photographs

A Few Simple Rules from an Award Winning Photojournalist

"There is a bee on the flower behind you."

My wife and I were enjoying a beverage on a restaurant's outdoor patio when she remarked, "There is a bee on the flower behind you." I swung around with my cellphone camera and snapped this photo.

Rule #1—Every original photograph is not a great picture but editing can make a dramatic quality difference.

When I speak of Editing, I refer to cropping (cutting away the "Dead Space" or distractions which do not add meaning to what you want your audience to notice) and adjusting the colors, contrast or brightness, IF necessary.

When I first saw this cropped, wide picture (below), I was delighted by its great colors and it is in focus. When you compare my first edit to the original above, I got rid most of the dead space (items that distract from our Main Subject). The yellow flower shares the audience's attention with the Bee. I still disliked the non-natural part in the background as it takes our minds away—wondering where this picture was taken. Not good. 

First Possible Photo

While it is stronger visually, I asked myself again, "What could I do to make this photograph even stronger... more powerful?" While I'll print or publish any size or shape photo—really wide to square—I may decide based on a Social Media format, like Instagram. 

Rule #2—When you use a cellphone camera, don't use the digital zoom 2x or 3x much of the time. The most "perfect" your picture will appear with current digital technology is using the maximum pixels in the wide angle mode.  

In a conventional camera, the optical zoom moves a variety of lenses into positions which keep the perfect focus at its maximum. The digital zoom on your cellphone camera is forcing-the-zoom electronically. It is blowing up your pixels and your photo can become pixelated (showing the tiny squares which make up the "dots" of your image).

Instagram Format

RULE #3—Put the subject of your photo Not-In-The-Center. In this example, the Bee is close to the top and to the left a little. Off center subjects are more interesting. When you look at your viewfinder, imagine your picture divided by lines both horizontally & vertically into three equal pieces. Attempt to put the subject on or near one the four points that intersect. That's called the Rule of Thirds (1/3s). 

Rule of Thirds Example

Notice the four points where the lines intersect. My Bee is a little high but the Instagram format is square. The upper left intersection point lands on the bee's pollen covered foot, for example. Those four points are places recommended to place your subject. I wanted to keep the yellow flower near the bottom for the dynamic color.   

Could I make it more dramatic?

How good is your lens?

Even I was astonished when I zoomed in to this close up. (Thanks to a Nokia camera with a Carl Zeiss optic) It provides an intimate look at a subject we rarely see this close. 

We began with a really wide picture. We looked for one or more better photographs hidden within the original. We turned our best sections of our photo into three different formatted pictures. In this final shot, the bee's eye & its pollen-coated back foot are positioned on two of the 4 "Rule of Thirds" points. 

With practice—with editing—with experience, your photos will continue to improve. Show us the world from your unique point-of-view. Remember, like this photo, Bee Amazing!

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