Smart Living | Features

Features | 25 Jul 2017

Picture perfect: How to line up your smartphone shots

Ensure you’re always well composed with these with top photography tips from founder and editor of, Andy Butler…

We’ve all got smartphone cameras, but how pretty are your pictures? We’ve been talking to the man behind mobile photography website and digital magazine Mobiography, Andy Butler, about the science behind stunning smartphones snaps. Read on to sharpen up your shooting skills through compelling composition…

Introducing Andy

Andy has always had a keen interest in photography. He now spends most of his time helping others to take better smartphone shots with a plethora of tips and tutorials, but says he only discovered mobile photography back in 2012 – when he came across a little app called Instagram:

“Since then I have never looked back,” he says. “I love the freedom and simplicity that the smartphone offers, as I am no longer weighed down with a big and bulky camera.”

For Andy, composition is one of the most important elements of a good photograph:

“It’s something that can greatly improve the standard of the photos you take and give them more impact. Composition can draw a viewer’s eye into an image, lead them through it and towards an intended subject. It’s something that can take an ordinary snapshot and give it that wow factor.”

Mastering the basics

The very first step in composing your photo, is knowing exactly what you want to capture.

Consider whether it’s a person, an object or a scene in general, Andy says. There should always be something in the scene that’s grabbed your attention. After all, if you don’t know what it is, how can you expect your viewer to know?

Once you’ve identified your subject, it’s time to start thinking about the best way to compose the image so your viewer’s eye is drawn in and towards the intended point:

“I often find using the rule of thirds, leading lines (things like pathways and fences that guide the viewer’s eye through a frame), symmetry or negative space – for those of you not up to speed on the term is the space around and between the subject of an image – are excellent ways to compose and frame the photos I take,” he explains.

Negative space is the area around and between the subject/s of an image.

The rule of thirds is frequently referenced in photography and involves dividing your shot into nine equal parts – with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. The most important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or in their intersections for a more compelling photo. You can judge this by sight, but most smartphones also enable you to turn on gridlines in your camera settings, which you can use to guide your setup.

Turning on your camera’s gridlines can aid your composition.

“Also think about the angle from which you are shooting,” Andy says. “Doing simple things such as getting down low or looking for a high vantage point will offer a totally different perspective on the scene.”

One of Andy’s other top tips is to use people to show mood or scale:

“If you find an interesting scene, stop and frame the shot then wait for someone to walk into it,” he says. “I often find, if you can capture solitary figures within an open space, it can help to give a sense of scale or loneliness.”

Zoom with your feet

The digital zoom found in smartphone cams can reduce the quality of the photo you’re taking. If you can, it’s always better to move closer to your subject rather than relying on zoom. If you can’t get close enough, try taking the photo from where you are and zooming in later with an editing app. Andy recommends starting with Snapseed for any post production processing:

“It’s almost a one-stop-shop when it comes to editing, but remember not to overdo it.”

You can also sharpen the focus of your smartphone shot by tapping the most important part of your photo before you take it. This will set the exposure and ensure your main subject comes out bright and clear.

No such thing as a one-shot wonder

You know all those fantastic photos you see on your social feeds? Chances are they weren’t the first shot taken. When you’re shooting a scene, it always pays to get a bit snap happy – it’s easy to delete, much harder to retake, as Andy explains:

“Don’t rely on the first shot you take being the one. Work the scene, take as many photos as possible from different angles. That way, you will increase your chances of capturing something special.”

Towering shadows of steel and glass. Shot in Dublin on the #mojocon photo walk.

A post shared by Andy Butler (@caravananders) on

Learning from the best

Just as you ask yourself why a scene or subject has peaked your interest, also ask yourself why you like a particular photo, photographer or style. Andy recommends following your favourite photographers online and taking note of how they approach composition. Ask why a particular photo works and what sort of technique the photographer’s used, then go out and apply those principles to your own snaps.

And, of course…

Practice, practice, practice

Just as there are few one-shot wonders, you’re unlikely to transform into Annie Leibowitz or Ansel Adams overnight. By consistently immersing yourself, the standard of photos you take with your smartphone (or any camera) will continue to improve over time. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and train your eye to see potential photographic opportunities that would otherwise pass you by:

“Through experimentation you’ll learn what style of photos you like taking, you’ll discover new things and push the boundaries. Just get out there, enjoy the world that surrounds you and photograph it,” Andy says.

The likes are sure to follow.