10 tips for taking better smartphone photos and videos during the holidays

Family and friends are over, kids are ripping into their presents and the table is set beautifully – so how are you going to immortalize these precious holiday memories?

As the expression goes, the best camera is the one you have with you – and for about 85% of Americans, that would be a smartphone.

If that’s the case, while these devices are a lot more impressive than smartphones from even, say, five years ago, you could probably benefit from a few simple “phoneography” tips to ensure those magical moments are captured just the way you want.

After all, your digital photos and videos won’t just be viewed throughout your lifetime, but by future generations too.

A few simple suggestions:

Don’t use digital zoom

Get closer by walking up to your subject with your smartphone or using the camera’s optical zoom to magnify the image. Avoid digital zoom, however, which is a software trick that can simulate getting closer to the subject, but can make photos look blurry or pixelated.

Get up close and personal

On a related note, fill the whole frame up with your subjects – opposed to too much headroom around them. Unless you’re trying to get in a lot of scenery, going in closer also means you can capture more facial detail, such as light freckling, a charming dimple, or soft pale blues of the iris.

Go left (or right)

Memorable photos need great composition. Instead of always placing your subjects in the center of the frame – what most amateur photographers do – move them to the left or right to make your photos instantly become more powerful and beautiful. You may hear pro photographers refer to a “rule of thirds,” which refers to breaking up a scene into two vertical lines and two horizontal lines and placing your subject wherever the four lines intersect (think of it like a tic-tac-toe board); our eyes naturally look at one of these intersection points.

Turn the phone sideways

Unless you’re trying to capture a tall Christmas tree, use the “landscape” orientation when taking photos and shooting videos to get more in – especially with group shots. Holding your phone horizontally will also create photos that look better when viewed on a widescreen computer or television (that is, no vertical black bars on each side of the image).

The Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone (at left) and Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone.

Appreciate cloudy days

When outside, try to resist using the flash if you can, as natural light is way better. Cloudy days are perfect as they diffuse the sun. If it is sunny, though, ensure your back is to the sun – and not your subjects – or else they’ll look like a silhouette. The same goes with taking an indoor shot near a window. Review what you took afterward and redo it if needed.

Hold your phone steady

Ever hold your camera at arm’s length to get a shot? Try to avoid this as your hands might shake a tad. To get a good, sharp image (photo or video), hold the camera with both hands and pull your arms into your chest or stomach to steady the shot. You can also pick up an inexpensive tripod or rest your phone on a table and set a timer.

Angle is everything

When shooting photos or videos, try to match the height of the subject, such as kneeling on the ground to snap a picture of a toddler (say, excitedly reaching into a stocking). You’ll get better shots when at eye level rather than angling the phone up or down, which can look awkward when previewing the images.

Candid shots are keepers

Don’t always take photos of people posing for the camera as their expression can look forced and predictable. Some of the best photos of subjects are when they don’t realize they’re being photographed – but be sure to get their permission before uploading to social media.

App it up

These tools are already included with your phone, but there are also third-party apps to help you easily edit photos and videos, and share them with friends and family. Apps like Instagram and Snapchat can add fun filters too, ranging from a brownish sepia-tone finish and retro ’70s look to fun augmented reality effects. There are thousands of apps available, for all platforms, so experiment away.

 

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