Even though I’m a photographer, I take the vast majority of my personal photos on my phone. It’s so convenient. My phone is always with me, and phone cameras have come a long way in the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, nothing comes close to replacing the beautiful photos I take with my DSLR (like the beach photo above), but for capturing everyday memories, my phone is more than sufficient. As a photographer, it is natural for me to take A LOT of pictures. But what does one do with them all? And how do you get the best photos from a phone camera? Here are some brief tips to help you get better pictures of your family, and what I do with my personal photos so they don’t just live forever in my phone.
Dealing with Uncooperative Subjects
“What do you do when your kid doesn’t want their picture taken, or they just won’t smile?” This is probably the number one question I get asked. My advice: change it up! I have an almost two year old who will not do anything specific I ask of him for photos. I am not above bribery, but he isn’t old enough for that either. So, I just go with it and literally chase him around, or I pop out from hiding to catch a smile. This usually captures more candid and realistic photos, which I prefer anyway. Other than bribery, with older kids, try being silly. Fart jokes are often very popular. And the number one thing to remember with kids is that they are unpredictable. Try to keep your expectations realistic, as you’re probably not going to get the perfect photo you have in mind every time, and that’s okay. Take a little pressure off yourself (and your kids)!
In the example below, my son Jonas was NOT wanting to look at me or stay seated, so I went around the corner of our garage and jumped out and got the sweetest smile! (Taken with my Google Pixel 2.)
Lighting and Angles
Whether your subjects are cooperating or not, to get the best photos, you’re going to want the best light. I know where all the best light spots are in my own home, which is why a lot of my pictures in my house are in the same places (often near a window). Inside, it’s usually best to have the light in front of your subjects, like in front of a window during the day (have the window to your back if you’re taking the photo).
Outside, the opposite is usually true. Unless you’re in full shade, it’s usually better to have the light coming from behind your subjects. Shooting in full sun in the middle of the day is probably the trickiest place to get good photos. I have found that my phone (a Google Pixel 2) is pretty good with automatic settings in different lighting situations, and I do edit my photos from my phone.
In this first example, the window is behind the subject on the left, so the photo doesn’t appear as well lit as the photo on the right (which is in front of the same window, just from the other angle). Both of these photos were taken with my phone.
When taking candid photos of kids, try to get on their level for the best angle, and pay attention to what’s going on in the background of your photos to get a cleaner look. In this next example, the photo on the left is taken from above and has a foot and bag in the background, whereas the photo on the right is down at my toddler’s level with a clean background. (Left photo is from my phone, right was taken with my DSLR.)
Editing apps and presets
I edit all my phone photos that I intend to use and keep in Lightroom Mobile. It is free to download and use, and is by far my favorite editing app. Presets that you can purchase (or create) to use in Lightroom apply the same settings to every picture, which are popular for creating a cohesive look to all your photos. I often get asked what my favorite presets are, but I just make all my own, as I prefer natural and bright looking photos. There are lots of great ones out there (on sites like Etsy) if you prefer a specific look!
In the example below is a before and after photo from my phone edited in Lightroom Mobile.
Photo Organization and Printing
I store all my personal photos in Google Photos. It is a great cloud app with a lot of free storage (and inexpensive upgrades if you need more). How you organize your photos is going to depend on what you do with them. I create albums in Google Photos for specific trips and special days, and then I have one album where I add all of my favorite photos for the year. I add to this folder often as I edit and share photos on social media throughout the year.
Last year, as we had our first baby in January, I created one big (200+ page) physical album at the end of the year, in addition to smaller albums for our professional photos. Since I already had all my photos in one folder, it was a pretty easy process to use album software (I use SmartAlbums) and create the large book which I printed at Blurb. There are limitless options on what to do with your photos; this is just what I prefer to use.
Below, the top three photos are from my yearly photo album, and the bottom two are the albums I made of our newborn and fall family sessions from the year.
My #1 Tip
I often share my personal photos on social media as means to stay in touch with friends and family I don’t see every day. However, my number one tip in this age of camera phones and constant documentation is to remember to be present. Nothing is going to happen if you don’t get a picture of everything. It’s okay to create actual memories instead of visual ones. We recently took a beach vacation as a family. I obviously wanted some great photos, but I didn’t want to be tied to my phone and camera the whole time. I probably spent 15 minutes taking pictures during our time at the beach, and then tucked my phone and camera away, and just enjoyed my family and the beach. It made that time so much more special.
And one last thing- get in those photos, mama! You won’t regret it, I promise.
*Originally published December 2019*