It’s vacation season. It’s wedding season. It’s beach season. There’s no denying it: Summer is prime time for photo-taking. If you’re like many people, you’ve ditched your clunky film camera in favor of your smartphone—and there’s no shame in that, says Mark Ludak ’81, a specialist professor who teaches all levels of photography at Monmouth. “The best kind of camera is the one you have on you,” he says. “Modern smartphones are equal in quality to the premier digital cameras of about 15 years ago, so they are more than adequate for social media or printing up to 5 x 7.”
But there are a few golden rules to follow, says Ludak.
First, the basics: Get closer than you think to the subject, and fill the frame with it. Keep the phone steady for the sharpest image possible by holding it with two hands and either resting the phone on a table or leaning your body against a wall. Make sure any sunlight is behind you to avoid backlighting the subject (pro tip: the best time of day is early morning or late afternoon). And when in doubt, opt for horizontal orientation. “Any social media we use is horizontally oriented, so if you take a vertical photo, you’ll see empty space on either side,” says Ludak. “Plus, if you’re taking pictures of a person, vertical orientation almost guarantees there’s too much space above their head.”
Next, optimize the phone’s camera settings. Ludak says he rarely uses the flash—unless it’s pitch black, flash is going to make the photo look unnatural. Instead, use the exposure setting to focus the frame and achieve optimal lighting. “Often, you can touch the screen where you want the focus to be, and it will automatically adjust the exposure,” says Ludak. If your phone has an additional slider option to brighten or darken the photo, use it, he says.
When life doesn’t allow for perfect conditions—like a child playing or a dog romping—burst mode can be a photo-saver. Simply hold down the shutter button, and the phone should take a series of photos—usually one of them is workable, says Ludak. Too bright? Too dark? Filters can come in handy, he adds. In particular, a black-and-white filter can save a too-bright pic.
The bottom line? “You can take great photos with the smartphones we have,” he says. “Photographs aren’t made by devices. They’re made by people.”