Story and photos by Erika Haugen-Goodman
Phone photography has come a long way in the last handful of years, with manufacturers and app developers creating a number of ways for photographers to take control of their images. In the early days of phone photography, you were lucky if you had any options beyond just snapping the photo, but now most phones come standard with a fairly robust camera and controls that allow you to get the most out of your photos.
Frame your photo: Most camera apps will allow you to turn on a grid overlay so you can easily see where your subjects fall in the frame. This is a handy tool when taking photos of groups of people or individuals, or when trying to highlight a specific element in your shot. Utilizing the grid and having a solid understanding of the rule of thirds (the Internet has some wonderful guides on this) will really help take your photography to the next level.
Control your exposure: If you open up your camera app and aim the lens at your subject, nine times out of ten it’s going to take into account the total available light that the lens sees to determine the exposure of the image. This is totally fine for a quick snapshot, but if you really want to dial in the exposure to make the rich greens of the forest stand out or to ensure the clouds aren’t too bright, you can use the exposure controls. On most phones you’ll need to tap on the screen to focus, which also sets the exposure automatically to wherever you clicked. At that point an exposure control slider should appear, which you can drag to customize the exposure of the image. Play with that to see what sort of results you can get!
Portrait mode is your friend: If you’re taking photos of your hiking partners, portrait mode can be a great way to separate them from a noisy background (though sometimes you want that scenic vista in the distance, too!). Portrait modes on camera apps essentially separate the subject you’re focusing on and then digitally blur the rest of the image to create “fake” depth of field. In many apps you can control the level of blur, so play with that to create the look you want while isolating your subject to make them pop out of the frame. This mode is also great for taking pictures of flowers, and other small things you find on the trail, to make them stand out.
Fix it in post: It’s always a good idea to take the best possible image in the moment, but if things don’t turn out perfect, don’t sweat it. Most standard camera apps have some editing controls built in that will allow you to adjust levels on highlights, shadows and even some color correction. Take advantage of these to clean up anything that doesn’t look quite right. If you want to really take editing to the next level, take a look at the app store and see what’s available. There are tons of free photo editing apps to try out that have more options than the app that came with your phone.