• Advice

Smartphone photo cheat sheet: How to take great photos!

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

In Greek, Photography literally translates to “writing with light,” but what if you‘d rather write a thousand words instead of snapping a single image?

As a freelancer in the digital age, we all face a technological learning curve from time to time. Good news though, gone are the days when you are required to drag around bulky DSLRs or hire a photographer to shoot the story. Now, your smartphone is all you need.

If your editor insists that you return with photos along with your piece — don’t panic. Just take out your smartphone and follow these basic tips.

Before your shoot:

● Charge your phone! Make sure that you also have enough memory to store images
● If at first you don’t succeed, shoot, shoot and shoot again (but change angles or locations so that you don’t have 300 identical images)
● Wear an outfit that has pockets, just in case you need to slip your phone into safety if it gets too crowded or rowdy (especially important at social events)
● Put your notebook or audio recorder down (that’s why a pocket is handy) and don’t try to photograph while also jotting notes down or recording.
● Make sure that you are in a safe location with both feet on the ground

A little shadow play in Photoville in Downtown Brooklyn!

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While on your shoot:

● Zoom with your feet instead of your fingers! If it’s safe, stand closer
● To reduce shake and to produce sharper images, stop moving and be patient. If you can rest your phone on a table or lean on a wall, do so
● Don’t forget that you can take vertical or/and horizontal images!
● Make the composition interesting: Tilt the camera to the side or shoot from a higher or lower angle
● Don’t clog-up foot traffic: Aim, snap and go
● If it isn’t a flattering image of a person, don’t use it
● Try to limit the use of flash, it usually makes things blown-out and over-exposed (not pretty or useable)
● If there is a professional photographer there, nod at them, smile then shoot in the same direction as them. Be respectful of their expertise and careful not to get in the way! Make sure to exchange business cards (just in case your photoshoot “fails,” then your publication can purchase images from the photographer directly!)

On July 12, 2012, my two suitcases and I moved from Saudi Arabia to NYC. Scariest and best thing I ever did. Not sure where I'll be in three years, but today, I'll celebrate. Cheers!

After your shoot:

● Check that all of your images are in focus and tell a story
● Don’t send too many of the same exact subject.
Adjust the levels (shadows/highlights), crop and resize, as needed
● Send your editor the best images with the highest resolution possible. Write clear photo captions
● Offer options: An establishing shot (of the venue), a detail image (the speaker) and a few from different angles, with and without people
● If you are shooting a specific person, add a photo caption to identify who it is
● Remember: If you add a filter or crop an image, don’t overdo it

Kids painting at Dumbo Art

Here’s a photo checklist:

● Shots of the entrance, exit and main subject (with the logo)
● A detail shot (face, door)
● A medium shot (the torso, room)
● And a wide shot (whole body, venue)
● An action shot (of people conversing, something unfolding or the crowd interacting)

Oh say can you see your instagram feed fill with fireworks! Happy 4th!

Have fun! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to shoot me an email at, tweet / instagram me or ask me in person.