Red Tent Survival Guide: How To Take Better Photos Using Just Your Phone

Okay, so this one’s not actually about survival. Unless capturing beautiful moments helps you survive better, like me. Some days, the only tool left in my box is to whip out my camera and find beauty worth documenting. It’s how I turn shit holy when I’m really muttering holy shit.

Here are 10 ways to turn everyday moments into frame worthy pieces of art, and all by simply using your iPhone.

1. Composition. Some people have a natural eye for this. Others don’t. A great general rule you can start applying to your photography right now is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds makes photos more interesting to look at, and more, well, composed. Imagine your photo has 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines in it, making 9 smaller same-size squares in your photo. Try to have your object at the intersection of one of these thirds – either top or bottom left, or top or bottom right. At the very least, play around with having your subject off-centre.


2. Empty space. Like Taylor Swift, I like to cheer for blank spaces. You should too, you budding photographer, you. Don’t be afraid to cut off body parts or key features of a scene and have “empty” spaces. They help amplify the attention to your subject, and they add an interesting look to your photos. Not every frame needs to be filled to the brim. Sometimes simpler photos are better.


3. Angles. Try to mix up the way you take photos — don’t just take them from the same standing position you’re always in. Scoot around on your tummy, or take some from below your subject, and also don’t shy away from the overhead shot. I’m a big fan of the overhead.


4. Black and white. Most things look better in black and white, especially if you love more classic looks to your photographs. There are some great black and white filters I love – Ash in the Afterlight app, and X1 in the VSCO app, which I’ll talk more about in a sec.


5. Backgrounds. Start noticing them. Look for interesting backgrounds: walls, quilts, roads, and if they’re not interesting, at least keep them neutral. Clutter or conflicting objects in the background takes the focus away from your subject and just makes the photo look messy. Use backgrounds to give your photo extra pop, or at the very least, use them to not detract from the picture you’re trying to take.


6. Keep your phone handy. It’s hard to capture a beautiful moment when your phone’s not out and you have to run to find it or switch it on. Posed photos are nice, but in-the-moment captures are truly beautiful. By the time you’ve come back with your now turned on phone, the moment will probably be well and truly over. So try and keep your phone close by.


7. Editing Apps. Spend the few dollars and download an editing app. My favourites are Afterlight and VSCO, but there are stacks of others like Snapspeed and Photoshop Touch. Making some quick adjustments to exposure and contrast and colour can really enhance the look of your photos, plus they come with a range of great filters you can play around with, too.

8. Include yourself. This is where we all hail the selfie — used less for vanity, and more so that you will actually BE in some of the memories you are capturing. If you want to go a step further, try Afterlight’s self-timer to capture some photos with you in them. You might feel funny at the start and of course, the photos will be a little more contrived had somebody actually snuck up on you and taken a photo naturally, but if your husband is anything like mine, self-timers are a sure way to not be met with eye-rolls every time you say, “Hey, can you please take a photo of me?”


9. Details. Look for the details of all things you love – wispy strands of hair, painted toenails, curls at the napes of necks, favourite shoes. All these tiny details make up your story, the things you will want to remember, and beauty is always, always in the small things. Start noticing the details of the moment you’re in – the things you love about right now, and find interesting ways to capture them.


10. Relax. Most importantly, have fun. Never take photography too seriously. If you miss a shot, move on. If your kids want to kick their cute shoes off and rub mud all over their faces, let it go. The sooner you accept what is happening right in front of you and find the beauty in that, instead of putting so much effort into a man-made construction of it, you’ll enjoy yourself much more and probably have better, more beautiful photos to show for it.



6 Responses to “Red Tent Survival Guide: How To Take Better Photos Using Just Your Phone”

  1. NatandDan

    Thanks for all the great tips Rach! Especially about being IN front of the camera, not behind all the time. I have hundreds of pics of the girls, often with Daniel but hardly any of me. Not that I’m a fan of having my photo taken but I don’t want to get to 20 years down the track and be missing from all our photos. That’s one of my goals for this year and to finally dust off my amazing Nikon and start using it (and not on auto setting!) rather than just my iPhone. Can I please ask what programs you use to edit from your digital camera… Or can recommend some for me? Thanks 😊

    • The Red Tent

      Hey love. I use Lightroom 4 to edit all my digital photos. I think it cost me about $100 and it’s the only thing I use. It can get a bit technical, but you’ll be able to do basic exposure and colour adjusments straight away, and then just play around with the rest. I can teach you a few things if you get it and need help. xx

  2. Dear Mama

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing these tips. What I like most about these tips is that you’ve written them in a way that anyone from a novice to a pro can benefit from learning or have as a reminder. Tip #8 is my biggest struggle and one that I’m slowly beginning to overcome.

  3. Lisa H.

    Thanks. This is great. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that I have to know about more than just writing to be a successful blogger. Photography is a challenge for me for reasons. This was very practical advice. Makes it seem not so daunting. Lol.


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