Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography
One of the main advantages of a DSLR camera is…
Without the distractions of manual focus and exposure, smartphone photography is all about content, context and creativity. In practical terms, this means perfecting the delicate art of composition. While books offer many rules to follow, the best photographers use these techniques only as guidelines, foundations upon which to build something far more instinctive and beautiful.
Vlad Vasylkevych is one such artist who has seemingly mastered iPhoneography and the square format of Instagram. We got to know him, and asked him for some top tips on composition.
Most of us take photos in order to record moments worth remembering. Seeing the beaming smile of someone you love makes photographic technique fade into insignificance. For anyone else viewing your work, however, such emotional attachments do not necessarily apply. It means that the photographer needs to think carefully about how to connect with their audience.
The Ukraine-based Vasylkevych is well aware of this. A designer by trade, his job requires him to convey ideas through visual means. He applies the same skills to his photography — “I think it is important to communicate an inspirational message through your creativity,” he explains. Each of his images has a clearly defined subject, often in the centre of the frame, with the overall composition telling a story. This technique requires some forethought, but it produces photos with tremendous impact.
Before you press the shutter, ask yourself two questions: what is my subject, and what am I trying to say? The answers should guide your framing.
Contrast is a particularly effective tool for drawing attention to your chosen subject. The eye will always seek out the bright spot in an otherwise muted image. Areas of white space surrounded by texture will also stand out. Vasylkevych often composes portraits with his model placed in one of these eye-catching areas.
He also uses natural light to his advantage. “I prefer to shoot at the times when light is the best: in the morning and evening.”
These periods tend to offer an intense glow, which is great for illuminating your subject, but care needs to be taken in order to avoid including distracting highlights. Check around the edge of the frame before taking your shot, and tone down areas of dazzling white in Enlight via Image > Adjust > Tools tab> Details > Highlights.
There is barely a photography tutorial in the world that does not mention the “rule of thirds“. The rule stipulates that important features of your image should be placed off-center, where the lines would meet if you were to slice the photo into vertical and horizontal thirds. The native iPhone camera app makes it easy to compose shots with this technique in mind — you simply switch on the grid, under Settings.
Vasylkevych uses the rule himself, but advises against sticking to it rigidly. “[It] is a simple tool which gives me the cue on how to build a composition, but I do not always follow this rule in its purest form.” Experiment with placing your subject in different parts of the frame.
The iPhone natively takes rectangular pictures, but Vasylkevych recommends something different for Instagram sharing. “I really think the true Insta-photo should stay in its square format,” he tells me. This means rethinking your compositions to suit the crop.
While the rule of thirds guidance still applies, square photos often work well with a centrally placed subject. This is because there is less room for distractions, and the 1:1 ratio draws the eye in from the corners. Vasylkevych regularly uses this technique to good effect.
As with anything worth mastering, composition takes practice. Vasylkevych recommends shooting on a daily basis to hone your skills, and looking through old photos might reveal improvement you have already made. This kind of revision is also vital for further progress. Think about how you could have re-framed the shots for a stronger composition, and adjust the crop under Canvas > Crop in Enlight.
On a similar note, Vasylkevych’s last piece of advice is to “follow the people who will inspire you…talented Instagrammers and photographers” — mentioning Griffin Lamb and Anna Remarchuk among his personal favorites. Study their work, make notes, and apply those ideas to your own work — the formula for success is remarkably simple when you break it down.
What rules and prompts do you use when composing your shots? Let us know in the comments!
Written by: Mark Myerson.
Images by: Vlad Vasylkevych. Vlad is a 33 year-old graphic and motion designer from the Ukraine. He shoots almost all of his photos on his iPhone, and he spends much of his time traveling the world.