Top tips for taking stunning lockdown photography with a smartphone
Whether out for a leisurely stroll or on a more challenging hike while on lockdown one thing we all have in common is that urge to reach for our camera when we stop at a beautiful scene. We’re incredibly lucky to live in such a picturesque country, and there’s so much evidence of that through the beautiful photos our followers share with us on our social channels.
When taking landscape photos, it doesn’t have to be a complicated process to take your shots to the next level, so Ordnance Survey Ireland have put together some landscape photography tips for beginners to help you on your journey.
Before jumping into our tips on improving your photos, it’s been said that using the right equipment can be half the battle, so let’s briefly touch on some equipment you might need.
Photography Equipment Basics
If you’d like to get into photography as a long-term hobby, investing in a good DSLR camera will set you on the right path. DSLR cameras give you full control over your camera settings which will allow you to take some beautiful high-quality photos. You can also change the lenses and filters on a DSLR camera which will allow you to experiment a lot more. It takes patience and a lot of practise to get the hang of a DSLR, but the results can be incredible.
However, if you’re interested in some tips for taking better landscape photos with just the use of your phone, the tips we outline below can equally be applied to using your smartphone camera.
Do you really need one? Tripods really are a landscape photographer's best friend. The tripod will stabilise your camera so you can get the exact photo you want and will help you achieve a much crisper and sharper image making it worth the extra weight on your walk. Again, even with smartphones, you can invest in low cost gimbals or mini tripods to stabilise your phone for those much higher quality photos. Even the humble selfie stick can help stablise your hand and deliver a clear picture for the perfect finish.
Now let’s get into taking the actual photos, what are the important elements for a beginner to watch out for?
Tips for Taking Great Landscape Photos
The Right Light
When shooting landscape, light is hugely important, and the best light of the day appears around one hour after sunrise and again one hour before sunset. This is known as The Golden Hour in the photography world. The colours are more vibrant and the soft lighting can create some beautiful shadows which give your shots great depth and texture.
Outside of The Golden Hour, side lighting (that is when the sun or light source is coming in from the side of your shot) will help give you the best result. You’ll really have to move around and experiment with angles to capture this kind of lighting for your shot. A beautiful example of the Golden Hour lighting and shadows can be seen in the photo of the Giant’s Causeway below from Nataliya Hora.
Image Copyright: Nataliya Hora
By ‘composition’ we mean how you arrange or ‘frame’ your shot. A good place for beginners to start is to build their photo around the horizon. A common trap that beginners can fall into is to always centre the horizon line, which, don’t get us wrong, can work really well in some cases, such as capturing reflecting water. A great example of a centred horizon line can be seen in Rachel Kiernan’s image below.
Image used with kind permission by private user Rachel Kiernan
However, to capture aesthetically pleasing landscape photos in general, using ‘the rule of thirds’ can really help you up your game.
The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is created by crossing three horizontal lines with three vertical lines, effectively dividing your viewfinder or phone screen into a grid. Framing your shot so that your subject is positioned on one or more of the four intersecting points will make your photo composition so much more interesting. These days, almost all cameras, and even smartphone cameras have an option to turn this grid on. Stock User Rainbow6’s photo of Killarney National Park, below, is a great example of using the grid. Instead of centering the boat, he’s framed it off to the side so that it falls on one of the grid intersections, creating a beautiful composition.
Image Copyright: Stock User Rainbow6
Another tip on using the rule of thirds is to use the horizontal lines in your grid as your guide for where the horizon should be in your composition. An easy way to remember it is either ⅓ sky and ⅔ land or ⅓ land and ⅔ sky. Susan Nicholson’s shot of Rossbeigh Beach in Kerry, below is a great example of the Rule of Thirds being used the right way.
Image used with kind permission by private user Susan Nicholson
Play around with filters
Filters, on a phone or camera, are simple yet highly effective ways to enhance your shot. There are many different kinds of filters out there but when it comes to landscape photography, there are two main types of filters you can use with your DSLR camera to enhance your photo.
A polarising filter will help manage the reflections in your shot, hugely cutting down the glare on still water surfaces. It will also increase the contrast in the sky giving you a beautiful darker richer colour.
Neutral density filter
A neutral density filter helps control the amount of light entering the lens. Using a neutral density filter will allow you to extend shutter speeds in the daytime, creating beautiful results
In regards to filters on your phone, whether you have an Android or iPhone, there are a range of settings prebuilt into your camera as well as many available from your play store for free. Some of the better ones include:
Snapseed by Google on Android and iPhone
VSCO on Android and iPhone
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC on Android and iPhone
For more on phone filters, click here
Filters on phones are applied after you’ve taken the shot, so the positive side is that you have full control of the filter intensity, but the downside is that it’s too easy to over-process your photo. If you do love a filter, use them to only enhance your photo by applying a very low setting to tweak your colour intensity.
Below is a beautiful photo from Aengus O’Conner of Connemara Maths Academy. The deep blues and stillness of the water shows us how great a photo can look with the right camera settings.
Image used with kind permission by private user Aengus O’Conner
Change your perspective
Typically beginners will default to taking photos at eye level, which does work very well in many circumstances, for example, this gorgeous wandering shot from Michelle Ní Mhuineacháin works really well because it’s taken at eye level – it gives us a strong sense of the endless winding road ahead.
Image used with kind permission by private user Michelle Ní Mhuineacháin
We see another wonderful example of eye level composition in Theresa O’Toole’s forest path photo, below, Theresa’s positioning gives us a great sense of scale of the trees around her, and it really makes for a great shot.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, famously said, “your first 10,000 photos are your worst”. So get snapping! You cannot take too many photos. Explore your 5km routes and try different shots and positions with your subject matter, you’re all the more likely to get an amazing photo if you’ve taken heaps of shots. Delete the unwanted photos later to save on your memory space.
And that’s it. Truth be told, there are hundreds more landscape photography tips and tricks out there for you to learn, but when you’re just getting started, improving elements like your lighting and composition are such a great place to start. Try mastering each element one at a time, and once you’ve built up confidence on each one, you can begin to combine the tips all together in your photography, and you’ll drastically improve your photos.
The main thing is just have fun, take lots of photos and keep sharing them with us on our social media channels.