Photography is an increasingly accessible hobby, thanks to our smartphones being our constant pocket companions and the impressive capabilities of their cameras.

We can snap anything, anywhere, anytime, and with the right tools and knowledge, beautiful images can be captured.

To help others get the best out of their smartphones, Ballymena-born professional photographer Ronan O’Dornan is collaborating with Bushmills Irish Whiskey in celebrating the stories and crafts of independent, spirited and extraordinary talent across Ireland as part of the #BlackBushStories campaign.

This month, Ronan will host a free interactive photography masterclass, ‘Black Bush and Photography’, at House Belfast on Thursday, June 21.

During the workshop, Ronan will show attendees how to take great photos on their smartphones with tips and tricks that can be applied straight away, and how to tell authentic stories through images.

Ahead of the masterclass, Ronan has shared some of the best tips and tricks for getting the perfect smartphone shot, whether you’re a beginner, or an amateur photographer hoping to hone your skills and further your photography career.

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Ronan O’Dornan

1. Rule of Thirds

Let’s start with the basics of photography. It’s not the most exciting tip but it will make an instant difference to your pictures.

Keeping the subject of your photo in the middle of the frame is boring. Try to imagine your frame split up into a grid of three vertical and three horizontal equal sized sections (most smartphone cameras have this grid function built in) – where the lines intersect is where the magic happens. Simply align your content in line of one third or place a point of interest where two lines intersect, for example the eyes of a subject’s face when taking a portrait. Moving the content within the frame slightly to the left or right into these thirds makes a massive difference and this process has been used as a golden rule for centuries in the art world. If it’s good enough for Da Vinci and Van Gough…

2. Shoot from interesting perspectives

Always look for an interesting angle. Just look to Instagram food photography to see why angles are everything – a bird’s eye view of your dish looks much better than just taking the photo from where you’re sitting.

When it comes to smartphone photography, try getting higher off the ground or closer to the ground, to see your shot totally transformed. Look up too. Sometimes we’re so distracted by what is at immediate eye level, that we forget there is a world above us! Skylines, tree tops and cloud formations can all make for some inspired photos.

Never be afraid to play around with your viewpoint – you could create something stunning and totally original.

3. Edit your images

The number one rule with editing images is, everything in moderation! For smartphone photography, use an app like Snapseed to make subtle changes to your image such as adding a little clarity or more vibrancy. Apps like these are great tools for brightening up the shadows and reducing the glare of the brightest part of your images.

Please resist the urge to slide any of the adjustments up to 100% though. A good rule of thumb is that if anyone else can tell the image has been edited, you’ve probably gone too far!

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4. Use sunglasses as a polarising filter

When it comes to a great smartphone photo, the Valencia filter just isn’t going to cut it. Everyone uses the same go-to filters on Instagram: Aden, Valencia, Hi-Fi, Ludwig; meaning all of our photos can look the same.  When it comes to making your mark, it’s important to think outside the box.

One tip for adding an extra dimension to your photos to make sure they stand out on the Instagram feed is to hold your sunglasses lens over the camera to create a cool muted effect, adding a subtle hue to your image. You can also make the sunglasses frame visible in the photo to make your shot that little bit more quirky. It’s a very simple tip, but the results can be very impressive.

5. Don’t use zoom

As great as a smartphone camera can be, it is not a DSLR lens, so it does have limitations. Zoom is one such limitation. Zooming in to take photos reduces the quality significantly, leaving you with a pixelated image that won’t quite capture the subject in the way you had hoped.

Instead of zooming in on your picture, play about with the composition of the photo to get the most out of the space. It can also add a minimalist edge to your shot with all of the extra space. If you really need a closer shot, zoom with your feet… walk towards the subject! This commitment to getting the best shot is something that most people won’t bother to do and walking toward or around a point of interest will also help you to notice new angles you haven’t seen before.

6. Ditch the flash

Forget everything you’ve been told about the flash on your camera; it’s not good for your photos. The flash on our phone camera is actually just a bright white LED light, so it doesn’t work the same as a flash on a professional camera. While it can help you to brighten up photos in dark locations, it also causes washed out yellow skin tone, and the dreaded red eyes. We’ve all looked through our photos from a night out and wondered what went wrong…

Where possible, try to use a nearby light source. Move your subject closer to a window or a light, but not directly beside it, to avoid overly dark shadows. Natural light is infinitely better for your photography. Often using natural light sources helps to create a more balanced image, allowing light areas to fade into darker shadows much more smoothly than when using a flash.

7. Look around

It sounds cliché, but art is everywhere around us. Look to buildings, patterns in brickwork and windows, and interesting silhouettes to get a striking photo for your Instagram grid. Repetitive patterns, clean angles and interesting shapes are key to an eye-catching shot. Cityscapes in particular provide a wealth of opportunities to capture the city in a different way.

Reflections can also make for a stunning photo as they create symmetry in your composition. You can use glasses, puddles, any reflective surfaces, even the screen of a phone or tablet laid flat! Don’t be afraid to get creative with your photography.

Shooting through objects or gaps to reveal your point of interest is a tactic I employ all the time. I could be the corner of a window or a brick missing in a wall but using these shapes to frame or surround your point of interest is a brilliant way to stand out. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your photography.

To find out more about Ronan’s journey and the ‘Black Bush and Photography’ event, visit blackbushstories.com.

Belfast Telegraph Digital





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