7 tips for great portrait photos with your smartphone

11. February 2022 Published by Raphael Doerr

Hopefully no one says “Smile, please!” or even “Say cheese!” anymore. Because what is often most annoying in portrait photos is a strained, posed facial expression. The first advantage of taking portrait photos with a smartphone is that it allows for a lot of spontaneity. It is always at hand and makes it easy for the photographer to capture the model directly and naturally. No matter whether it’s during a walk on the beach, when the wind is ruffling your hair or when you are beaming with joy when the much anticipated dessert is served.

In every form of photography, the view is more important than the equipment. If you recognise beautiful moments, choose exciting image details and thus create interesting compositions, you have already achieved more than half. The other half is technology. Powerful smartphones make it easy, especially for photography beginners, to create high-quality pictures without having to deal intensively with the many professional possibilities of a camera. With its particularly high resolution, perfect aperture selection and portrait mode, a smartphone like the GS5 does the technical work in the background. And in the meantime? You can literally focus on your subject yourself with a tap of your finger. Of course, there are still a few essential tips on how to take good portrait photos with a smartphone.

  1. Shine bright – let there be light

Light is the fairy dust of photography and also the most important design tool for portrait photos with the smartphone. The rule of thumb is: photograph with the light instead of against it. This often means squinting and narrowing your eyes because the bright light shines directly into the model’s face. To avoid such somewhat cramped photos with half-closed eyes, it is better to avoid the peak of the sun and go on a portrait safari in the favourite time of all photographers: The golden hour after sunrise or before sunset. If the portrait is taken indoors, the light source should be placed so that it softly illuminates the face. This can be natural window light, the floor lamp from the living room or even the ring light from the last video call.

  1. Shooting – at eye level

Portrait photos are – if they are not being taken for a new ID card – emotional. They show the person or perhaps even the animal on a personal level, which is touching and tells us something about the character, the current mood and the individuality. One of the most important features here are the eyes. To look into someone’s eyes creates closeness, also in photos. That is why eye level is an important compositional element in portrait photography. When photographing children and animals, keeping the eyes at eye level naturally means a bit of movement: Down. (Or up, if it is to be an elephant portrait).

  1. Expression – close and real

Modelling is not a profession for nothing. Most people find it difficult to appear relaxed, open and spontaneous in front of the camera. But that is no reason for bad portrait photos with the smartphone. The responsibility for expression also lies with the person behind the smartphone camera. The magic word here is movement. The model should not remain rigidly in a pose. It is better to close your eyes and open them again, first turn away and then back to the camera, or simply make a few gestures. This creates portraits with a more lively expression.

  1. Feeling – the art of composition

What feeling should be conveyed? What makes the person portrayed so special? Such emotional components can be emphasised with a few compositional means. For example, the placement. The first impulse when taking portrait photos with a smartphone is probably always to place the person with head, neck and shoulders in the centre of the picture. But there are many other possibilities: Placement on the left edge of the picture or in the golden section create tension and space for association. And portraits in profile or even from behind can also have a very interesting effect.

  1. Background – the right setting

The background supports the motif – but only if it is not too turbulent and distracting with many details. When travelling in the city, walls or doors are very suitable, in nature free areas or plants. In addition to spontaneous portrait photos outdoors or while travelling, the powerful cameras of smartphones can also be used to take creatively staged portraits, for example self-portraits away from the classic selfie. The white wall at home is rather unsuitable for this, because it quickly makes your skin look pale and sick and creates little tension. Better: choose coloured or tinted textiles as a background.

  1. Selfies – a question of attitude

Of course, selfies are also portrait photos. Unfortunately, when they are taken with the front camera, the result is often more of a snapshot than a high-quality picture. In many smartphones, the selfie camera at the front is not as powerful as the main camera at the back. The GS5 with its 16 MP is a big step ahead and takes high-quality selfies easily – even in the dark with the display flash. If you want even more options and different poses for your self-portrait, you can add a small tripod and take photos with the self-timer.

  1. Filters – in moderation

Beauty filters can be the crowning glory of portrait photos taken with a smartphone – if they are used correctly. The most important thing here is the right dosage. Instead of alienating the whole picture with extreme filters, it is better to adjust the right settings. With free apps like Cymera, for example, portrait pictures can be edited in no time at all. From special portrait retouching to exposure correction and digital make-up, everything is possible and flattering, with or without dog ears.

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