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Insta-game changers from Otherwise Hope

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
Hey there! While Laicie’s rocking it out at Alt and celebrating the first anniversary of her 29th birthday, she (very kindly!) invited me to share a few photography tips. Photography is a long-held love. It’s one of the few things I can truly lose myself in. While I’ve always been an observer, it’s through photography that I’ve learned to examine, visually compose, and process my surroundings in a far more active manner. Since wrapping my fingers around an iPhone a few years ago, hardly a day a passes without capturing (at the least) a few images. What I’m sharing here is twofold: things to consider when shooting and a few inexpensive, but wildly indisposable tools to help improve your photos.

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
The interwebs are bursting with useful tips and ideas; here’s my quick and dirty list of key things to keep in mind when you’re shooting:

What’s the story? Every image is a story; you’re the storyteller. The real art (and talent) is not just drawing viewers into an photo, but holding them there, having them move through the image, considering it further, and leaving them wanting to come back to it after they moved on. Consider how quickly you move through your Instagram feed or scroll through the images on a blog post. Consider what makes you stop and take notice. When trying to capture a moment, look for ways to convey it through details, actions, or symbols. Step back for a moment and let your senses take over. What does something look, feel, touch, or taste like?

Shoot daily, shoot everything, and try everything. Though, at the same time, learn to edit ruthlessly. Shoot 30 images of the same thing, but keep only 1 or 2. In the process of culling your photos, ask yourself what didn’t work for those images your deleting and then build from there. It’s easy to recognize what you do well, but oftentimes harder (but far more beneficial) to see what you need to work on.

Rule of thirds: Visualize a tic-tac-toe grid over your screen. (This is why you have the “grid view” on your camera — turn it on and learn to love it.) Aim to place your subject at the intersection of any of these lines. Or, using this grid another way, split your image into thirds (either vertical or horizontal) and place your subject in one third, or such that it falls into one of the three zones.

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
Perspective and lines:  Together and apart, these are powerful tools. When shooting, get high, get low. Shoot from unexpected angles. Pay attention to lines and elements that can lead the viewer’s eye through your frame.

Light: Ain’t nothing like the real thang, baby. Pay attention to it, seek it out, and learn to manipulate it. When it comes to an iPhone (or even your DSLR) never use the in-camera flash; it’s the fastest way to ruin an image. Either use an editing app to adjust an image (using generally with a combination of the exposure, brightness, and/or shadow settings) after you take a photo, or look for alternative sources of light. (The latter is a fun way to stretch yourself creatively!)

Never zoom: Like the flash, zooming (on an sort of camera phone) is a no-no. As you shoot, keep in mind how you might want to crop the in and then do so when you’re editing. The resulting image quality will be much better.

Apps: While the options are great and varied, there are only a few you need. Even then, a little goes long way. When it comes to Instagram, the new adjustment controls for light, shadows, saturation, etc. are great, but when it comes to the filters…kids, much like drugs, just say no. My “go-to” apps are:

// VSCOcam: Endless options for presets (esp. the ability to control the strength of a preset), as well as a useful palette of basic editing tools. This is, for me, hands down the best photo app out there. Sort the adjustments and preset toolbars so that the ones you use more often are at the front. With the increasing number of presets available, I find the ones that I like and then remove the ones (using the settings) that I don’t use so I’m not wasting time scrolling through the presets toolbar.

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
// Snapseed: Although Snapseed is a universal/”all-in-one” editing app, I find it’s power in three settings: the “Selective Adjustment,” the “Tune Image” panel, and the “Details” options. I tend to start an image in Snapseed where I’ll use “Details” and/or some of the functions under “Tune Image” to recover details or dark areas lost in an image. After these adjustments, I then move the image over to VSCOcam.

// Mextures: Mextures, while not an app I use for every image, is a powerful tool; subtle use of its gradients can enhance the colors in or vary the mood of your image to bring out great details. The neutral density filter is great for recovering overexposed elements in landscapes!)

// CamMe: Not a fan of the selfie (seriously, I’m allergic to appearing on the front side of the camera), I’ve recently tried to step outside of my comfort-zone. This little app is $0.99 of sheer brilliance! You’re able to set the camera up (on a tripod or leaning against something), use two simple hand gestures (i.e., you control when the image is taken — no dealing with self-timer madness) and voila, you’ve got a photo of yourself sans the awkward arm angle. (For all of the shorties like myself, this is nothing short (ha) of miraculous.)

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
Beyond apps and techniques, what’s not to love about a good gadget or tool? There’s always such hope and promise of greatness to come. Well, as I’ve come to learn with photography, you can do a quite a lot with very little. For less than $25 total, here are a handful of indispensable tools:

Case Star iPhone tripod: ($7) Portable, easy to mount to just about anything (and in any combo of angles), and wonderfully inexpensive, I have a handful of these and keep them scattered in a number of locations for easy access. There’s always one in my tote back so I can easily capture long exposure, low-light, and odd angle shots. This is a much more affordable version of the Gorillapod that performs just as well!

Foam board ($2-3/board, found at any art, office-supply, or other mega store): Not just for middle school science reports, foam board is one of the most versatile tools. Use it as a surface to shoot on or as a way to bounce and block light. (White foam board bounces light for brighter scene, whereas black, which absorbs light, gives a moodier feel.)

insta-game changers // otherwise hope for a thousand threads
// BONUS TIP: If you’re in a creative rut, arranging and shooting simple household objects, food items, or natural elements in creative vignettes on a simple white or black background is an incredible exercise in styling, composition, color, and pattern.

Spring clamps: ($0.40-0.99/clamp, found at any hardware or home improvement store): Use these to prop up foam board when you’re bouncing/blocking light; pin down items, or hold together any number of things. I keep a dozen or so of these inexpensive staples easily at hand and employ them on a regular basis, especially when shooting tabletop scenes.

With all of this said, there’s no substitute for just shooting, self-editing (i.e., what’s working and what’s not), and shooting more.

melissa // otherwise hope

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