Want to take better mobile pics? Top tips from National Geographic mobile photographer Stephen Alvarez

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Stephen Alvarez, National Geographic photographer

Meet Stephen Alvarez, a National Geographic photographer with over 20 years of experience who has been working with Microsoft for the past 18 months. Alvarez’ challenge? To ditch his traditional DSLR for a Lumia smartphone to capture the incredible culture and landscape of Cape Town (and the rest of the world).

From Rio to Nepal, Alvarez has travelled the world with only a Lumia in-hand. And while many other professional photographers have questioned the possibility of creating magazine-quality photographs with a mobile phone, Alvarez has found a way to make the smaller form factor work.

“I’ve been promised a lot of things by technology. As a National Geographic photographer, I’m simply blown away with what this phone can do – the things you can do with a very small device that also opens spreadsheets and make phone calls,” laughs Alvarez. “The technology really delivers.”

Alvarez believes that the best camera on earth is the one that is in your hand when the picture happens. After all, “90% of photography is being there at the right time and place.” And thanks to the photographic capabilities of smartphones, we now all have a good camera on hand so shoot often, shoot volume and then pick your best shot.

Here are Alvarez’ top five smartphone photography tips:

Watch the light

Watch the light and where it is falling. Try to be in an interesting place and try to be in it when good things happen. It is fairly easy to shoot in good light but most of the day the light is hard so Alvarez looks for scenes with strong colour and tries to build a photo out of colour and graphics instead.

“Low light is a new area Lumia smartphones have opened up. They have given me the ability to look into the evening into a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Shoot into the night and see what your phone’s camera can do.

Shoot high, shoot low, shoot sideways

The small form factor of a phone is good for shooting different angles, being creative and experimentation. “You don’t always have to hold the camera normally and you don’t need to hold it in front of your face. I like pictures that tell stories or ask questions about stories or make you ask questions…”

Make friends

“I always try to put people into my landscape photography – put in a human element. Cellphones are ubiquitous – people aren’t intimidated by a camera phone the same way they are by a normal camera,” says Alvarez. One of the hardest parts of portraiture is showing people in the context of their surroundings. “Making someone happy with a picture I have taken hits me more personally than seeing my pictures in print.”

Pay attention to your edges

There is always the temptation to put the subject into the middle of your frame and that is fine… but it is also good to pay attention to your edges. A good photograph isn’t necessarily symmetrical. “If you do watch your edges, the centre revolves itself. Images feel more authentic to me when something is wrong with them. People want to move away from the perfect image to a picture that rather means something to them,” adds Alvarez.

[Main image – lumiaconversations.microsoft.com]

Tiana Cline

Tiana Cline

Tiana Cline is a business tech magazine and website editor with a penchant for cats, cooking and violent video games.