Phoneography Photo Assignment Reminder and Tips

We have only a few days to go in the Phoneography Photo Assignment (go HERE to read the original post and the rules for the assignment). How are you coming along with your phoneography pics?

I thought I’d offer a few tips for improving your phoneography efforts. I hope this helps anyone who might be struggling with the assignment.

Know Your App(s)
Your smartphone has a default camera app. Chances are it’s fairly basic (although I’ve seen default apps that have a LOT of features). Figure out what that app can and cannot do. Learn how to use it, then branch out from there. There are TONS of camera replacement apps available, so try some of those out. They’re usually quite inexpensive and some are free. Some features to look for are layout grids, filters, levels, exposure and focus controls, The screenshot below is of a camera replacement app (645 PRO) that has just about as many controls available as my DSLR has. It’s quite complicated and I actually don’t use it very often but I thought I’d show you the far end of the “available features” spectrum.

Another type of photography app for smartphones is image editing apps. (Many if not most camera replacement apps do both to some extent). Again, there are TONS AND TONS of these types of apps that do ALL SORTS of things. Look for app recommendations for your type of phone on the internet. I’m a camera app fanatic and have WAY more apps on my phone than I could ever use. I recommend keeping your photography apps to a minimum (at least at first) and learn how to use them.

If the camera app you’re using includes a panorama function, try it out. It’s fun and you can get some really cool shots. Practice at work. Your co-workers will love you for it.

Tap to Focus
Most camera apps will automatically focus for you, but maybe not quite on the main subject you have in mind. Tap the screen over the object you intend to be your main subject to focus on a specific area of your choice. The exposure will also generally be set at that point, although some camera apps will allow you to separate out the focus and exposure points. (Exposure is more or less how light or dark your image will be).

If the camera app you’re using includes a zoom feature, you can pretty much ignore it. That’s an optical zoom. Using it will compromise the quality of your photo and It is not your friend. Moving closer to your subject if at all possible is always the best option. (Do not try this at the zoo or professional baseball games).

Turn Off Flash
In most cases, you’ll want to turn off the auto flash feature. The built-in flash on camera phones (and pretty much all cameras for that matter) throws out a very harsh and unflattering light. Camera phones typically not do handle low-light situations well so on occasion it MIGHT be necessary to use the flash, but you probably will not be pleased with the outcome. Along the same lines, don’t bother attempting phoneography at indoor concerts.

There is no substitute for good composition, no matter what type of camera you’re using. Composition is much too big of a topic to cover here so I highly recommend that you spend some time learning about good composition techniques and apply them to all of your picture-taking. A few basic composition tips might help, though.

  • Don’t shoot into the sun.
  • Don’t take a picture of a butterfly on a flower that is 50 feet away. Get (waaaaay) closer or don’t bother.
  • Don’t cut off people’s heads.
  • Shoot from interesting angles.
  • Cut the clutter… simpler is often better.
  • Fill the frame with your subject.
  • Be mindful of your backgrounds.
  • Learn about and use the Rule of Thirds.
  • Use gridlines or a level feature to keep your horizons straight.
  • Once you learn the rules, feel free to break them.

Edit Before Uploading
In most cases, editing is essential to good phoneography. Use editing apps of your choice to filter, frame, crop, straighten, saturate, sharpen, etc. your images before you post, upload, email, or otherwise share with anyone. And by all means, PLEASE do not upload every single photo you took at Junior’s 1st birthday party to Facebook. Thanks.

Don’t keep so many photos stored on your phone that you risk running out of storage space right at that crucial moment when you have the most amazing scene in front of you and only a smartphone on hand with which to capture it. Upload your phone photos to your computer on a regular basis and only keep the ones on your phone that you absolutely MUST share with every single person you meet.

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I hope these tips are useful to help you take the best smartphone photos you possibly can. Remember that your images for the Phoneography Assignment are due no later than Sunday evening, July 20. Email up to TEN of your best photos to me at and put the word “Phoneography” in the subject line. Include captions if you wish and feel free to email any or all of your photos before Sunday.

Photography Assignment: Phoneography

Summer’s here and it’s the perfect time for another photography assignment. For this assignment, put away your DSLR and/or your point-and-shoot camera and pick up your smartphone because this assignment is all about the subset of photography called (for lack of a better term) “phoneography.”

Photography purists will try to convince you that you can’t REALLY take good photos with your camera phone. I’ll save that discussion for another post, but you can find some really nice examples of phonography HERE and HERE and HERE. There is a whole lot of truth in the photography adage, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” And since, for many people, that “always with you” camera is the one that lives inside their smartphones, we might as well practice taking better smartphone photos, yes? 🙂

That being said, here are the “rules” for this assignment:

  • Your photos have to be taken with a camera phone of some sort.
  • Your photos have to be NEW, as in taken between now and Sunday evening, July 20 – NOT something you took last year, last week or even this morning for that matter. No fair scrolling through the existing photos stored on your phone to find that really super awesome one you took last summer. The idea is to take your smartphone out into the world and come up with the most interesting and creative shots that you possibly can.
  • You may submit photos as-is or run them through your favorite smartphone photo editing app(s). If you do use apps to edit, try to mix it up a bit so your photos don’t all look the same. But really, I’m not going to tell you how to do it. 😉
  • You may submit up to 10 (TEN) of the best shots that you took during the assignment period.

That’s it! If you’re in, start taking your photos now. I’m giving you over two weeks to complete this assignment so there are NO EXCUSES! Sometime between now and Sunday evening, July 20, email up to TEN photos to me at and put “PHONEOGRAPHY” in the subject line. The results of this assignment will be posted in the blog on Tuesday, July 22.

All you need for this assignment is a cell phone that can also take photographs. (If you don’t have access to such a phone, SORRY! :-/ We’ll have another assignment soon)! And remember, these photography assignments are just for fun and to help you become a better photographer by training your eye to see specific things or by practicing certain techniques. There’s no critique involved, no judges, no winners, no prizes… just the most interesting and creative photos you can muster, this time with just a smartphone. Got it? Let me know if you have questions about this assignment. If not, get out there and get busy! Remember… BE CREATIVE, use good composition techniques, and, most of all, HAVE FUN! The more, the merrier, so PLEASE tell your friends so they can play along too! 🙂

Below are a few of my own “phoneography” favorites – click on thumbnails to see larger versions and/or click on the link below the thumbnails to view these and a bunch more in my Phoneography gallery.


I know I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a bit of a iPhone photo app hoarder, with over 60 photography-related apps currently residing on my phone. I use only a handful of them on a regular basis, but I keep the rest around because one just NEVER knows when one might need to use the other 55! And since I have so many photo apps, one of the things I have planned for the “new” blog is to write reviews of some of these apps from time-to-time.

yellow tulips

My very favorite recent find is Waterlogue, a handy little app that instantly turns your photos into rather convincing watercolor “paintings.” This super-easy-to-use and very cool app from the guys at Tinrocket, LLC has just enough options to give you some control over the output but not SO many options that it’s too difficult and complicated to figure out.

Waterlogue’s initial interface looks like this:

Start out by tapping the camera icon on the left, which allows you to either take a new photo with the in-app camera function or select an existing image from your phone’s photo library. Once you take or select an image, the app immediately starts the process of creating your watercolor using the default settings.


Across the bottom of the interface are 12 different watercolor effects, 3 brushstroke sizes, and 5 lightness/darkness settings, plus you can opt to have a border or no border. Play around with these settings until you hit on just the right combination.

Once you have a “painting” that you like, tap the heart icon on the right for saving and sharing options. At this point, the only direct social media “sharing” options are Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. You can also (pay to) have an actual postcard made and sent anywhere in the world if you’re into that sort of thing. (I don’t know how much it costs because I didn’t sign up for the “Sincerely” service). Other options are saving the “painting” to your Camera Roll, copying it, opening it in a number of other photo apps, or sending it via email.

Here are some sample watercolors that I’ve created, along with the original photos:


butterfly and wild iris

I highly recommend that you iPhone users add Waterlogue to your iPhoneography photo editing bag of tricks – you won’t be disappointed. At $2.99, it’s just a tiny bit more than I generally like to spend on apps (I’m a FRUGAL hoarder), but I have to say that it is WELL worth the cost. (Sorry Android users… there are apparently no plans to develop Waterlogue as an Android app at this time). 

Let me know what you think!

If you know of any cool iPhone photography apps that you’d like me to review, leave a note in the comments or on the contacts page.