Smartphone portraits: 6 tips from MPA finalist Alfred Pleyer
This year's Mobile Photography Awards included many outstanding entries, but we were especially impressed by the work of Alfred Pleyer, an Austrian photographer with 30 years of experience who primarily shoots with his Samsung Galaxy S3 these days, but knows his way around a darkroom too.
Pleyer took top spot in two MPA categories, for "Man in Pushkar" in the People/Portraits category and "Smoker" in the Travel category. (You can see both in our recent story about the MPA category award winners.) He was also named as one of the top 10 finalists yesterday; one of these 10 will be named the MPA Photographer/Artist of the Year tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 15 -- watch for our story here on Connect.
We recently asked Pleyer to tell us a bit more about his work, including how he captures such outstanding portraits on camera phone -- a notoriously challenging subject matter when using the fixed wide-angle lens of a mobile device.
"If someone would have told me one year ago I should shoot with a smartphone I would have laughed at him," Pleyer said.
But using the S3 while traveling in Italy last year convinced him otherwise.
"After one day I was so fascinated that I always wanted to use my phone," he explained. "For a few days I was confused -- I walked around with the camera bag [but] always used the smartphone. I could not believe what happened after 30 years with big cameras, and now I use a crappy smartphone."
Today, Pleyer estimates he uses his "crappy" smartphone for 95 percent of his photography, along with ProCapture and Snapseed apps. He's still holding onto his Fujifilm FinePix X100 and his Olympus OM-D EM-5, but that may change soon. At the time of this interview, Pleyer was about to embark on another visit to India, which will be his third trip shooting only with his smartphone.
"If it works again and I am satisfied with my smartphone, I will probably sell all my gear and use my smartphone for all of my photography," Pleyer told us.
Much of Pleyer's work is captured during his frequent travels.
"The country which fascinates me most is India," he said. "I like the people and love to roam the streets of its big cities."
Pleyer's shot some of his favorite portraits using his Samsung Galaxy S3 in India, and had a few tips to share for portraiture using a smartphone.
6 tips for smartphone portraits
1. Keep your lens clean.
This might seem obvious, but using "the camera you have with you" can mean that we sometimes forget it's a camera. Like any camera lens, ensure it is dust- and smear-free before starting.
2. Avoid using digital zoom.
When shooting with the fixed focal length of your smartphone's camera, zoom with your feet. Digital zoom simply can't compare to moving your optics closer to your subject.
3. Try converting your image to black & white.
"I love black and white -- a black and white image let's you concentrate on facial expressions, and composition," Pleyer said.
4. Connect with your subject.
"Try to interact with your subject prior to taking their photo and this will make them more comfortable," Pleyer said. "You will bring back a better photo with more personality."
5. Shoot on a cloudy day.
"Avoid the sun," Pleyer said. "The best type of day for taking portraits is a overcast one."
6. Consider your background.
"Think about your background, a camera phone isn't able to isolate the subject from the background," Pleyer said. "You have two options: first, make sure your subject is in front of a simple background, or fill the image with your subject."
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