3 smartphone portrait photography tips from Russel Wong

Celebrity photographer Russel Wong shared some of his tips on portrait photography using a smartphone in a workshop at the OPPO Concept Store in Suntec City Tower 3. Here are three of the tips attendees found most useful.

Celebrity photographer, Russel Wong sharing his experiences of taking portraiture using a smartphone.

Celebrity photographer, Russel Wong sharing his experiences of taking portraiture using a smartphone.

Russel Wong is one of the most profiled photographers in Singapore and Asia.

Described as a “celebrity photographer who also photographs celebrities”, Wong enjoys the acclaim of being the first Singaporean to break into the notoriously difficult Hollywood movie industry.

Below are 3 smartphone portraiture photography tips that Wong shared during the workshop using the OPPO N3 smartphone that was launched in Singapore back in end October 2014.

1. Hold the camera as vertical as possbile

This may seem obvious when pointed out but many don’t realise how large an impact it can have on the shot and how easy it is when holding the smartphone to inadvertently tilt it slightly upwards or downwards.

    Russel Wong demonstrating how to hold the smartphone vertical while taking a shot. My smartphone was obviously tilted upwards when taking this photo. Can you see the distortion?

Russel Wong demonstrating how to hold the smartphone vertical while taking a shot. My smartphone was obviously tilted upwards when taking this photo. Can you see the distortion?

The result is an unwanted distortion of the subject due to the tilt in holding the smartphone; unless of course if you’re deliberately trying to achieve an interesting effect.

Pointing the smartphone camera downwards will result in enlarging the subject’s head while point the smartphone upwards will result in the reverse.

So pay more attention to holding the smartphone as vertically as you can to get a less distorted snapshot.

2. Use the highest resolution available in the camera

For the purpose of sharing photos on social media, photos actually doesn’t really have to be all that big, in terms of pixel dimensions.

So you might not be inclined to shoot using the highest resolution available on your smartphone, given the high pixel count on smartphone camera sensors nowadays.

This photo was cropped from a larger photo. On the left, there was enough pixels as the highest resolution setting was used to take the photo. On the right is the pixelation effect that could set in if a lower resolution had been used.

This photo was cropped from a larger photo. On the left, there were enough pixels as the highest resolution setting was used to take the photo. On the right is the pixelation effect that could set in if a lower resolution had been used.

The sensor resolution on smartphone cameras far surpasses that needed for showing off photos on the World Wide Web.

But when you shoot a photo that you like so much that you decide later to display it on your living room wall, you’ll find it all pixelated when printed out because you’d shot it at a lower resolution.

Or if you decide to crop the photo to make the subject fill the frame, or to remove other people around the subject – you may find the resulting cropped snapshot too small to use even for sharing on the Web.

So unless you’re running out of space on your smartphone, always shoot at the highest resolution available on your smartphone.

3. Shoot RAW when possible

This is the most forward-looking tip as not many smartphones currently available is able to shoot RAW yet, although I believe more cameras in the future will ship with RAW capture as smartphone shooters seek better image quality.

The original photo was slightly over-exposed but it's a keeper because of Russel's winning smile. On the right, when captured in JPEG, the blown-out areas on his cheeks and forehead stay blown-out when the photo was darkened. On the left, when captured in RAW, some amount of details can still be recovered when the exposure is dialed down.

The original photo was slightly over-exposed but it’s a keeper because of Russel’s winning smile. On the right, when captured in JPEG, the blown-out areas on his cheeks and forehead stay blown-out when the photo was darkened. On the left, when captured in RAW, some amount of details can still be recovered when the exposure is dialed down.

Recording in RAW captures a lot more image information especially in terms of colour depth and dynamic range resolution.

This means that you can get more out of the shot and gives you more leeway for editing the photo.

For instance, when you shoot a photo with washed-out highlights in JPEG, there is scant you can do to get back the details, even if you darken the photo in a photo editor.

But if you’d recorded in RAW, chances are you’d still be able to get some amount of details back from the blown-out areas using an editor.

Now don’t get intimidated with the idea of having to use a separate editor after the shot.

I’m very sure this will be integrated into the camera app such that you can simply drag a brightness control bar to control the brightness of the photo you took – just that the result of tweaking a photo recorded in RAW will have a much better result compared to one recorded in JPEG.

The OPPO N3 that Wong used for the workshop had the ability to record in RAW format so you may want to look out for that feature when getting your next smartphone if you’re particular about the image quality of your smartphone photography.

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