It's a Snap! 10 Tips For Taking Better Photos With Your Smartphone

In a day and age where a smartphone’s camera technology is one of the most marketed features, it’s safe to assume that as mobile phone cameras continue to improve, so will the images they produce. We know that your yearbook staff photographers will be at events, capturing important moments; but what about behind the scenes? What’s happening up in the stands? On the bus on the way to the big game? These are the moments that make up student life...and the moments that will, likely, be captured by smartphones. Cameras on smartphones have become so advanced, that few people feel the need to also own a point and shoot camera anymore.  While they’ll probably never take the place of a dedicated DSLR with a larger image sensor, advancements like optical image stabilization, dual cameras and specially designed lenses are making it nearly impossible to tell what type of device captured an image. Taking a few moments to familiarize yourself with the camera technology included with your cell phone and learning how your device behaves in different situations will ensure that your yearbook will be full of beautiful photography...traditional camera or not!

Learning to use the camera settings on your smartphone will help take your phone-ography to the next level!

Learning to use the camera settings on your smartphone will help take your phone-ography to the next level!

10 Tips to Capturing the Perfect Picture With Your Phone

1. Know your settings. Reading manuals is boring - we know. Using all the camera settings available to you and learning to take advantage of your camera’s strengths will result in images no one would know were taken with a smartphone.

2. Know your surroundings. Are you in low light? Is the sun directly behind your subject? Take into consideration where you are, what time of day it is and where the light is in relation to your phone. Adjust your phone settings to what is optimal for your location or position yourself at a different angle so the light works with you rather than against you. The pickier you are when taking your photo, the less editing you’ll need to do later.

3. If You Have HDR – Use It. High Dynamic Range imaging (HDR) captures three photos at different exposures and uses the phone’s software to overlap the images. Phones with this feature give you two photos when HDR is turned on – one with the adjustments and one without. Typically, colors in HDR photos will be more vibrant as it makes sure photos are never under or overexposed. HDR is especially great for landscapes, portraits in harsh sunlight and when the setting has very low light. Just be careful when taking action shots; the camera takes three successive photos so it takes longer to capture the whole image. Movement can cause the final shot to look blurry or cause a halo around your subject.

4. Use flash sparingly. Although a great feature to have, the flash on your phone doesn’t produce the most natural looking photos. Unlike an external flash (the type your DSLR uses) which spreads light out and wraps your subject, the flash on a camera phone aims the light from the flash directly at the front of your subject. If the area you are attempting to photograph is poorly lit, the flash may wash out the subject or capture unnatural looking colors. The result will be a blurry or overexposed shot. On the occasion when the area you’re shooting in is just dimly lit rather than dark, the flash on your smartphone can act as a ‘fill light’ lifting dark areas and filling in shadows successfully. When in doubt, snap a photo with flash and without to test which produces a better result in your current setting. Try to avoid shooting into bright lights or you’ll end up with silhouettes around your subjects.

5. Stop using filters. While it’s fun to try out new filters and post images on any one of the dozen social media platforms readily available to you on your phone, fight the urge! When you save an image with a colorized filter or as a black and white image, you’re taking away the opportunity to use it in it’s orignal state or edit it differently for use somewhere else. Only use filters if you can apply to a copy or only to the version of the image posted in that particular app.

6. Know your camera’s resolution. For the most part, the higher the resolution (or megapixel), the more detailed your picture will appear – and better it will print in your yearbook. Low-resolution photos will almost certainly appear pixilated in your yearbook and we definitely don’t want that! We recommend camera phones with at least 6 megapixels for good-quality printing. The max you will need for print-quality in your yearbook would be 12 megapixels. That will get you a photo that can be blown up across an entire spread and still print clearly. Anything more than that may give you issues trying to upload it due to its large size. Here’s a rough guide for standard camera phone megapixel numbers and size to keep your photo at in order to ensure the best print quality:

3MP = maximum 5” x 7” photo (okay if it’s kept small)     
6MP = maximum 6.5” x 10” photo (fine for candids)
10MP = maximum 8.5” x 14” photo (perfect for full page)     
12MP = maximum 9.7” x 14.5” photo (full spread size)

7. Crop, don’t zoom. Zooming in on your subject is great feature in theory, however when using digital zoom the result will almost always mean a loss in image quality. When using a digital zoom feature, you can typically see on screen the degradation in quality. The smartphone is actually just extrapolating what already exists in previewed pixels...basically the device has to guess what the missing pixels should look like. Things get ugly quickly--don’t take chances. Get as close as you can, use the best camera orientation for the photo and then crop creatively later.

8. Keep still. This seems fairly obvious, but we thought we’d throw it out there as a reminder. As with all photography, the steadier your camera, the clearer your image will be. This is especially important if your phone has a slower “shutter speed” or the time between when you press the shutter button and when your camera actually takes the shot. Since this can be up to a second, make sure you hold the camera still for long enough or your shot may be a blurry mess.

9. Don’t Forget to Focus. Always use your phone’s focus features before taking a picture. Many newer smartphones have auto-focus tools and simple touch-screen features that make it incredibly convenient to make sure you’ve got your subject front and center. These built-in focus features make blurry subjects easily avoidable.

10. Keep your lens clean. Phones spend a lot of time being stuffed into things like pockets, bags and purses. Even with a protective case, your camera’s lens can still get dirty. Fingerprints are often the worst culprits of a blurry shot, but the constant rubbing against a pocket can smudge even the tiniest lens. Before snapping a shot, give your lens a quick wipe using a soft cloth. One to clean glasses or made specific for electronics is ideal, but your t-shirt will do in a pinch.

Taking photographs should be fun. The good news is, many newer smartphones are equipped with an impressive camera and take a lot of the guesswork out of shooting photos with their auto features. Image quality, as long as used at the original size (typically at least 2MB, do not use a compressed version when sharing or exporting) will be high enough resolution to print a 5x7 or smaller (approximately). The better you know your camera phone’s capabilities, the better chance you’ll capture the perfect shot. We want every picture you take this yearbook season to be the “one”!

PHOTOGRAPHY - Creating A Yearbook People Love To Look At

We all know good photography is important in a yearbook. Let's spend some time discussing what it is that makes photography good and how to get what you're looking for whether you're the photographer or the staff member laying out pages.

Artful vs. Journalistic - If you're laying out yearbook spreads and have a vision in mind, use the most descriptive words possible. Starting with artful vs. journalistic can head the conversation down the correct path. Artful images are nicely composed, easy to look at...something you might see in a calendar. These images are great filler or background images (e.g. sun setting over soccer fields, cheerleaders' poms in a pile, homecoming floats lined up in the parade). Journalistic images tell a story and draw people in. They're emotional images that deserve to be the dominant piece of your layout (e.g. team winning the big game, faculty member receiving teacher of the year award, the impact a tragedy has on your student body). Beginning with "artful vs. journalistic" and following with specifics of layout, orientation, etc. will keep staff members on the same page and eliminate communication gaps that occasionally happen when working on a large project together.


What Makes A Picture Great? - Photography tends to be one of those "I know it when I see it" things. It's hard to put your finger on, exactly, what it is that makes your brain say "Yeah! I like that!" There are, however, some factors to research and consider before heading out on an important assignment!

Rule Of Thirds - Dividing your frame into a 3x3 grid. Place your subject, or the focal point,    along a vertical or horizontal line and a point of intersection.

Leading Lines - Using strong lines in a photo will help move the viewer's eye from the foreground to the background.

Point Of View - Changing the point of view can bring the view into the image by creating tension or showing scale. Consider taking both "worm's eye view" and "bird's eye view" photos of a few different subjects as a photography exercise.

Framing - Use a foreground object to help frame-in and draw the viewer's eye to your subject.


Two More Tips You'll Thank Us For - Making Ordinary Extraordinary

1. When the opportunity for portraiture arises, take it! Oftentimes, a student feature requires an image of a student. Just as often, a member of the yearbook staff will go find said student, ask them to 'stand against that wall right there' and take their photo. NO! After all of the fast-paced sporting events, poorly lit gymnasiums and boring rows of students in their club/activity photos, you finally have the opportunity to take an interesting photo of an interesting student! Student of the week for Art Club? Take the photo in the art room while the student works on a piece or cleans brushes after. Student went to the State Fair showing their horse? Absolutely arrange to photograph them on their prize-winning show horse! Show students in the environment that pertains to the reason for the photo. This will generate interest and draw the viewer in. Wanting to know more is the only way someone will read what your staff has worked so hard researching and writing!

2. Get in on the action! If you have been trusted with capturing images for a game or event, take it seriously. Get BRAVE and get down on the sidelines, court-side or into the front row of whatever event you're photographing. You're documenting history for your's okay to get up close and personal! Don't forget about the fans, either. Turning your camera on the crowd will get some fantastic candid images of school spirit at its finest!


Get The Shot: 10 Suggested Images To Capture At A Graduation Ceremony

The greatest moment of many high school seniors' year is the very end of it. Walking across a stage and getting that piece of paper that basically says, "Good Job! You don't have to come back here ever again!" Graduation ceremonies are an important part of every school year. Photographing the day so the story can accurately be told later is key. Even if you aren't charged with capturing the day for the yearbook, photographing the day with a more photojournalistic approach will absolutely leave you with images worthy of sharing with the yearbook staff via Pictavo Community!

Here are our top 10 suggested photos to take at your school's graduation ceremony.

1. DETAILS - Grab a cap and gown and all the trimmings (tassel, stole, cords, etc.) along with a commencement program. Arrange them together and take photos from a few different angles making sure to get details like the date on the front of the program, class motto or school flower, if available. Got some students that decorate the top of their mortarboard? Get those detail shots now!

2. PREP - As graduates arrive and they help one another straighten their gowns, collars and tassels, get a few pictures! These un-posed real life shots tell so much more about those moments than any organized, traditional photo ever could. Getting a shot of best friends giddy with anticipation or holding back tears while they help each other prep will bring viewers into your day.

3. THE LINE UP - The grads are lined up and ready to go...see all those matching robes waiting in anticipation? Take some interesting angle shots. Getting low and grabbing a photo of the line of feet with graduation robes hanging above them is a great filler shot for a yearbook spread about commencement or baccalaureate.

4. SPEAKERS - Don't be afraid to go where you need to get the shots you want! Be respectful of the ceremony and spectators, but don't sacrifice shots of speakers and important moments of the ceremony! Position yourself so you can get shots of speakers' facial expressions as they read their message for the graduating class.

5. GRADS GRADUATING - Obviously it would be impossible to include every grad walking the stage in your yearbook spread, getting a few to include is important! If you're lacking coverage on a few seniors, this is your last chance! Capture them receiving their diploma and include them in the spread.

6. EMOTION - Commencement ceremonies can get long. Use the time to catch the grads that are caught up in the moment. Someone will see their grandparents and wave enthusiastically, someone may be moved to tears by a speaker. Watch for the emotions of the day and get the shot!

7. THE TOSS - The hat toss. It's a given. Everyone has seen them, everyone knows it's going to happen. But the time the moment is special is when it's YOU. Get the shot for these grads.

8. POST GRAD GLEE - The graduates will surely gather somewhere to take photos with one another along with their families. Get ready and shoot, shoot, shoot. Everywhere you turn will be happy grads hugging, laughing, posing and just enjoying this time. Snap away! People don't need to be posed or looking at your's often better if they aren't. Capturing true emotion rather than the frozen smile most people produce when in front of a camera is what makes the images you're capturing special.

9. DIPLOMAS - Let the grads pose with their diplomas, too. They worked hard to get here...get them to show them off! Personality while posing is welcome!

10. SAYONARA! - Snapping just a few images of grads walking away in their gowns, holding hats and diplomas will come in useful. Need a last page of your yearbook? Bingo. This is the only day you're going to be able to get this shot...take advantage!

Approaching graduation day with a photojournalistic approach is going to deliver images that are yearbook worthy!

Approaching graduation day with a photojournalistic approach is going to deliver images that are yearbook worthy!

Take these ideas with you to commencement and you'll successfully capture the day. Creatively capturing the event may be a little more work, but your yearbook will be that much better for it!


Service Dogs Featured In Yearbook

Photo courtesy of KARE 11

Photo courtesy of KARE 11

It's not everyday that you see a dog's photo in the portrait section of a yearbook. But these dogs are not someone's pet! (We'll spare you from a groan-worthy pun about "teacher's pets."). Carmel and Dakota are service dogs and very much a part of Blaine High School of Minnesota. We think it's pretty cool that the yearbook staff decided to include them in their yearbook, as both provide assistance to specific teachers and interact with students. (View the full story)

Photo courtesy of KARE 11

Photo courtesy of KARE 11

Does your school have any "untraditional helpers" that you might want to consider featuring in your next yearbook? Even if you don't end up putting them in the portrait section, you could feature them in a callout or even have a page dedicated to them. Capturing the essence of your school sometimes includes thinking beyond the traditional. What untraditional things have you included or featured in your yearbook?

Summer Yearbook Coverage

Five Tips To Covering Summer In Your Yearbook 

Just because you’re not IN school during the summer months, doesn’t mean there aren’t important things going on, begging to be captured and included in your yearbook. After all, isn’t the purpose of your YEARbook to tell the story of the entire year?

So how do you identify those stories and cover them? Check out these five great tips to follow as you enter into your summer months. Remember – sometimes the stories and happenings of the summer can be the most interesting! What happens in summer shouldn’t stay there—it should be captured in the yearbook!

1. Prepare in Advance 
Create a detailed plan with specific assignments for each staff member broken down by week. This helps make the tasks more manageable and easier to track progress. Your plan should include actionable items that each student can accomplish to contribute.

2. Make a Coverage List
Create a laundry list of coverage ideas (summer school, camps, jobs, vacations, volunteer activities, events, retreats, summer sports, fundraisers, etc.). Use social media to stay in the loop and find interesting stories to cover. 

3. Pair Up
Have a photographer and reporter pair up to cover an identified event together. Both can offer differing perspectives and help each other better capture the heart of the final story. Don't forget to use your "Press Badges" (or create some) to give your staffers credibility and make it easier for them to get interviews and photos. 

4. Don’t Forget School Staff
Teachers and other school staff use their summers to do all kinds of cool things. Some continue to teach or have other summer jobs while some travel, do research, take classes, vacation or spend time with their family. Be sure to include them when investigating potential story ideas and photo opportunities!

5. Be Ready for Back to School 
A lot happens in the final weeks before school starts and these activities provide great opportunities for coverage (sports tryouts, freshman orientation, classroom and school grounds preparation, club meetings, school board sessions, back to school shopping, etc.). 

Creating Yearbook Pages: Bleeds and Margins - Simplified

Bleeds and margins and tigers, oh my! Don't worry, it's really not as complicated as you might think. Understanding how bleeds and margins work when designing pages in your yearbook will ensure your yearbook pages look exactly how you want - with nothing getting cut off the page and no white borders where you didn't want them. Keep this detailed overview on hand when creating your yearbook pages to know how to use the margin guides in Pictavo and how to have a photo bleed off the page.

Happy yearbooking!

Organizing Your Yearbook Photos and Files

Organizing files and photos for the yearbook can be daunting. Especially when trying to keep track of modified versions of each file. Who touched it last? Which is the most current? How can I revert back to an older file!? If you have dealt with questions like these, you might want to check out Google Docs and Google's Picasa and Picasa Web Albums

Google Docs
Google Docs is an online word processor that lets you create, and edit text documents in real time while collaborating with other people. As the website states, you can:

  • Upload a Word document and convert it to a Google document
  • Add flair and formatting to your documents by adjusting margins, spacing, fonts, and colors — all that fun stuff
  • Invite other people to collaborate on a document with you, giving them edit, comment or view access
  • Collaborate online in real time and chat with other collaborators — right from inside the document
  • View your document's revision history and roll back to any previous version
  • Download a Google document to your desktop as a Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip file
  • Translate a document to a different language
  • Email your documents to other people as attachments

Aaron Mansfull, the Digital Media Chair for the Journalism Education Association (JEA) talks about how high school journalism classes are using Google Docs for their publications in this article that includes a background clip on how Google Docs work. 

He also gets specific for high school yearbook staffs in this article when he talks about how Google Docs can be used to make index cleanup more manageable. 

Picasa and Picasa Web Albums
Picasa is a free photo program that you can use to organize and manage all of your images. Picasa Web Albums get the photos from your camera and computer onto the web, providing you with 1 GB of free storage. As the website states, you can:

  • Store, edit, and publish photos
  • Preserve original photos
  • Create collages 
  • Collaborate with others on a photo album 
  • Create a repository of images 
  • Make sure every student gets their face in the yearbook using Picasa’s face recognition feature to match names with faces.

There are obviously other options out there you can use to organize your yearbook photos and files. We'd love to hear what you use and how you like them!

~ Your Idea Garden Team