Whether you’re a weekend Instagrammer or a serious journalist, taking a great photograph on a phone is a skill we all want to improve. Sure, anyone can point and shoot, but with smartphone camera technology rapidly catching up to professional standards, we have the potential to take award-winning photographs already sitting in the palm of our hand.
In order to prove this, Huawei sent a pack of journalists to Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa to road test its new P30 Pro camera. With lions, elephants, cheetahs, and rhinos as our subjects, we were taught how to take photos and videos like a pro by two of the best around, National Geographic videographer Shannon Wild, and Bladesman photographer Archie Brooksbank.
Use your eyes
‘The first thing you need to be aware of when taking photographs is that you should watch the wildlife with your eyes, not through your phone,’ says Brooksbank, as he handed us our shiny new toys. ‘Put your phone down and watch your subject. You’ll find that after you study their behaviour, you can anticipate when an animal or a person is likely to give you that moment you want to capture.’
Sage advice, but I was a little unsure. Smartphones have evolved to have broad, clean screens, and the P30 Pro’s view seemed clearer than my own eyes. But I held it in my lap for several minutes as we watched a herd of giraffes gracefully eating from the trees, and I sensed that two of them were moving their faces toward each other. The giraffes leaned in as though they were kissing and formed a perfect ark as they touched noses. With that—snap—the finest photo I’ve ever taken, and in only one shot.
Make a scene
Shannon Wild will sometimes spend 14 hours straight sitting in a Jeep, waiting for an animal to make its move. When it happens, she says that you should resist the urge to zoom right in—the best video scenes involve subjects entering or leaving the shot.
‘It also gives a sense of perspective and the environment around them,’ she adds. ‘Hold your phone still and allow a second or two for them to walk in or out. It will create a real sense of what is going on, and add to the wonder.’
This lesson proved valuable when photographing baby rhinos and lions. A rhino calf chased its mother into shot, conveying the importance of their relationship. Later when we were observing four-month old lion cubs, they managed to upset one of their aunts. When she stood up to chase them off, it immediately conveyed the action and the contrast in size between baby and adult lions.
Light up your life
Lighting can make or break a photo—and on this score, the P30 Pro has dramatically changed the scene when it comes to camera phones. But even if you don’t have the latest lowlight and zoom features, there are still some things you can do to help make your shots stand out from the crowd.
‘Lights are our best tool in photography. So, knowing when to shoot, when not to shoot, and that midday sun is really tricky to shoot in is critical,’ Brooksbank says. But if you’re poolside on holidays with your girlfriends and can’t wait until the light is right, he suggests improvising with some props. ‘Grab a white umbrella, or get someone to hold a sheet of foil to draw and harness the sun, and also to deflect it away.
‘If you see that the pool looks really nice, but you have five days, go to look at that spot at three different points of the day, and see what the light is doing. Suddenly you’ll say, “wow, there’s lights coming in there, the shadows are really nice—and maybe if I just move over there, the light is going to do something different”’.
Brooksbank says that posing is the worst thing a person can do to a portrait, as they look tense and unnaturally hold themselves. Because a portrait should say something about a person, not just capture their face, he recommends a tried and true method that he uses on everyone from friends at a party to a recent photoshoot with Cindy Crawford.
‘I pretend to take the photo, then look puzzled, like there’s a problem. People inevitably ask what’s going on, and I say that I accidentally took a video instead of a photo. They always start laughing and yelling at each other, then I take a series of photos of them being themselves. It works every time.’
It might sound obvious, but spending a couple of hours getting to know the features of your camera phone will hold you in good stead when the time comes to get the perfect shot. While we were fortunate to have experts on hand to show us the ropes on features such as night mode, underwater, and super zoom, it’s worth checking out a few YouTube tutorials to see how to get the most out of your camera.
If you advance to the manual features, such as setting your own aperture, you can learn from a pro as well. Shannon Wild lists the tech specs of each photo on her Instagram posts, which is a fantastic lesson in itself.
Pop your social
With more than 230,000 Insta followers, Wild knows a lot about how to curate a great feed.
‘Settle on an Instagram palette to give a clean look to your grid,’ she advises. ‘Alternatively, if you want to get funky, try choosing a colour theme across three squares, so that each row matches. Or you can make a video every third post, so they’re all in one column to give your feed a cool look.’