One tip from a National Geographic photographer totally changed the way I take pictures of nature on my phone
- I asked National Geographic photographer Kiliii Yüyan how to take better photos on my phone.
- Yüyan gave me a tip on how to take photos of natural landscapes that stand out from the rest.
Nowadays, people are "drowning in photographs," National Geographic photographer Kiliii Yüyan told Insider. But there are ways to make yours stand out — even if you're just shooting on your phone.
I love taking pictures so much that I went to school for it. And after nearly a decade of learning and shooting with intricate film and digital cameras, I work as a travel reporter. I take four trips a year where my work revolves around documenting the places I'm visiting while experiencing them. So I thought it was about time to learn about my smallest, most nimble camera — my phone.
Just like in school, I wanted to learn from a pro. So I turned to Yüyan, who tells visual stories about how different cultures relate to the environment, from the Amazon to the Arctic seas. He gave me four useful tips for taking better pictures with my phone, and one of them made me think about photographing nature in a whole new way.
Put something in the foreground
When it comes to making phone photos stand out, Yüyan said natural landscapes are especially challenging since they've been photographed so much. His best advice is to find a good foreground subject.
"Great backgrounds, such as mountains or waterfalls, are easy to find because we're always looking for them," Yüyan said. "On the other hand, a good foreground subject, such as blooming wildflowers or a craggy tree, can be much harder to find in the right location."
Yüyan recommended searching for a foreground subject and framing your shot so you can see the scenery in the distance.
"It'll give your images depth, intimacy, and make your photos unique," he said.
I had never thought about foreground in this way before, but his tip reminded me of when I photographed a beach across the street from mountains in Santa Cruz, California. I started by photographing the beach from the shore. I thought the mountains looked nice, but there was so much sand that I thought the bottom half of my image looked boring.
So I took my phone across some ocean rocks and into the tide pools. I thought the rocks and reflecting water spruced up my foreground by giving my image more layers. To me, this made my image feel more dynamic.
I also thought about a time I took some photos on my phone during a hike in Prescott, Arizona. When I first arrived at the Watson Lake parking lot for my hike, I thought it looked stunning with rock formations I hadn't seen before. So I was surprised when I found that photographing the scene from the lot didn't seem to do it justice.
But once I immersed myself in the landscape by hiking the trails, I found foreground subjects such as shrubs that better framed the lake scene. I thought the inclusion of these elements in the second image gave a better sense of what it was really like to be there because it had more layers showing what actually surrounds the lake.
Some images in my camera roll already seemed to support Yüyan's tip, but the photographer helped me identify what makes certain pictures stronger than others. I'll go into my next outdoor trip feeling more inspired to shoot from my phone and scout for interesting foregrounds.
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