How to Shoot Better Urban Geometry Street Photography with Your Phone (Premium)

All images for this story were taken with the brand new Kodak Ektra smartphone.

I’m not going to start this tutorial off saying that the best camera is the one that you’ve got on you; but I will say that you are the one that’s responsible for creating a better or pleasing image with a camera no matter what it is. Each camera may have quirks or its own usability, and no matter what you’re using you’ll be able to create good photos with whatever is in your hand just as long as you can use your imagination. Nowhere is that more apparent than with street photography and urban geometry. Much of the magic of this photography tends to come out with the candid charm that a phone can deliver to you without needing to go into the nitty gritty of deep technical specs.

Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter. All you’re doing is posting to the mobile web anyway.

Any Modern Phone Can Create Great Images

Years ago I was able to take really pleasing images with a flip-style Nokia phone. I was happy with them. These days, people often talk about their phones not being able to take great photos so they absolutely need an upgrade. But actually, that isn’t true. That’s commercial and consumer marketing trying to tell you that you’re not good enough. Well, if you’re not good enough how did you get to where you are today in life? The human mind and human potential are incredible. All you need is a bit of dedication. But more importantly you need inspiration and a bit of technical knowledge that corresponds and communicates with your artistic side.

To do that, you need to be descriptive. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want more highlight detail or shadow detail?
  • Do I want this scene to be darker or brighter overall?
  • What about my framing?
  • What about these reflections? (if there are any)
  • What about the contrast?
  • What about the darks?
  • What about the highlights?
  • Do vignettes matter in this scene or can they be used to give emphasis on the subject that I want?
  • What is superfluous to this image that doesn’t need to be there?
  • Can I eliminate the extra bits while still working with the image?
  • That can important area be saved?
  • Is this image worth editing or reshooting?

For this post, I’ve been working specifically with the Kodak Ektra. However, I am still able to create great photos with my iPhone 6S. That isn’t the latest and greatest phone, but the artist is me. It doesn’t matter what paint brush I use in this case but it may in another case.

Clean Your Lens

Perhaps the biggest problem that can easily be fixed is cleaning the lens of your camera phone. When you eat and/or touch things, grease gets on your hands. Your fingers touch the lens of the phone and then grease gets on there. So after awhile, you start to believe that your phone can’t take great photos. But the truth is actually that you’ve just got a dirty lens.

Using products like a soft microfiber cloth and Purosol can fix that.

How do you know if your camera lens is dirty? Well, point it at a light source. If there is a streak going across it’s probably greasy. Clean that off and you’ll see that effect lessened to the point of giving off a nice lens flare. Sometimes it may take a while and repeated efforts to get the lens as clean as possible.

Looking For Better Urban Geometry Photos

The key to working with urban geometry and your phone honestly isn’t all that technical. Instead, it’s just about art. Look for abstract lines and shapes. With that said, consider some sort of framing. Maybe you’ll find some lines on a playground, a weird layout of bricks, etc. But it starts with those and then moves up to working with larger grids, layouts, and ways that layers work with one another.

Point and Shoot

Cameraphones for years have been working to give photographers manual control over their photos. But honestly, you don’t need it. You can shoot in RAW and that will work more than well enough for both iOS and Android users. However, modern camera phones have good enough metering and the ability to both spot meter while focusing. That means that you’ll only need to do some exposure compensation and then worry about the images later on.

Editing Your Images

Now here’s the final part of it all. I strongly recommend the Super 8 app if you’ve got the Kodak Ektra because it can simulate the look of some of Kodak’s film emulsions. Otherwise both Snapseed and RNI Films tend to be my favorite editing apps. Sometimes I use Lens Distortions. However, now is where your image basically becomes a canvas for you to render in a different way. Here are some tips:

  • Be careful with your contrast. If anything, adjust that last.
  • Start with your exposure
  • Render to black and white
  • Work with the highlights and shadows
  • Add some clarity, but not too much or else they’ll become crunchy
  • Play with vignetting
  • Adjust the contrast of the scene

And that’s it. Getting the most from a camera phone requires being in touch with your inner artist more than anything else.