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Make Your Smartphone Pics Pop: 7 Pro Tips From a Fashion Photographer

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Jan. 25, 2023 • 12:35pm
Sporting a white pantsuit, SF fashion photographer Anna-Alexia Basile leads a photography session on “Pop Portraits” at Apple’s Unions Square store. | Christina Campodonico/The Standard

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Anna-Alexia Basile is living her best creative life. From Banana Republic to J. Crew, the San Francisco-based fashion photographer has accumulated an impressive roster of clients and a large Instagram following since starting her career with Refinery29.

Basile recently taught a class on how to create “Pop Portraits” with your iPhone as part of the return of Apple’s Today at Apple in-store workshop series on creative topics such as coding or design.

Basile gave The Standard some tips on how to make your smartphone photos pop anytime and in any setting. As the saying goes, the best camera is often the one that’s with you.

“It truly is such a special gift to be able to have these devices on us at all times […] without the weight of a super heavy DSLR,” she said.

Here are some of her essential tips.

Always Keep Your Eyes Peeled 

San Francisco is one of the country’s most photogenic cities. Basile encourages amateur photographers to pay attention to their surroundings, and if you see something interesting, make a note of it by dropping a pin on your map app.

 “I always tell people to just keep making the photos, keep noticing the world around them and to just really enjoy it and have fun,” she said. 

A San Francisco fashion photographer encourages amateur and aspiring photographers to keep an eye out for inspirational backdrops and settings. | Courtesy Anna-Alexia Basile

Cataloging these spots can come in handy when you’re looking for a unique location to do a photo shoot. And don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. 

The Painted Ladies may be a great Instragrammable backdrop, but “sometimes it’s nice to find a quieter moment around the city,” Basile said. She actually loves San Francisco’s POPOS, or public parks in private spaces. 

Play With Light and Color

Speaking of light, pay attention to it. Indulge in capturing the ephemeral movements of light, or “light play,” as its known in photographer speak.  

“Light play is so special because it’s temporary. It can last five minutes or it can last five seconds,” Basile observes.

As for color, try one of Basile’s favorite techniques of layering similar colors onto each other for a big and “gorgeous monochromatic moment” or try out another technique called color blocking for something that’s more “contrasty.” 

San Francisco photographer Anna-Alexia Basile enjoys experimenting with color in her professional fashion photos. | Courtesy Anna-Alexia Basile

Also, don’t be afraid to bring fabrics, fun fashions, sculptures or even crystals into your shoot. Basile recommends placing a crystal in front of your lens to create a kaleidoscopic “magic eye” moment.

SF resident Rachel Nevers experiments with putting a crystal in front of her smartphone’s camera lens at Apple’s Union Square store in San Francisco. | Christina Campodonico/The Standard

Clean Your Lens 

But before that, clean your lens! Everyday grime, makeup and hand oils can easily give your photos a weird, hazy effect, so Basile recommends always cleaning off your lens with your sleeve before shooting.

“Sometimes it’s the simple stuff that really makes the biggest difference,” she said. 

Set the Focus and the Exposure 

Setting the focus can be another simple yet effective way of upping your photo game. On an iPhone, for instance, it’s pretty easy to set the focus by just holding your finger down in the area you want to have in sharper relief.  

“You’re essentially telling your camera, ‘Hey, I want you to hold the focus for this spot,’” Basile said. 

An artistic viewpoint of San Francisco City Hall with the landmark in focus | Courtesy Anna-Alexia Basile

Adjusting the exposure on your smartphone camera is another easy way of taking a sharp-looking photo, especially if your surroundings are a little bit dark.

“You can actually just drag your finger up on the screen, and it’ll increase exposure, making the image brighter before you even take the photo” Basile explained. 

Widen Your Gaze

Rather than following conventional camera rules by working with a tighter lens, Basile encourages aspiring photographers to use the widest lens possible on your camera and get close to your subject—maybe even have them reach out to you—to create “a more layered and dynamic image.”      

“Rules are meant to be broken,” Basile said. 

And while Basile says it’s always better to get closer to your subject, don’t be afraid to experiment with various zooms or lenses if you have them available to you.

“Having multiple lenses on the phone is such a tremendous game changer,” she said. 

Go Vertical 

Think you can only take panoramic photos from left to right? Think again! Basile encourages amateur photographers to turn their smartphone cameras around and try the panoramic feature vertically to capture the full scope of an object. For instance, maybe you want to show the scale of a big tree, but it’s not fitting in the frame. When that happens, don’t be afraid to turn the phone horizontally and pan up. Basile says it’s a great way to get a lot of information into a photo with one very small device.

Courtesy Anna-Alexia Basile

Beware of the Wind! 

While most people might think San Francisco’s signature fog could make or break or photo, it’s actually the city’s blusteriness that is the bane of most photographers’ existence, Basile noted. Rather than giving a nice billow to a dress or pretty tussle to the hair, the wind might send a dress flying in an awkward direction. 

“I feel like the San Francisco photography problem is always the wind,” she said.

In these instances, be kind to your subjects and help them adjust a stray hair or strap accordingly.

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Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]


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