How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

October 25, 2018 | Amy Davies | Photography Techniques | Comment |

These days, the photographic capabilities of modern smartphones are beyond what we might have ever thought possible at one time.

The Huawei P20 Pro is quite probably the best smartphone currently on the market for photographers, offering a triple-lens setup and superb image quality.

We recently took it with us on a trip along the Amalfi Coast, using it to create some stunning on-location portrait shots with the model Jaz Brunner. It’s hard to believe that some of these images were taken with a smartphone, but it’s becoming ever clearer that the best camera is the one you have on you.

Using a phone while in a location like this is also very freeing – not being weighed down by a heavy or cumbersome DSLR (or even mirrorless) camera is a great way to unleash some creativity.

There’s no denying that there are still some limitations to what you can achieve with a smartphone, but hopefully the following tips will help you make the most of your next smartphone – whether that’s a P20 Pro or one of the many other fantastic models that are currently on the market.

Don’t forget to take a look at our full review of the Huawei P20 Pro for more information about all of its features and performance.

Choose the Right Mode

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

The Huawei P20 Pro has several shooting modes which you can choose from. By default, the “Photo” mode will launch when you open the camera app. This is a perfectly fine mode to shoot in, but it’s worth also exploring the other options available to you.

Portrait mode would seem like the obvious choice, but don’t forget to utilise Pro mode too. With Pro mode, you can take greater control of the camera’s settings, as well as shoot in raw format for better flexibility in post-production.

Get the Most from Photo Mode

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

If you choose to shoot in the standard Photo mode, you’ll notice that “Master AI” is turned on by default. The P20 Pro uses artificial intelligence to analyse a scene and apply what it deems to be the best settings. Sometimes this works really well – but, especially if you’re shooting in a vibrant and sunny location – the results can be a little OTT. Sometimes that’s the effect you’re going for, but switching it off from the Settings panel can result in a more natural appearance.

Underexpose to Preserve Details

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

When shooting portraits – especially in bright conditions – underexposing your images is a great way to preserve details in the highlights. Depending on which shooting mode you’re working in there are different ways to do this. In standard Photo mode, you can drag a slider down on the main screen after selecting a focus point. In Pro mode, tap the EV icon and underexpose as much as necessary to retain those highlights.

Use the Second Lens as a Portrait Lens

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

The Huawei P20 Pro has two focal length lenses, one which is a wide-angle, 27mm equivalent lens, while the other is a 3x optical zoom, offering roughly 80mm. Using this second lens is great for portraits as it closely mimics the 85mm classic focal length favoured by portrait photographers. It’s a great way to ensure flattering and less distorted shots, as well as meaning you don’t necessarily have to stand very close to your model.

Consider Your Angles

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

That said, you can get some dramatic and interesting effects when using the wide-angle lens to create portraits. Try shooting from below to create a powerful and dominant effect – you could also try shooting from above to create an illusion of power over the subject.

Make Best Use of Portrait Mode

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

The P20 Pro’s Portrait mode is the obvious choice to use when shooting portraits, and there are certain aspects of the mode that should be considered too. Try switching the artistic bokeh on and off to see how it impacts on your image by creating a shallow depth of field ‘DSLR’ effect. There’s also “Beauty Level”, which applies a number of effects, such as smoothing out skin. For the most natural and realistic effects, set this to a low number, such as 0, 1 or 2. Lastly, Lighting effects are worth exploring too.

Shoot in Mono

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

One of the best things about the Huawei P20 Pro is its monochrome sensor. It’s used to capture detail in colour shots, but can be used in isolation when shooting in Monochrome mode. You’ll find the Mono option under the “More” tab in the native camera app. With it, you can create beautiful black and white images which will really stand out from your colour shots.

Use Your Environment

How to Shoot Portraits with a Smartphone

When shooting with a smartphone like the Huawei P20 Pro, you’re more than likely going to be shooting at a relatively wide angle. This gives you the perfect opportunity to create “environmental” portraits – that is shots which show your model in context of a situation. With that in mind, look for ways to frame your model and show off their surroundings.

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