Last week I told you about the photography lessons I learned while attending a workshop with documentary photographer Paul Ripke. Ripke offered a bunch of fairly unconventional views on taking good photos, some of which I agree with, others not so much. But the bottom line is that it’s always interesting to hear about other people’s techniques, because they are bound to include some valuable insight which might be helpful to your cause.

In my last post I shared 6 lessons I learned from the workshop. In this post I would like to offer some insight from my own 10 years as a professional photographer, using only photos I took during the HUAWEI workshop itself, using a HUAWEI Mate 9.

1. Think outside the box

As an assignment Ripke asked all workshop attendants to take his portrait, and ultimately he would choose the best one. It’s easy enough to put someone in front of a white wall or bust a massive light in their face, but I like photos that tell a bit of a story. That entice a second look. You can shoot a portrait showing the person and nothing else. Or you can shoot a story.


2. Create depth of field

With my professional camera I use pretty much one lens only which is a 50mm 1,4. It’s a solid lens which is perfect for portraits but also pretty right on with everything else. Somehow it makes everything look beautiful and it’s down to 1 thing: depth of field. Do you like when the background blurs? It makes the subject you are photographing stand out and allows the attention to focus. I was super impressed by how the HUAWEI Mate 9 as well as the HUAWEI P9 handle this issue, making it impossible for me to distinguish the following photo with the ones I would typically shoot on my professional camera. And the best part: you can manually change how strong you want your depth of field to be.

huawei ripke workshop

3. Edit, edit, edit

Yes, learning to use Photoshop is kind of hard. Lightroom isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. One more reason to simply stick to smartphone photography and use apps to do the editing job for you! I have come to love VSCO and some of the features on Instagram are pretty cool, too (the brightening option here is better than most!). Afterglow gets good reviews and I hear that Snapseed is pretty awesome as well.

edit photos

4. Blurry pictures just may work

In line with point one, I think it’s usually way better to take an interesting picture than a perfect one. Don’t beat yourself up about some pictures not being all that sharp; especially when the light goes, keeping a steady hand gets tougher and tougher. More often than not, a moving blur can add vibrance to a picture, making it more alive and in-the-moment. That said, the HUAWEI Mate 9 has impressed me quite a bit by letting users manually change the ISO (the sensitivity to light), allowing users to shoot even in low lighting.

huawei ripke workshop

5. Always be ready

A good documentary photographer is always ready. Back in the days when I used to photograph parties and street styles I never left the house without my camera and a flash. I was always ready to shoot, in case I might stumble upon a great party or an awesome outfit. During my years of traveling I did the same, always carrying that heavy camera – but now that I have a wonderful smartphone capable of taking pictures of insane quality, I leave the big guns at home. The only thing you need, other than your phone, is a working pair of eyes. When you see someone or something worth photographing, don’t think twice – take the picture.

huawei ripke workshop

6. When photographing people: go for natural

Like I said before, a good portrait is one that tells a story, rather than just a shot of a pair of eyes, a mouth and a nose. The easiest way to get a story is by photographing one that is unfolding before your eyes. I love catching people off guard, capturing them in their essence, the way they really are. So many people in my career have told me they only like themselves in pictures where they don’t pose. People cramp up and freeze, so don’t give them the time to.

That said, it’s important to be respectful and especially when traveling and photographing people you don’t know, asking permission is essential.

huawei ripke workshop

There are a ton more tips to share for better travel photography (Annapurna has recently shared some very good ones here) and I’d love to read your comments on what your own learnings have been with smartphone pictures. Do let us know in the comments!

huawei ripke workshop

*This post was created in collaboration with HUAWEI.