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Taking Amazing Reference Photos with your Mobile Device - Guest Blog with Paul Studiman

I talk a lot about taking reference photos for your paintings whether it be landscapes or florals or portraits.  I wrote a bit more about it here.

Creating a collection of solid reference photos can help you hone your artistic vision and create unique paintings that reflect who you are as an artist. I fill my iPhone with photos of flowers from my walks and have a ready to go file of photos that inspire me.

My good friend Paul Studiman from Flash Reel Media agreed to write about how to use your smart phone to create beautiful photos you can use for reference photos.  

Paul is the creative mind behind Flash Reel Media, a videographer, drone pilot, and photographer based in Kitchener-Waterloo. His photos capture fresh, unique perspectives and share his love of being outside.

Taking amazing reference photos with your mobile device

Folks often have it in their mind that creating professional looking photos only requires high-end camera gear, and nothing else. Although having the right tools for your profession matters, knowing how to use your equipment is important. Understanding photography fundamentals is another key to taking your photos to the next level.

I’m confident that you can utilize your everyday mobile device to create your own professional looking content. I’d now like to share and cover points around mobile device capabilities, basics of framing and composition, and using natural light to shoot at certain times. These tips will help improve your mobile phone reference photos, and make them shine brighter.


Mobile device capabilities

Almost all modern, mobile devices are capable of shooting high-definition photos. If you’re looking to use or print them for reference, the images you capture with your phone are perfect this. A major step forward in my own mobile photography came with the introduction of the triple lens on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. From my personal experience, this has been a game changer in what’s possible with a phone. The main point I want to share is that your mobile device is more powerful than you may think.

For a real world example, below is a photo of mine and it was shot on my iPhone 11 Pro Max, using the wide-angle lens.

trees, photograph, flash reel media, art, sky, blue


High-definition formats like 1920x1080 resolution are in line with what’s needed for reference photos. Taking full advantage of what your mobile device is capable of and understanding their features is an important stepping-stone to creating unique perspectives and professional looking photos.

Basics of framing and composition

When you’re out taking photos, visualize the shot with your own eyes, and what you see within the frame of your camera. What catches your gaze when you look out on a landscape or city scene? Are there bright, vibrant colours? Use these eye-catching elements to your advantage.

Composition plays an important role in creating interest in photos. Photographers often talk about the rule of thirds. That grid you might see on your camera’s viewfinder can actually help you. Place focal points at cross hairs of the intersecting lines, and play around with composing a shot where your main subject is slightly off centre. Regardless of what camera you are using, you can apply this technique. Take advantage of digital photography, and being able to immediately view your photos after you capture them.

Using natural light to shoot at certain times

If you don’t have access to or the resources for additional lighting sources, use the natural light that’s around you. I shoot the majority of my photos outside. For this, the sun is your greatest resource. Avoiding shooting directly into it, and instead, place your back to it. This will help balance your photos with a more evenly distributed light.

For iPhone owners, and within the default camera app, you can control exposure to further help with this balance. When taking a photo, tap on different sections of the screen, and a yellow border will appear. You’ll be able to expose for the lighter or darker areas of the image. If you’re an Android owner, you will no doubt have similar exposure options. Play around with your camera settings, use your own eyes to guide you, and you’ll be surprised of what is possible with your phone’s camera.

Have you ever been out mid-day, and the light is too harsh or extremely bright? Use this same mindset when taking reference photos.  Typically, early morning sunrise light is a great time to shoot. You could also head out in late afternoon or in the evening during sunset. Natural light is often optimal during these times, and you’ll likely see unique shades of pinks, oranges, and blues not otherwise present. This’ll help you create a mood or evoke emotion, and you can translate this captured feeling to when you’re painting from your reference photos.


In conclusion, don’t feel like you are limited by your mobile device, and not being able to produce professional looking photos. Use the tools that are readily available to you, and get to know your camera settings. Dive in and utilize some of the techniques mentioned. Remember to keep it fun, continually experiment, and see what’s possible!

Which photos will you create today?


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