By Chris Adams

For reporters covering state capitals, it’s a fast-paced, news heavy beat.

For many, it’s also a multimedia one – and few news organizations these days have the resources to send photographers for simple news shots.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows – most of whom cover local and state politics – Graham Cullen went over the basics of taking good photos with a smartphone (the tips apply to iPhones, Android and other smartphones).

Cullen (Twitter) is director of multimedia at The Frederick (Maryland) News-Post who also teaches at the University of Maryland. He led fellows through the do’s and don’ts of visuals on the go.

The most valuable tip is also among the most important: Clean your lens.

“This is probably the most important think I want you to learn today,” he said. Just one fingerprint on your lens “is just enough to make your photos a little blurry.”

Other tips for taking portraits and other simple photos:

  • Don’t use filters, flash or the HDR function on your phone’s camera.
  • Try to find good light so you don’t have to use a flash. Outdoors, mid-day sunlight is the worst, while “golden hour” sun in the late afternoon is best. If you are indoors during the day, find window light and turn off fluorescent lights. “Natural light is always better,” he said. That light should be behind the camera to one side.
  • Don’t pinch and zoom. All you are doing is doing a digital crop, thus reducing the quality of the image. Instead, zoom with your feet, walking closer to the subject.
  • Pick a good background, one free of distractions. Look for interesting patterns in a wall or a floor and make that your background, possibly shooting at the subject from above.
  • When sending a photo from your phone for use in news, use the “actual size” option. Don’t let the phone compress the image before sending it.
  • Don’t use the portrait mode on your phone. It’s fine for your social media feeds, Cullen said, but you want to be more in control of your image for a news shot.