Topic 11 – Persuasive Smartphone Photography

Topic 11 Learning Objectives. By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • Use multimedia learning principles when taking instructional or persuasive photographs
  • Set focus and exposure manually in a smartphone camera app
  • Follow basic guidelines to improve composition and lighting
  • Use a smartphone app for taking and post-processing photos

Introduction to Topic 11

With two significant assignments due over the next two weeks, I’ve lightened the topic load this week so that you can spend more time working on your assignments. That said, I hope that this week as we learn more about smartphone photography we’ll pick up some specific new skills that will allow us to take more impactful photographs with our smartphones.

Napalm Girl

A picture is worth a thousand words, not only when it comes to works of art, but also when taking smartphone photographs for instructional or persuasive purposes. The following is a powerful example of a persuasive picture that arguably helped weaken US citizen support for the war in Vietnam in 1972 leading to the full US withdrawal in 1975.

Please either watch the video below or read this article that tells the Napalm Girl’s story with text and images.

(5 min)

Smartphone Photography & MultiMedia Learning Principles

So which multimedia learning principles and theories should we keep in mind as we take photographs with our smartphones for instructional or persuasive purposes? Here are two key principles that would be relevant for most instructional photographs:

  • Coherence principle: People learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.
    E.g. The Napalm girl photo, as it was most widely published, was cropped to cut out a film crew on one side of the photo. Was this to cut out extraneous material, or was it to simply centre the primary subject of the photo?
  • Signalling principle: People learn better when cues are added that highlight the key information and its organization.
    E.g. This can be done in a photo with cropping, lighting, or by using the Vignette feature in a photo editor – Miss Porkchop & Miss Porkchop highlighted with a vignette (using Google Photos).
Miss Porkchop with and without cropping and vignette applied.

If we are displaying the photos in a presentation or as part of a video, what additional multimedia learning principles should we try to follow as we crop, edit, organize, and present? Two key principles are:

  • Multimedia principle: People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.
    E.g. Labeled or narrated photos.
  • Modality principle: People learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics and printed text.
    E.g. A narrated slideshow or video of photos.

Storytelling for Photographers

As we’ve discussed in the past, storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. People who keep in mind that they are trying to tell a story as they compose and take photographs will produce more impactful photographs. The short video below, by master photographer and storyteller John Lehmann, provides some great tips on how to improve your visual storytelling via photography:

  • Tip 1 – Take pictures every day – there is no substitute for regular practice
  • Tip 2 – Content is king – your persuasive pictures should have meaning, good composition, and be creative
  • Tip 3 – Never stop being creative – move and take pictures all the way around your subject to get different perspectives
  • Tip 4 – Think about your audience – how does the photograph you’re taking help tell a story to your audience?
  • Tip 5 – The camera is just a tool – how you use your camera is more important than how expensive it is

What if you can’t take your own photo?

What if we either can’t find an appropriate photographic subject near us, or we don’t have enough time to take our own photograph? The good news is that as we’ve discussed before, there are some wonderful websites that we can use to find excellent quality, free-to-use photographs. All the websites listed below employ a Creative Commons, or similar license so that you can use their photographs without having to pay any fees. We should always give credit to the photographer who took the picture of course. Here are three of my favourite free photo and clip art websites: – @richmccue

As we look at and select pictures from these wonderful stock photography websites, we should use the same multimedia learning principles and storytelling selection criteria that we use for our own photographs.

Hands-on this week

Let’s get started by reviewing some of the basics of photo composition with our smartphones! Make sure to occasionally pause the video to practice some of the techniques presented if possible.

(7 min)

Next, let’s take a look at how to set focus and exposure (this video demonstrates how to do this with iPhones, but the concepts apply to all types of smartphones). Again, please occasionally pause the video to practice some of the techniques in the video.

(10 min)

Now let’s download and install the VSCO image editing app on your phone by going to (on your phone) and installing the VSCO iPhone or Android app (you’ll need this for the hands-on photo editing activities below).

If you have any problems installing VSCO or questions about the hands-on activities, please attend the Wednesday Lab time, or Thursday/Friday office hours.

Take this short diagnostic quiz about smartphone photography to make sure you’re ready for the hands-on activities below: Smartphone photography quiz

Video slides

OPTIONAL Activity for those who would like to learn to uses a free alternative to Photoshop for editing your videos, please take a look at this wonderful workshop: Photo editing with GIMP workshop

Tasks & Assignments this week

  • Topic 11 Blog post on Smartphone Photography:
    • Embed two or more photos you took with your smartphone as part of the SmartPhone photography workshop.
    • In 100-300 words discuss how your photos tell a story or are persuasive, and which learning theories and multimedia learning principles relate to your photos.


iPhone Photography School. (2017, May 23). Focus & Exposure Tricks For Taking Perfect iPhone Photos.

Johnson, D. K. (2020, December). Image Editing with GIMP Lesson Plan. UVic Libraries DSC Workshops.

Johnson, D. K. (2021, March 26). Smartphone Photography Workshop.

Johnson, D. K. (2021, March 10). Smartphone Photography Lesson Plan. UVic Libraries DSC Workshops.

Laing, G. (2017, December 26). Take better mobile photos using the rule of thirds—How to Mobile Photo [Mp4].

Lehmann, J. (2017, April 24). 5 Tips on How to Improve Visual Storytelling for Photojournalists [Mp4].

New-York Historical Society. (2020, March 12). The Vietnam War 1945–1975: “Napalm Girl” [Mp4].

Phan Thi Kim Phuc. (2021). In Wikipedia.

The Story Behind the “Napalm Girl” Photo Censored by Facebook. (n.d.). Time. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from

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