Do you aspire to take better smartphone photos? Then read on! As I scroll through my Instagram or Facebook feeds, I notice that many people can capture a decent photo some of the time. And, now with summer upon us and vacations looming (or in progress), I’m hoping the tips below for taking better smartphone photos will help more people capture great photos most of the time!
1. Get Close – many cell phone cameras, especially the iPhone, really shine when the subject is brought close to the camera (note I did NOT say “zoomed”). The small sensor provides a relatively wide depth of field so you can get entire objects in focus better where cameras with bigger sensors and longer lenses have trouble. Getting closer also enables you to have better control of the lighting on your subject. By bringing it closer to the camera, you’re able to block out distractions all together. This image of a seashell is shot in flat light and you can see the amount of detail the camera phone can capture (photo by Karin Fuire).
2. Crop, Don’t Zoom – Many SmartPhone camera offer a digital zoom function, but I’ve found its better to ignore it. By zooming, the camera will degrade your image because it simply extrapolates what’s already there and guesses what the image looks like…and it isn’t pretty! Instead, take a wider shot and crop! The crop actually just grabs a sample of pixels that was actually recorded. This lighthouse image was cropped to about 1/2 its size; the resolution is still very good. (photo by Karin Fuire)
3. Edit, Don’t Filter – I like it when my images don’t look like everyone else’s with the over-used filters, “retro” washes, and over saturation. Sometimes, the key to better smartphone photos is using a really great app!
I recommend getting an image editing app like SnapSeed (my favorite!), Photoshop Express, or iPhoto. They’ll let you make reasonable adjustments, like contract, sharpness, and color temperature. These are edits you’d typically do with images from your “big” camera and allows you to develop your own style, or even extend the style you’ve already developed outside of your smartphone.
This is a screen grab from inside the SnapSeed app. It gives you actual image editing options rather than trying to cover up flaws with heavy vignetting or unnatural mid-tone contrast. (photo by Karin Fuire)
4. Pick a Better Camera App – This tip applies more to iPhone users than Android users, but in any case, the goal is more control over the images you’re capturingb. I really like Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug) because it allows you to shoot in bursts (slow & fast options), has an image stabilization feature, and it provides composition tools to help you create a better image. And its free! Whatever you choose, be sure to spend some time really getting used to it. You’ll be glad you did!
5. Ditch the Flash – The “flash” on many smartphones are simply glorified LED flashlights trying to perform a function they’re not really prepared for. Their reach is extremely limited, the color temperature is horrible and they’re not able to freeze action in a frame as would a SLR strobe. Oh – and did I mention the demon eyes they make? So what choices do you have for low light images using your smartphone? Your best bet is seek out another light source. In a dark bar? Look for a neon sign or a some other bright light. At a concert? Wait until one of those swinging stage lights makes its way over to your area. Low light photography is a great way to get a little creative…that’s what photography is all about anyway, right? (photo credit: Karin Fuire)
6. Keep Your Lens Clean – Better smartphone photos can simply come from a clean lens! A grimy lens will result in muddled, dark images that won’t look good no matter how many filters applied to them. Give your camera phone lens a quick cleaning every so often. A soft cloth will do the trick, and for better results, purchase a lens cleaning solution from your nearby camera shop.
7. Watch the Lens Flare – Adding lens flare is another trend in mobile photography that’s getting more overdone by the minute. It can,however, actually work for you if you do it the natural way. The tiny lenses are often more prone to wacky light effects than their full-sized counterparts, so you can play it up if you want to. If you want to control the flare in your shot, move the sun (or whatever light source is causing the flare) around in the frame. As you get closer to the edge, you’ll often see the flare spread out and become more prominent. You can also cup your hand around the lens in order to make a DIY lens hood, cutting down on the amount of flare; you may even be able to get rid of it all together. Lens flare compromises detail, contrast and color accuracy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it ruins the image. (photo credit: Karin Fuire)
8. Make Prints – Now its time to show off those better smartphone photos you’ve been working so hard to create!
We may be the most documented generation, but there is also a huge disconnect between digital and analog photography. Very few make prints anymore, which is sad because so many moments will be lost forever as images are deleted to make room for more, or technology advances and storage devices become obsolete (think DVD for storing digital files). Putting photos on paper makes them tangible and creates a lasting legacy. There are several sources available and they are very easy to use. Shutterfly is my go-to and, literally, it takes me 5 minutes to create an 8″x8″ hardcover book right from my phone!
9. Don’t forget the Rules of Photography – This is probably the most important tip of all. Taking better smartphone photos also means the rules for taking a good picture don’t change when you switch between cameras. You still need to consider the lighting and the composition. If you need to, turn on the ‘rule of thirds’ or ‘golden ratio’ layover within your camera app at all times to help remind you.
10. Have fun and experiment! Rules are made to be broken…that’s one of my mottos (as long as breaking a rule won’t get me arrested). Try different angles, different lighting situations, walk around your subject (if possible) to see where the most interesting shot might come from. Straight-on might be the easiest, but it might not be the best way to capture better smartphone photos.
Article partially excerpted from Popular Photography, “10 Tips for Taking Better Photos With Your Smartphone”, written by Stan Horaczek 10/10/12