Improving Cell Phone Photography

Phone Photography Tips

Spend some time getting to know your cellphone’s photo app functions. Most people know that to set the point of interest in a scene simply tap the screen at its location and the phone selects to set focus and exposure. Often a good choice but what if the lighting isn’t right or the object is in motion?

Use The Photo App Options

Most phone apps when opened start out in “photo auto” mode but there are additional options. They usually include features like “portrait” or “people” mode, “backlight” and “night scene” as a minimum. Each mode has a set of program features designed specifically to improve those sort of pictures. Beyond those there are usually a number of additional features you can explore.

Switching To Manual Mode

Your photo app probably has a feature called white balance which most of the time is very useful. It is designed to detect an overall color cast in each scene and correct it to a neutral cast. There are shooting moments when this will actually change the character of the scene that attracted you to take the photograph in the moment. There’s a good likelihood that white balance will ruin that sunset photo. Because your phone is trying to balance out all the colors in order for it to look natural based on its program, sometimes it works against you. Many apps allow you to to turn off white balance or change the white balance setting to cloudy. The cloudy setting generally gives you a higher contrast and brighter color. Play around with your phones white balance settings to get more comfortable overriding those settings.

Enable The Grid Lines

Activating grid lines is an easy way to give you more guidance while taking a picture. It helps remind you about the rule-of-thirds (see more HERE). It’s also an excellent guide to let you see those perspective distortions in the scene and will guide you in changing the angle of the phone and that effect.

Get in the habit of using the grid lines on your phones screen to play around with the images composition.

Adjusting Exposure Most phones usually have a tendency to overexpose photos so play around with what overall light and dark options you have. Also while you are viewing the screen of you phone you can tap locations in the scene to tell the phone where you want it to adjust where the nominal exposure should be. It also attempts to adjust focus to the selected spot.

Reducing overall exposure is usually preferred to over-exposure. After treatment of your photo will usually allow you to lighten up dark areas but over exposed areas don’t darken well. Often there isn’t enough detail in over-exposed areas to be recovered because it’s too washed out.

Avoid Digital Zooming

Beyond the information in the image provided by the phones lens there isn’t any additional information that can be captured. Often simply enlarging the image after the picture is captured will produce the same result, and at times better results, than the digital zoom. There is also the issue with holding the phone steady when zoomed to avoid excess motion blur. That is a direct issue with high magnification actually magnifying slight motion in the phone.

If your phone has an optical telephoto lens that allows you to zoom in without losing quality, your only concern is vibration and hand shake causing blur.

Macro Mode

Not all phone camera apps but many have a macro mode. Usually designated by a flower. Not only does this allow you to get really close to objects it also offers an opportunity to create some dramatic out-of-focus backgrounds. If you haven’t given this much thought give it a try and see what you can create, there’s no real cost in taking lots of digital images so spend some time playing around.

Also, if you don’t have a macro mode or a telephoto lens there are remarkably inexpensive attachment lenses you can buy that will greatly expand the photographic potential of your cellphone. CLICK HERE FOR EXAMPLES. Most kits spring clip the lenses to your phone and include macro lens, wide angle, fish eye and some have a telephoto lens.

Clean your lens

This may seem like a silly notion but often the biggest item reducing the quality of your pictures is that fingerprint or speck of dust on your cellphone lens. Take a moment to think about your past camera lenses and their size. Chances are they were over an inch in width (sometimes more than two inches). Now look at that lens on your cellphone – a quarter of an inch or less. The smaller the lens the bigger impact that dust has on the image. Keep your lens clean – big difference! Be sure and use lens cleaning wipes or alcohol and a soft, lintless cloth.

Changing Your Perspective

When we move around the world we don’t usually see it as a series of still visual frames. Our minds are always processing the environment and focusing our attention on areas it finds interesting. What we are left with are experiences and not still pictures. It is that experience that often leaves us disappointed in the photographs we take. They often do a poor job of demonstrating what we saw and why we were fascinated by the moment. Understanding this is actually a big step toward taking better photographs. We need to stop being in the moment and start forcing ourselves to see the two dimensional screen and ask if it is saying anything about what attracted us to take the picture in the first place.

Don’t expect the cellphone to understand what attracted you to take the picture and as of now composition is not part of its programming. So don’t just point and shoot. Look beyond the scene in front of you and look at the screen and what it’s saying about the scene.

To improve your options after the moment set your phone to the highest resolution and take in more of the scene than the center of interest. Later either in your phone or an additional app you can crop the image for a more interesting image.

While the Android and iPhone built-in Camera apps are fantastic, sometimes it doesn’t give you enough manual control. For example, you can’t adjust shutter speed or ISO settings.

If you want DSLR-like control over the iPhone camera, you can download a third-party iPhone camera app. The best iPhone camera apps include Halide for a full suite of manual controls, Obscura 2 for a more user-friendly experience, VSCO for both capturing and editing photos and . for more control over both photos and videos.

For Android users there’s Open Camera that includes all the manual camera controls. It is an open source app where you get all the features for free. There are no in-app purchases or ads.Also take a look at Camera Zoom FX another raw-capable third-party camera app for Android that provides a good amount of manual control over the camera, including shutter speed adjustments on compatible Android devices. Another is Camera MX and it is free and a good improvement over point-and-shoot camera settings.

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