A well-known saying with many photographers is “the best camera is the one you have with you”. This is true because capturing the moment is more important than the device which records the image. These days, nearly everyone has a pretty decent camera either in their pocket or in their hand everywhere they go. Smartphones have come a long way in recent years; built-in cameras and photography apps have definitely contributed to the decline in popularity of compact cameras. Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of their smartphone camera’s potential and they end up taking substandard shots. So, here are ten tips to help make the most of your smartphone photography.
Set the focus
If you want to be sure your subject is sharp, you need to set the focus. Most people skip this step and rely on the camera’s decision making process, but it doesn’t always get it right. By tapping the screen on the part of the scene you want in focus will make sure your image isn’t blurry.
Use exposure compensation
At time, lighting can be a bit tricky for our cameras to accurately set the exposure, especially when shooting a subject which is much brighter or darker than the background. This results in an over or underexposed image, with a loss of detail in the highlights or shadows. On your screen or in your camera settings, you can find a brightness slider which you can drag left or right to adjust the exposure. On some camera models, double-tapping on the screen will take a meter reading from that point of the scene and lock in the exposure, allowing you to recompose and capture the image.
Use the flash correctly
Lots of people automatically turn the flash on at night, even when the subject is a fair distance away from the lens. In actuality, you should only use the flash when taking pictures of things that are close to the camera since the effective distance of the flash is no more than a few feet. Using a flash in low light scenes can also be detrimental to the atmosphere of the image. It may seem counterintuitive, but you can also use your phone’s flash in bright daylight, especially when taking portraits against the sun. This will help to lift dark shadows on the face and also add a catchlight to your subject’s eyes.
Turn on the grid for better compositions
Most smartphone cameras have a grid overlay that can be turned on within the camera settings. It’s a good idea to have it enabled to help you compose accurately and ensure any straight lines such as the horizon or buildings aren’t askew. You can also use the grid to help compose your image using the rule of thirds.
Avoid zooming when possible
The cameras on the majority of smartphones offer digital rather than optical zoom. This means that to magnify the subject, the image is cropped resulting in a reduced resolution. When possible, move closer to the subject to make it bigger in your frame (i.e., zoom with your feet).
Banish camera shake blur
You’re most likely to encounter camera shake when shooting dimly lit subjects, such as night scenes. This is because the camera is using a slower shutter speed to let in more light and any movement is translated as a blurred detail in the image. To avoid this effect, you will need to keep your smartphone camera as steady as possible. Try resting on something solid like a table or railings to prevent your hands from wobbling or consider investing in a mini tripod so your camera doesn’t move during the exposure.
Use Manual mode
Many phones have different shooting modes beyond Auto (such as Manual, Night, Panorama or Sport), so check out what your camera offers in the menu.
As any professional photographer will tell you, if you want the most control over the final look of your image you need to shoot RAW. Many recent smartphones (such as the Apple iPhone 7 and the Samsung S6 Edge) offer RAW image shooting, so you can capture uncompressed images and maximize their potential during post-production editing. The downside to shooting in RAW is that the files are much larger than a standard JPEG, so if you shoot RAW all the time, you’ll quickly fill your phone’s storage.
Get artsy with built-in filter effects
Every smartphone lets you apply different filter effects at the time of capture so you can see exactly how your image will look. Although the filters vary between phone models, you’ll most likely find a range of effects (i.e. black & white, vintage, vignette and cartoon). You can use these creative filters to make the image your own while knowing how your image will look before you take the shot.
Use the self timer
Selfies are a way of life with smartphone photography, but sometimes, it’s not possible to fit a big group of people into a single shot – some selfie sticks aren’t even long enough. The disadvantage of using the front facing camera to capture selfies is that this camera has a smaller resolution and not as much shooting control. The best solution – besides using a tripod – is to use your smartphone’s built-in self timer. Prop up your camera so it’s framed up on your group photo, adjust your settings and turn on the self timer. You can usually choose to set it to a 2, 5 or 10 second delay, giving you long enough to get yourself into the shot once you’ve pressed the shutter.
Now it’s time to put these tips to work! Try using some of these the next time you use your smartphone camera and feel free to post your results in the comments!