Smartphone Photography – Tips and Tricks

Let us begin with Smartphone Photography.

In this day and age almost everyone has a smartphone. Smartphone cameras and the apps that run them have come a long way in the last few years. The camera in my Samsung Galaxy S4 is better than the first digital point and shoot I bought back in 2003! So much better.

It’s safe to say that almost everyone has a camera in their pocket. I’m going to assume that you do as well.

It’s been said that the best camera you own is the one you have with you. Normally, that is your smartphone. I bet half of you are reading this post on your smartphone right now!

The smartphone. Quick and easy.

The smartphone has become the most popular camera in the world. And for good reason. You can pull it out, be inconspicuous, take the shot, edit it if you want and share it to any number of social media sites, photo sharing sites or even send it off to the news station all in a matter of moments.

That said, some of the worst photos I’ve ever seen come from smartphones. Poorly exposed, fuzzy from camera shake, and riddled with terrible composition choices. One of the main reasons for these issues is that it’s just too quick and easy. No thought is given to the photo. Just whip it out and snap the photo!

Let’s try and change a bit of this if we can.

 

#1. The fuzzy image from camera shake. This is the most common problem.

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You can tell the problem is camera shake if it’s the whole image that’s fuzzy. Like this one. Everything is fuzzy. I’m pretty sure the walls, floor, ceiling and lights are not moving.

Most people hold their phone at arms length and then tap the shutter button on the phone hard I’m surprised they don’t knock it out of their hand! Quite often I see them using just one hand. I’m guilty of these things myself.

When I took this photo, I was crouching down (rather than kneeling), I was using one hand (I had my travel mug full of coffee in the other) trying to mash the shutter button icon with my thumb. Result – Fuzzy photo due to camera shake.

So, how can we fix this. Well basically you need to hold your smartphone properly. Two hands and not extended arms. Keep your hands as close to you as possible. Keep your elbows down and tight to your sides if you can and gently, very gently touch the shutter release icon with your finger. If you can set a timer on the app, even better.

 

 

#2. The poor exposure.

 

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Another common problem is poor exposure. Either over, or, in the case of the image on the left, under exposed. This isn’t a problem exclusive to smartphones either. What’s happening here is the back light in the scene is way too bright for the sensor in the phone to handle the dynamic range.

Personally, I like this image. I like an image with lots of shadow. Gives them a sense of drama. But if you don’t want this to happen you can fix it quite easily simply by moving the phone.

 

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As you can see in the image on the right, the phone’s lens is much closer to the dog. There is much less room for the back light to get into the image. Result – better exposure in the shadows. As for the streaks of light coming in, that’s lens flare a result of the light coming from out of the frame into the lens. I am a big fan of lens flare when it’s used creatively and moderately.

 

 

 

#3. Slow down.

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I know with your phone in hand it’s easy to capture photo after photo as quick as you like but try this – Slow Down, think for a moment about the photo you are about to take. What are you trying to achieve with it? Is it a snap shot or are you trying to make a photograph that you can be proud of, share with the world and maybe even print?

In the photo on the left, I talked to the dog, gave him a little pat on the head then when I was ready to take the photo, I held my phone as close to my body as I could in both hands and called the dog to get his ears to perk up. Then I touched the shutter button to capture the photo.

 

#4. Compose, don’t just click.

Have a look at the two images below. They are both pretty descent photos but I think the one on the right is the better composed. The photo on the left has a lot of distracting elements towards the top and the left of the photo. The photo on the right on the other hand has been recomposed to cut most of those elements out of the scene and add some nice empty space below the lizard.

20150328_094930   20150328_094912

Composition is a very personal choice. Where one runs into problems with composition is when you don’t stop to think about it at all.

#5. Camera Orientation.

How you hold your phone makes a huge difference on the look and feel of your photo. Most of the time, I see people taking all their photos in portrait mode because that’s just how you hold the phone when you are using it for almost everything else. While this is a perfectly fine orientation, some, if not most, photos look best in landscape orientation, sideways.

Bike - Portrait
The photo on the left is taken in portrait mode. The way most people hold their phone. Notice the distracting foreground and background. The image below on the other hand was taken in landscape mode. Notice the bike fills the frame and there is much fewer distracting elements in the photo. Also, the bike just lends itself to a landscape orientation. A tree or a tall building on the other hand would look more natural in a portrait orientation.

 

Bike - Landscape

 

 

 

#6. Look For The Light.

Photography is all about the light. Without light, there is no photograph. Why not try to find the best quality of light you can and photograph your subject there or even just photograph what ever happens to be in that light?

Mid day sun is the worst light imaginable! The light comes from mostly overhead casting all kinds of nasty shadows. Especially on the face. I like to go out in the early morning or late evening when the light is low and golden. It will give your photos a much nicer color tone and the shadows will be interesting instead of harsh.

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I look for interesting shadows like the one in the photo on the left here. The color of the early morning sunlight was a warm orange as it crept up the sky and the shadow was dark and the shape was very interesting. It really captured my eye.

 

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In this photo of a great rusty crusty propane tank, the low orange sun really brought out the color of the rust. the direction of the light also gave a nice defining shadow on the right side of the tank helping to bring a three dimensional look to the image instead of flat lighting. I love early morning and late evening light. Such amazing photos are just waiting to be made in that light.

#7. Get Low, Really Low.

One of the best things I find with my smartphone is the ability to get really interesting angles for photos. Getting down really low is one of my favorite tricks.

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The photo on the left for example. It’s a bugs eye view of some flowers and greenery. You would not see this point of view even if you were on the ground yourself. It’s such an interesting angle. You could use this type of angle on almost any subject.

You don’t have to look up either. Just being low gives a different point of view. Enough to make the most common scene interesting.

                20150626_080029

The worst problem of all…

The worst problem I have with my smartphone’s camera is that it makes me look old! Just look at all those wrinkles and grey hair! Even my beard is grey! Bloody smartphones. 🙂

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I hope these tips will help you to get better photos from your smartphone.

 

Chris.

Sections

1 – Beyond The Snap Shot.

2 – The Point And Shoot. – Coming Soon.

 

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