[HOWTO] Take Great Smartphone Pictures

Category: Photography

The smartphone seems to have replaced dedicated cameras among all but professionals and photography hobbyists. And the Android operating system powers 88% of all smartphones. So here are some tips for taking great photos with an Android smartphone. (Actually most of them apply to iPhones and old-school DSLR cameras as well.) Read on...

Tips For Smartphone Photographers

A picture is worth 1,000 words, and that exchange rate seems to apply to social media companies, too. Text-based Twitter is struggling, while photo-centric Snapchat and Pinterest are soaring. Experts estimate we now upload 2 billion photos per day to the Internet. Photography is the currency of social media.

My first tip is a simple but important one. Keep the lens clean. Phones spend a lot of time in pockets and purses gathering dust and lint. Fingerprints easily cover camera lenses when phones are pulled out hastily. A dirty lens will result in cloudy photos. Use a microfiber cloth to gently clean the lens. A cotton swab moistened with water can remove stubborn specks.

Next, use the “rule of thirds,” a basic photography tip. The rule is based on the theory that images look more interesting when their subject straddles imaginary lines that divide the field of view into thirds, horizontally and vertically. These Google Image search results instantly convey the idea. The points at which the imaginary lines intersect are also important in photo composition because viewers’ eyes are naturally drawn to those points.

Smartphone photography tips

Lighting is the most important aspect of photography. The direction, color, and intensity of lighting can have dramatic effects on a photo. Most smartphone photos are taken under conditions that give the photographer little control over lighting. But you can move around to get the light at your back and on your subject. Try different angles to see how light and shadows affect the composition.

These next two tips were given to me by a professional photographer. He advised me to avoid using a smartphone’s flash. Due to the size constraints of phones, a built-in flash is always too close to the lens, resulting in overwhelming glare, washed-out patches of skin, and the infamous “red-eye” effect. Use natural light whenever possible. If necessary, consider a detached LED lamp with adjustable intensity.

And never use digital zoom. Optical zoom works by physically moving the lens closer to the subject. Digital zoom is a software trick that enlarges pixels, which makes the image look larger but blurrier. The best way to make objects look bigger is to get closer to them, unless the object is a lion or alligator.

Experimenting With Camera Settings

Understand Camera Modes. Using Android’s default Camera app, you’ll notice that various modes are available. Most people just leave their Android camera in “auto” mode, letting it select the best setting for each shot as best it can. But choosing the right mode can yield a much more interesting photo.

Try browsing through your camera’s settings and experimenting with its various modes. Some phones will show a small arrow on the left side of the camera screen, which will reveal a variety of settings and options. Others have a gear icon to access settings. You can always delete shots you don’t like. Try different filters to add subtle or slapstick effects.

If you have trouble keeping the phone steady when clicking the button to snap a photo, turn on voice controls. This will allow you to get your subject in focus, and take a picture by saying "shoot."

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is an important mode. It is a form of image processing that balances lights and darks in images, and helps them look more like the way the human eye would see the photo’s object. HDR actually takes three photos very rapidly - light, medium, and dark - then mashes them together to yield an image that includes all the highs and lows of a scene. As you might imagine, HDR works best with still scenes like landscapes, while moving objects will appear blurry.

If available, panorama mode lets you pan across a wide scene and capture it one wide-angle photo. In most cases, you'll want to hold your phone horizontally when taking pictures or videos. Panorama mode is the exception. Holding the phone vertically will increase your depth and result in a better image. It's important to keep the phone level while sweeping across the scene. If your phone doesn't have panorama mode, check the Google Play store for an app to add that functionality.

Some high-end phones with the latest Android version provide advanced simulations of professional photography features, such as aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual, as well as ISO (sensitivity) and white balance. Most casual shutterbugs will find these settings overkill, but they can come in handy at times if you take the trouble to learn them.

If your Android camera has a RAW image option, you can save images in uncompressed (raw) format instead of JPG. RAW gives you better editing options and yields sharper photos.

Backup photos automatically. Oceans of tears have been shed over lost memories when phones and their SD cards are lost or damaged. Google Photos provides unlimited free cloud storage for photos and videos as long as they’re no bigger than 16 Mpixels (photos) or 1080p HD (videos). Larger files are either compressed or counted against your Google account’s cloud storage limit.

You don’t need a Google account to use Google Photos. By simply activating the Backup & Sync function on an Android or iOS-based smartphone or tablet, Google Photos automatically saves all photos and videos stored on all the devices a user owns, as well as any taken in the future.

Do you have some tips on taking great pictures with a smartphone? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Take Great Smartphone Pictures"

Posted by:

29 Aug 2017

Your expert left one thing out about lighting.
It is not just about how much light there is but how much gets to the sensor.
Small sensors fit in phones and only need small lenses. All that limits the amount of light that can get to the sensor. Less light means that the electronics need a longer time to gather enough light for the picture. More time means more blur from objects in the picture moving or the person holding the phone shaking.
Take your pictures in well lit areas to avoid blur.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2017

The recent phones have substantially improved cameras over the older ones. For example, the Google Pixel, Samsung S8, etc. Some now have two cameras (sometimes a wide angle and a telephoto, sometimes a color and black/white). Also the newest phones have substantially improved software.

Also I have been advised that if you take pictures with no zoom and then use your desktop software to do digital zoom, you will better digital zoom then letting the camera do it.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2017

Another great topic, Mr. Rankin,
I remember the old 35mm film cameras: Most of the pictures were taken and processed for landscape viewing.
I also remember televisions (and computer monitors) that are setup primarily for landscape display.
Then, why is it that smartphone users insist on taking photo shoots in the "portrait" mode rather than the (status quo) "landscape" mode?
Especially since it will most likely be shared/viewed per the status quo (= landscape).
Since the latest crop of smartphones are equipped w/over 8MPixel+ cameras; the landscape mode should be the standard orientation, since the image quality will still be robust (resolution-wise) if the user wishes to crop/extract a true image that needs to be in the 'portrait' orientation.
I am quite sure that we all have come across an email which contained an iPhone photo (or video) which has lost orientation (due to this portrait mode insistence) and you have to bend your neck 90degrees to view it properly.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2017

I agree wholeheartedly with RandiO and Bob's line, "In most cases, you'll want to hold your phone HORIZONTALLY when taking pictures or videos." So many times people are snapping these, that virtually scream "PRE-TEEN WITH CAMERA PHONE!", only because they're too lazy to give the thing a quarter-turn and give us what might have been a great shot. (Is everyone stuck on selfie-mode or what?) Can't tell you how many times I've started to watch a video, but move onto another the moment I realize it's in portrait mode.

Yes, as Bob pointed out, there are definitely times when a vertical shot is not only best, but actually necessary. As for me, all of mine are first done in landscape mode, until those moments present themselves... then I grudgingly give it a 90° twist and even apologize to people I share those with.

I suppose one could ask the obvious... if we were meant to view the world vertically, wouldn't our eyes be configured that way, instead of horizontally?

Posted by:

29 Aug 2017

BOB, Spelling/Grammar: Paragraph three (3) begins with "Nest, use the “rule of thirds"", but "Nest" should be "Next". Not actually picking, but it did throw me off.

Posted by:

30 Aug 2017

Spelling/Grammar >> "Pgmr"???? [

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