Smartphone cameras are getting better (and easier to use) all the time, but if you want to do more with your pictures than just post them on Facebook – especially if it’s something special, like a photo calendar – it’s worth brushing up on your camera phone skills.
Achieving a steady shot
Camera phones can actually be quite fiddly to hold steady, and some models really show up the wobble when you press the shutter or touch the screen to take a photo.
Likewise, some phones can take a few seconds to react, which often results in those “moment after” shots – blurry images where you’ve started to move away, thinking the photo has already been taken when actually your phone is still thinking about it.
● Before you line up your photo, make sure your posture is steady – distribute your weight evenly across both feet, or sit/lie so that you don’t need to support yourself with your hands.
● Hold the camera with both hands, and relax your elbows. Breathe normally – holding your breath can force you to heave a great big sigh that creates a more obvious movement – often at the worst possible moment – than regular breathing would.
● Do whatever zooming and focusing is required – you can often hold down the button or rest your finger on the screen to focus before you release to take the photo. Once you release the shutter, don’t move until you can see that the photo has been taken.
● Alternatively, rest your phone on something solid, like a wall or box. This is particularly useful if you’re shooting in low light.
Choosing the right conditions
Most cameras give the best results when lighting is good. Natural sunny light is often best…
…but even a fairly well-lit room can look good too if you use the right white balance. Built-in flashes still tend to be less than flattering, although of course there are moments that must be captured because they’re hilarious, rather than beautiful – if your friends are pulling trout-pouts in a darkened bar you might want to use the flash, but they might not thank you for the results.
Remember: make sure your light source is behind/above/below the lens, rather than behind your subject – unless you want a picture of your subject in silhouette.
Use the highest resolution
This is especially good advice if you plan to print your photos. Printed images need to be minimum 300 dpi (dots or pixels per inch) in order to look smooth – anything lower will be grainy or pixelated. The standard web dpi is 72, and some camera phones are set low as standard because the manufacturer assumes you’ll just be posting all your snaps online. Look in your phone camera’s options for the resolution or picture quality setting – you may be able to choose by DPI/pixels per inch, aspect ratio (eg 16:9) or simply by selecting “highest” or “maximum”.
Most digital cameras automatically sample white balance – the measure of how “cool” or “warm” the ambient lighting is – and adjust image settings to produce the best possible picture under those conditions.
However, it is possible to alter these settings by hand, and choose between a variety of different lighting looks that range from something resembling the cold light of day as you’re seeing it, to much warmer, more carnivalesque firelight tones, which work especially well indoors or with decorative LED lighting that might otherwise seem a bit harsh. Here’s a good in-depth explanation of white balance for those who want to learn more.
Framing and composition
Although you could experiment with as many photos as you can fit in your phone’s memory, when you’re in a hurry for a good shot it’s worth keeping a couple of photography rules in mind:
● Get close to your subject. Digital zoom (which is just magnification of whatever’s in the viewfinder by your phone’s software) is still pretty rubbish in comparison to optical zoom, ie., a lens that can physically revolve and extend like a stubby telescope, for a proper close-up. Digital is normally the only kind of zoom on camera phones, so get up close to your subject.
● The rule of thirds is a bit of well known photography lore that essentially means “don’t put the subject in the centre”. You don’t have to obey it, but photos frequently look more interesting if they’re asymmetrical; try to imagine that your screen is divided into 3 columns, then frame the photo so your subject is somewhere in the left or right column, instead of the centre.
● Get down – or up. Sometimes a photo from head-height can look average, where a photo from down near the ground – or up on a chair (be careful!) can look far more interesting.
Keep it clean
Your phone camera lens is far more likely (than a regular camera) to meet greasy fingers, or get put down in a sticky puddle on the kitchen table when you’re using it to look up recipes online. It also doesn’t have a lens-cap or covering. Use a very soft cloth – like the sort people use to clean their glasses – to polish it gently every now and then.