12 tips for Smartphone Photography
by Keith Ratcliffe
Since upgrading my phone last year to an Iphone5s I have become aware of its potential to be a very effective camera. A top photographer was once asked ‘What is the best camera for landscape Photography?’ His answer was ‘The one you have with you at the time’. After that everywhere I went I took a camera – but recently I have realised that I always have my phone with me and after some encouraging results I now trust it for the impromptu pictures that arise in everyday life and I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the results.
However like every new camera you need to learn how to use it, so here are some of my own thoughts with a few from the internet that can help you get the best out of your smartphone camera.
- Learn its limitations. The lens is a fixed, short focal length device with very little control over exposure or shutter speed or ISO rating. It works well in good light but struggles with difficult situations like low light or into the light. Avoid these if possible. It is a decent sized sensor so image quality is not normally an issue unless you try and print very big pictures.
- Avoid using flash if possible (Assuming you can switch it off) but you must then brace the phone to reduce shake.
- Keep your lens clean. It sits unprotected in your pocket so gets dust on it and because it is so small a speck of dust looks a lot bigger than one on a full size camera. Keep a lens cloth with the phone and use it to gently clean the lens regularly.
- Brace yourself! Hold the camera firmly in both hands (Thumb & forefinger on the corners) and if necessary find an object to support or hold the phone against when pressing the shutter. It is better to use the physical buttons rather than the touch button if you have that option. On mine it is the volume control button that can be used to fire the shutter and that is close to my forefinger when held properly. Take several pictures of the same subject and choose the best one later when you view it on a computer screen.
- Orientation – be imaginative and rotate the camera to cover both Landscape (Long side on top & bottom) & Portrait (Short side on top & bottom) formats. Any angle in between can lead to more imaginative results but make sure it is a deliberate choice for the result you want.
- Composition is key to a good picture. Make sure you don’t cut off important elements of the picture and that you get the horizon straight (See point 10 also). It helps if you place key elements in a way that makes them attractive. A simple starting point is to put them close to a third of the way into the frame (In both directions – up & across) Look up the Rule of Thirds for a deeper explanation. Use lead in lines from the corners of a picture to draw the viewer into the main element. Use natural objects to frame subjects – e.g. through a doorway or a break in trees.
- Don’t use the zoom on the camera. It works by selecting the central area and reduces the quality of the image. If you want an object bigger then move in closer to it. If you can’t do that then take the picture and use processing software to zoom in – they are better at enlarging it than the camera’s software. See also point 10 – cropping.
- One feature that I have found useful is the ‘focus point touch’ which I think is common to many Smartphones. If when looking at a potential picture I touch the screen where I want the sharp focus to be it does just that. For many pictures the central area is OK to focus on but in some it really matters that an element not in the centre is sharp – this feature covers that eventuality.
- Understand the concept of ‘depth of field’. No simple camera lens can resolve both objects that are far away and those that are near to it in sharp focus. The range that it can cover is called depth of field. The camera automatically manages this according to a number things especially how much light there is. Lots of light allows greater depth of field. So choose the focus point to sit on your main subject and accept that the background and foreground will be blurred. This feature has its uses – think of a bird sat on a fence with trees behind it. If you focus on the bird the trees will be blurred and make the bird stand out more.
- Be prepared to process your pictures later on your computer. I use Photoshop Elements but there are several free programs that you can use that will do simple corrections – such as exposure, contrast, colour & horizon correction. One of the most useful processing features is cropping the image to make it the most effective shape to convey the image. Don’t be afraid to use it.
- Where possible save your pictures in the largest file size possible. This will retain the maximum amount of data and retain quality. Often there is an option for saving them smaller to make them easier to send & share. My phone has a main camera with an 8 Megapixel sensor and when it saves pictures as maximum size jpegs they are about 3 Mb files. It is perfectly possible with a good quality image to print that at A4 size without being aware of the pixels.
- Make prints of your pictures. Either at home through a printer or at a photolab like Boots or Supermarkets. Seeing a picture in print reveals all sorts of things you don’t see on the screen and it helps you review your work and improve it the next time you take a picture. Being constructively critical is a key to improvement.
Keith Ratcliffe 2017