Smartphone cameras are getting good enough for many of us to leave our point and shoot or DSLR at home. The iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X are all sporting 8MP cameras, while Nokia has raised the bar with its 8.7MP and Carl Zeiss lens shooter on its flagship Nokia Lumia 920.
So now that we’ve all got access to a decent everyday camera, it’s time to up our photography skills and begin taking some extraordinary images.
In this article, we cover ten tips for improving your smartphone photos, ensuring that every shot you snap is worthy of hanging on your bedroom wall, or simply posting to your Facebook wall.
This is an often quoted tip and for good reason. Composing your photographs using the rule of thirds makes for a more professional looking and aesthetically pleasing image.
Imagine that your photograph is split into three horizontal rows and three vertical columns, making a grid of nine equally sized blocks. The idea is to avoid positioning anything in the central column or row, so place buildings or people in the first or third column and the horizon in the top or bottom row.
Some smartphones will allow you to display this grid of nine blocks on your screen allowing your image composition to be much easier. You should be able to find this option in the camera’s options or settings.
The Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X and iPhone 5 all offer a mode on their cameras to take a series of photographs in one go. Simply hit the shoot button and the camera will capture a burst of shots in quick succession. This will allow you to select and keep the best image of the series – perfect for capturing moving images, or pets for example.
Instagram is probably the best-known app for adding after-effects, or filters, to your images and it’s by no means the only one. There are a number of free as well as paid apps to choose from, with Photoshop Express being one of the best. This gives you more control over how you edit your images as well as giving you more options for adding effects and filters to make them stand out over the somewhat overused styles on Instagram.
And avoid adding the fake blur if you can. The idea with adding a blur is to create a sense of depth of field within the image. However faking it generally creates a harsh circular transition, which ends up looking unnatural and not particularly professional.
The flash on smartphones doesn’t work like a flash on a digital camera. It uses LED lights and generally stays on for a longer period of time. This is why many of the photos you’ll see on Facebook from nights out have that washed out look to them. You’re better off finding a different source to provide light for your photographs than using the flash. However this isn’t the only reason why.
Smartphone cameras have a wider depth of field, which means they capture ambient light well, reducing the need for a flash in many cases. This means that you can ditch the flash and still capture enough light to create some beautiful and often moody looking shots.
If your smartphone allows it, take advantage of the opportunity to extend its memory by adding in an SD card. This will not only enable you to take more photographs but turn up the resolution settings to their maximum level, creating larger files, but capturing crisp detail.
Where do you keep your mobile phone? If you’re like me, it’ll be in your pocket most of the time, which isn’t always the cleanest of places. This can make the lens pretty grubby, which will impact on the quality of your photograph. Remember to clean it with an appropriate cloth – don’t use tissues, as they’ll leave shards of the paper on the lens.
It’s perhaps the easiest tip on here – in order to learn how to take a good photograph, study some others. Check out Flickr and see how the pros and amateurs frame and compose their images. Study how they frame and approach mundane scenes from a different, more imaginative angle. And then copy it!
Understanding how light works in photography and how you can use it to your advantage, is one of the most powerful things you can learn in order to improve your images. Paying attention to how the light hits objects, faces and casts shadows can transform an ordinary image into something of beauty.
If you’re outdoors, the best light is achieved in the morning and evening, around sunrise and sunset. The low sun creates rich and warm lighting, highlighting detail and casting superb shadows.
If you’re indoors, be careful of mixing artificial light with sunlight as these are different colours, which don’t mix well when in competition with each other. Either block the natural light or turn off lamps and indoor lights.
One thing to note is that if you do take a shot and the light isn’t quite right, try to understand why. Was it the time of day, or the position of light? Experimentation can bring about some great images and effects.
The zoom function on your mobile phone is terrible. Your image will have no clarity and won’t be worth sharing, publishing and definitely not for printing. Instead of the zoom, walk in and get a bit closer. The good thing about your smartphone’s camera is that its wider depth of field enables you to take close-up shots really well and captures detail superbly well.
Try taking two shots of the same image, one with your smartphone held in the horizontal position and the other in a portrait mode and decide which one looks best. You’ll see that they capture different amounts of detail, with one working better than the other. We’re often programmed to take photographs in one orientation, however by taking the same shot both horizontally and vertically, we begin to understand what works best for the composition you’re after.
Written by Damian Carvill