Phone Camera Photography

1 Oct

Taking Photographs with Your Phone

Many times we find ourselves in a situation where we have a great photo opportunity, but the only camera we have is the one on our phone. Here are a few tips on what you can do to maximize your chances of getting a good photograph.

First, it’s important to understand that a phone camera is NEVER going to yield the sharp, high-resolution image that a DSLR will. (At least not currently, possibly in the future.) The sensor in the phone is not as big as the sensor in the DSLR camera. Given the size of a cell phone, it is not physically possible.

The quality of the image from a particular device is based on several things: lens quality, sensor technology, and image sensor size.

The sensor is made up of millions of light-sensitive spots or cavities called photosites. These record information that is seen through the lens. More photosites mean more information/detail. So a physically larger sensor has more photosites, and therefore can record more detail.

Megapixels are a measurement of the image size output by the device, not how much detail is captured or the dynamic range of the device. The sensor size is a more important factor than the megapixel count. (For more of an explanation of this, see this post.)

Here are a few things to remember to get the best photo possible with your phone.

  • Keep the phone steady; be especially aware of this when you press the shutter button, wherever that is. (On iPhones, you can use the volume increase or decrease button as a shutter button. Another option is to use the microphone volume control on your earphones as a “remote” trigger to prevent movement of the phone which can be caused by pressing the shutter button on the phone.)
  • Set your phone for the highest photo resolution possible. This is really important!
  • Forget the filters.
  • Don’t center the subject; rule of thirds – not centering the subject creates more interest.
  • Turn off the flash on your phone.
  • Pay attention to focus and exposure for the phone camera – tapping your finger on the screen in the right place (where you want the focus to be) will set the focus and exposure.
  • Not everything needs to be shared; if the photo is bad, pixelated, too dark, etc. keep it; share your good photos.
  • Use a panorama feature or app for big/wide images.
  • Turn the phone if it makes sense; in other words, use vertical or horizontal orientation based on what works for the image you are capturing.
  • When you frame the image, before you press the shutter button, look around the edges of the shot. Do you have any funky things in the corners? Does the subject have something growing out of his head? In other words, do you need to reframe?
  • Don’t be afraid to get in close. Zoom with your feet, not the phone. Digital zoom degrades the quality of the image.
  • Fill the whole frame with your subject.
  • Don’t shoot toward glass unless you mean to get a reflection.
  • Think about where the light source is in relation to your subject. If you shoot toward the light source, you will likely get silhouettes, and possibly lens flare, not good images.
  • Lighting is a very important factor, especially for cell phone cameras. Consider:
    • the smaller sensors in phones will capture a well-lit subject much better than a dark one;
    • consider reframing the subject in a way to take better advantage of the available light;
    • move a lamp, if it’s possible;
    • use headlights to illuminate a subject;
    • natural light (i.e., sunlight) offers the best possibilities.
  • Consider downloading a camera app for your phone. Many of the apps give you more control over the phone camera than the camera app that comes with the phone.

Here are several apps to consider.

  • Camera+
  • ProCamera
  • VSCOcam
  • Instagram – this app produces good photos, without the filters. Adjust the settings to save your original photos, and they will be saved to your camera roll.

Finally, no matter what app you chose, keep the phone steady, and take advantage of available light.


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