Tips for Better Cell Phone Photography

posted in: Tips and Tricks 0

Toady’s smart phones are becoming more and more high-end cameras that you can make a phone call with. Here are a few tips to get the most out of it:


#1: Clean That Thing:
Cell phones get stuck into pockets, purses, thrown onto car seats, etc. – and, unlike most camera, have no lens cap to keep the dust and crud off of the lens (you’re lucky if you have some sort of glass cover to keep the dust from getting deep into the little hole where the lens is located). A dusty lens will produce a fuzzy, soft-focus image with horrible detail. Clean the lens with some sort of non-scratchy material (lens tissue, etc. – A shirt tail qualifies as a “scratchy” material!)

#2: Get Into The Light:
Cell phones don’t perform all that well in low light situations – so try to shoot when you have good lighting. Notice, I didn’t say “bright” lighting – a sunny day at midday is going to give you plenty of light, but it’s also going to give you harsh shadows and washed out highlights – with little or no detail in either. It also tends to wash out color saturation, and, if you’re shooting people, usually results in a bunch of squinting. If you have no other choice, and you have harsh shadows on faces or whatever, consider turning your flash on to fill in the harsh shadows (although, cell phone flashes are fairly weak and may not help much unless you’re pretty close to your subject). Your better bet is to get into open shade (better yet, a bright, overcast day. This gives you plenty of light without washing out colors. If you’re just stuck with a sunny day, try to avoid midday light (the old rule of thumb is “never between 10 and 2). Directional light gives more impact and makes for a more dynamic image.

#3: Keep Steady:
A lot of blurry images are not blurry because of por focus (or even a dirty lens) – it’s caused by camera movement. Cell phones are light, therefor hard to hold steady. When possible, prop the phone against something steady (tree, fence post, pillar, your asleep uncle Ned, etc.) and gently press the release – don’t jab!

#4: To Zoom or Not To Zoom:
Depends – if your phone has an optical zoom, sure – just remember that the higher focal length is going to magnify camera movement as well, so be sure to hold it steady. If you’re stuck with a digital zoom – I would say no. A digital zoom doesn’t do anything other than cropping in on the image and enlarging it, You’re probably better off cropping in and enlarging with Photoshop (which does much better at resizing and adjusting resolution than the digital zoom in the phone).

#5: Up The Resolution:
If you’re taking a picture of it – it’s probably because you want a picture of it, so why settle for a tiny, low resolution image? Use the highest resolution setting your phone has to offer. If your phone has a Hi-Dynamic Range setting (HDR), use it. HDR takes a couple of photos right after another with slightly different exposure settings, then the camera software combines the exposures to give you the most detail in the shadows and highlights. When using HDR, take additional care to hold the phone as steady as possible. Yes, it eats up more space on your storage – but it’s better to buy a larger storage card than get stuck with a photo that you would have really liked if it had some more definition in the shadows or the highlights (and your phone will also store a “standard” image as well) . If your phone has different compression settings, use the setting that provides the LEAST amount of compression (for the same reasons – get the best quality you can!)

#6: Now – What Am I Taking A Picture Of?:
Sounds almost silly, but if you verbally identify exactly what it is you’re taking a picture of, you’ll get better pictures. When I say “identify”, I mean determine what it was about the scene that caught your attention, and include everything that supports that definition, and exclude everything that distracts from it. For example, I want a picture of a really cool looking room – OK, I grab my phone and “click”…then I look at the photo and YUK! That’s not what I saw!?! What made the room “really cool” to me was the fireplace. OK, now I have a shot of the really cool fireplace without the beanbags, coffee table with newspapers, kids toys, and that ratty looking dog(?) on the floor. It was the fireplace, not the room, that was cool.

#7: Bullseye…YUK!:
There are volumes written on composition, and most of them begin with “don’t center your subject” (Of course, rules were meant to be broken – there may be time when “dead centering” your subject is exactly what you want – but, for the most part, avoid it). Consider the “rule of thirds”, where you divide the image area into thirds vertically and horizontally. The intersecting points are good places to place your subject (giving your subject some breathing room and some implied motion)

#8: Get Close – But Not TOO Close:
The lens on most cell phones is a pretty wide angle one (meaning that your subjects seem to be further away). Great for landscapes where you want as much of the scene as possible – not too good for portrait photography. Unless you have an optical zoom, your only real option is to get in closer to your subject – BUT – if you get in TOO close, you’ll start noticing a good bit of distortion (the petite little nose on your beautiful subject starts looking like Jimmy Durante’s).

#9: Flash? What Flash?:
Keep in mind how you’re holding your phone, especially when using the flash. It’s real easy to have your finger over the flash and not know it until your photo of a lifetime doesn’t turn out!