It’s no secret that today’s cell phones are powerhouses when it comes to taking photos. With each new phone model comes increased camera capabilities. Phone cameras are even capable of producing photos with decent enough quality to be displayed on websites (although DSLR cameras still far surpass these).
However, there’s more to it than simply aiming and pressing a button. Cameras on phones have great capabilities on their own, but with user knowledge, they can be even more powerful. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Just a quick note: I’m going to be using photos taken on an iPhone 11 Pro as examples throughout this blog (photos of my cute kid, cause why not?) However, most phones are capable of the same and you can learn about your specific phone with a quick Google search.
Start with a clean lens
Our phones get tossed around all day, in and out of pockets and purses, on a variety of surfaces. Since phones don’t have a lens cap like traditional cameras, this leaves the lens vulnerable to smudges and dust. Before doing anything else with your phone, find a clean, soft item (I often use the inside of my shirt) and clean the lens as best you can. You will be shocked at what a difference this can make in the clarity of your image, especially if your lens was clouded up from months of use. Get in the habit of doing this each time you take your phone out to snap a photo and eventually it will become second nature.
The images below show this in action. They are unedited and the ONLY difference between the two is the lens being wiped down. The left is a smudged, dirty lens, and the right is after cleaning it off.
Pick a focus point and compose around it
It’s tempting to just aim your phone at an area and push the capture button. Some phones are even decent at choosing a focal point on their own and it may be tempting to just go with it. However, good images require thought and planning. When you are about to capture an image, think about the objects surrounding the subject. Will they be in the way? Would another angle save you a headache later on? Think about your goal in taking the image. Is it for social media? For a website hero image? These can call for different compositions. Don’t be afraid to move around in order to get the best composition for your shot. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but it’s still important to keep in mind with every image you take. When you feel ready to take the image, tap your screen where you want the focus to fall. On iPhones, the focus area is shown with a yellow box:
Zoom with your feet as much as possible
Yes, phones can zoom and crop. BUT. The reality is that as an object is zoomed in on, the quality of the image decreases. This is because as something is zoomed in on or cropped, the number of total pixels making up the image lessens. The less pixels in an image, the lower the quality. If you have the ability to do so, simply walking yourself and your phone closer to the subject will do wonders for the quality of the image. Also, pay attention to whether your phone has multiple lenses, as many newer ones do. Often, one of these will be an obvious best fit for the shot you are trying to accomplish.
In these two photos, the only difference is me using the zoom capability of the phone (left), and me bypassing that to instead get closer to the subject (right).
Control what you can in camera
There is only so much that post-production of an image can fix, and half the battle is getting the settings right in camera. While phones don’t have the extent of settings that DSLR cameras do, you can still do quite a bit. Phones allow you to control exposure (the brightness of an image) and aperture when in portrait mode (this is what makes the background of an image blurred).
In iPhones, the ability to control exposure is made easy. When you tap the screen for your focus point, simply drag up or down to adjust.
For aperture, you must be in portrait mode. Some older model phones do not allow for manual adjusting of the aperture, but newer ones do. In the images below, the left has a higher aperture (1.8) which produces more blur, and the right is a lower aperture (4) with less blur. And yes, that is typed correctly. The lower the f-stop (the number), the higher the aperture.
If you want to take control even more, phones do have the ability to shoot images in RAW (these file types allow for more manipulation in post-production). If going this route, there are paid apps out there that will extend the controls available for your phone camera.
Don’t be afraid to edit
Despite what some more old school photographers may say, editing isn’t “cheating.” It’s taking advantage of the tools available in todays’ world and using them to create the best outcome possible. Editing will allow you to get more consistency across images and establish a look and feel for your brand. Abode Lightroom Mobile is a free app and is incredibly powerful. Many editors today start with presets (similar to filters) as a base in order to get a feel they like and tweak the images from there. A quick Google search will turn up tons of presets, both free and paid. Play around and get a feel for what speaks to you. There are also tons of other free editing apps out there, such as Snapseed and VSCO.
The image on the left below is the original, and the right is a quick edit of bringing up the shadows and overall exposure, and cropping in.
In the end, taking quality photos with a phone comes down to practice and persistence. Take the time to learn how to work your specific phone’s camera, and the time invested will pay off in the images produced.
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