Smartphones cameras have gone from producing ugly, blurry images to images that can be mistaken for DSLR shots. OEMs too understand what consumers want and smartphone cameras keep getting better. It doesn’t take much to learn the mobile photography, you can just pick up a phone and start shooting but sometimes, there are certain things to keep in mind in order to achieve the best results.
This post should cover the basics you need to know to take great pictures with your mobile device and perhaps in another article, we will take a look at how to use the manual / professional mode available on certain smartphone cameras like Asus Zenfone Selfie, LG G4 and Infinix Zero 3.
Mobile photography is fun. For blog posts, I shoot almost every photo used on articles here with mobile phones. A look into our review archive should reveal some great shots of review devices. Well, to maximize your smartphone camera and take beautiful pictures, the tips highlighted below should go a long way in improving your mobile photography skills.
Note: Sample photos used in this article are all pictures I personally took with different devices ranging from my first touchscreen smartphone, an iPhone 3G to some of the devices I currently own.
- iPhone 3G
- iPhone 3GS
- Samsung Galaxy S2
- iPhone 4S
- Infinix Zero 3
- Xiaomi Redmi 2
- Tecno Phantom 5
- Asus Zenfone Selfie
- Huawei Honor 6 Plus
None of the pictures are edited (except the one used in demonstrating image improvement with filter).
- 1 1. Never, ever zoom
- 2 2. Try as much as possible to use natural light
- 3 3. Avoid LED flash when you can
- 4 4. Be still, use both hands, elbows by the side or get a tripod
- 5 5. Use selective focus instead of autofocus
- 6 6. Perspective matters, take shots from different angles
- 7 7. Clean the lens before taking picture
- 8 8. Engage HDR when necessary
- 9 9. The camera shouldn’t face the light source
- 10 10. Portrait mode? Seriously?
- 11 11. Try to shoot everything!
- 12 13. Enhance bad pictures with filters
- 13 ‘All phones are not born equal’
1. Never, ever zoom
You’re trying to take picture from a distance and the next thing you do is zoom. This is wrong and trust me, it ruins great shots. Even if you’re using a phone with a 20MP camera sensor, zooming in to your focus object is still going to ruin your photo.
Getting closer to the object as much as you can is the preferable option. If that’s impossible, take the picture as it is and crop.
Instead of zooming on the bus before taking the shot, cropping it out gives a result zooming probably wouldn’t have achieved.
2. Try as much as possible to use natural light
Don’t get me wrong, you can take decent pictures indoors but try as much as you can to use natural light when you can.
Even if you’re indoor, allowing light from the window or doorway fall on your focus object produce better results than relying on the fluorescent or incandescent light in the room. Again, you can’t always have access to natural light. However, shooting in a well lit room at the right position with proper camera settings will still produce stunning images.
3. Avoid LED flash when you can
Although almost every phone is now equipped with LED flash, it’s one of those features I consider overrated on smartphones. I hardly use it as it sometimes produces overexposed images. I’ve come to realize that instead of using LED flash, using low-light mode or night mode produce better results. Sometimes, even using the regular, normal mode does the trick.
Nevertheless, there are cases where LED flash has to be engaged. For instance, if it’s too dark to use the low light mode or if your smartphone camera sucks at low light photography.
You just have to know when to use it and when not to.
4. Be still, use both hands, elbows by the side or get a tripod
Some have steady hands and some just don’t. Certain smartphones in the market now come equipped with optical image stabilization but your pictures are still going to end up bad if you’ve got really shaky hands.
A trick I’ve learned to keep my hands stable is keeping my elbows to the sides. Doesn’t work for everyone but it’s worth a try. For some serious photography work with your mobile phone, getting a tripod should help.
5. Use selective focus instead of autofocus
Smartphone vendors take pride in this particular autofocus feature and in a way, it’s cool. When taking pictures however, I don’t let the camera automatically do all the focusing work. You may need to focus on the main object to get the best shot.
If you camera has a dual camera setup, you may even get more creative and produce stunning results. The image below was taken with Huawei Honor 6 Plus in wide aperture mode.
Tap the main object to focus, this gives better looking shots.
6. Perspective matters, take shots from different angles
There are hundreds of angles from which you can take a single shot and simply changing perspectives can make your picture look professional. Move around, take different shots from different angles and compare results.
7. Clean the lens before taking picture
This is a basic rule that must be strictly followed. Your fingerprints are bound to stick to the camera lens and even if you have the greatest smartphone camera in the world, you may end up with low quality images.
8. Engage HDR when necessary
Only few smartphone users ever use this mode and it’s present in most smartphones in the market right now. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging and it improves your images. This is how it works: The camera takes three different images at different exposures and automatically combines these three images, highlighting the best parts of each image in the resulting one.
The picture below was taken in normal mode:
And the other image below was taken at the same position with HDR mode enabled:
A close look at these two images should show that the image taken with HDR enabled shows more details than the first. The sky is less dark and the flowers on left are a bit more colorful. There are some many differences in both images if you take some time to study them.
Again, HDR mode isn’t always great. It doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to shoot a silhouette. Also, if you’re dealing with vivid colors with good lighting, HDR mode might wash out the colors.
9. The camera shouldn’t face the light source
This is also one of the basic rules of photography you should always remember. When taking a photo, the object or subject must be facing the light source and you, the photographer, should have your back to the light source. The only time to break this rule is when you’re shooting a silhouette.
If you’re also shooting a landscape and you know exactly what you’re doing, facing the light source is acceptable. But if you’re taking a picture such as this and you need to show every detail, you should have the sun behind you.
10. Portrait mode? Seriously?
Well, I’m a firm believer that photos look better in landscape mode and I guess it’s just standard. Groupies look better in landscape mode and when you’re shooting a landscape, you get to cover more areas. The image below would’ve been a great shot if not for the portrait mode used.
Unless you’re taking a selfie, I see no reason to use portrait mode.
11. Try to shoot everything!
This is probably the best to way to learn. You need to stop having just faces in your photo gallery. Start shooting everything. You see a lizard on the fence, try to see if you can get a picture of it. Get close to a flower, focus on the insect and shoot. This is the best way to learn. Take for instance, I took this picture below in broad daylight:
I went back to the same spot that night just to capture the image again.
Start taking random pictures and you will start gaining confidence and actually get better. I learned this way.
And this below is from my archive. It was shot years ago with an iPhone 3GS.
As said earlier, don’t just shoot people, shoot everything. Both daylight shots and night pictures can be beautiful if done right.
13. Enhance bad pictures with filters
Let’s face it, pictures don’t always come out right. Pictures look blurry sometimes and a very bad overexposure may render you photo useless. In cases like this, be artistic and apply filters. This makes even ugly images beautiful sometimes.
‘All phones are not born equal’
If you really love taking photos on mobile, you need to invest on a decent smartphone. Apart from the huge pixel resolutions OEMs try to use to fool consumers, there are other things to look out for when buying a phone for photography. Low-end phones will always be low-end phones. Some mid-range devices are capable of taking great shots but as always, you still get what you paid for.
You shouldn’t compare a photo taken with a ₦20,000 phone with another picture taken using a ₦80,000 device. The difference is always there and the gap will always be wide.
The point is that if your smartphone camera actually sucks, not all these tips are going to work for you.