Mobile Photography is one of those skills you can learn all by yourself. It’s easy, fun and anybody should be able to shoot decent photos on a capable mobile device. We have a comprehensive guide on how to shoot on your mobile device like a pro, but this guide takes it further.
Some Android devices and iOS camera apps come with a Manual / Professional mode in the camera settings, but most people have no idea how this works. Each setting determines how your image comes out, and learning how to use them can further improve your mobile photography skills. Even if your default camera app doesn’t come with a professional mode that lets you tweak the camera settings like a pro, there are lots of applications around that let you do this.
The most common manual settings found include:
- Shutter speed
- White balance
- Exposure Value
- Manual Focus
Basically, ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor is to incoming light. A higher ISO value means more sensitivity to light. You may want to increase the ISO when shooting at night or in low light conditions as this makes the image brighter. However, it should be noted that increasing the ISO in low light conditions will increase noise in the image.
The image below was taken at ISO-100 and shutter speed 1/3 sec.
Here’s the same image taken at ISO-500 and shutter speed 1/4 sec. The image appears brighter, and noise is slightly noticeable.
If your camera app lets you see the changes in real time while adjusting this value, you should see that the image gets brighter or darker while changing the value.
This is another important setting you should learn how to use. To take a photo, the shutter needs to open and close. The time it takes for this to happen is the shutter speed and in most cases, it happens within the fraction of a second. The longer the shutter stays open, thee higher the chance of ending up with a blurry image.
The first image directly below was taken with shutter speed set to 1/33s, ISO-50. The shutter closed rather slowly and that explains the blurry fan blades.
Here’s another image of the spinning fan with shutter speed set to 1/750s and ISO-1ooo. The blades appear less blurry here because the shutter speed was pretty fast.
Tweaking the shutter speed has it’s advantages though. If you’re shooting a still landscape at night and you have a tripod to make the camera steady, decreasing the ISO to the lowest minimum value and increasing the shutter speed lets light hit the sensor for a much longer time.
In the first image, the sensor isn’t so sensitive to light with the low ISO value, but the longer shutter speed compensates for this.
A longer shutter speed is not recommended for moving objects as demonstrated above though, unless you intentionally want to create a motion blur.
White Balance (WB)
If your default camera often makes your photo look unnatural, too warm or too cool, adjusting the white balance should make it better. Usually measured in Kelvin (K), adjusting the white balance on a smartphone camera affects the overall color (color balance) of your image. If the image appears too warm (yellowish) or too cold (bluish), adjusting the WB slider should give you an image closer to the natural look.
You camera has an auto mode that works fine, but it gets the color temperature wrong at times. There are preset values (shade, cloudy, daylight, fluorescent, incandescent etc.), and a manual mode with a slider that lets you see the changes in real-time should be present.
Exposure Value (EV)
Exposure Value (EV) determines how bright or dark your image is. In the simplest terms, this adjusts the brightness and contrast of your image. On regular cameras, EV is determined by the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Since the aperture on a smartphone camera is fixed, EV will directly affect the ISO (and possibly shutter speed).
Auto focus works great in most cases and you can easily tap to focus, but this sometimes affects the EV. A manual focus slider lets you focus on the subject without necessarily tapping the screen.
If you’re into shooting small objects, this mode lets you capture more details while creating a shallow depth of field that makes your image look professional. More of that here.
How to get better
There’s only one way to master these settings: You need to shoot everything and learn to adjust the values. Constant practice will let you master these manual settings and shoot like a professional with just your smartphone.