Phone a friend: better photography with your mobile

Most of us have a smartphone of some flavour (many apologies to those that haven’t) with a built-in camera at the back. The lens may look tiny but it is amazing what stunning photographs you can take. With a little imagination and a creative eye, you can produce images that capture a moment in time, a lasting memory of a cherished flower, family, friends, landscapes, pets, gardens… the choice is unlimited.

These cameras are mini-marvels that take care, automatically, of most of the technical bits you need to know when using a conventional camera. Exposures are generally spot-on, sharpness is well handled and colours are vibrant. That’s not to say that they are fool-proof and here I will attempt to give you a few simple tips on the things to avoid.

  1. Move closer
    Our eyes are perfect cameras and what looks like a stunning photo can be a huge disappointment when you take out your phone and look at the screen. When objects are at a distance the natural instinct is to zoom using your fingers and press the button. The problem is that phone cameras generally use a digital zoom that merely blows up the photo and can cause a horrible pixelation, or blockiness, that can be so disappointing when you look at the image later. So, where possible, get as close as you can to your subject. In that way you should end up with the best quality possible.
  2. Look at the light
    Unless you want your subject to be in silhouette or with a halo you should always aim to take an image with the sun (if it’s out) behind you and illuminating whatever, or whoever, you are photographing. This way you should be able to capture as much detail as the scene allows. You can experiment with exposure before you press the button by using your finger to tap the main part of the image you are interested in. This allows the camera to make its best attempt at a perfect exposure. Of course, you can experiment and discard any poor photographs.
  3. Steady as she goes
    Most phone cameras will try to choose the fastest shutter speed in any given situation to avoid blurring but as the natural light becomes dimmer this speed becomes longer in an attempt to give a good exposure. You can help things along by holding the phone as steady as possible and if you can, rest your arm or body against something to give yourself good balance.
  4. Don’t be too flash
    Flashes on phones can help when things get dark but unless you are fairly close to your subject the images produced can be disappointing. But don’t get too close as it can bleach out your subject and subdue natural colour. Again, it is best to experiment with a few images. Sometimes not using a flash can give a better result.

Most phones come with basic photo-editing apps built in. I have been impressed with the latest version for the iPhone but my app of choice is Snapseed, and if you are on an Android, which does everything better and has lots more features. And to top it all, it’s free!

When you launch the app there is the option to open your image from your phone’s photo library (open from device) or a live photo straight from the camera. Here we look at the first option.

Your first option is a selection of ‘looks’ with thumbnails below the photo. These are simple enhancements, including black and white) and you can click through to see if there is one that suits.

The ‘tools’ option gives you a whole selection of adjustments. To begin with, the ‘tune image’ section will give you some simple options that will enhance your photo eg contrast, brightness, saturation, shadow (brings out detail in dark areas), ambience etc

Experiment with these first. Simply swiping your finger left or right on the image will increase or decrease the effect. But if you want more dramatic enhancements instantly you should choose the ‘HDR scape’ or ‘Drama’ options.

Here are some before and after examples using either or both (I don’t want to go into too much detail here how they all work but again swiping left or right will increase or decrease the effects). It’s a matter of trying and deciding if the changes are what you are looking for (you can always undo a change by clicking the ‘X’ button at the bottom left).

Other useful options are the ‘cropping’, ‘rotate’ and ‘black and white’ tools. Their effects should be self-explanatory but you should again experiment with them.

Another useful tool is the ‘perspective’ which allows you to straighten buildings and objects by pulling the image in any direction. Be careful using it with people or animals, however, as you can make them look very weird!

Saving your image

Once you are happy with your masterpiece, press the ‘Export’ option at the bottom right. If you ‘Save’ the new image it will overwrite the original. But if you want to save the image as a copy, retaining the old one for reference, choose the ‘save a copy’ option. The new image will then be saved to your photo gallery.

This is a very simplified run-through of this powerful app and the more you use and experiment with it, the more rewarding you should find it. As you can see there are lots of options, some easy to use, others a bit more obscure but it’s still worth trying them – and you can always undo anything you’ve done

I hope you will find some of this information useful and inspire you to use your phone camera more. Have fun and get creative!

If you do have any questions you can always email me here >>>  

Chris Davalle