As the saying goes; the best camera is the one you have with you and for most of us, 99% of the time that’s our smartphones. Smartphone cameras have come on leaps and bounds over recent years and now offer high resolution and advanced features that put some ‘regular’ cameras to shame.
Some photographers prefer to only shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but for those who are happy to whip out the phone and capture a frame, how can you improve on your results? Well, as it turns out, there’s quite a bit you can do to improve your chances of bagging a great image when shooting with your smartphone, so here’s some tips, tricks and suggestions on technique to take your photos to the next level…
One – Clean the lens and screen
Smartphones live in our bags and pockets so there’s every chance that when you pull the phone out to take an image that the lens may well be covered in fluff or dust. Before taking your photo, use a microfiber cloth to give the lens a quick clean as this will improve overall image quality and save you time editing out and dust speckles in Photoshop later. For good measure, also give your screen a wipe so you get a proper view on what you are lining up in front of the lens.
Two – Use the grid lines for composition
Like ‘regular’ cameras, virtually every smartphone benefits from grid lines that overlay the screen. These grid lines can be used to help you set up a balanced composition by following compositional formulas like the rule of thirds, which suggest placing important focal points on intersecting thirds and balancing landscapes by placing two thirds of the sky in the frame and leaving one third for the foreground (or vice versa). Using the grid lines will also help deliver level horizons so you can save time and pixels not needing to level the image in post processing.
Three – Balance exposure using sunglasses
Like normal cameras, smartphone sensors have a limited dynamic range and some scenes with strong lighting can cause problems. A quick solution if you don’t have dedicated accessories for your phone is to use a pair of sunglasses to balance the exposure. By placing one of the sunglasses lenses in front of your phone, it will act as a ND filter, reducing the amount of harsh light in the scene passing through onto the sensor. If you have sunglasses with a graduated tint, you can also use these as a makeshift ND grad filter to balance the difference in light between a bright sky and a dark foreground.
Four – Try out a phone tripod
If you are planning a trip and know you’ll be taking a lot of photos with your phone, then it could be worth investing in a little tripod built especially to house smartphones. Not only will this help you get level horizons, but it will also keep the phone steady if you end up using a longer shutter speed. Lastly, as an extra benefit, you can position the tripod, activate the self-timer mode and jump into the scene to capture a selfie.
Five – Embrace accessories
For those serious about their phone photography, there are a number of accessories that will certainly up your game. Brands like NiSi and Neewer make dedicated filters and lenses that will sit in front of the camera and either balance the exposure or change the lens’ effective focal length or magnification ratio, opening up new creative opportunities.
Six – Get creative with shooting angles
Today’s smartphones are slim and robust, enabling photographers to experiment with compositions and shooting angles. This allows shooters to get the camera low to the ground or high in the air for an unusual shooting angle – more waterproofed phones can even be dipped in the water to create a ‘half and half’ frame.
Seven – Set the focus point
Too many photographers rely on the smartphone’s autofocus to lock on to subjects, but the best practice is to establish a focus point by tapping on the screen to guide the camera to focus over a certain area. With the majority of smartphones, this technique also help the camera meter for the scene, too.
Eight – Don’t be afraid to go close
Today’s newer smartphones boast a minimum focusing distance of just a few cm, enabling photographers to get close up to their subjects and capture frame-filling photos of small objects. This is a great technique to try, not only because it enables you to showcase details in a new way, but also because close-up imagery provides a pleasing alternative to more traditional, wider-angle views.
Nine – Backup images to a cloud service
When you shoot with a regular camera, you then need to transfer your images via Wi-Fi or download them to your computer before you can share them, or back them up to a cloud based solution. Using a smartphone shortcuts this process, enabling photographers to either instantly share their images on platforms like Twitter or Instagram, or to upload them to a cloud-based software so that they are safe and sound, just in case the worst happens and you lose or damage your phone.
Ten – Polish pics in apps
Lastly, once you have taken your image, there’s no need to transfer it back to your computer as there are plenty of image-editing apps that will help you polish the pixels to perfection. The obvious contenders are Lightroom and Photoshop Express, which are versions of the popular software designed especially for smartphone photographers, but there are additional options such as Snapseed. All these apps let you make common adjustments to the image such as enhancing saturation, cropping and conversions to mono.