Camera phones can take good photos but they can take better ones if you follow a few simple rules. A few years ago a big selling point for mobile phone manufacturers was the amount of megapixels the camera could squeeze in, although it seems these days it’s all about the apps. I’ve been playing with my new Nokia N8 and have captured some decent photos so far but there’s always room for improvement.
There will always be a debate over phone camera quality compared to normal camera quality, the purpose of this post is give you some handy tips on how to improve pictures taken with your phone camera.
Photography purists may argue that phone cameras are for amateurs, and whilst there is some truth to that it should be obvious that even the lowest quality camera can take a good snap if the person behind the lens knows what they are doing. After all many historical photos have been taken over the years where camera technology was nothing like it is today.
It isn’t always possible to remember or carry your normal camera with you at all times, or maybe you’ve forgotten it and want to take a photo – your phone is more likely to be in your pocket or bag so make the best of it.
Keep reading for my Top 10 Tips on how to take better photos with your camera phone.
1. Don’t Zoom.
Unlike normal cameras that have an optical zoom, the majority of camera phones use a digital zoom which means you won’t be moving the lens any close to the object but instead expanding the pixels and reducing the quality. If you can you should physically move closer to the subject and fill up the frame more.
As you can see from the image below the digital zoom merely expands the pixels and gives a poor quality image. Camera phones don’t usually have optical zoom so restrain yourself from using digital zoom wherever possible.
Remember to use the highest resolution on your camera as this will provide you with clearer photos. This does mean the file size of the photo will be bigger and take longer to text/email/post on a website but it will be a better shot. It won’t always be obvious on your phone’s screen that the photo quality is any better but it will look different when viewed on a larger screen via your PC.
Try it out. Take 2 photos of the same subject using the highest and lowest resolution, copy them to your PC or get them printed out, and you’ll see the difference.
3. Get up close & personal.
As mentioned above you should try to get close to your subject if it’s possible. A common mistake with using camera phones is that the subject is a tiny dot set against a vast pointless background. Fill your viewfinder with the subject not the surrounding junk, unless of course you’re taking a shot of landscape for example.
Many camera phones come with a macro ability. If you’re trying to capture something close up, a butterfly for example, switch the macro feature on. Basically this should let you capture that nearby subject with better detail, usually within a few feet.
Many camera phones have poor flash capabilities, often just an LED bulb that doesn’t put out much light. It can be said that camera phones usually only take good photos in optimum conditions, daylight or a well lit room. You don’t need a range of expensive lighting rigs like you see being used by professional photographers. Use what’s available to you, overhead lights, table lamps, torches, candles etc.
Lighting isn’t always at the forefront of your mind when taking a photo with your camera phone, most of you probably whip out your phone and snap a few shots before the moment passes. Hey, I’ve been there myself, out and about with friends or family and I want to capture a special moment, no time to think, just click away before it’s gone. But if you have time to compose your shot it doesn’t take much time to think about lighting.
Remember that adding artificial light can impact on the colour of your photo so it’s worth playing with the white balance to get the best shot. Think about how overhead lighting casts shadows down then try a table lamp or even a torch to create deep shadows. Take several shots using different lights and remember what looks better and why.
5. Keep still.
Many camera phones suffer greatly from shutter lag – those few seconds between when you press the button and when the camera actually captures the image. This delay is improving all the time but it’s still important that you remain as still as possible when you press the button.
Wait until the image appears on the screen before you move. This is especially important when taking shots in low light conditions where the camera needs more time to absorb the information. I’ve taken plenty of photos that have turned out to be a mass of blurry nonsense because I moved the phone away the moment I press the button.
Try resting your camera phone on something solid or use both hands to keep it steady.
6. Don’t trash photos from your phone.
What you see on your camera phone’s screen isn’t the same as looking at it on your PC’s screen. Never delete what you think are junk photos until you have had a chance to copy them to your PC, you might find that what you thought was garbage on your phone was an amazing shot when viewed on your larger screen.
Mistakes like blurred shots or dashing lights can look poor on your camera phone but may look artistic or abstract on your PC.
7. Edit photos later.
Following on from Tip 6 and looking at your photos on your PC you will have greater scope for editing your shots. There’s plenty of software for editing your photos both paid and free. Online photo and image editing utilities are abundant like:
Some camera phones come with their own inbuilt editing and effects apps and can vary from basic to full editing suites, like Photoshops iPhone App. But you will get better results and more control if you edit your photos on your PC.
Tip: After you have edited your photo make sure you save it with a different file name. That way you can always refer back to the original photo.
8. Experiment & take multiple shots.
Digital photography has swept aside the need to make sure every shot counts. You can snap away until your memory is full without worrying about the cost of a film – remember them? Experiment with different angles, lighting, compositions and colours. Take the same shot many times and compare them on your PC later.
Because of their portability, camera phones are easy to position in many different ways. Recently I took some pictures of my niece who was moving around a lot. I selected the multiple shot feature on my phone so when I pressed the button it capture 4 pictures one after the other. The size of the photo was reduced to compensate for the rapid shutter response but photo 3 was the best of the bunch!
9. Rule of Thirds
This rules means breaking down your intended subject into thirds, both horizontally and vertically so you have 9 boxes on your screen. In fact many camera phones have a feature called “grid” or “box” which places a grid on the screen as a guide for this practice, though it doesn’t mean the actual grid will appear in your photos.
The grid lets you identify the main parts of the subject that you should consider putting the points of interest on as you frame your subject.
It’s believed that if you put points of interest on the intersections of the grid you photo will be more balanced. Someone looking at your photo will interact with it easier. Some studies have proved that people’s eyes don’t look straight at the centre but roam around the photo to the intersections they perceive in their mind. The rule of thirds is a good way of helping the viewer of enjoying the photo more.
10. Keep your lens clean.
This might seem like a strange thing to point out but remember that your camera phone doesn’t have a lens cap like a normal camera. You probably carry your camera phone in your pocket or bag along with whatever other bits of miscellaneous junk that travels with you. The lens can be scratched or covered in lint, dirt, dust, chocolate and any other general goop that a lens cap can keep at bay.
Before you press that button take a quick look at the lens. Because it is primarily a phone finger prints can be smudged over the lens thus ruining what could have been a great photo.
Remember your camera phone has its limitations.
Phones are communication devices with cameras attached to them not cameras with phones added on. Your phone won’t have the same capabilities as a normal phone (or at least not the same amount) so it’s worth getting to know what your camera phone can and can’t do.
Don’t expect to capture decent images of a live band at night for example. Most camera phones like daylight although as technology improves things like night shots and capturing a fast moving subject are becoming easier to do with a camera phone.
The best thing to do is keep snapping away and experimenting.