Camera Phones: Tips & Tricks
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Words: Simon Paterson & Michael South
Images: Michael South & Simon Paterson
Having asked Michael for some tips and tricks when taking photos on my smart phone, I feel my photography has improved no end. Michael offered the following tips to help take better pictures on our phones.
An iPhone or Canon DSLR. Obviously there's a big difference between them, firstly you can't fit a Canon in your pocket or use it to call your mates to go to the pub. Neither can you take a cracking photograph on your phone from long distance fully zoomed in of, say, a wild animal, in full crystal clear quality. So, what can you use a camera phone for then?
Most of us have one, even my mum. Everyone has a reasonable camera lens on it and judging by social media it looks like most people use them to take selfies or pictures of their food! But, if you want to point your phone at something other than your beans on toast, what should you know?
Well here are my top tips:
It sounds obvious but clean your lens. It takes seconds but there's nothing worse than taking a photo of something and when you're back home looking at it and the photo is blurred with a dirty/greasy lens. We have all done it. So clean your phone's lens when you take it out of your pocket before you start.
A solid steady base. Hold the phone as still as can be. This is as true for smartphones as with any camera. Keeping it steady will give you much sharper, clearer photos. Don't become a lazy shooter and rely on the phone's image stabliser that's built in, being stable is often the best thing you can do. Don't rush, take your time.
Light. Once you've selected your subject matter, judge the light. Light is to photography what paint is to the painter, it's what makes the photo. Be it the sun or the light bulb above your head, light matters, so be aware of it (and its effects), as without it you wouldn't have a photograph. Before I take any photograph, be it at a wedding or the footy, I always assess the light first. With my Canon camera, I can adjust the shutter speed or the aperture to get the perfect amount of light required for the shot. But with the smartphone, it's all automatically done for you, but you can, on some phones, use the manual mode to change things and do it yourself, more on this later. Fundamentally, you need to assess where the shadows will fall, you want to avoid your subject's face, for example, being dark and fully in the shadows. Make sure your person/object is well lit.
Zoom lenses, digital v optical. If you're far away from your subject, get closer. Use your feet, not your camera's digital zoom. Again don't be lazy. The closer you can be, the better the quality of image you will get. Up close a camera phone can be very good. To most people who don't use photography gear, they all assume what they see in the smooth adverts for the latest top notch smartphone is true, that the biggest megapixel camera is the best or the furthest zoom lens is king. Not true. Don't fall for all that digital zoom nonsense. Optical zoom is a zillion times better. Obviously smartphones can't have a 600mm lens on it so they use digital zoom… which isn't as good. And this is my biggest bug bear with camera phones. If zooming in is what you want, use a DSLR camera.
Composition. This for me is where I believe photography is personal and is artistic. What makes a great photo? There's many different ways to answer this... usually with wine and a good debate is best. But I don't have enough words here, so I'll be brief. You can take candid shots; such as street photography. The camera phone is perfect for this as it's a small camera. You can play with reflections like puddles or windows. You can look for symmetry, such as faces. You can look for repetitive patterns like street lights or trees. You can use natural light; the bright midday sun or the sunrise or sunset.
Manual mode. Step it up to be a pro? Try and use the camera phone as a proper camera. Modern smartphones nowadays allow you to step up to control all or some functions found on a Canon camera. You can alter the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to tweak your photos. Set your camera app's exposure manually and have a play. The only way to learn is to make mistakes! But once you have taken your shots, edit them with the apps.
Photo editing apps. Once you've taken your snaps you have the advantage of having photography apps already at your fingertips by downloading them straight to your phone. I use Photoshop and Lightroom on my laptop for the important stuff which I'm paid to shoot but you can also use these and others to edit your pics, just search the app stores, there's plenty to choose from.
So there we have it, have fun with your phone's camera. And remember, the best camera in the world is the one in your hand, regardless of the price.