Professional photography is often associated with DSLRs and for good reason too. They allow for a much bigger variety of lenses, ISO settings, exposure settings and sometimes higher pixel count as well for better quality and better optimization for photos.
But here’s the thing. Not everyone can afford a DSLR. Nor do they need one when they have a great camera in their palm or pocket – the Smartphone camera. Sure they won’t match DSLR quality unless you own something worth over 80k but you don’t need it if all you’re doing is posting them on social media.
As a layman what can you do to make the most out of your smartphone’s camera? We take a look at 10 tips that can let you take the best snaps from your phone camera.
1. Get to Know Your Camera Settings
Ease of use is why most of the people prefer taking pictures from their smartphones. Just take your phone out, turn the camera on, point, tap and shoot. What they don’t know is the pictures can turn out a lot better if they took 5-10 seconds to customize their camera settings.
Tinker with the ISO to see what different lighting does to your photos. Some smartphone cameras often lock focus and exposure together.
This means that focusing on different areas will lead to different lighting of your photos. You may have noticed it when taking a picture in a scene where strong lighting and shadows are present.
White balance also changes the lighting in your photos. You can create warm or cold scenes depending on the white balance and the situation. Daylight and cloudy is ideal for outdoor scenes for example. You can also mix it up and create different moods by changing the white balance.
2. Resolution and Storage
It sounds simple but most people don’t tinker with their camera settings and don’t know that often, default camera apps on phones are not set to capture images in the highest possible resolution.
So always use the highest resolution to get the best looking pictures from your phone. This might lead to the images occupying more space due to the higher resolution. For that matter either use an SD card to store your images or use backup services like Dropbox to ensure you have enough space on your phone for other things.
3. Prefer Using the Rear Camera
You may argue that front cameras are included for selfies alone. But on most phones out there, the rear cameras are the real performers.
Yes, some Smartphones do come with front cameras specialized for selfie taking. However, this doesn’t change the fact that your rear camera is always going to produce better results for your photos.
The front camera often has a lower pixel count and a different lens than the back camera. This leads to poorer quality photos in general. Some phones include “beautification” features which make the colors in selfies look better though.
4. Lighting is Key
When shooting images with a smartphone camera you may not have the option of using different focal lenses and aperture sizes. This means you have limited control over lighting in your photos. To get more out of lighting in your photos, you may need to tinker with the white balance and the ISO.
Look for good lighting in scenes. Colored light with well defined shadows is what you should keep an eye out for. Evenly lit images with minimal shadows is a no no. Natural lighting is the best and flash, if possible, should be avoided since it’s almost always too harsh.
Unless you are limited to evenly lit scenes, prefer going for better lighting.
As an example, the cave in this picture illustrates the effect of lighting (or lack of it in this case):
5. Composition Knowledge Can Enhance your Photography
Composition is the very basics of photography. The basics can be learnt online, with concepts such as the rule of third, framing, scaling and leading lines proving very important for beginners and pros alike. Once you get those down you can experiment in numerous ways. You can choose not to follow them and instead change the angles and the lighting to create interesting effects.
The grid lines associated with the rule of thirds are available in camera settings in most smartphones nowadays. You are supposed to align individual subjects in the scene with the intersection points in the grid to balance out the scene.
Here is what it looks like on an example image with a lighthouse as the main subject in it:
6. Burst Mode and Panorama
You may have encountered a moving target which you needed to capture for your images. This may present a problem as these images may turn out blurry or the subject may be clipped out of the image.
There is an easy way to remedy that. Using burst mode on your smartphone’s camera causes it to take multiple photos in 2-3 seconds. You can then choose the best image and delete the others at your convenience. Capturing moving targets is a lot easier with burst mode because of this.
And then there’s the Panorama mode that’s perfect for huge landscapes that don’t fit in one picture. Huge landscapes often beg to be taken in in their entirety. You cannot enjoy the view from the top of a mountain if it misses crucial parts in the image.
Panorama mode helps with that by capturing images in line and stitching them together to create a large single picture with all the elements captured fully.
7. Finding the Right Moment
Landscape photos are beautiful to look at but often times they don’t look interesting enough to stand out from the hundreds of other landscape photos. Here is where finding the right moment is important.
Say you are well prepped for taking a picture. The lighting is perfect and the location also looks nice but nothing is going on. Your scene lacks a moment. Something needs to happen for it to actually become something more than a casual landscape photograph.
Capturing just the right moment with just the right conditions is what separates the good photographers from the great.
8. Working the Scene
How can you make the image look different with the same subjects and location? You may snap an image with the right conditions at the right moment. But when is just the right moment going to come by? Nobody can tell.
You will need to work the scene in these situations. Take the photos from different angles, from up close, from further away, change the composition etc. As Marc Flores on Techradar notes:
Taking a good photo means giving it some thought. Otherwise you’re just taking snapshots, and unless you get really lucky, your chances of getting a good photo that way are slim.
Take lots of photos, you can always delete them later on.
9. Third Party Camera Apps
Your phone’s default camera app may not have all the features required for optimizing photos. A third party camera app may allow you to use additional features to make the most out of your smartphone’s camera.
Apps like Open Camera (Android) and Camera+ (iOS) offer expanded functionality over your default camera app and can be handy to make use of the tips mentioned earlier for improving your photography skills.
Download Open Camera on Google Playstore here.
Download Camera+ on iTunes Appstore here.
There are more camera apps out there (each with their unique pros and cons). So keep trying them out until you find the one that fits your needs perfectly.
10. Remember. Practice Makes Perfect!
Starting out you may not get the right images or the right shots that you wanted. Don’t be discouraged if you end up snapping 20+ photos of a scene with none of them being good enough.
If photography is your passion, don’t let it die out with just a few hundred photos down the drain. Nobody can become Beethoven just a week or so after starting to play the piano.
Keep going because the more experience you gain, the better you can get with your snaps. One day you may find yourself taking award-winning photographs with just your trusty old smartphone camera.