A Beginner's Guide to Cell Phone Photography
Mobile phone capabilities continue to expand as time goes on. Smartphone innovation in the 21st century is projected to grow faster, stronger, and more capable than ever. With a focus on portability, imaging and camera technology, and screen innovation, it is no wonder that smartphones are replacing cameras. This is especially poignant considering that digital camera sales have dropped 87% since 2010. As the famous photographer Chase Jarvis once said: “the best camera is the one you have with you.” To use your best camera to the best of your ability, consider the following tips listed in this guide.
Choosing the Best Phone for Photography
There are a few features to look for if you are purchasing a smartphone for photography.
Bright Aperture. Wider lens apertures can help contribute to image quality, as well as improve focus on the subject of the photo.
Large Screen. Using a phone as a camera generally means that the screen will be used as the viewfinder. A larger screen with a higher resolution will help to create pictures that look crisp and sharp.
Megapixels and micron/um pixels. The higher amount of mega and micron pixels improves image quality.
Stabilization. Image stabilization helps to reduce the effect of movements from your hand on your photo or video.
Lens type. Some phones may have multiple lenses, but it is important to consider the type of lens on your phone. The lens may have a prime — a fixed focal length — only one focal length that can produce wider shots. Some lenses have zoom capabilities — various focal lengths — that can adjust to closer shots.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) and ISO control. The dynamic range of shadows to highlights can improve photo quality showcasing movement, landscapes, outdoor portraits, or backlit subjects. ISO control can help improve the way your phone takes pictures in various light.
RAW and camera control features. RAW (as opposed to JPEG) files tend to be much larger and may take up more space. However, the larger file allows for more control of image quality by adjustment of ISO, white balance, blurred backgrounds, and various filters.
Video, high-speed, and slow-motion. Video capabilities and the various creative effects of frame rates can make creating footage a fun and exploratory experience.
Other features that are not directly related to capturing an image but are equally important are battery life, water resistance, and memory. Features may also include extra products offered by the phone service carrier, such as access to the cloud for storage, compatible photography accessories, and photo and editing applications.
Look for Quality Lighting
Natural light is nearly impossible to beat in mobile phone photography. Look for natural light sources and arrange your subject so that the natural light acts as a highlight. If you are taking a photo with artificial light, play with the angle, perspective, or location of your subject. Consider having the subject face the light to be front-lit, or have them stand next to the light source to be side lit. Be thoughtful of backlighting as the photo will not capture much detail of the subject or person. Oftentimes a flash can make a photo look overexposed, so use flash wisely, and only in well-lit areas where the flash has a chance to accentuate the subject.
Avoid Using Zoom
Many phones come with digital zoom options. Digital zoom crops the image to a smaller size which can result in a loss of resolution, making your images seem unfocused or blurry. Get as close to the subject as possible and crop the image later while editing the photo.
Focus the Image
Many phones come with focus features that allow you to tap the screen and select where the camera should be focusing on the image. While autofocus generally does a good job, manually focusing the image can enhance the subject you are trying to capture against the background of the image.
Alongside the importance of manually focusing a photo on the subject, it is also important to adjust the exposure which alters the brightness of the photo to provide more control of the image. Many phone cameras adjust the brightness of a photo automatically, but controlling the exposure can help you to highlight the subject of your image or make certain colors pop.
Edit Using Third-Party Apps
Advanced editing tools that were once relegated to desktops are now available on smartphone devices. Though a mobile phone may have a smaller screen and less processing power, there are myriad apps available for smartphone photography, all with unique features. Features may include filters and presets, cropping, redeye reduction, borders, effects, light, color, tone, contrast, fade, details, and adjusting perspective or geometry.
Use the Rules of Composition
There are many tips for taking a good photo, how to adjust for light, exposure, and focusing on the subject. However, the quality of a smartphone photo will depend heavily on its composition and visual appeal. Some of these aspects can be edited later on, but some will require you to compose the photo as you take it.
1. Fill the frame. When taking portraits or photos of patterns, fill the frame with the intended subject so as not to lose the focus amidst a busy background. This can be done when taking the actual photo, but can also be done with cropping during the editing phase.
2. Don’t cut off or crop out part of the image. When taking mobile photographs be cautious of unintentionally cutting or cropping out pieces of the subject such as part of the subjects head, or limbs. There may be times when this rule can be ignored, but the cropped section tends to draw the eye away from the subject and focuses on the missing piece.
3. Use the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds divides the photo composition into nine equal sections with a set of vertical and a set of horizontal lines. The sections act as a grid where the important elements of the composition should be centered on the lines, or at one of the points where the lines meet.
4. Find natural frames, lead-in lines, or shapes. Natural frames can be arches, branches, or arms, that draw the eye to the subject of the photo, giving it depth and context. Using natural frames, or lines in images can help the eye travel along with the photo or scene.
5. Look for patterns or symmetry. Look for patterns or symmetry that help guide the eye to a focal point. This can be done with actual patterns or shapes in the landscape that naturally guide the eye. Try different angles or perspectives to see how it changes the composition or feeling of the shot.
6. Cater to the focus on your subject. A photo with too many focal points may hide the interesting features of the subject. In the same vein, it is important to consider the background of your photo. A busy or obtrusive background can pull away from the interest of the subject of your photo.
7. Capture with a fore, middle, and background. Look for opportunities for compositional elements that create depth. This may include utilizing colors or layers of associating colors, arranging a composition of items within range from the lens, or shooting a landscape that has interesting elements in the foreground as well as in the distant background.
Try on different techniques and practice with them regularly. Look for creative exercises such as shooting only in black and white, shooting the same object ten times from different angles, only using manual mode, and shooting photos that focus on patterns, lines, or a color. Get familiar with finding quality light, or arranging your photos with the rule of thirds, try to take three composed photos a day. If the best camera is the one you have with you, practice learning the ins and outs of mobile photography.
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