For better or worse, cell phone photography is here to stay. Cell phones are always with us and that makes a cell phone camera the first choice for taking pictures by a lot of folks. Not because anyone really thinks they are better than full cameras but because they are convenient. Like any change in photography, this isn’t without controversy. Debates about whether anyone “serious” about photography can use a point and shoot camera are always around and now cruel and abusive comments fly when anyone asks for tips on taking better cell phone photos.
Well, you guys know I can’t stand the “my way or the highway” jerks so here are some tips to help you take great cell phone photos. Whether you have the latest iPhone or just a basic cell phone with a bare bones camera, these tips will get you started taking better pics.
1. Learn the Controls
Like any camera, you need to know how to control the camera phone first before you can take great photos. Some camera phones allow you to do nothing more than turn the flash on and off while others give you some zoom and focus point control. Take a minute to look in your camera manual and learn what your camera phone is capable of doing.
2. Pump it Up
When your camera phone isn’t everything you hoped it would be it’s time for some digital steroids. iPhones and Android phones have the added advantage of apps and there are tons of apps to give you more control over the camera in your phone. There is no reason to settle for Instagram just because everybody else has it. There are many more out there much more powerful that will let you take your photography to another level without depending on filters to hide flaws.
Look for apps that let you:
Control shutter speed
Take dozens of photos rapidly
Modify depth of field
Add image stabilization
And if you want filters and powerful sharing options, look at Alt Photo from Alien Skin.
2. Be Rock Solid
Camera shake is the bane of all photographers and cell phones are particularly bad about shake. Why? Because many folks take photos holding the phone by one hand and far out from their bodies where it is nearly impossible to eliminate shake in your arm.
Because of the way camera phones are made you can’t hold a phone up to your eye or bring it close into your body to help stabilize the shot like you would when holding a traditional camera.
To steady your cell phone camera you have several options.
Use two hands to minimize shake
Use a tripod (such as JOBY Gorillapod)
Download an image stabilization app
3. Bring it into the Light
Whether it’s because some camera phones have one shutter speed and control light with sensitivity or just because the sensors are so blasted tiny, camera phones are notorious for noise in low light. Try and shoot your pics in as much light as you can find. If you subject is mobile, put them in the light. If the subject can’t be moved, try to add light to the scene. Flashlights, headlights, just about any source of light will work.
4. Diffuse that Flash
If you must your your phone’s built-in flash to add light, you really risk a nasty overexposure on close subjects. Tone down the harshness of the flash with a bit of wax paper to scatter the light (diffuse it). Just be sure not to get the wax paper over the camera lens.
Remember that when you scatter light it will make the scene a bit dimmer so experiment with wax paper thickness until you find the right amount of diffusion without losing too much flash power.
5. Composition is King
When you don’t have a lot of control over how your camera (in this case iPhone or other cell phone camera) records a photo, you have to fall back on composition. Strong composition can overcome a multitude of problems with exposure, soft focus, and noise. It won’t cure everything but it can save a borderline photo easily.
Rule of Thirds
When to Center Your Subject
Horizontal Shots vs Vertical Shots
Point of View
6. Up Close and Personal
Avoid that digital zoom. All it does it crop the real photo down to a smaller piece. If safe, get up close to your photo instead of taking just a tiny piece of data.
7. Keep it Clean
Your lens that is. Camera phone lenses are tiny. Don’t let finger prints or other grime ruin a great photo. Keep that lens clean with glasses cleaning cloths.
8. Why So Serious?
Finally, don’t be so serious. If you worry constantly about taking a “perfect shot” or what someone else is going to think about your photos you’ll suck the fun right out of it. Enjoy taking photos and recording what catches your eye. Skill comes with practice, not frustration and self recrimination.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your shots. If you are happy with your pictures then they are perfect for you.