Thanks for attending any of my sessions with this title. I hope you feel your time was well spent. On this page you’ll find the notes and references from the session, along with links to other resources you can use to continue your learning about smartphone photography. Feel free to leave any comments or questions here.
Use Your Camera’s Grid
Basic photography instruction teach the “Rule of Thirds”. Basically it asks you to imagine a grid of 9 equal parts over your scene. Then to place the focal point of your picture on the intersections of a vertical and horizontal line. The idea is that this will result in a more interesting image.
Regardless whether you use the rule of thirds, your camera’s grid can assist in framing your shot. On an iPhone you can turn the grid on and off here: Settings -> Photos & Camera -> Grid.
Turn Off Your Flash (Permanently!)
The flash on your smartphone is lousy. Even the flash on a “real” camera will achieve good results in very few circumstances. Instead try using the available light to your advantage. There are many, many tutorials online about lights and photography if you want to explore the possibilities. Here’s a good one to start.
Focus on Your Subject
Auto focus on smartphones work by doing an “average” of the exposure and depth of field in the entire frame, which can sometimes focus on the wrote thing. On the iPhone and some Android phones you can tap on the screen to set the focus on a particular area. On the iPhone a yellow square will appear wherever you tap showing the area of focus. You will also get a sun icon slider to adjust the brightness.
In addition to setting focus and exposure, the iPhone also allows you to lock them. Simply tap the screen where you want to set focus and exposure, but instead of releasing your finger, hold it down for a couple of seconds. A larger square will appear where your finger is along with a yellow AE/AF LOCK sign. Similar features are available in most recent Android devices.
Don’t Use the Zoom
On most smartphones, you can zoom in on a scene by pinching in on the screen. This will make the area look larger but it will also reduce the quality of the image by making it look more pixelated. “Real” cameras zoom by moving the glass in the lens. Smartphone cameras use the computer to analyze and recreate the picture coming through the lens. You’ll get much better results by getting as close as possible to your subject. If you need to get closer, use some basic editing software to crop the image.
Get Below (or Above) Your Subject
Try shooting from a different angle. Get down on the ground or find some higher ground to take a more interesting image. The best way to improve your photography – with any camera – is to change the perspective to something other than head on.
Use a Smartphone Holder and Tripod
Smartphones are really not designed to hold steady for taking pictures. A holder like this from Square Jellyfish ($15 plastic mount; $17 metal mount) can help. Using a small tripod, also from Square Jellyfish ($8), offers even more stability. For a higher quality and sturdier option, consider the mini tripod from Manfrotto (starting at $35) is more expensive but also more sturdy. Check online for many other options. If you take video, you certainly will want at least the holder.
Many smartphones these days have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) setting. In HDR mode your phone takes three photos, each with a different exposure based on the shadows and lighted areas of the image. It then combines them into a single image that the software believes captures the right range of light. HDR can produce a photo with more highly saturated color but the technology can also be highly overdone. If you want to dig deeper into HDR, take a look at this beginner’s guide that goes beyond smartphone photography.
Try Burst Mode
The burst mode is one of the most useful shooting features inside the iPhone’s camera app (and others on both iOS and Android). To activate burst mode simply hold down the shutter button for half a second or longer, and the iPhone will start taking photos one after another, as many as 10 per second. The burst mode is useful whenever there’s any movement or unpredictability inside the scene. It’s nearly impossible to catch the perfect moment of a child playing or a flock of seagulls surrounding a person, which is why the burst mode is a great tool for getting the moment exactly right. However, burst works best with a holder and a tripod since you need a steady hand, especially in low light.
Use the Volume Up Button (iPhone)
In the Apple Camera app on an iPhone you can use the volume up button to take a picture. Using the red shutter button on the screen is more unstable and can end up shaking and blurring your photos. In addition, if you have ear buds with volume up/down buttons (like the ones that come with the iPhone), the up button will also take the picture. You can also hold down the button to activate burst mode. Unfortunately, neither of these tricks work with third party apps.
Editing Photos on Your Smartphone
There are many apps that you can use to edit photos but one of the best is also free. Snapseed, now owned by Google, is available for both iOS and Android. At a minimum, any photo editing app should do a good job with cropping an image, as well as adjusting the exposure, white balance, brightness, contrast, and color saturation.
Making Photo Spheres
A photo sphere is a 360° immersive image, similar to what you see in Google Street View. Photo spheres can be used with the Google Cardboard VR viewer, in addition to many other applications on both computers and mobile devices. To create one on your smartphone, you will need the Google Street View app, available for both iOS and Android. This tutorial offers step-by-step directions for making a photo sphere and tips for making good ones. Lots more information about photo spheres, along with thousands of examples in Google Maps, is on Google’s Street View site.