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.
Suggestions for Making Better Photos
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.
Try HDR: 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.
Using Photos in the Classroom
Photowalks are a wonderful way to get students to take a closer look at the world. Here are some ideas for photowalks, around your school, the neighborhood, or on field trips.
Make images of: colors, shapes, symmetry, lines (parallel, intersecting, perpendicular), textures and patterns, elements of nature (leaves, bugs, rocks), concepts (far/near, jumping, before/after), people, faces, letters, numbers…
You can also use images to:
- Capture the process of doing science, such as documenting experiments.
- Make time lapse images to observe change over time
- Build a library of student-created stock images for illustrating their work. Among other things, this is great to show metaphors in English.
- Use images to review. Show students what they did during the unit, semester, or year.
- There are many other applications. What else did you think of?
Managing Your Images with Google Photos
Once you’ve taken all these wonderful photos, how do you edit, manage, and, most importantly, share them?
However, there is a big distinction between Google Photos, the web application, and the Photos folder you see in your Google Drive. They are not the same (with a small exception you’ll see a little later).
The Photos site is for managing and editing your photos while, the Photos folder is simply a storage space within Drive. It doesn’t make sense to me either why Google did this, other than Photos is used by many people with cameras who know nothing about Drive.
In Google Photos, you have a pretty good editor, with some basic filters. There is a small set of tools to make adjustments to color, contrast, exposure, and to crop the image, and rotate it.
The site allows you to create albums and share them with others for collaboration, just viewing, or viewing and commenting. The choices for sharing are a little different from those in Drive so read the text next to the switches carefully.
In Photos, you can create a collage of up to 9 images from any photos in your collection. You can also create an animation, which is just a rapid fire slide show, using up to 50 images.
Earlier I said that there was no connection between Google Photos and the Photos folder in Drive. Well, that’s not entirely true. You can connect the two but it really don’t help much.
If you go into your General settings in your Drive account and check the box next to “Automatically put your Google Photos into a folder in My Drive”, all the images from your Photos account will be copied to this folder.
If you already have images in the Drive folder, they will not be put into Photos. However, new images added to Photos will be copied to the Drive Photos folder. Confused yet?
A photosphere is a 360° immersive image, similar to what you see in Google Street View.
Photospheres 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 photosphere and tips for making good ones. Lots more information about photospheres, along with thousands of examples in Google Maps, can be found on Google’s Street View site.