From the very first phones that had an inbuilt camera to the latest flagships that take some of the best pictures in the world, smartphone photography has evolved greatly over the years. Ask yourself the last time you actually used a digital camera. Mine is gathering dust in my cupboard.
So you don’t have the cash to get a fancy DSLR camera or the latest flagship smartphone with the world’s best mobile camera. Don’t worry about it. You can still be an ace at mobile photography and take some amazing photos with your current smartphone. I contacted Prasanna Welangoda and Ushan Gunasekera, two individuals skilled in the arcane art of both mobile photography and regular photography. In tandem, we came up with a few tips and tricks that can make anyone kickstart their journey with mobile photography.
Sure, anyone with a camera can take a photo. But as the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail”. Getting all those intricate little details will make your photo stand out more than if it was a regular photo. This, however, requires a bit of study. You need to get close. The best thing about mobile photography is that unlike a DSLR or regular camera, phone lenses can focus really close.
This allows you to capture detail that you would usually not be able to focus on. Also, because you’re not zooming into the subject, there is no resulting loss in quality. Also, if you can’t focus on the entire subject, that’s okay. Most smartphones have an option to focus on an area of the frame. This is done by simply touching the area of your phone’s screen which you want to be focused, and the camera will focus on that area automatically.
Another important factor to keep in mind with normal photography and mobile photography is the rule of thirds. Imagine your phone screen as a 3×3 grid. When you’re focusing on a target, you would usually make sure that they are in the middle grid. But with the rule of thirds, the subject is more towards the right or left of the grid rather than the center.
This, in turn, draws the viewer’s eye into the composition of the entire image itself, rather than just focusing on what’s in the center of the image. Most smartphones will have a setting to enable a grid layout in their camera settings. If not, you can use a camera app such as Google Camera, OpenCamera or Camera FV-5 and play around with these settings.
On apps such as Camera FV-5, you can actually lock the focus on the camera so that your phone doesn’t keep hunting the focus when you move or breathe.
Taking a step back from shooting close-ups, the next challenge for mobile photography is to capture landscapes. There are a few things to keep in mind when shooting a landscape. Firstly, the exposure. This is the amount of light that reaches your smartphone camera’s sensor when shooting an image. If you allow too much light, then the resulting image would be extremely bright and even distorted. Let in insufficient light and your photo will be dark and unidentifiable.
These are known as overexposed and underexposed shots, respectively. In addition to the exposure, you also have to focus on the clarity or focus point of the scene and also pay attention to highlights and shadows. If your camera has it, you should also look at the camera’s histogram.
For mobile photography, it’s important to understand the histogram of your smartphone’s camera. You would essentially want a nice even curve throughout the graph. If at any point, the histogram peaks, that means you’re losing detail in either the highlights or the shadows. These details cannot be recovered later on, so pay very close attention to it.
In addition, we would also recommend getting a basic tripod, especially if you’re shooting in low light (which we will touch on in a bit). Further, depending on your device, you should also shoot images in RAW mode. Images shot in RAW are not processed by the image processor of your camera and as such, are just shot as is or “RAW”.
In comparison to shooting in a format such as JPEG, where the information of the image is compressed and lost, RAW has none of that. Because the image information is not compressed, you can produce higher quality images. Further, you can also correct issued with the image that would otherwise be irreparable if shot in JPEG format. Apps such as Adobe Lightroom Mobile can be used to tweak images in RAW format.
Once you’ve captured the shot, start editing it on a tool recommended by those involved in mobile photography: Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Don’t go crazy, though. Set your white balance, and use the color mix options bring out the blues and greens in your image. But also be aware to keep it in moderation. When in doubt, remember, less is more).
No point denying it. At some point, we have all whipped out our phones to take a picture of that perfect waffle or cheesecake or to savor that delectable chicken tempura before we go caveman on it. Food photography is actually quite a popular area when it comes to mobile photography. In reality, people actually spend more time taking pictures of their food than actually eating their food.
As my friend Ushan Gunasekera said “A lot of bloggers tend to use their mobile phone cameras to photoblog things such as food, largely thanks to the fact that most cameras come with a depth of field control function. This helps them adjust the focus/blur according to the light and situation”. But how do we make sure that our photos do justice to what we’re eating?
Generally speaking, carrying out food photography via mobile photography uses a few angles, literally. For example, shooting images of food from Overhead, 45 degrees, 90 degrees angles and close-ups are the recommended way to go. For that extra bit of oomph, place the dish in question near sunlight streaming through a window.
You can also try placing the food on a wooden or stone surface and getting some intricate details as well. For example, if you can capture the steam rising from a dish, someone pouring liquid or even a hand armed with cutlery.
Lowlight photography is similar to landscape photography in certain aspects. For example, you will need to shoot using a tripod to make sure your photos are not blurred. A key element to shooting in low light, especially with mobile photography, is to master the art of shooting images using the manual mode of your camera. This essentially gives you control over settings such as ISO, and shutter speed.
A general rule of thumb is to keep the ISO low and lower the shutter until you expose the scene properly. A good starting point is to set your shutter speed to around 1/5. The resulting image would have a light trail. If you can manage to go to around 1”, the effects would be further enhanced.
Now because this is mobile photography, it’s very likely that your image will have a certain amount of noise despite you shooting at low ISO levels. But fear not, you can use Adobe Lightroom Mobile to clean it up using tools such as Noise Reduction and Masking options.
Creativity matters, a lot. The beauty of a good portrait photo is to make the subject the center of attention whilst keeping an eye on your background. Even if the background of the subject is blurred, don’t worry about it. The colors in the background can play a role in how your image is. If you want to try something fancy, you can get your hands on some prisms against sunlight for some pretty cool effects or try experimenting with other objects. You can even try some YouTube tricks as well.
Smartphones such as the Google Pixel 2, Huawei Nova 2i and Y9 have actual portrait modes where it adds a bokeh effect, blurring out the background, emphasizing the subject. Apps such as Lens Distortions can also add cool effects to your photos. But remember to not overdo it. Just because you can add flare doesn’t mean you should. For example, my friend Prasanna has a collection of pretty cool portrait images on his Instagram page, all of which were shot using just an iPhone.
Congratulations, you’re now ready to begin your journey in mobile photography. Remember, these are just guidelines to help you take better photos. A greater part of this would be experimenting with different settings and locations, at different times, to find the best place to take a photo. There is no rulebook to say how and when you can or should take that perfect photo. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
A special shout out to two very talented photographers who are Prasanna Welagoda and Ushan Gunasekera. These two individuals helped us a lot with their insightful tips and advice on how to get the best from a smartphone camera for anyone interested in mobile photography.
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