Sunday, November 3, 2013

How to take better pictures with your cell phone

A while back, I wrote up a post on taking better pictures of your kids (or anything for that matter).  The vast majority of that advice can be as easily applied to cell phone cameras as to ordinary cameras, and I recommend reading that as well.

I also wrote a note on Facebook a while back on taking better self-portraits, which will come in handy in a week or so when we arrive at the self portrait day in the current challenge.

Here is that note:

Tips for taking a self portrait that doesn't suck:
1. Pay attention to the lighting. Avoid using the flash whenever possible
2. Decide what your best angle is - makes faces at yourself in the mirror if you don't already know.
3. Look just up and to the side of the lens, not directly at it.
4. If you have double chins (not that you do, of course LOL), look slightly up to take the picture, hold the camera a tiny bit higher than you normally would.
5. Make sure there isn't anything messing up your background, or giving you bunny ears, or growing out of the top of your head.
6. Take more than one picture, with slightly different expressions. Then you can pick the best one.
7. Try to laugh naturally so your smile doesn't look forced.
8. Remember you can always zoom in, but you can't zoom out once the picture is taken.

In addition to those tips, I would add when using a cell phone for self portraits, you should try and turn the camera around. There is a little arrow on the screen that will enable the front facing camera so that you can see yourself before you take the picture. Most of the time, this will prevent you from using a flash, but you shouldn't be using one anyway. ;)

Taken with a cell and filtered

Cell selfie, no editing

Cell selfie, cropped a little
I have been fiddling around with photography for well over a decade now, but like even most of the avid photographers I know, I rarely have my digital SLR with me these days. I always have my cell phone though, and I do most of my picture taking with it. 

I even went on vacation without my real camera last year. It made me twitchy, but I survived.

Cell phone cameras have come a long way, and many of them have some of the features of "real" cameras these days. Add in editing capabilities within the phones themselves or through apps, and believe me when I tell you that it is entirely possible to take really good pictures with a cell phone.

To prove this point, during my photo challenge earlier this year, I took every single picture with my cell phone...I just didn't tell people that ahead of time. When I confessed to it after the challenge was over, many couldn't believe that they had all come from that little device in my pocket.

Here are some of the most important tips for using cell phone cameras:

* Tap the screen to focus the camera. This is probably the single most important thing to learn with cell phone cameras. A little rectangular box will pop up on the screen, tap the point in the image field where you want the camera to focus, then take the picture.


* Cell phone cameras are notoriously bad at focusing when there are several sources of light or reflection. What works sometimes is to zoom out a little bit then attempt to re-focus.



* Just like with a regular camera, avoid the flash like the plague. Keep a steady hand.


* The zoom on a cell camera is strictly digital and will never be as good as a real lens. When possible, get closer to your subject rather than zooming in. You will sacrifice clarity for zoom, and pictures will come out grainy.

* Cell phones do not have the capability to do very tight macro shots, at least none that I have ever seen. They can do details, but not the fine minute stuff that a real camera can do. Play with the macro setting and try to take pictures of finer and finer details. Push the limits of your device, but understand that it will never be as good as a camera with a lens specifically made for macro shots.


* Cell phone cameras aren't great at action shots, even in the sports setting. What sometimes can capture images better is to use the setting where the camera automatically takes several pictures per second with one touch, then you can pick from them which ones are the best. (go through the camera settings to find it) Be sure that you have bright, natural lighting if you are planning to use this setting. Indoor lighting, even the brightest, may result in blurry images in this setting because the shutter speed is so fast. You can manipulate the settings to take pictures like this one though.

He's not really running that fast. ;)
* Cell phone cameras also aren't great at longer exposure pictures, though you can get better at them if you stabilize the phone on a solid surface and make sure not to bump, shake or jostle it at all. The nighttime and/or low light settings leave the shutter open longer, but the longer exposure also results in more image distortion if the phone is moved at all. Set it on a table or small tripod thing (they have some that look like little bendable spiders), and you'll get better pictures.

* Use the timer for pictures of yourself and other people when you are taking them at arm's length. You can actually take fabulous pictures this way. Make sure your lighting is good, flip the screen, and set a timer to give yourselves a few seconds to smile.


Every picture in this post was taken with a cell phone.

Get out there and play with it, this magical device in your pocket that can do all the things.

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