Last week, we debated on the best choice of camera type for travelers. Some readers thought I defended phone camera at the expense of DSLR. Maybe so. If you are stuck with a computer always in your pocket, might as well make the best use of it. Sure, they do not have “professional” cameras but with good practices and the proper tools, you will be taking the best quality smartphone photos you could get from them.
1. Get geared
You had better believe it. Smartphone photographers can also gear up like pros. From $40 and above, you can get your hands on lenses, mini tripods, shutter remotes, cleaning cloths or wireless card readers. In this niche of the industry, some offers stand out: the Photojojo phone lens series, the GripTight adapter for tripod or the Camalapse for awesome 360° or time-lapse snaps. Amazon and EBay are go-to places to find all-in-one package deals on some of these accessories.
2. Invest in the best camera phone
Better camera should mean better pictures in theory. The drawbacks of snapping with Phone? The time to focus, the quality of the sensor, and the compression of image file, just to name a few. However, 3 offers on the phone market have worked their way around these traps. First off, the iPhone 5s has an image stabilization and dual LED flash that make it a good companion in low light settings. Second, the Galaxy S5 boasts a 16-megapixel sensor, blazing fast auto-focus time and some other proprietary features for doing magic with image. Finally, the mother of them all, the Lumia 1020, 41-MP sensor, high-octane shooter, and a special guide for newbies to understand all the settings available. (Trust me. You will need it).
3. Find the right camera enhancer app for you
Your camera probably has an 8-MP sensor. Its native camera app might be good enough for most basic photographic needs but you can unleash its full potential with third-party apps. I use Camera+ on Apple devices, Line Camera and Camera 360 on Android. Most of these will become your camera app by default. Moreover, they integrate photo editors and social media platforms.
4. Keep your lens clean
A dirty lens takes a lot away from the greatest shots. That inexplicable blur on your face when you take took selfie is nothing more than your grubby fingers photobombing you. So wipe like lens with a soft cloth before you start shooting.
5. Tweak your camera settings accurately
Just because your camera auto-focuses does not mean it will optimize its settings as well. That is your job. Every camera I used gave me control over the size and resolution of the images. MMS pictures do not require high resolution, but I am sure your LinkedIn profile one does. Similarly, take control of the white balance and exposure settings. A little tweak could bring a big improvement to your smartphone photos, especially in bad shooting conditions.
6. Digital zoom takes details out
This advice goes hand to hand with another you will often hear: do not crop. As much as possible, get at the right distance from your subject. You will get better quality pictures and better composition too.
7. Steady does it
Don’t you have that mini tripod we talked about? Cannot blame you. Who wants to carry that around! Instead, compensate your natural shake by setting the stabilizer right. In addition, snapping while exhaling will give you more steadiness. Try it.
8. Resist the dark side, you must
Obi-Wan did not state this strongly enough. Nothing good comes from the dark side, certainly not photos. Become a Jedi and learn to use your surroundings to your advantage. Smartphone photo cameras are not point-and-shoot and low light is their arch nemesis. Find the best light condition and make sure your subject is correctly illuminated.
9. Flashy flash
I do not like the built-in flash. I have no control over its intensity and it ends up taking the warmth out of my pictures. If you are tired of shooting vampires, ghosts and the likes, refer to advice 7. From there, have the good habit of playing with the flash. Take pictures with and without it in order to compare and choose. Some suggest to cover the flash LED just enough to get the right amount of light out of it. You could also look for an app that enables control over the LED.
10. Post-processing is OK
Color will make the difference and set the right tone for your photos. If you have paid attention to every single one of these tips, you probably already have a decent snap. A little retouching using the basic tools of your favorite photo editor will make a world of difference. On a computer, go for Photoshop, Gimp 2 or iPhoto. On your mobile, there are even more options to choose from. Again, I like Pixlr Express, Photoshop Touch, and VSCO Cam.
You could really salvage the most average smartphone photo with a little filter (Instagram users know what I am talking about!). The apps that I mentioned here and some others that you will find, have built-in effects, overlays for you to use. In the worst case scenario, go black and white. Photographers through ages made masterpieces using this techniques. Do not hold back, particularly for portraits.
Now that you know the tricks to better quality smartphone photography, you are armed and ready to immortalize your passage in the World’s prettiest places.