As time goes by, mobile phone cameras are getting better and better. Gone are the days when your phone was only capable of taking a blurry snap at a tiny resolution. Many camera-phone makers are starting to pay more attention to sensor quality, speed, and optics, rather than just one-upping each other on megapixel specs. But as with any type of photography, the equipment is only a small part of taking a memorable image.
Today we'll delve into mobile photography, and take a look at how you can mix timeless technique with modern technology to capture fantastic photos using your mobile phone!
1. Remember Your Thirds
Just because you're using a camera phone, "Composition 101" still applies. Try to imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines intersecting across your image, and place important elements of your image at the point where two of these lines intersect. Equally, try to place important lines (e.g. a horizon) across one of the third lines in your photo.
Some camera-phones are able to super-impose these lines over the image for you, which can be incredibly helpful. Be sure to turn this feature on if you have it available.
2. Forget the Zoom
There's an inherent issue with trying to make phones increasingly thinner, yet also increase the quality of a camera. Trying to include a usable zoom in a very thin piece of equipment is incredibly difficult, and leads to this function being generally atrocious on most phones. You'll find that the camera uses a digital zoom, which is best left alone at all costs — otherwise you'll end up with a pixellated, unattractive image.
A better thing to do is to wait until you get back to your computer, and crop the image down to focus in on the important elements. This is becoming increasingly possible with regular bumps to the resolution of images taken by camera phones. The best option in most cases is to just get closer to your subject.
3. Shoot Now, Edit Later
One way that phone manufacturers try to differentiate their model is by offering an array of editing functionality in your phone. This might be useful in a few limited cases, but it's best left alone. Resist the urge to add that sepia effect to every image, and leave the post-processing to Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture rather than your phone's limited processor.
The important thing to do is to keep shooting. You'll kick yourself if you miss a beautiful composition because you're desperately trying to figure out how to add a fake tilt-shift effect to your previous photo...
4. Lighting is Still Key
Although camera phone sensors are coming on in leaps and bounds, they still have some way to go before they're able to rival your SLR. One of the key areas that many phones struggle is in capturing enough light. You can help with this, by ensuring that your subject is well lit before pressing the shutter. Turn on the light, open the curtains, or wait until the sun is a little higher in the sky!
If your camera has a flash function, give it a try. Although it probably won't be powerful enough to make a huge improvement, it can be very useful when you just need a slight boost in the light conditions. Try using it outside as a fill-flash — it might just give that extra "punch" you were looking for.
5. Use Your Phone's Features
We've already mentioned the possibility of super-imposing grid lines over your image, and it doesn't stop there. Although many features may feel like a gimmick, others can really help with your photography and help to take better images. Try turning on the HDR mode on your iPhone — it'll capture two images, one standard, and another that merges a few exposures together on the fly. Sometimes the result is dire, but often it can pick out way more detail that you'd expect a phone to be able to.
Some phones are starting to offer pretty nifty software for capturing panoramic images as well. It often works better than you'd expect!
6. Reserve Judgement for Later
Although your phone camera may be pretty decent, there's a good chance that you'll struggle to appreciate the quality of your photographs on a small, relatively low-resolution screen. Providing space isn't a restraining factor, hang on to your photos to review at a later date. You might find that they appear far more impressive on your desktop/laptop display!
7. Free Up Some Space, and Backup!
Two tips in one here... Just in the same way that packing a couple of memory cards is advisable, it's also good sense to regularly check your phone's memory to ensure you have plenty of space for snapping ad-hoc photos. Don't be caught with a phone that's so full of games, apps, and music that you don't have any space to capture the photo of your son's first few steps.
Equally important is to ensure that you regularly download the photos from your phone, and back them up to your computer. The nature of a phone means that it's far easier to lose, or have stolen. It's bad enough to lose the phone, but it would be more devastating to realise that you'd never copied any of your photos back to your computer.
8. Avoid Direct Sunlight
Another tip that applies to mobile phone photography, just as it does everywhere else, is to avoid direct sunlight. Don't encourage your subject to stand directly facing the sun, as you'll have harsh shadows and a poor image. Head into the brightest area of the shade to set up your composition, and you'll be far more pleased with the result.
9. Fill Your Frame
Unfortunately, you won't yet find a f1.2 lens on your camera phone just yet, so it can be difficult to blur the background using a shallow depth of field. Instead, the best way to deal with a crowded and busy background is to fill the frame with your subject. Get close (don't forget, you're much less intimidating with a phone rather than your SLR), and avoid a photo with a tiny subject in the middle of a crowded background.
10. Take It Everywhere!
As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. The beauty of your mobile phone is that it's almost always in your pocket — there's no need to carry around an extra point-and-shoot, or remember to charge a second device.
Although it will never be a replacement for a powerful digital SLR, the humble camera-phone has come a long, long way over the past few years. I now take more photos using my iPhone than I do any other camera, and it's an incredibly capable piece of kit (just check out the examples at the bottom of this page if you don't believe me).
Take it with you everywhere, follow these simple tips, and enjoy the freedom of being able to snap a beautiful image regardless of whether or not you remember to pack your photography kit!