Smart Phone Camera Tips


Several of you have asked for tips for taking photos with your cell phone camera. I’m using an iPhone 3GS, so my examples may be from other smart phones, but these tips will work for whatever phone you have.

Cell phone cameras are quickly replacing point-and-shoot cameras, and each new generation boasts better cameras, with larger files, better exposure, and faster processing. So the newer your phone, the better your camera will be.
Anticipate: Your camera is going to have some lag time between when you press the shutter and when the picture is actually taken. This can make getting an image of a running dog or a quick moving toddler a challenge. I have lots of pictures of grass to prove it! If you can pan the camera, moving it with the moving subject as you press the shutter release, your odds of getting more than grass are greatly increased. It has the added benefit of blurring the background, which gives a sense of movement, and just plain looks cool.
Focus: Most phone cameras have a fixed f-stop of about 2.8, which means you can get better pictures in low light, but it also means that there's not a lot of depth of field (only the central subject will be in focus, while things in front and behind will be slightly out of focus.) Newer phones have the ability to focus on the object of your choice. For the iPhone, just tap the LCD on the object on which you'd like to focus. The iPhone (and probably your camera) will also adjust the color balance and exposure to that area too. If you don't know what color balance is, you really need to get with the program. You know how when you take a picture under incandescent light it looks yellow, and under fluorescent light it looks green? A correct color balance will restore the photo to the actual color, and take out the yellow or green tint. It's cool.
Hold Steady: Most cell phone cameras have a shutter speed that ranges from 1/10 second to 1/500 second. Standard issue humans cannot hold a camera steady for 1/10 of a second. So if you take a photo in low light, it may be a little blurry, even if you are stone sober and are really trying to be still. One tip: Find out what action releases your shutter. The iPhone doesn't release its shutter when you press the LCD, but when you lift your finger from the LCD. So press the shutter, take a deep breath and hold steady, then gently lift your finger from the LCD screen. If you can rest your camera on something in low-light situations, all the better.
Macro Lens: Your cell phone lens can focus down to about 2 inches, which is a lot more than my fancy DSLR can do. This is great for taking pictures of wine labels, recipes, book quotes, business cards or other cool stuff you want to remember.
Apps: There are some cool apps out there. Check your app store for the most popular camera applications. This image was taken with Hipstamatic, an iPhone app that imitates an old toy plastic camera like a Holga or Diana.
This blog space doesn't do justice to this Pano app image. It's a 270 degree image of the studio and house, and the 8 feet of snow we are currently enjoying. You can take multiple images, and Pano automatically stitches them together into one long image. This app is a must-get!
One of the BEST things about a cell phone camera is when you pretend you're listening to a message, and you're actually taking a picture! What could be cooler? Not for use in public restrooms, but on the subway, a plane, or on the street, it's a great way to get a slice of life. BTW, be sure to get permission from the subject before doing this, just like I do.






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