Cell phone photography 101

I’m a hobbyist photographer with a lot of fun gear, but the more I focus on writing, the less I carry my big camera around.

Phone cameras are great these days, and I’ve been asked before to give some tips and tricks, so I thought I’d post some excerpts from a mobile photography session I have to friends a few years ago. (NB: this was 3 years ago; some of the tech info may be outdated).

EDIT: you guys if my posts look like they were edited by an illiterate five-year-old it’s because I’m generally voice texting all of this while doing the dishes or something like that. I try to go back and fix the typos when I notice them but I really can’t help the run-on sentences too much. just wanted to say that because it is embarrassing the number of mistakes I find in my posts after I read them again.


A little about me. I am not a professional photographer. I’m one of my biggest critics so I can look at photos I take and see everything that’s wrong with it and I compare myself to amazing professional photographers on Instagram all the time and get frustrated that I can’t do what they do. So this group is not intended to be some sort of expert leading students to better photography. This is me exploring different aspects of photography with you guys and all of us growing together.

There are two types of photographers. There are the creative compositional photographers and there are the technical photographers. I’m the first type. I spend a lot of time trying to get better at the second thing and nail the technical aspects of photography on my DSLR. But I’m a big believer of people starting photography by just using the camera they have. That means a phone, or back when I started photography, my little Canon elph point and shoot.

I plan to focus mostly on compositional aspects of photography and on color and light. In addition, we will talk about the different ways to edit on your phone. Some people hate editing but editing is one of my absolute favorite parts of photography. (although I also get frustrated when I can’t duplicate the styles of some of my photography heroes). I hope to discuss the concept and then have all of us try to duplicate that concept and also share whatever other photos we’ve taken of the week whether they fit the theme or not.

For now, I’m yammering a lot at you. In the run-up to the actual lessons I wanted to discuss the basic apps you might want for phone photography. But in discussion with some of of my friends I also decided to add on some of the fundamentals of photography such as the exposure triangle. That means whenever I discuss something I will probably also add a DSLR sidebar that describes simply some of the aspects of this technical concept using a DSLR or an SLR as opposed to a phone or a point and shoot.

Because other people on the internet have explained a lot of these concepts a lot better than I ever could, I will be doing a lot of linking to various sites. But I don’t just want to link and leave, and plan on discussing my experiences with these different aspects of composition and technique.

Maybe one day this will grow into something bigger. I feel like we need a guide for real people who just want to take pictures, you know?

Here’s pre-week #1

Your phone camera

“What is your why”. This means many things: Why do you take pictures? Why do you want to improve? We’ll take a deeper look into that in the coming weeks.

The reason I wanted to mention it to y’all right now though is there’s also a “why do you want to take pictures on your cell phone?” I want to make that clear because I’m going to give you guys a lot of tips and tricks to take the best cell phone pictures you possibly can. However if you look at my own cell phone work I don’t often use as much of the fancy tips and tricks. I only use the camera app that comes with my phone not something with RAW support. And my editing sometimes is a little crazy with more filters and pops of color and things I don’t do with my regular photography. The reason for that is my why with cell phone pictures is to just totally let loose and stop being in full photography mode all the time.  So I’m going to mention a lot of tools and tips but don’t feel like you need to use them all. It really just matters what your why is.

You might love your stock camera app, but you can download other apps, on both iPhone and Android, that are cameras with further capabilities.

I’ve used some of them in the past but preferred to just use whatever camera I already had on my phone and save the fancy stuff for my real cameras. 

Links:

Android-

Http://www.xda-developers.com/best-android-camera-app/

iPhone-

https://www.howtogeek.com/396183/how-to-manually-control-your-iphone-camera-and-why-youd-want-to/

https://www.igeeksblog.com/how-to-get-depth-control-on-iphone-x-8-plus-7-plus/

https://iphonephotographyschool.com/best-camera-app-for-iphone/

What are the limits of a phone camera?

https://digital-photography-school.com/advantages-dslrs-have-over-smartphones/

I’m not posting this to discourage anyone; rather I’m posting to encourage.  It’s*hard* for me to get a cell phone picture to line up with my vision. I’m posting a picture of a cobweb in a little free library. This picture is not doing what I wanted it to do. To even get the cobweb to show up, I had to do some intense editing, *plus* I used a feature on my phone (motion, which is live view for iPhone) where I went through a video the phone took for me while I was taking this photo and picked a different frame that had the cobweb a bit sharper.

This picture is not a keeper, because the phone just couldn’t make it work.



So what happens if you really do want to be a photographer (hobbyist or otherwise) and all you have a cell phone (or all you ever have with you is a cell phone, and the camera is gathering dust somewhere)

The first step is to take pictures. And then take more pictures.

Your camera doesn’t matter. Use a camera phone, a point and shoot, a bridge camera, a DSLR. It doesn’t matter, at least not at first. A good camera does not a good photographer make.

Does gear matter eventually? Absolutely. But you won’t know what you need, or know how to use the resources you have, until you have a feel for composition, subject, lighting, and your own personal style. Some of my favorite photos were taken on my little Canon digital ELPH point and shoot.

One day, you will think, “Wow, I like this photo, but it will be better if I could separate the subject from the background a bit. Wow, I wish I could get this photo a bit sharper. Wow, I really like photos that are close-cropped, but I can’t zoom in that far.” Then you decide what you need to accomplish that.

Brief aside: I mentioned using my phone’s “motion” setting to get a better version of my cobweb photo. Here is an explanation of live photo (iPhone) and motion (Android)

Apple: https://iphonephotographyschool.com/live-photos/

Android:
https://www.androidpolice.com/2017/10/11/hands-motion-photos-googles-version-apples-live-photos/

Hack to get it on other Android phones:

https://www.ampercent.com/get-pixel-2-motion-photos-android-phone/22022/

Phone camera limitations: Flash and zoom

Rule 1: don’t use the flash. Rule 2: don’t use the flash

https://fstoppers.com/education/stop-using-your-iphone-camera-flash-and-try-easy-hack-instead-326937

This doesn’t just apply to phone cameras. Do not use the flash on your point and shoot. Do not use the (on camera) flash on your DSLR. Not in a house, not in a tree. Don’t use your flash; it’s blinding, you see.

https://gizmodo.com/giz-explains-when-not-to-use-your-cameras-flash-5376271

Yes, there are exceptions. And this doesn’t relate to off camera or detachable flashes. But generally, don’t use the flash.

Need extra light? Use a second phone and turn on its flashlight.

Final topic in the pre-class tour of your camera!

Digital zoom- don’t do it! Don’t use it!

https://amp.businessinsider.com/truth-about-digital-zoom-2016-1

That’s it, lol.

Finally, here’s an article with some overview tips on using your cell phone camera (hint: clean your lens)

https://www.androidcentral.com/how-use-your-android-phone-be-better-photographer-camera

Exercises

Most of you have been practicing already but here are some ideas of things you can try.

– experimenting with tapping to focus and with exposure compensation
– download a new camera app and play around with it
-take a picture with and without portrait mode and see what you like best
-take a portrait mode picture using the suggestions in the articles I linked
– experiment with shutter speed and ISO if you have an app that can do that. See how it affects exposure
– experiment with changing the aperture by moving an object closer and farther away from the camera and closer and farther away from a background
-experiment with light. See if you can take a night photo without using the flash. Find windows in your home and figure out the best angle to make use of natural light

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