Most photos taken with phone cameras are grainy, blurry, washed out, dark or just plain boring. It’s sad, because they don’t have to be. People usually blame the quality of their cameras for the quality of their shots, but that’s actually not very important when it comes to getting a good picture.
So how does one get good pictures out of a phone camera? It’s really not about the megapixels. Let’s forget about the technical specifications of our cameras for a few minutes and check out some simple things we can do to improve our photography, keeping in mind certain scenarios we regularly come across in our daily lives. The real lesson here to be learned here is to adapt. Think about how your shots could be imporved before shooting them and you’ll be taking great pictures in no time.
The pictures in this article were taken using the 5-megapixel camera on my HTC Desire S running Camera Zoom FX.
Phone cameras don’t usually perform well in low-light conditions. The first step towards getting better photos is to increase the amount of light in the scene you’re shooting. You can try something as simple as turning on more lights in the room you’re shooting in, or moving the light closer to the subject or vice versa.
For example, if you want to get a shot of the family on Thanksgiving, do so at the dining table where there’s plenty of light, not in the hallway where’s there only one bulb at the far end. If possible, try to keep people from standing directly beneath or in front of strong lights. Your pictures will not only be brighter, but you’ll also notice less noise (graininess) and reduced time for the shutter to close, resulting in a more stable and sharper shot.
If you’re shooting outdoors during the day, keep in mind that strong sunlight also makes for strong shadows. It’s ideal to work with diffused, even light, which is available at dawn or towards dusk. But if you’re shooting through the day, try to get more even light by positioning your subject in the shade. This might make for a slightly darker shot, but at least the light isn’t harsh and there aren’t any ugly shadows beneath the eyes and nose.
Background and Context
Try to de-clutter your background as much as possible, so that the viewer isn’t distracted from the subject. For example, if you’re shooting your new car in the driveway, put away the shovel and move the garbage can out of the frame.
At the same time, see if you can place the subject in front of a background that offers some context that helps the picture tell a story. If you’re taking a picture of your parents at Christmas, have them stand around the Christmas tree while decorating it, or enjoying eggnog by the fireplace with stockings hanging from it. These are much better ways of framing your subjects, compared to having them stand in front of a bathroom.
In this example, I’ve taken a picture of my mother in front of a couple of her paintings:
Position, Perspective and Angles
We often shoot from wherever we’re sitting or standing, regardless of the size, distance and scale of the subject. It’s very important to break that habit and start moving around in order to get a nice shot. Walk, crouch, lie down, climb up and reach just a little further to frame your subject when you’re taking your next picture.
Coming to the topic of perspective: when shooting a picture, think for a minute about what makes the subject special. Then consider the location of the camera with respect to the subject – is it in the best position to highlight that special something? Does your child have an always-ready smile? Shoot him/her from the side to get a profile shot while he/she is looking at something fun. Similarly, capturing vases, lamps and home decor objects from an 45-degree angle (and at eye level) helps show their shape and texture.
Prepare Your Subject and Space
A major part of professional photographers’ work is not behind the lens but in front of it – much of the time spent in creating a picture is invested in preparing the space in which the subject will be shot. For studio photographers this means getting the right backdrop, hiding light cables and adding interesting props to tell a story with a single photograph.
Another part of their preparation involves readying the subject: getting makeup applied to their models’ faces, having them wear the right clothes to suit the shot, and establishing a rapport so they can communicate better.
We can emulate these steps even without a professional studio. Take a minute to clean up the living room before having your family sit down for group shots; try to incorporate a cue of the reason for capturing the moment (a birthday cake, a trophy or even a six-pack of beer); make everyone in the shot relax by telling jokes, taking multiple shots and having them in the frame in comfortable positions.
Looking to show off your new ride? Prepare a shot by parking your vehicle in a place where you can highlight its best features (nose, sleek body contours, etc.), where you have enough space to move around, and where there’s either less distraction (like a plain building wall) or enough context (such as a recognizable skyline in the background when shooting your new yacht).
Shooting appliances, furniture or anything else for sale on eBay/Craigslist? Clean it first! Then shoot it in as well-lit a place as possible. Try to avoid having other items in the frame, unless they’re meant to show scale.
Phone cameras differ in the size of their sensors, the number of parameters of control you can play around with, and how quickly they can save shots to your phone. In order to get better shots with your phone, get comfortable using it by shooting often. Practice regularly by trying to get a shot of your morning coffee, your pet, your family, and anything else that catches your eye.
Photography is not about the equipment you have, but rather about capturing light and what you choose to include in your frame (and what you choose to exclude from it). When using a phone camera, try not to worry about the limitations of the device and think instead about your composition and how it can be improved easily. If the picture can tell a story by itself, you’ve done your job. Happy shooting!