Smartphone photography: tips and tricks for better pictures

Making of Google vs professional camera

Whether it’s a spontaneous snapshot or an ambitious shot – a lot is possible in smartphone photography nowadays. But how can you take beautiful photos without an expensive DSLR? With our tips for successful pictures you are on the safe side.

Table of Contents

Established camera companies have long been working together with smartphone manufacturers. The back of the Huawei P40 Pro, for example, is also adorned with the lettering of the traditional Leica brand. At the same time, smartphone manufacturers are optimizing the photo apps of their cameras. This makes cell phone photography more and more an alternative for a digital camera. But super technology alone is of course not enough, we have compiled a few tips and tricks to help you take a successful photo with your smartphone.

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1. The camera needs care

First of all, whether Apple or Android, smartphone cameras are often unprotected. Even if you give your phone a sturdy case so that the frame doesn’t suffer from drops, the camera glass is usually without protection and gets rubbed by dust, sand and crumbs or whatever else is floating around in pants and pockets. And a greasy finger also quickly creates a smeary film on the lens and thus a dull haze on the photo. Since smartphone lenses are only a few millimeters in diameter, even the smallest particles have a big impact and quickly dirty the glass. Therefore: Before taking a picture, first check the camera glass for cleanliness and clean it if necessary.

It may not have to shine, but the camera of your smartphone should be clean

It may not need to shine, but your smartphone’s camera should be clean (© 2021 CURVED )

A soft cloth made of microfiber or lint-free cotton is suitable for cleaning, and a dry cloth for cleaning glasses is also excellent. Kitchen roll or paper handkerchiefs, on the other hand, can scratch the lens or cause unpleasant linting – hands off! If grains of sand land on the lens at the beach or with the little ones at the sandbox, always blow them away carefully, since rubbing leaves scratches behind.

2. Hands off the display

Handheld shots blur quickly, sometimes even in good lighting conditions, because we usually use the app’s virtual button on the display to take the shot. By touching the camera in this way, we cause it to shake, especially since we often have to contort our fingers to do so if we hold the camera and press the shutter button at the same time.

However, it is also possible to trigger the shutter with the volume buttons on most devices, and Sony is the only manufacturer that even installs a separate camera shutter in many devices. Whether it’s the volume button or the extra shutter button, both mean less shake and the chance of better results.

3. Immobilize smartphone

Second measure against shaking: Both hands on the smartphone, because that gives stability. The picture will shake least if you use a tripod, but who (always) has that with them?. But maybe the phone can be placed or propped up somewhere else: A cupboard, house wall, table or even a tree are definitely helpful here. If there is no support at all within reach, it also helps to rest your elbows on your body.

Especially if the light is a bit dim, because the darker the scene, the longer the camera exposure and the more easily the picture blurs. A special night mode is available on most modern smartphones – especially premium models like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. This usually takes a few seconds to take a picture and is therefore not suitable for moving subjects.

If your smartphone has an optical image stabilizer, then you don’t need to worry about this problem as much. Because then the sensor simply compensates for small movements of the hand. This also allows for longer exposures from the free hand.

4. Check resolution and format

Depending on what you want to do with your photo, you should check and adjust the format and resolution before taking it. No matter if iOS or Android, the menu item is usually one of the first in the settings. If you just want to take a picture of the bus schedule or the fancy couch in the furniture store to ask a friend’s opinion, a small resolution will do, so the pictures don’t waste space unnecessarily. But you may want to have the sights from your weekend trip to Amsterdam printed later and stick them in the album or present them on the flat screen. For this case, the app with a higher resolution achieves the better result.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro

Familiarize yourself with your smartphone’s camera and also take a look at the settings (© 2020 CURVED )

Because even if the pictures are still clearly visible on the smartphone display, with low resolution prints look very pixelated later on. You get the best resolution in 4:3 format. On the TV, 16:9 cuts a better figure, but the resolution will be worse. You can also enlarge sections without loss of quality. Regularly backing up your data will free up space for you again. Also be careful if you don’t take pictures with the manufacturer’s app but with a third-party app. These apps often have their own presets for the camera.

5. Optimize the structure of the image

When our eyes observe a scene, they usually focus centrally so that the relevant action takes place in the center of our field of vision. In photography, however, this is rarely the most exciting perspective. As in art, the Golden Ratio is often cited here – a design rule known since ancient times, based on a mathematical calculation to ensure a balanced image composition. It certainly doesn’t have to be quite that complicated in everyday life, but every smartphone camera can also have a grid that helps with image composition – even on cheaper devices like the Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G.

While the golden ratio uses a formula that makes placement elaborate, with the rule of thirds you simply divide the image into nine equal parts. To do this, draw two horizontal and two vertical lines. The subject is placed at one of the intersections or along one of the lines. Positions the subject at the intersection points or one of the lines. Your photos gain excitement when the subject or person is not in the center of the image but on a third axis. The rule of thirds is a simplified form of the golden ratio.

6. Finger away from digital zoom

Most photo apps on smartphone cameras have a zoom function – handy for getting a closer look at a subject. But not all cell phones have the hardware for a real zoom on board. This is because it needs a lens with a higher focal length, this is called an optical zoom. Smartphones without this feature simply enlarge the image section. Since this happens purely in the software, it is called digital zoom. Apple currently only offers this feature on its more expensive models: The cheapest current Apple phone equipped with it is the iPhone 12 Pro.

An optical zoom has several advantages. The sensor can work with the full resolution, which makes the pictures sharper. In addition, the depth perception also changes with the focal length. Our human perception is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens in depth, also called standard focal length. Most main cameras in smartphones use a focal length between 24-26 mm to cover a large field of view.

The moon here was taken with the digital zoom. The low resolution is clearly visible

The moon here was taken with digital zoom. The low resolution is clearly visible. (© 2021 CURVED )

7. Set sharpness manually

Of course, it’s practical when the camera automatically focuses for snapshots. But the camera does not always focus on the area that you would like to have in focus yourself. And your results will often be more interesting if you choose a focus yourself. This is very easy on both Apple and Android devices: tap with your finger on the point that you want to focus on. This is how the popular bokeh effect can be achieved, where an object in the foreground is sharp and the background is blurred. Or you reverse the effect and focus on the background.

In direct comparison with a digital camera, it quickly becomes apparent that the blur is much less pronounced with a smartphone. This is due to the very small sensors, which have quite a large depth of field. For a bokeh like from a DSLR, this is not enough, which is why some manufacturers use software to help.

Many smartphones also offer a professional mode. Here you can set ISO, exposure time and focus completely manually.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ camera UI

Adjusting sharpness manually can lead to interesting effects (© 2021 CURVED )

8. Use light correctly

Regardless of whether it’s a smartphone or a full-grown camera, the following generally applies when taking pictures: It’s best to always have the light source behind you. Of course, this also means that you have to position yourself so that your shadow is not in the picture. Whether indoors or outdoors, professionals use a flash in poor lighting conditions. With the right equipment and when used correctly, you can also achieve excellent results. The mobile flash, however, often leads to unnatural light and red eyes. In addition, the range is too short to really illuminate a scene. Therefore it is better to keep your hands away from the flash.

In case of strong contrasts in the picture, light and shadow, the HDR mode can also help, which many cameras have on board by now. It helps to compensate for strong brightness differences in the image. The abbreviation stands for "High Dynamic Range" or "High dynamic range". This means that such images reproduce high differences in brightness – for example, when only one light source is visible in an otherwise dark image – in greater detail. However, HDR is mainly suitable for still subjects. Because usually several shots are processed to a single finished image.

Neon lights and deep shadows are a difficult combination, here HDR helps (© 2021 )

9. Snap selfies with self-timer

Actually logical: If you hold the smartphone with one hand, capture the subject and press the app’s shutter button at the same time, you will rarely have a steady hand. Especially with selfies, where you always have only one hand on the phone. In addition, you might also look a bit tense. It’s better to use the self-timer. Most of the time the display shows a countdown so that you can show your best smile at the right moment.

10. Capture multiple images

If you want to deliver a good result, use the great advantage of digital photography: you can take so many pictures without wasting material unnecessarily and incurring extra costs. Snap your motif several times and sort out the bad pictures at the end of the day. Vary the angle of view, take a step forward or a step back. Some smartphones automatically take continuous shots when you press the shutter button longer, handy when the subject is moving fast or erratically, for photos of sporting events or children. One example is the Samsung Galaxy S21.

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