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When was the last you had that moment with friends or family over a very nice diner and at one point. Everyone agreed this had to go on record… with the sweet picture for great memories… Then, what do you do, you hand up your favourite device, go ahead and snap, right?! And that picture ends up… OK. Not great… But not bad either. Yet, you didn’t understand why the light came out that bright (or low) compared to how it actually was in reality… Or why these tones came out a bit off… Well, wonder no more, my friend. In this post, In this post, I’ll go over my ultimate guide on smartphone photography and provide 6 tips to step up your game.

Ready, let’s go.

Tip #1: Software is king!

Going back to that old camera from the past, it had buttons and knobs and… a sensor. You had to make the right settings for capturing the right amount of light in terms of exposure but also factoring frequencies like infrareds and so on… That was quite a science just for a snap! The bigger the sensor, the cells it had to render pixels and the more light it could get in… Combined with the right settings, there was your picture… Lighted  up, crisp and vivid. 

Today, it seems all of this is just magic. You get your smartphone up, check it’s not dark out, frame the shot, hit the button and you’re in business, right?! Well… That’s all you have to do. On the moment you hit that button, your smartphone actually takes a series of pictures (samples, very fast) with different settings in terms of exposure, contrast, colour saturation and so on… That’s where the sensor shines. But that’s not it yet. Right after that come the dark chamber.

Like a photographer, a piece of software will then compare each image and compare it of others from the same series to determine the average amount of light, was cold or warmer light, what colours were there (again cold or warm), what was the subject (people, landscape, object… etc).Then it’s average out each parameters across the series and assemble an output that assumably will render the best in terms of intention. Yes, you read it right, camera softwares nowadays are able to determine what we want to see standing out in a given picture. For example, a picture of some meadow will likely see the greens popped out… A picture at the beach or a cruise on a sail ship will see high amounts of blues and warm lights because that’s what most people look for in this type of picture.

So basically, smartphone photography is less about settings and more about sampling and interpretation conventions from a logic embedded inside the camera software.

Tip #2: Embrace RAW

 We just saw it, image shot on a smartphone aren’t truthful representation of the real world but rather enhanced, synthesized versions of it… by some software which make choices for us. Fortunately, there is a way to regain control of our picture when working with a smartphone and that is the RAW format and most of recent smartphone allow this format.

As the name suggest, the RAW format delivers images straight from the sensor without post-treatments by the camera’s software, therefore these are as plain as it can be and offer the most of possibilities to the photographer in terms of treatment without sacrificing on quality via compression. In that sense, RAW is a lossless format. Now, this comes at a cost, as RAW images are uncompressed and therefore take more space in the device memory which then can fill up quite quickly. Fortunately, a good way around that is using a external drive or a micro-SD to store the images outside the phone.

Tip #3: Get your manual mode on

That would go with “get to know as much of your phone’s camera app” as possible and find out which settings can be handled manually. Primarily, the three basic aspects of photography are aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Aperture determines the amount of light let into the device and ISO determine how sensitive the sensor will get relatively to this same light. Shutter speed will determine the interval at which it covers the sensor from the light. That allows the sensor to encapsule the view from the lense. These 3 aspect form what is called the exposure triangle in photography and are all very powerful tool for every photographer. 

Tip #4: Go easy on the zoom

Traditionally, photographers use telescopic lenses anytime they want to artificially close up on a subject without getting close. These lenses actually compensate the physical distance by spreading out the pieces of glass inside. This require the stability of a tubular structure for the lenses inside to remain aligned… That is focal length. 

Because smartphones cannot offer much focal length, it very difficult to make any decent zoomed shot with these devices. Therefore, it’s always preferable to physically over the smartphone closer to the subject rather than using the zoom. This also allows to experiment with different angles, which is a plus.

Tip #5: Study composition and lighting

Photography is all about angles, composition and light management. These are the tools that will allow you to give meaning, atmosphere and emotion to your pictures… For example, shadows will usually convey a sense of mystery while some flare will mean hope and love… A centred subject will look isolated while the picture will look more professional when the subject is on aside… As you can see, the principles are essential for whoever wishes to master photography (even if only using a smartphone).

Tip #6: Gear up on accessories

In photography, some treatments come out better if they being applied at the time of shooting. Zoom or wide-angle are amongst these. In order to create such a picture, you will need lenses. Those can be mounted on the smartphone’s camera to enhance its capacities.

Other accessories that always comes handy for smartphone photography are tripods as they offer more stability than if the device is being hand-held. Stability is key and essential to certain techniques such as low shutter speed photography or low light photography. Also, certain angles can only be reached with a tripod!

Often going in pair with lenses are filters. These will allow you to filter out some of the light and craft a specific atmosphere in your pictures. Other times, you’ll just want to decrease the amount of light… That will reduce the risk of the image being over-exposed. 

Wrapping up

At the end of they day, photography technics are the same, whatever the device. Smartphones aren’t above the laws of physics, it seems. Most of these principles would apply equally to someone using a conventional camera. Smartphones, however, are equipped with processors and boast greater computing power. Therefore, they can offer more automation and post-treatment, but that’s no always for the best! This was the basics of smartphone photography,I hope you enjoyed reading!