By Andre Rolemberg
October 2nd, 2020
Smartphones are ubiquitous and a part of most people’s daily lives. We like to use our phones for nearly anything; including snapping pictures. In fact, that is probably the most popular function! We like to share photos and videos on ever growing social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. And most phones nowadays are capable of producing amazing images.
A common misconception remains: a real photographer uses only a “real” camera. We don’t think that is what makes an artist! It is true that to push the limits of photography and video, and to be able to accomplish certain types of photography you need to use more advanced gear. But a photographer is able to use a phone to create stunning photos all the same: the key is knowing photography foundations.
Here’s a little guide of what you need to know to make the most of your phone's camera!
Pros and Cons - Understanding the Limitations
We know that while pretty good in their own right, smartphones are not specialized photographic or film cameras. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons to understand a bit more about the phone’s capabilities.
With so many people taking photos with their phones nowadays, no one really cares if you pull out your phone to snap a picture. A regular camera, on the other hand, can really change people’s behaviours, and make them feel self-conscious. Especially the big bulky DSLR with that enormous lens.
Easy and quick to use
Like a point & shoot, just open the camera app, and start shooting. That’s it. Plus, you can edit and share your photos straight from your phone. No extra equipment like sd cards, computers, and external hard drives. You can’t go more compact than that.
Sensor size matters
Now, to make so much power fit into a compact device, even the world’s best phone camera sensor is significantly smaller than the one inside average mirrorless APS-C or 4/3 cameras, which are already half the size of a full frame. This has negative consequences regarding low light performance and depth of field adjustments. It also causes limitations in print size before you start losing quality.
No optical zoom
Your phone has a fixed lens with no optical zoom, so you must get physically closer to your subject, or use an external telephoto lens for phones such as this one from iOgrapher. Using a digital zoom causes your image to become pixelated.
While it is easy to use and ready to go, the native camera apps most often won’t have a manual option. You have to work around the automatic camera and adjust where you can (you do have some freedom, but nothing like a fully manual mode.)
Alexander Andrews, Unsplash
An APS-C sensor is about 4x larger than a phone sensor.
The power of quick setups
A step above point & shoot cameras, you have a lot more things you can do at the tip of your fingers.
Camera apps have all the options readily available: no over-complicated menus, with a couple taps you can change aspect ratio, switch from photo to video, shoot in slow motion, switch lens (if available), add filters. You can really get creative and test out compositions in under a minute. Autofocus features are more powerful than we give credit for it too.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
An interesting feature that has been present for a few generations now is the HDR option. Unlike still cameras, which will have sensors with higher dynamic range the more advanced the gear is, phones have to circumvent the problem with tech companies favourite pet: Artificial Intelligence. The HDR function in smartphone cameras will take several exposures and overlay them to compensate for the sensor’s lack of true high dynamic range, which will give you a shot where most of the elements will be correctly exposed without much compensation in editing. This will also reduce the noise, although you should still avoid most low light situations.
Ivana Cajina, Unsplash
With a split second to take a picture,
you just can’t switch lenses on your main camera, or use manual mode.
One other cool thing about phones is that you can get quite a few good accessories for cheaper than regular cameras. A set of lenses for phones is quite affordable and will allow you to explore new angles while still keeping it compact. If you want to shoot video and want to make sure your shots are steady, there are some gimbal options like DJI’ OM4 or Feiyu Tech Vlog Pocket 2 that will guarantee that your family vacation movies are perfect and not nauseatingly shaky!
Sure, these options may compromise the quick setup and compact nature of phones, but your rig will still remain far more portable than regular cameras.
Find The Right Accessory For You
12" LED Ring Light (Bi-Colour)
Lavalier Go Microphone (Black)
6" Bi-Colour LED Ring Light
Mobifoto Mobilite Pro 18 Ring Light 18" Bi-Colour LED
VideoMicro Compact On-Camera Microphone
Moza Mini-S Smartphone Gimbal
Mobifoto Mobilite 12R Ring Light 12" RGB LED
DJI OM 4 Smartphone Gimbal
Mobifoto MobiliteMC Clip-on Ring Light
Using smartphones is especially appealing when you’re on the go: you can edit directly in your phone. You can test the Auto Enhance option, but it tends to apply more contrast and saturation. If this is not to your liking, you can still edit using the phone’s own tool, or you can download several apps to try and make your photo look just as you want it! You can also try a few of the endless filters that exist within all these different apps. You can try Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed, VSCO, Adobe Photoshop, and a thousand others!
It is important to keep in mind, however, that most phones don’t support RAW format, so you will not be able to push the photo as far as you would with a camera made especially for stills or film. Plus, most apps, including the native one, won’t allow you to edit your videos’ colours and lighting, only trimming. If you have an Adobe subscription, you can use Adobe Rush for quick edits, and if you are an iPhone user, iMovie is free in the App Store!
Kim Kihong, Unsplash
Shoot, edit, and share from one device.
When it comes to printing, we all know that phones are not the ideal option, so don’t expect to be selling big prints from your phone’s photographic creation: they won’t look that good compared to a bigger camera.
But for what it’s worth, you can still print in several smaller sizes and the picture will look just fine! You can create a moodboard, a coffee table book, and print great retro style formats with us or with your own mobile printer. And even if you push the photo to the limit of the megapixel count, you can still get a nice print to hang on your wall.
It is very important to keep in mind the aspect ratio when printing. Phones’ default ratio is 4:3. The standard print ratio is 3:2, which means either part of your photo will be cropped out, or you will have white edges on two sides. You can try and use the square ratio to make your compositions, or just make sure you are printing in the right format.
Tips and tricks
Finally, we want to share some tips for you to get creative with your phone and make beautiful images!
Don’t forget the basics.
You can and should apply all your photographic knowledge into it, it is the same principle as with any camera. Use the rule of thirds - you can enable the grid on your phone to make sure you get the subject right on the sweet spot!
Look for light sources
What are the directions of the shadows? Avoid most low light situations - you don’t want that bad grain lowering the quality of your shot! Try using flash if you’re shooting against light to avoid silhouette effect (unless that’s what you want!). Don’t forget to shoot during golden hour and blue hour - no photos can look bad in this lighting!
Work your compositions
Look at what is in the edges of the frame - how do they help your subject to stand out? Test angles and distance from the subject to see how they help you get the result you want. But watch out for weird distortions - getting too close to the subject using an ultra wide angle lens may cause the subject to look abnormal.
You can also use your phone to test compositions just to see what the image would look like before getting your main camera out!
Last but not least, practice a lot and understand your smartphone’s limitations to get the best out of it. These are still very powerful cameras so why not try and see how far you can push them?
See Other Blog Entries by Andre Rolemberg