Category: Cell Phone Camera

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips-5

This is the fifth post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and the #1 villain behind blurry photos. The second warned against using digital zoom and touched on portrait techniques. The third post addressed clutter reduction and last week’s post was all about perspective and shooting angles.

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Today we will touch on a topic that causes anxiety for most novice photographers – using your flash. We discussed this in an earlier post and gave you some tips on how to use your flash. Today we will focus on using the flash on your camera phone in situations you may not consider – outdoor portraits. You will learn how to use your flash as a secret weapon in these situations.

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Why use a flash outside in the bright sun? Look at the photos above and I think you will see how adding a pop of “fill flash” (as shown in the right hand panel) made a huge difference.

In those photos the flash wasn’t used as the main light source – that job was aptly filled by the sun. However, our tiny camera phone flash provided a burst of light to “fill in” dark shadows and correctly expose the children’s faces.

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The flash on your camera phone isn’t very powerful. But if your close enough to your subject (no more than 10 feet) it can provide “fill” even with backlit subjects.

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Turn on the flash by toggling through the modes (Off, Auto, On or, if available, Fill.) Keep your subject within the “flash range” – less than 10 feet – and let the flash light their faces. Keeping within the flash range will also ensure that you fill the frame with your portrait subject – a technique discussed in this earlier post.

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The level of sophistication in your cell phone camera is truly astounding. Before you can blink an eye while you’re pushing the shutter button the flash fires, the camera analyzes the amount of light returned to the sensor and then adjusts the flash power resulting in a correct exposure. That’s right – your camera has a computer inside that very quickly and accurately meters the flash and adjusts its power before you are even aware it’s happening. Amazing!

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With that in mind, let’s look at some simple flash considerations to keep in mind. They aren’t complicated – just situations to avoid because your camera phone isn’t infallible.

In dark scene where the flash contributes most of the light (e.g. outdoor at night, dark rooms) only nearby objects will be lit. As stated earlier, flash only works on objects within 10 feet from the camera. This is especially true for small camera phones. Don’t expect your flash to light up anything beyond that distance – it just doesn’t have enough ooomph. If you try to overwork your flash your subjects will have that “shot in a cave” look – not real impressive.

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If  you have someone or something significantly closer to the camera than other people or objects that someone/something is going to be overexposed while the others will be correctly exposed or underexposed. Did we mention how quickly flash power falls off  with distance (I hope so!!). Here’s another consequence of that – Aunt Martha is overexposed because she is so much closer to the flash than her daughter and the others.

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So, the simple technique is turn on the flash even when  you wouldn’t think to. You’ll notice an immediate improvement in the photos of your children/family especially in outdoor scenes.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

 

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips-4

This is our fourth post discussing Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and revealed the #1 villain behind blurry photos. The second post warned about the evil digital zoom (don’t use it) and discussed techniques to improve your portraits. In the third post we discussed clutter reduction – an important aspect for photos taken with any camera.

In this post we will assume you’ve got your camera settings covered,  you’ve eliminated camera shake as a concern and you have begun to examine your frame for unwanted/distracting clutter.

If you look at most camera phone photos you’ll recognize a persistent “look”. The  look we’re referring to is not caused by any limitations inherent in a camera phone. Rather the “look” comes from the eye-level, far-from-the-subject composition employed when shooting snapshots from a camera phone.

We’re going to illustrate unique perspectives and, hopefully, convince you to think “out of the box” to capture stunning photos with your camera phone. In an earlier post we discussed how to use unique perspectives when shooting children.

Get down to kid height to record children playing.

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Or, if you want to portray a sense of power shoot from below.

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But, most important, get close to your subject. Fill the frame with your subject. Get low and close to emphasize and highlight the subject matter.

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Putting the major scene element in the foreground – filling the frame with it – makes it appear larger than life. That’s clearly demonstrated with the surfboard and the remote control Barbie car photos.

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If you want your portrait to take on a fashion look – get below waist level.

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Sometimes you need to get above the scene. In the beach photo below I set my tripod on top of a picnic table getting as high as I could.

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For this photo from a recent wedding I was standing on a stool.

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Sometimes you need to get even higher to get the photo  you want. Climbing to the top of the bleachers worked for this photo.

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Sometimes the shooting angle is the entire reason for the photo.

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If you want the viewer to join the scene, get low and close to allow them to join in the fun.

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Or look for that unique perspective that tells the complete story without revealing any more detail than necessary.

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When you get close and photograph from an interesting angle it allows you to get creative with your post processing to add another unique look to the photo as shown below.

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So – take your cell phone camera and start looking for unique angles.

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Experiment, have some fun, learn the details of your camera/phone in the process. Knowing all you can will enable you to start thinking about and “seeing” interesting compositions. You will develop the artistic skills and vision that lead to great photos – even from a lowly cell phone camera.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips #3

This is our third post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and discussed the #1 villain responsible for blurry photos – camera shake. In the second post we warned you about digital zoom and explained how to get the best portraits from your camera phone.

It would be a good idea to read those earlier posts, if you haven’t already. In this post we will assume you’ve got your camera settings covered. We are now ready to consider composition. We’ll describe techniques that lead to pleasing  photographs – regardless of camera cost – for the remaining posts in this series.

There are many attributes and compositional elements to consider. It’s not our intention to cover them all. We will focus on the most significant in this series on Cell Phone Camera Tips. Others, such as rule of thirds (as shown in photo below), foreground objects, framing and diagonal lines are covered elsewhere. For today’s post we’ll consider the #1 technique to improve your photographs.

5) Clutter Reduction

No, we’re not talking about cleaning out your garage but …. if that’s what came to mind you may need to consider that. The clutter we’re talking about is found in most snapshot photographs. There is no quicker way to improve your photography than reducing the clutter in  your frame.

When you’re looking to frame the scene ask yourself this question before you press the shutter: “What in this scene is important?” Once that’s determined then look around the frame and eliminate all the other clutter. We want to focus attention on the scene element you decided was the most important. Fill the frame with that scene element. That’s the quickest way to reduce clutter and usually requires nothing more than moving closer – zooming with your feet. Resist the urge to be lazy – heed the digital zoom warning we wrote about last week.

More often than not this can be achieved by finding a simple background to photograph against. This is usually easy to do for portraits. Look around; move your subject to ensure there are no tree branches growing out of their heads.

Another great technique for portraits is to give the subject breathing room. Look for “negative space” – a fancy phrase used by pros to denote open areas as discussed in this post. Both of these engagement photos below include negative space – but one violates the rule of thirds. Read that earlier post and learn why we decided to purposefully brake that “rule”.

The techniques illustrated in these photos don’t require any special equipment. They do require a bit of planning and a willingness to put yourself in a position to minimize background distractions. So please get in the habit of checking for distractions in your frame. Then make adjustments in your position to eliminate them. The quality of your photos will improve for all to see.

Next week we’ll talk about photographing from multiple angles to not only reduce clutter but to also find new and interesting perspectives that will set your photos apart.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips #2

This is our second post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and discussed the #1 villain responsible for blurry photos – camera shake. We covered the four most important camera settings – resolution, compression, scene mode and ISO and included tips and a link to techniques to eliminate blurry photos.

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In this post we will dive a bit deeper into our favorite scene mode – portraits – after we touch on camera phone zoom settings.

3) Zoom with your feet

We wrote an earlier post on how optical zoom impacts perspective, a very important consideration for portraits. Today we will focus our discussion on the pitfalls of camera phone (digital) zoom.

There are two types of zoom. Optical zoom is much preferred over digital zoom. With optical zoom the camera lens is moving to increase the effective focal length. If the lens doesn’t seem to be moving it’s because the lens elements inside are on the move.

Zooming in increases the focal length; zooming out reduces focal length. Consider a common zoom lens, described as 35-105 mm. The 105 mm focal length is 3x longer than the 35 mm. This is a 3x optical zoom – the standard optical zoom ratio for digital cameras.

The optics on  your camera phone have a fixed focal length. Your camera phone can’t magnify the image – there is no optical zoom button.  Camera phones only offer digital zoom. Our goal is to convince you to use digital zoom as sparingly as possible.

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A digital zoom enlarges the image by “cropping” it. The camera chooses a smaller area of the image, after it has been captured, and discards pixels (i.e. information) outside that smaller area. Only the pixels inside this smaller area of the frame are recorded.  Hence, the camera’s resolution is being degraded.

That’s a real problem because, as we mentioned in last week’s post, image quality degrades quickly. I used digital zoom on this 10-year old photo (of me) in downtown Chicago. The zoomed image is too “pixilated”. We’ve thrown away too many pixels in order to digitally zoom.

There is a healthy way to zoom in – zoom with your feet. Get closer to your subject. Fill the frame by moving closer. We have an earlier post on filling the frame – a key to improved composition. If you absolutely can’t get closer for safety reasons or protocol issues then go ahead and use your camera’s digital zoom. But, you’ll end up with much better photos if you zoom with your feet.

3) Use portrait scene mode for portraits

Portrait mode is one of several scene modes (landscape, sports, macro …) available from your camera phone. Your camera will select shutter speed and aperture values based on the picture mode you choose.

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In portrait scene mode your camera will use a wide-open aperture. If you chose landscape mode your camera will use a small aperture. Why do you care what aperture your camera chooses? Because for a portrait you want the background out of focus to highlight your portrait subject as shown in this wedding photograph. This use of “selective focus” in portraiture is discussed in this post which introduces the concept of depth of focus.

We don’t intend to repeat that discussion except to say that the shallow depth of focus that we are looking for in portraits is very difficult to achieve with the small sensor in your camera phone. The best antidote to this is – you’ve got it – get closer to  your subject. The closer you are to your portrait subject (which has the added benefit of filling the frame) the shallower the depth of focus. It helps if the background elements you want to blur are somewhat in the distance.

The message to take away is this – help the computer in your camera phone choose the right exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed) by telling it what kind of scene you are shooting. That’s as important for landscape or sports scenes as it is with portraits. We’re just partial to portraits which constitute the vast majority of cell phone images.

Stay tuned – more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

 

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips #1

Today we begin a series of posts discussing still photography tips for camera phones. Even though these phones are designed for point & shoot applications there are several techniques that will improve the quality of your photos. These include exposure, focus and composition techniques that we will cover over the course of the next few Tuesday Photography Tip posts.

In today’s first post we will begin with a discussion of important camera settings and provide solutions to solve the most common image problem (blurry photos).

1) Camera settings

Your camera phone includes more processing power than the Apollo space capsules. Today’s camera phones make exposure decisions  that allow you to “point & shoot” with remarkably good results. There are many situations in which a camera phone will struggle but, more often than not, a camera phone will capture an acceptable image. This is especially true if the photo will go no further than Facebook.

It would be a good idea to take advantage of your camera’s processing power. Unfortunately most phones don’t come with the documentation needed for you to take full advantage of its capabilities. It would be impossible for us to describe how to access these settings for your camera – there are just too many varieties. Despair not, a simple internet search will present many tutorials/videos on how to access the controls for your camera phone. Just type “camera settings for xxxxx” into your favorite search engine replacing xxxxx with your camera phone (i.e. iPhone, Droid). You will read about multiple settings – some you can set, some will be set automatically. Here’s a description of the most important.

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Resolution can be confusing at times. Quite simply, resolution is determined by the # of pixels captured in photo. In the illustration above we go from 400 pixels (20×20) to 10,000 pixels (100×100). Clearly 400 pixels are the minimum needed to resolve the letter R while the image with 10,000 pixels has more than enough resolution for this simple scene.

Let’s say your camera phone has six million pixels. Setting your camera to full resolution means your photo will use all of those pixels. If you need to reduce the file size, you may prefer to use fewer pixels. This would be appropriate if you intend to e-mail the photo or post it on Facebook. However, we recommend capturing all of your photos at full resolution. Let Facebook resize the image to reduce file size. This will allow you to print the image if you get positive feedback from your Facebook buddies.

Compression is another picture quality setting that should be set to high (fine) unless you have a real issue with file size. High levels of compression (coarse setting) will reduce the image quality and introduce unsightly artifacts. You certainly don’t want to add artifacts to the portraits of your in-laws.

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Picture mode tells the computer in your camera what broad category (portrait, sport, landscape, macro) your scene falls into. This picture mode dial (from an old Canon DSLR) illustrates settings that are likely available on your camera. Starting from the green rectangle (full automatic mode) and moving clockwise we see the portrait mode symbol (woman in profile) followed by a landscape mode (mountains with clouds), macro mode (flower) and sport mode (runner). These picture mode settings will help the camera choose the most appropriate exposure settings (ISO, aperture, shutter speed). for the scene you are photographing. As an example, when you choose portrait mode the camera will bias its exposure towards wide open apertures to help isolate the subject from the background. These scene modes allow you to take control of exposure decisions – learn how to access them and practice using them. Harness the power of  the computer in your camera phone – after all, you paid for it.

The ISO setting is a key determinant of exposure. Your camera phone will likely set this automatically depending on the amount of light in the scene. High ISO settings allow you to take photographs in low light situations but at a cost. We posted a complete discussion of ISO here.

2) Avoid blurring photos

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If your photos are blurry there are two potential culprits. The most likely – camera shake is causing blur because your shutter speed is too slow (long exposure). Check out this post for a discussion of this problem. If the entire scene is blurred, as shown in the photo above, you can be certain camera shake is the villain.

This is a particularly prevalent problem for camera phones. Look around and you’ll find most everyone holds their phone at arm’s length. Doing so exacerbates camera motion. Hold the phone/camera with both hands. Keep your elbows tight to your torso. Press the shutter button soflty and carefully. Don’t lift your finger immediately – pause briefly while the photo is being captured. Try to “look through” the LCD screen – don’t bob your head/body around trying to look around the camera. To eliminate camera shake develop these techniques to hold the camera steady.

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The other potential blurred-photo villain is subject motion. In this case only those scene elements that are moving will be blurred. The photo above demonstrates intentional motion blur. Note that the stationary elements (trees, buildings) are sharp. Tips for achieving this creative technique are described in this post.

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However, for most photos we want to avoid this by using a fast shutter. Most camera phones don’t include the option for setting the shutter speed. However, by selecting sport mode in the scenes dialog the camera will bias the exposure towards a fast shutter speed. This assumes there is ample light to achieve a useful exposure at a fast shutter speed. If the light isn’t abundant either you or your camera will need to increase the ISO setting. For most camera phones this will be done automatically for you if you’ve set the scene mode to sport.

Stay tuned for next week’s Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips #2. We will continue this series on Cell Phone Camera Tips. Be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.