Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
most people, the only camera that I always carry around with me is in
my cell phone. Popular touch-screen smartphones now have very
sophisticated cameras that are capable of creating excellent results in
the right conditions but have limitations and quirks that it’s sensible
to understand. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of
cameras have tiny imaging sensors of about 5 x 3mm, which is an
effective size. They take sharp, colorful images in bright light but
give gritty, blurry, less colorful results in dim conditions.
cameras have larger sensors that give superior results: Professional
SLRs have the largest sensors, about 5000 percent larger than
smartphones, and produce the finest results. Although there are many
factors involved, size matters.
Bigger sensors give better results.
manufacturers would like you to believe that packing more Megapixels
(millions of pixel elements) onto their tiny sensors will give you
sharper, superior pictures. Real world lab tests show that a 5 MP
smartphone, can give better images than an 8 MP competitor. If image
quality is a factor in your choice of smartphone, search the Internet
for reputable websites showing comparative test results. Aperture, speed and sensitivity
lens of your smartphone usually has a fixed aperture of about F2.6, so
to take pictures in bright light the camera will set a fast exposure
time. Speeds of up to 1/10,000 sec are possible so the camera will
freeze movement and give the sharpest, most colorful pictures in bright
The imaging sensor has a fixed sensitivity to light,
typically 50 ISO. In dim light the camera will increase this figure to
as much as 400 ISO, which causes pictures to look gritty, with less
color and detail.
In dim light the camera will also set longer
exposure times, possibly as low 1/8 sec, so even slight movements of the
camera or the subject will result in blurred pictures.
smartphones have a small flash for coping with low light. Flash,
however, destroys the atmosphere you may wish to capture and so isn’t
always appropriate. When the flash fires the camera may set a faster
exposure time which results in dark, featureless backgrounds, typical of
snaps at night.Taking better pictures in low light
your smartphone has a flash you can take better low light portraits by
choosing Night Portrait mode, accessed through the menus. This will
allow both the flash to fire and the exposure to last long enough to
record some background detail.
You will get the best low light shots, whether using flash or not, by using a few of the old pro tricks:
The simplest technique is to steady the camera on any firm and
convenient surface. Press the camera against a wall, a pole, a door
frame, a table or a chair, a fence, etc; if you are sitting at a table
plant your elbows into a stable triangle with the camera at the apex.
If no firm surface is available, stand upright with your legs shoulder
width apart and bend your knees slightly to lower your center of gravity
and minimize any tendency to sway.
- Always hold your breath
just before you take the shot. Breathing causes slight chest movement
that is amplified by the camera causing blurred shots.
- If your
smartphone has a touch-screen button, practice releasing it without
causing jarring the camera. This is not as easy as it may appear, but is
a vital smartphone technique.
- If possible, take three shots. Choose the sharpest one afterwards.
If possible shoot during a moment when the subject is still.
Smartphones take a relatively long time to focus so it’s best to
pre-focus them before taking the shot. Pre-focus by tapping the screen
on the area you want in focus and waiting for the box to turn green, or
by pressing and holding the onscreen “shutter” button while placing the
focus box over the area you want in focus.
- Even when you
pre-focus it will be difficult to capture an exact moment because there
is a delay between releasing the “shutter” button and taking the
picture. The only way around this is to shoot slightly ahead of time. My
smartphone has a continuous mode setting that takes a series of
pictures quickly but I never use it because it shoots pictures at a
- I advise you to never use the zoom function to
take a picture with your smartphone. Zooming is a misnomer since the
lens does not zoom - all you are doing is cropping the on-screen
picture. Unfortunately “zooming” also amplifies the movements of the
camera and can be an additional cause of blurred pictures. I suggest you
shoot without “zooming” then crop the picture afterwards in the
computer. This will give you the zoom effect but without the risk of
original of this picture showed a much larger picture area. I did not
“zoom” to take the shot but cropped it afterwards in the computer. I
shot it quickly indoors with natural light: Had I “zoomed” to crop the
picture before taking it I might have created camera shake and blurred
I had to crouch down to the mother and baby’s level
and was in a very stable position to take this picture, even so I held
my breath briefly as I took the shot and took great care to lift my
finger from the touch screen with out moving the camera. I took it from
about 1.5 meters away which is as close as I could go without creating
distortion. I took a few shots as quickly as the camera would allow and
chose this one afterwards.
When using a smartphone in low light
conditions these tips will help you to get the best results. Since
pictures often have to be taken quickly it’s best to practice each
technique until it becomes second nature and you are able to concentrate
on the shot rather than mess with the camera. Constructive Feedback
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a
picture and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive
feedback. Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails
If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa: www.langford.co.il/courses/PicasaGuide.html
Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and
professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners
and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses