Every year, the technology behind smartphone cameras keeps getting better and better. The unfortunate thing is that not many people are aware of the full power of the camera they have in their pockets.
I will admit, I was one of those people. For years, I always had top-of-the-range smartphones with the best cameras. But, alas, I did not use the cameras to their full potential. It wasn’t because I didn’t care to, it was because I didn’t know how to.
If you’re reading this, my guess is you don’t want to be that person. You want to learn how to take good pictures with your phone. But, to do so, you need to first learn about your camera and how to take full advantage of what it can do.
So where do you begin? Well, firstly…
Know the specs
The first step to getting the most out of your smartphone camera is to know and understand the camera’s specifications. Every mobile phone camera system is designed differently. Knowing what your phone’s camera can and can’t do will help you play more to its strengths and avoid potential difficulties.
For example, if your smartphone camera has a narrow aperture, then chances are it will not perform as well in low light conditions as a mobile camera that has a wide aperture. But this doesn’t mean it won’t work well outdoors during the day.
Armed with this knowledge, you can choose the perfect time to take photos with your phone that works well for your phone’s capabilities and also add whatever accessories you need to make your shots look awesome.
If you’re a beginner and know nothing about cameras and their specs, it can be very confusing to understand all the jargon. Have a look at my fully detailed smartphone camera specs guide if you need any help.
Switch to Manual mode
One thing that smartphone cameras are good at is computational photography. This is evident in how well they perform when taking photos in Auto mode.
The camera’s software is able to analyse the scene, select the best exposure settings, and set the focus as crisp as possible in the right area. All this within a fraction of a second.
Impressive as this may be, if you want to advantage of the camera in your pocket and make the most of it, you need to shoot in Manual mode for several good reasons, which I cover in this article.
Basically, shooting in Manual mode allows you to fully control the settings that the camera would otherwise control itself in Auto mode. This means you can adjust things like shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, and others.
The good thing about this is that it gives you the opportunity to take photos that look the way you want them to, and not how the camera “thinks” they should look. This amount of control opens up opportunities for creativity and some really amazing mobile photos.
For a quick guide on how Manual mode works and how to use it, I recommend you check out Manual Mode: A Complete and Comprehensive Guide.
If you’ve done some reading up on photography and file formats, then you might have come across a file format known as RAW. This is just a way that the camera saves the image it captures, similar to jpeg but waaaay better.
Typically, mobile phone cameras save photos as a jpeg file. Although this is generally regarded as an acceptable file format, it goes through compression during processing. This results in a bit of loss in the quality of the image.
The RAW file format is as the name suggests. It is an unprocessed and uncompressed version of the image. This is ideal because there is more image data with which to work in the RAW image than in the jpeg file.
Just to give you an idea of what I mean, a jpeg file can store information for up to 16 million colours. RAW format, on the other hand, can store 68 billion or more colours. RAW images also have thousands more of brightness levels than jpeg files. That’s a lot!
What makes shooting RAW great is that, because it is uncompressed and still has a lot of picture information, it makes editing easier. For example, you are able to manipulate things like exposure and contrast without losing a lot of detail in those areas as you would with a jpeg image file.
Unfortunately, not every phone can shoot RAW. But if you’re fortunate enough to have one that does, make the most of it and shoot RAW. The downside is that RAW files take up more space but the detail in the image makes it worth it.
Keep the lens clean
Because it is part of a device that’s used quite often, the smartphone camera comes into contact with a lot of surfaces. Sweaty hands and dirty fingers are common causes of spots and smudges on the surface of any phone.
Phone camera with fingerprint smudges
The lens is the camera’s eye through which it sees the world. To get the most out of your mobile camera and ensure you capture great photos, you need to make sure that the lens is always clean before you take pictures.
Photos taken with a dirty or smudged lens tend to come out unclear and blurry, which is a mobile photography mistake you need to avoid.
The best way to clean your phone’s camera lens is to gently wipe it clean with a soft cloth to avoid potentially scratching the surface. A microfibre cloth works well for this.
While on the topic of lens care, let’s talk about protection. Dirty hands and sticky fingers are not the only enemies of the lens. A serious offender is a cracked or broken lens because it leads to even more issues.
Just to be clear, the glass that covers the camera is not the actual lens but a protective cover for the lens. If this protective cover is cracked or broken, it allows for things like dirt particles and moisture to reach the lens. This could lead to some serious damage.
To avoid such a scenario, I recommend you use a good quality phone cover that provides some sort of protection for your camera. I also suggest you invest in one that is shockproof because every time a phone falls, there’s a chance that small parts within the camera’s mechanics can be knocked out of place.
Even if a phone doesn’t suffer noticeable internal or external damage from a fall, repeated instances of falls and impacts will eventually wear down the camera’s components. A shockproof case is beneficial because it will absorb some of the impacts and give your phone and camera a longer lease on life.
Using protection is not just about protecting your mobile camera from the impact of a fall and the resulting damage, though. Did you know that you can use your mobile phone to take pictures underwater?
A lot of modern phones are water-resistant to some extent, so you don’t have to worry much about taking pictures with your phone in the rain. Other phones can be submerged underwater to certain depths for a limited period of time and still function.
This makes it possible to maximize what you can do with your smartphone camera and potentially take pictures with your phone while in water. However, to be on the safe side, I strongly recommend you use a waterproof case or an underwater housing for your phone.
Phone in waterproof casing on the beach
Even though some phones have some impressive ingress protection, it’s better to be safe than sorry and put it a protective casing just in case. It might cost a little extra but the photos you can get from underwater can be quite something else.
Earlier I mentioned how great shooting in Manual mode is because you can adjust settings such as shutter speed. There is a catch, though.
Slowing down the shutter speed increases the exposure time. This means that the sensor is activated for a longer period in order to capture more light. If the camera moves even slightly, you can end up with blurry shots.
To avoid this, it’s best to keep your camera steady. Even if you have steady hands, at some point that’s not enough. When capturing a crisp image is an issue because of camera shake, a camera support system is the best thing you can use. Tripods are the most common camera support system but there are plenty of other options available.
Keeping your phone steady doesn’t just help prevent blurry shots but it also opens up creative opportunities for you to explore with your mobile camera.
Light trails on a street at night captured using slow shutter speed and camera support
Provided you keep your camera still, a slow shutter speed is not a bad thing. You can use it to do long-exposure photography or even capture light trails. Also, certain photo manipulation techniques are easier to achieve if the camera is supported.
I have admitted this in the past and I will admit it again: I always thought that tripods and other support systems for smartphones were unnecessary and a waste of money. I was totally wrong.
Investing in a tripod will definitely help you make the most of your mobile camera and make a big difference in your smartphone photography.
If you’re on the fence about investing in a tripod for your smartphone, then check out these 8 really good reasons why you should add a tripod to your arsenal of mobile camera accessories.
Make no mistake-- mobile photography is a real thing that some people take quite seriously. Because of that, many companies have created products that aim to enhance smartphone photography.
For example, companies like Moment and Olloclip have made external lenses that attach to the phone’s camera to give it a different field-of-view. Sure, this made more sense when smartphone cameras only had one rear camera but you can find external lenses that attach to some phones with multiple cameras.
For instance, as far as I know, most multi-camera smartphones don’t have a macro lens. Attaching one to your phone’s camera opens up the world of macro photography, which can produce some truly stunning images.
Of course, lenses are not the only accessory available for smartphone cameras. Check out these 6 mobile camera accessories that you should not go without. If you want to make the most of your smartphone camera, it’s worth checking them out.
Download pro-level apps
Hardware is one part that makes up a smartphone camera. The other part is the software which includes the camera app.
Although a lot of smartphones come with a pretty decent native camera app, there might be some features that are missing depending on the app.
If, for example, the camera app you use does not have a Manual mode (sometimes called Pro mode), then you should consider downloading an app that does. A quick Google search will give you results for a lot of really good apps.
These pro-level apps are designed with more than just the casual mobile photographer in mind. They take the control away from the camera’s algorithms and place it in the hands of the photographer.
The best way to make the most of your phone camera when it comes to software is to try out one of these apps. They all have their upsides and downsides. Try them out and see which one works for you.
Following the above steps will certainly help you get the most out of your phone’s camera. However, you need to remember that a camera is just a tool, it’s not what makes mobile photos look great. It’s up to you, the smartphone photographer, to put in the work.
For useful tips on how to capture great photos with your phone, check out the 15 Tips on How To Take Amazing Photos With Your Phone.
If you want to learn more about how to improve your smartphone photography, download the 5 Ways To Improve Your Smartphone Photography ebook here. There’s a lot to learn in its 22 pages of content and it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!