The 21st century is also known as “the era of smartphones”. Smartphones evolved rapidly in this decade and became a huge success, and so did cell phone photography. Today’s smartphones are well-equipped and loaded with features and specifications, from fast processors to high resolutions displays. And these smartphones are also quite powerful when it comes to photography, featuring wonderful built-in cameras. Despite having tiny sensors, most smartphones are integrated with small and compact lenses capable of delivering crisp images that can directly compete with many point-and-shoot cameras in terms of image quality.
Slowly, but surely, compact cameras are being replaced by cell phones as a result. Gone are the days when we need to carry a separate point and shoot – now just grab your smartphone from your pocket and you are good to go. Smartphones are so lightweight and portable, that capturing photos has never been easier. Plus, you always carry one with you.
When it comes to shooting photos with a phone, there isn’t actually much you can do – I mean you shouldn’t be expecting your smartphone to make images as good as a DSLR or a large sensor mirrorless camera with a nice prime lens. But still, you can do a lot with a smartphone. Actually, with phone photography, you don’t worry much about your gear, and your end up concentrating on your photography and composition much more, which often results in nice photos without a whole lot of effort put on the technical side, which is why I love phone photography.
I believe that phone photography is not aimed to be perfect in execution – rather, I try to capture the mood and look forward to nice compositions, which is the actual key to any good photo.
The silhouette works great with phones at sunrises and sunsets and is also quite easy to capture. With the release of the latest smartphones, you can actually set your exposure for the desired scene and even shoot in RAW. Generally, you have a completely automated mode with which most people shoot. There might be other modes available such as landscapes and portraits on some phones, but they all feel the same to me and seem more like effects rather than actual changes in exposure. I would not worry about camera effects and would rather shoot as flat as possible and alter contrast and saturation later in the post. So all you need to do is just click the capture button at the right moment. Do your best to properly frame your shot and look for a good composition beforehand. Turning on composition lines such as the rule of thirds will help in positioning your subject(s).
Phones cameras obviously lack larger cameras in portraiture. Forget about shallow depth of field and creamy bokeh, because you are dealing with a short focal length lens on a tiny sensor, so your depth of field is practically always infinite. However, for landscapes and other photography genres, smartphones work great. Phones are also unusable for capturing fast action, as they don’t offer super fast shutter speeds and autofocus speed/subject tracking are not fast enough, but still, the technology is gradually improving and smartphones are getting better.
In addition, noise levels are much higher, particularly when shooting in low-light environments. Although most phone cameras come with built-in flash units, I personally never use flash, as it adds very flat lighting on your subject and often creates really harsh shadows, which are just not pleasing to look at. So my recommendation is to turn flash off and only use it when absolutely necessary…
Once you have some nice photos captured with your phone, you can also process them directly with your phone. Developers created so many amazing apps for smartphones and you can do most of the editing without ever touching your computer. Most of the time, I utilize the built-in photo editor of my phone and use curve adjustments to add contrast and colors to the final images. I just draw a gradual S curve on the RGB channel and then add some blue on the undertones and shadows and a little bit of yellow in the highlights, to get that film feel to it. This is actually my basic adjustment to most of my photos. And then depending on what image I am working with, I play with the red and green channels as well. Here is a sample screenshot of curves adjustment:
You can also use different filters than are available, which can sometimes give pretty good instant results but don’t push the opacity of that filter slider all the way up. Try around 50 percent opacity and lower, and keep things very subtle.
Finally, when you are done processing your images, now it’s time to share them! There are plenty of great platforms on which you can showcase your phone photography, whether it is in the form of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, or various sites hosting photo contests specifically for phone photography. It is a lot of fun photographing with a phone and the possibilities are endless! You will never get bored, as long as you keep pushing yourself to get better and better. Sometimes it is good to limit ourselves to inferior tools – they allow us to get better with larger and more capable cameras.
I hope you find the above tips helpful. Do you shoot with your phone? If you do, please feel free to share some of your work in the comments section below! I share most of my phone photography on my Instagram page.