Camera phones – 7 tips for the one always with you!

photo editing screen on iPhone

On a recent city break I left the ‘real’ camera behind and focused on getting the most out of my camera phone. I wasn’t disappointed. These are my 7 top tips to help you get more from your camera phone. Enjoy and please share your own suggestions!

The camera phone may not be the perfect camera but it’s always there for you

Camera phones may not have the same versatility as full cameras but they are super-convenient. Also their computing power on-the-go gives them significant advantages! Sales of point and shoot cameras fell by 97% between 2008 and 2022 (by unit, PetaPixel). Phones are pushing the point and shoot camera towards extinction. They have limitations compared to a well designed camera but are undeniably a multifunctional wonder. Serving up music, news, games, and phone calls (who’d have thought!). So how to make the most of this part-time camera?

Seven top tips for your camera phone

1. Know your camera phone

It needs time to know your phone’s camera – multitools are necessarily complex. Check how yours works and that you’re not missing out on useful functions. For example, you may not know that volume up button on an iPhone takes pictures – you could be missing out when making pictures in landscape mode (the phone sideways). The touch screen is where most of the action happens and amongst the different swipes and multi-touches you may be unaware of some great functionality. Start with your phone’s online guide and check for hidden customisations in the phone’s settings. We also have a short course that covers the basics of using a camera phone.

Peacock photo, processed on iPhone

2. Be mindful

Photography is used in many different ways. It’s a visual equivalent of writing but can more easily be done unthinkingly. Then it is the source of a stream of gobbledegook. Without care it can become a block to experience the here and now. For example, I wonder what people miss when filming concerts through the 5 or 6 inches of their smartphone screens, rather than being immersed in spectacle beyond. We’re unlikely to start writing with no idea of what I want to say, and so it should be with photography. Think about how you use photography and what you want to achieve.

Read more about photography

Want to understand more about why photography is the easiest and the hardest thing to do?

3. Perfect practice

I often auto-pilot using learned habits and I think we all do. Practicing good ones helps us eventually use a tool as if an extension of ourselves. For example, choose to have a photowalk in your local area with the intention of practicing rather than making great shots. That way you become fluent in handling and using in the camera phone and begin to express your own ideas. Use your camera phone often, and experiment with its features when you’re not in important moments.

4. Embrace the frame

A photograph is very different to reality – it’s small (particularly on a phone), flat and one dimensional. One of the most important decisions in making an image is what to include in the frame – a tiny extract from the real world in a fraction of a second. Think about what you will show and what it will mean. For example, photographs of people stripped of backgrounds (mimicking studio shots) lack context, which removes meaning and interest. Pay attention to what you include in the frame and how it helps your image sing.

1960s family photo, in context of decor and technology

5. Focus and expose

Exposure (the amount of light) and focus (sharply defined areas) draw attention to whatever you want to be the main subject. Focus and exposure problems are one of the main causes of disappointing images. Phones have a deep range of focus due to the technical configuration of their image sensors. This means images of general scenes, are unlikely to experience unintentional blurriness. However, depending on lighting conditions, exposure can be more problematic. For example, when there is a bright sky behind your main subject and the camera phone places it in deep shadow. In comparison with cameras, camera phones are limited when manually controlling exposure and focus. Whereas our own eyes scan and adjust interactively across a scene, cameras take a simple one-time fix. Although limited, there are ways to manually adjust settings on phones. For example, press and hold an iPhone screen to fix the focus and then adjust exposure. Technology assists on some phones, including ‘portrait’ settings to detect and expose for faces in the frame. Find out how to focus and adjust exposure on your phone and observe the difference it makes to photos.

6. Think creatively

All cameras have built in filters that render images how manufacturers think will be appealing (unless you shoot RAW files). So apart from the rare occasions when I’m trying to accurately document an actual object, I enjoy shaping the appearance of images. What’s more because smartphones are powerful computers, it can be done right in the device (an advantage over cameras!). Creativity starts with what and how you choose to shoot and ends with processing. Experiment with adjustments in the phone’s own photo application, or one of the myriad of third party applications.

Manipulated colours through window ©fitzgibbonphotography

7. Stay on top

With a phone’s ability to rapidly make a large number of photos, keeping images organised, with only a small phone screen can be challenging. Being mindful of what you are taking is a good starting point that saves time down stream. But there will inevitably be an editing job to sort the wheat from the chaff and free up space from the phone / cloud back up. This also helps later, when looking for important images. If you are keeping your images only on your phone (and cloud service), using albums and regularly culling the duds is the way to go. If you are also using a laptop, additional help is at hand – particularly the use of smart albums that can help with sorting and editing. Finally, be sure to keep a separate backup of any really important images – a cloud service isn’t generally designed to offer this. Regularly edit and organise your photos and ensure the most important ones are backed up.

Create – one snap at a time

The smartphone has replaced the small point and shoot as a simple convenient camera that is always with you. While it has limitations compared with a full camera, it also brings many possibilities and conveniences not offered by a camera. Use it with a creative mind and intention and make some great images! The ‘read more’ links in the article expand on each of the 7 tips, including suggestions on using them in practice. If you’d like to delve deeper into smartphone photography, try one of our short courses.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and do comment with your own experiences and ideas.



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