Baffled by the pitiful photos you get with a cellphone camera? Even if your phone flaunts a 5MP camera—and these are getting commoner with each passing day—you can’t compare it with a standard, stand-alone point-and-shoot. It’s an open secret that the key to great image quality from a camera is not the number of megapixels stuffed into it, but the size of its sensor. It is only logical that due to limitations of physical size, mobile phones squeeze a diminutive sensor into their cramped confines. And therein lies the rub.
Photo: Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
For this makes it more difficult for a mobile to capture clean, sharp and vivid images. Yet, never think of it as “just a phone camera”. It doesn’t matter if you have a 2MP, 3MP or 12MP. What matters is that a little extra effort can give you much better pictures than you can imagine.
Know the settings
To be confident of any gadget, it is vital to know its settings. Tinker and learn. Always use the highest possible resolution settings.
Many phone cameras boast of panorama shooting capability. You must know the capabilities as well as the limitations of your phone camera. Learn to use various preset modes such as macro, night, action, landscape, portrait, etc. So click-shift-click-shift-click. If you don’t have this feature on your camera, “pan”-shoot the scene in a left-to-right sequence and go to www.magtoo.com later to stitch together the cluster of photos in a single panorama. This site can even do a full 360-degrees stitch.
Deal with shutter lag
Cellphone cameras are impaired by shutter lag. This is the time delay or interval between the moment you hit the shutter release button and the second your subject is actually captured. So if your subject moves in the interim, you’ll get a blurred image. Or you’ll get a “repositioned” result—someone leaving the frame, or grimacing post-“cheese” smile, etc.— definitely not what you had intended. The only thing you can do about this is get accustomed to your shutter lag delay and learn to anticipate your subject’s movement.
Try a different angle
Why be conventional and take eye-level shots every time? Add sizzle and shoot from the hip. Try to exploit the bantam weight of the phone and hold it to the ground, or high above you, or at an unorthodox angle. Very often, if you move a little to the left, or right, a bit lower or higher, you can get a better angle and also better light. Yes, angles can be a camera’s best friend. Be dynamic. Experiment with perspectives—squat, lie down, climb atop that wall or a chair—just to snare a different view and make images more interesting.
Let light be behind you
What you see and get is always shaped by the frame and the light. With the limited settings and abilities of a cam-phone, getting correct lighting is crucial. And it’s not just about adequate lighting. You need good natural lighting at the correct angle for best results. Outdoors is best. Always try to keep the light source behind you.
Indoors, switch on all possible lights. Use the camera flash, if your phone has it. Know the approximate subject-to-camera distance that your flash works best with. Too far, and your pictures will be dark; too close, and they will be washed out. Try to tweak the white balance (the better cam-phones have it).
Composition is key
Cellphones are great for spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment photography. But don’t just point and shoot. Don’t view everything at eye level from wherever you are standing. Take a few milliseconds to frame the scene before hitting the trigger. Decide on what you want to include in the frame. Position and reposition yourself.
Long shots give you the feel of the place but you can’t see people’s faces.
Very few cellphone cameras offer image stabilization. To avoid blurry pictures, learn to stand still and keep your hand absolutely steady. Whenever possible, prop your elbow or hand against a tree, car, railing, table, wall...whatever...for best results. If nothing else, learn to tuck your elbows in against your body.
The reason you need to be extra steady with mobiles is their slow shutter speeds and shutter lag. Screen triggers (on-screen buttons) are often the toughest to master as the lightness of a mobile’s body makes it waver as you click.
Do not zoom
Never ever bother to use a digital zoom. It only crops and enlarges an image, magnifying a fixed area—not bringing the object closer as an optical zoom would. Whatever a digital zoom does can be done by any image editing software as well. You’ll only end up with a blurry image that lacks sharpness.
They say God is in the details. You can take extreme close-up of objects—flowers, surface texture, a butterfly, etc.—by going into macro mode and getting really close to the object. This can make for fascinating viewing. You should also use the macro (or text) mode to take pictures of visiting cards—it’s the fastest way to grab contact details.
Keep the lens clean and fingerprint-free. Keep the horizon straight. A plain backdrop behind your primary subject is prudent. The less cluttered the background, the more your subject will stand out in the photo. Avoid including objects that distract the viewer’s attention from your main subject. Keep distractions (wiring, litter, parked vehicles, etc.) out of your picture frame to make people focus on your primary subject. Be aware of lighting, colours, angles, foreground and background. Don’t centre everything.
The soft story
You needn’t accept all photos exactly the way your camera grabs them. Transfer them on to a PC and use a free photoediting and enhancement tool to crop a picture, tweak contrast, toy with various visual effects, or bump up brightness. Downloadable free tools such as Paint.Net, GimpShop, Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa will let you do a lot (or a little) to your photos with intuitive Wysiwig (what you see is what you get) ease and alacrity.
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